Last week, I recorded a webinar on public speaking for a select group of 100 women leaders from around the world.

Usually, my teaching is based on group participation and feedback – which is very difficult to do in a webinar. So I asked the women to watch just the first 2 minutes of three videos of women speakers – in advance – so we could discuss them during the webinar.

The three women speakers were (click on their names to see the video and watch the first 2 minutes of each):

  • Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Liberian peace activist
  • Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work
  • Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Yemeni journalist, politician and human rights activist

I chose these speakers not only because they came from different regions of the world, but also because their speaking styles were very different from one another:

  • Leymah spoke with a sense of intensity and pacing, using storytelling to keep us riveted and to illustrate the challenges to promoting girls’ education.
  • Brené’s TED talk was very informal, very personal, and very vulnerable, true to her subject.
  • Tawakkol’s speech demonstrated authority and passion – even though many of us couldn’t understand the words in Arabic. Her body language and intensity were very clear despite the language barrier.

None of the women were perfect speakers. Each one had issues of rushing, used crutch words like “um, ah, so, you know”, or seemed at times unprepared.

My point in showing these three videos was to demonstrate:

  1. There is no one perfect way of giving a speech, either for women or men. Everyone can use their own unique speaking style and their own cultural sensitivity.
  2. Public speaking is not about being perfect. It’s about being passionate, authentic, and knowledgeable. If you demonstrate those elements, then the audience will forgive a few ums and ahs.

Personally, I find those two points incredibly liberating. I don’t need to pretend to be someone else and I don’t have to give a perfect “performance”. I just need to be the same authentic person on-stage as I am off-stage.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.