Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The revolution’s accelerating: PRACTICE MAKES UNPERFECT to make female voices even louder

By Amy Kean

I have my fair share of critics but like a lot of normal humans, my harshest critic is me. (And sometimes a dude called @adlandstratman on Twitter, but mostly me.) 

Remote working has been hard for us all, but personally I’ve struggled with watching myself on Zooms; my constantly fidgeting face and body, like I’m permanently being struck by lightening. Even better is when I’m presenting at virtual events, because that means thousands of people watching my magical ants-in-pants displays. 

Actually… you know what… I used to be my harshest critic. Now, I give zero fucks. 

That I’m asked to speak at events is lovely. That I (mostly) get paid for it is grand. Generally I’m just so excited to be discussing something I care about, you can basically see the atoms bouncing around my body as I speak. These days… I’d much rather have passion, than be perfect. Perfect is painfully overrated. 

When I first started in advertising the idea of public speaking sent a figurative spear through my soul. I wanted to be perfect. I used to have a thing about my voice and whether it sounded too ’common’ and squeaky. I used to have a thing about the size of my arse. The lines on my face. The audience! I had a thing about the audience. Those unamused faces staring back at you in a packed-out venue, with the guy who inevitably puts his hand up at the end of your session to say: “This isn’t a question, it’s more of a comment…” 

At one of my former agencies we paid a man to run presentation training. He was an acTOR, who’d been around for a while. I liked him, and he made me laugh. But during presentation training he also made one woman cry, commented on the short skirt of another and told a junior member of staff she “spoke like a little girl”. This isn’t Sesame Street, he said.

There was too much emotion, he said. Too much speed, too much moving, too much swearing, too much breathing and NOT ENOUGH MAKEUP. In meetings and pitches I’ve been told what colour lipstick to wear, how to blow dry my hair. What shoes to put on. (Heels. Always.)  Do guys get the same? That’s not a rhetorical question. 

Diversity and inclusion

For just over a year I’ve been working with DICE www.getdice.co.uk, which stands for Diversity and Inclusion at Conferences and Events. It’s a self-regulatory charter that me and some industry peers (Seb , Nicky , James and Faisal created to show the world what an inclusive event looks like. 

Our charter has 10 points that covers lineup, content and marketing. We recommend that no lineup be more than 50% male, no lineup more than 70% white, and so on. It’s based on the 2010 Equality Law and national statistics to act as an educational tool, and take the emotion (aka white male defensiveness) out of a very important task that it’s essential for our society to get right.

Working with DICE has been eye-opening, because since launch I’ve been (voluntarily) helping a lot of conference organisers find more diverse sets of speakers. I worked in events years ago, and I know the patterns. Fact is, women say yes less to speaker requests. Especially to panels.

They tend to want to know they’re the perfect person to take part. That no one in the world is more qualified. They also pull out more, ahead of the event. And yes, I know that could be because of personal/family/childcare reasons. (Another debate entirely!) 

BUT. A survey of 2000 women from a few years ago conducted by Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum (!) found that we’re more terrified of public speaking than dying. I guess ‘dying on stage’ is a thing, but when assessing 88 different phobias, giving a speech on stage was considered only less scary than losing a family member or being buried alive. But why? 

It’s hard being a woman participating in events. 

There, I said it. 

I believe (and please, prove me wrong) that women are scrutinised more. Audiences are generally less forgiving of women. In our industry, men are heralded as the geniuses, more. There’s still a big fat gender pay gap and that’s before we consider intersectionality. Racism, classism, homophobia, ableism, ageism are all at play and for some, all at the same time. 

Some of us aren’t given the grace to make a couple of mistakes and try again, because of how we look, sound or stand. Some are written off as uneducated, scatty, angry, inarticulate within the first three seconds of speaking. We shouldn’t all need to boast the same Stepford Wives posh voice and pink panel dress. If that’s perfect, then we should all be perfectly happy with UNperfect. 

I can’t change the bias of audiences, but with my 16 years in adland, hundreds of stages and fair share of fuckups, I can (with some friends) help loads of women in our industry hone their voices, get them out there and take pride in being as opinionated as possible. There are loads of incredible female speakers already on the circuit, but we need more and more and more. 

So I’m partnering with New Digital Age, who I love, to launch something that I believe is going to make big, beautiful waves in our industry. 

Practice Makes UnPerfect. A 6-week course that helps (mostly) women finesse their public voice, and then put themselves out there. 

Part psychology (interesting) part role play (ridiculous and fun)  part media training (bloody useful) part solo sessions (therapeutic) and part industry exposure (handy)… it’s a safe space where we practice presentations, panels, podcasts, opinions, make mistakes and learn from them. 

I’ve been through so much training, learning and development over the years. But you know the beauty fiend who spends years trying out every skincare product and finally makes her own superior face cream? That’s me. But with professional training. Less interesting, I know. But guaranteed to be effective nonetheless. 

With Practice Makes UnPerfect, there’s no pitching. Or annoying small talk with strangers. 

It’s not teaching

It’s not self-help. 

It’s not “do as I do”. 

It’s “be your best self”.  

Every Practice Makes UnPerfect cohort will become a small community. It’s like… it’s like the opposite of an elocution course. Or that Ladette to Lady show from the noughties. Ain’t no one getting makeovers. Just getting louder and prouder. 

New Digital Age’s founders are modern, witty, innovative, knowledgeable, respected and passionate about giving women a voice. Now they’re going to be working with me to help women all over our industry hone that voice, practice it, and use it. 

What I’m looking forward to is every single one of the women going through Practice Makes UnPerfect being better than me, and I give precisely zero fucks. (Just watch out for @adlandstratman on Twitter.) 

We’re running two types of Practice Makes UnPerfect. One that starts in January 2021 for women from all across the industry, and dedicated in-house courses for companies. 

For costs, chats and general hellos, give me a shout at amy.kean@bluestripegroup.co.uk 

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