For women, there are unwritten rules about how to communicate at work. If a woman is aggressively confident (or even mildly so), she can be ostracized. If a woman doesn’t speak with enough confidence, however, she can be ignored or undervalued. Neither situation is good for women or the businesses that hire women. Out Front: How Women Can Become Engaging, Memorable, and Fearless Speakers, written by a former TV and movie director turned communications consultant, helps readers (particularly women) learn why they need to speak boldly and authentically to get where they want to go.
What is Out Front About?
Out Front tackles the “psychology” of the double bind in women’s communication. One of the biggest problems women face is anxiety while speaking. This anxiety comes from a variety of sources: workplace policies that allow men to dominate the conversation, the social stigma of women who speak their mind unapologetically on under-representation of women in positions of power, and a workplace environment that judges women by appearance instead of their competence. This is in addition to the normal fear that most people have about public speaking in the first place.
The other issue concerns the way that women (and men) are trained to speak in public. They are taught to give formal presentations with specific guidelines. (Bring notes. Look directly into your audience’s eyes, etc.) The key missing ingredient, Out Front would argue, is personal style. One of the chief measures of a public speaker is his (or her) ability to engage an audience. That engagement begins when a person presents an authentic version of themselves to the audience. That “authentic version of ourselves” is something that usually doesn’t make it to a public speaking class on your local college campus.
Deborah Shames, author of Out Front recalls the performance of talented actors from her days as a film and TV director. Talented actors not only need to deliver the lines. They need to deliver those lines convincingly. Shames argues public speakers need to “perform” their messages as well. To do that, they need to break from the overly formal and stilted presentation style of the past and break out of their speaking “comfort zone’. By doing so, aspiring public speakers can find a personal style, the very thing that will help them connect and engage with their audiences.
Shames is a former TV and movie director turned communications consultant and the co-founder and CEO of Eloqui, a Los Angeles firm that specializes in communication. Shames is also a keynote speaker, trainer and group leader for Provisors, a community that connects business professionals with advisors.
What Was Best About Out Front?
Out Front diverts from traditional books on public speaking where the focus is on delivering a message the right way. In this book, the focus is on something much larger and closer to the actual goals of public speaking: engagement. You don’t speak in public to win points for the best PowerPoint slide ever. You speak in public to connect and engage with others. This key insight, along with Shames’ insightful discussions on workplace communication issues for women, creates a book that is uniquely empowering in the growing tide of books on public speaking.
What Could Have Been Done Differently?
Most education on public speaking focuses on making students fit into a specific mold at the loss of their distinctive style (and personal comfort!) Out Front celebrates that personal style and urges readers, especially women, to leverage it for engagement. One area this theme could be more developed is where it applies to the social context of communicating as a woman at work. Specifically, readers might be interested in more of the author’s recommendations on facilitating a more gender-inclusive work environment from the ground up.
Why Read Out Front?
Out Front urges readers, both men and women alike, to break out of the perceived “mold” of what it means to be a good public speaker and instead embrace the comfort of being yourself. The book helps readers transform their anxiety about speaking in public (“butterflies in the stomach”) into energy that can be used to “work the room” like a professional actor or entertainer.
Out Front places special emphasis on getting women to speak with boldness and authenticity. Many women have been culturally conditioned to believe that speaking boldly is reserved for men. As a result, women are simultaneously underrepresented in leadership and stereotyped when they attempt to break the glass ceiling.