Public speaking is intimidating for most people, no matter the situation. Conditions surrounding the presentation can be multiplying factors. The importance we place on it is one factor. A recent conversation with two very successful women, highlighted another intimidating condition. They described a particular struggle while pushing through the glass ceiling. After years of hard work, their promotion hinged on a single partner presentation. That is a lot of pressure already, but for them there was another intimidating factor. That presentation was to all men. They were outsiders.

The above is a rather extreme case, but women looking to advance their career frequently have to present to rooms filled predominantly with men. Men don’t think about this much; they are part of the ‘in group’. For the women, the feeling of being an outsider is often quite serious and sometimes debilitating. This isn’t just a gender thing. There are lots of other examples, for instance race or native language. Feeling like an outsider simply adds more complexity and stress to presenting.

Double down on Preparation

The early components of preparation are very important when you are the outsider. These are things you should be doing anyway, but they are so much easier when you are part of the group you are presenting too.

  • know who is your audience – their background, their way of thinking, etc.
  • know what they expect to get from your presentation.
  • figure out what they need to be able to take in the information you present.

As an outsider, these can each be their own challenge. You are not part of the group, so you are going to have to do some research to understand each point. If considering these points is not part of your standard speech preparation practices, and it should be, then it is even more important that you do it.

If you are an outsider and you don’t take these steps, the audience will likely not engage well. Your presentation may work wonderfully for another group, but it has to work for the audience to whom you are presenting. These planning steps will help you reach the audience.

Getting accustomed

Even well prepared, you will likely still have the feeling of being an outsider. It might be general unease or even anxiety. Like public speaking in general, the only way to stop it from happening is complete avoidance, but the costs of that route are very high. Your best alternative is to  get comfortable with the situation, and the best way is through experience. You’ll get experience in the real situation or you can find a way to simulate it.

To make it practical to practice under outsider conditions, we’ve added initial provisions in Virtual Orator. If you got to the Audience tab you’ll have the ability to adjust the percentage of audience members based on gender. You can pick a gender mix that challenges your or just make conditions the more closely resemble those you will encounter.

By default Virtual Orator will continue to function as it always has, providing approximately 50-50 mix. This is different than setting the gender percentage to 50% though, as the later will create an exact count. With the default setting, the percentages varies a bit every time, leading to more variety in your experiences.

Challenge to Men

To men, particularly those that believe the gender pressure the women describe is exaggerated or even untrue, I challenge you to start up Virtual Orator with a room full of women. Set it to 100% women. If you are too scared, you can use 95% women.

During development I experienced this for myself. I had an overwhelming feeling of “what do these women want from me”. The feeling of being an outsider was significant.

This is a far cry for the pressure women must feel when careers are on the line, even during everyday meetings, but it is amazing how uncomfortable the situation can be.

Empathy for the presenter

If you find yourself in the audience of what is clearly an outsider presentation for the speaker, you’ll hopefully now have some additional empathy with the speaker. If you’ve experienced giving one of these presentations, you’ll know the extra uncertainty and pressure felt by the speaker. You being there as an empathetic audience member just might give the speaker the positive fixation point they need to excel.

Founder/CEO at Virtual Orator

Dr. Blom is a long time researcher in the VR field. He is the founder of Virtual Human Technologies, which applies VR and avatar technologies to human problems and helping better understand people. Virtual Orator exists largely because Dr. Blom wishes he had had such a tool instead of the ‘trail by fire’ he went through learning to speak in public.

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