Both men and women may find public speaking difficult, which usually comes down to confidence. Confidence builds with experience for both genders. However, for some women, experience teaches them that speaking up can be a double-edged sword.
This article outlines how women and men can find their confident voices, build self-esteem, and help others find their voices. We explain the general differences in how men and women communicate, why women have learned that speaking up can be risky, and we give eight ways men and women can learn to speak up confidently.
Social conditioning has had lingering effects regarding workplace norms and expected behaviors for genders. For example, women have historically strived to be “likable” rather than stand out as pushy, which has not been an issue for men.
Also, researchers at Brigham Young University found that women are perceived as less authoritative. Often, the problem is that they are outnumbered in the workplace, but there are also fundamental differences in the way that women and men approach work situations and communicate.
Women tend to speak up less in meetings than their male counterparts. They also tend to be less assertive in the workplace. The reasons range from putting their own needs on the backburner, feeling that their voices get drowned out, or sharing their achievement and knowledge is akin to boasting.
Also, research shows that women often do not negotiate for themselves and will only apply for a job when they feel they are 100 percent qualified. Men, on the other hand, will apply anyway.
Here’s a list of reasons why women might lack a confident voice.
Social conditioning where women are put down for being pushy
History has taught women to doubt that they will be heard or justice will be done (in the case of harassment, for example).
Women are often penalized for speaking up. Dr. Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, and author of “Think Again” references studies that show “women who assert their ideas, make direct requests, and advocate for themselves are liked less. They're also less likely to get hired—and it hasn't improved over time.”
These points explain why it has been difficult for women to find their voice. Still, despite different psychologies, both genders can experience reticence when having to speak up in the work environment.
Related: “Overcoming Insecurity at Work”
So, how can women and men overcome the various forces that cause them to be less vocal and find their confident voices, particularly in meetings?
Here are eight ways to find your voice.
Women, especially, tend to undervalue themselves. Not surprising, considering that they have historically been paid less for doing the same job. But knowing your true value to an organization or client and demanding you get the same respect and remuneration will give you the confidence to speak up. You were hired for a reason, so speak up!
Going from not speaking up to commanding meeting time is going from one extreme to the other, and it will be difficult. A better place to start for the first time is to practice speaking up in a way that is safe, where you won’t be challenged or criticized. You might be interrupted, but dealing with interruptions is much easier than standing your ground on an issue.
A safe way to practice is to piggyback on another person’s comment. For example, you might first praise someone else’s comment and state that you agree with what they said, and then you could build on their idea and add your own. This is a way to take a confident step in speaking up but also stay in the safe zone.
Using a “safe space” to speak up in a meeting will prepare you to move out of your comfort zone. You will build confidence and learn to silence the voice in your head that causes you to hesitate or think that you're wrong. That confidence will allow you to take a risk and speak up anyway.
Most communication is nonverbal. It’s your body language. How you stand or sit. Whether you smile or scowl. Whether you are relaxed or tense. Whether you make eye contact with people when you speak.
Video yourself when speaking and hone your speaking voice in terms of tone and tempo. Practice different voice sounds, facial expressions, and hand gestures that you see confident speakers use.
If public speaking is a significant component of your job, a session with a speaking coach or voice coach could really be beneficial. Many public speakers are coached on how to deliver compelling presentations.
If you are an extrovert, you will likely have an easier time speaking up in meetings. Use that to your advantage and speak up early. That will immediately establish your presence and show you and others that you are actively engaged.
If you tend to be an introvert, you can use that to your advantage too. You are likely to be more observant and wait to see how the meeting goes before giving your opinion. When you do, you have the natural ability to summarize what other people have said, showing your skills as a listener and someone who values the opinion of others. Finding your own voice requires self-awareness and sometimes knowing when to be quiet and listen.
If you can, have your issue put on the agenda. This will automatically give you the opportunity to speak. It will also force you to commit to speaking at the meeting if you are hesitant. Prepare what you will say ahead of time and have your data and supporting information at the ready so you will be confident that you can handle any difficult questions.
Some phraseology invites interruptions. It can make you appear less confident and even that you are apologizing for speaking. Train yourself not to use them. Examples are: “I’d like to say that,” “Can I just add,” and “I’m sorry but.” Better choices are "This is what I think" and "This is why."
Also, avoid negative comments like “I disagree with Kevin.” Comments like this can put people on the defensive. An alternative is to say, “Kevin’s point is interesting, but I think there’s another aspect to this.” This type of language can captivate an audience because you assume control.
Don’t ramble on either. Say what you want, but make your point as succinctly as possible.
If you’ve spent a significant amount of time on Zoom meetings, and who hasn’t, you might wonder why they are so exhausting. According to Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Instead interviewed by the news channel BBC, it’s partly because participants work so hard to pick up on visual cues, who’s talking when, and figuring out how to get themselves heard.
It’s common for people to talk over others unintentionally or to have awkward silences, which makes us more self-conscious and the meetings more stressful. Counteract this by first making sure your camera and microphone are working. Then, do a trial run with a family member or friend.
Make sure you understand the etiquette of how to “claim the floor” and the technology functionalities. For example, should you use chat or hold up your hand when you want to speak?
For more on speaking up, read “THIS Is How To Speak Up In Meetings”
New ideas drive change only if they are shared. Your opinion matters, so use the tips in this article to share yours. The more you do it, the more you will feel comfortable speaking up. What’s more, by respecting others and encouraging others who may feel hesitant to speak, you are demonstrating your empathy and leadership skills.