Whilst much of my work involves preparing executives to confidently handle media interviews, I am also often called upon to assist people to prepare for presenting themselves at conferences or on video as part of digital content.
Recently, I conducted a number of group presentation training sessions across one organization. The participants were hand picked for their knowledge of their subject matter, and their standout skills against their colleagues.
The task we set them was simple: ad lib about a topic you are familiar with, but let your personality shine through. Be authentic. Improvise. And for the purposes of the exercise, don’t worry too much about being factually accurate.
Sounds pretty simple, right?
This exercise turned out to be a fascinating lesson in some key differences between the sexes.
Where the men were happy to play with sarcasm, goofy-ness and exuberance, fabricating facts for the purpose of the exercise, the women were terrified of appearing unprofessional or unintelligent. They held on for dear life to their little pieces of paper filled with information, despite the fact that the on-camera requirement meant there would be no chance to use the cheat-sheet.
On the whole, they were self-conscious, worried about body language, high voices and hair whilst their male colleagues threw caution to the wind and had fun.
During the review, all the women were aghast at how they appeared, cringing at the sound of their voices and appearance while the men were, on the whole, pretty happy with themselves.
It’s not an entirely unreasonable response, given the way audiences are so much more critical of female presenters: the way they look, the clothes they wear and the way they speak.
The situation is a real chicken-and-egg dilemma, but unfortunately it sits very much with the female presenters to change the status quo. Women need to give themselves permission to relax, loosen up and care less about how they appear on camera. And the only way to achieve this is through practice.
The result will be a more compelling and authentic presentation where we see less ‘cookie-cutter’ TV news-style presenters. It will certainly make for more interesting viewing.