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I run a public speaking program at Wellesley College that helps faculty across all disciplines be more effective at helping our female students improve their oral communication skills. Naturally, our focus started with presentations — specifically, evaluating the students' actual presentation skills rather than only providing feedback on the merits of the topic they spoke about.

Basically, all the things that make a speaker worth watching, listening to, and engaging with …

  • Did they make good eye contact with the audience? 
  • Did they sound confident?
  • Were they persuasive in their argument or unsure of themselves?
  • Did they move around too much?
  • Was the cadence of their speech too fast, too slow, or just right?
  • Did they wilt under the pressure of audience questions and debate or rise to the occasion? 

Believe it or not, public speaking isn’t just a talent or gift someone is born with. It can be taught. I’d like to think we’ve been effective in that regard, and our students are reaping the benefits. That said, can students find similar success with professional speech? Can they engage in an effective persuasive conversation (at school or in the workplace) that doesn’t involve leading a presentation?

The Pandemic’s Unfortunate Role in Lost Communication Skills

For many people, the lack of face-to-face social interactions and the seemingly endless life of Zoom meetings, remote work, and online-based curriculum during the COVID-19 pandemic caused regular social and communication skills to get a tad rusty. Students, in particular, are suffering the most. They’ve either lost their ability to relate with peers and engage with authority figures, or they don’t see these interpersonal skills being as vital as they once were. 

As a result, they aren’t raising their hands as much. Rather than ask questions, offer feedback, or challenge arguments with their thoughts, they sit in silence. Even when they want to speak, they struggle to defend and even convey their ideas with confidence.

It’s not just the pandemic that caused this. Though men and women both struggle with expressing themselves, women, in particular, would rather be less assertive with their communication skills in a social context. This is true even when they might have valuable contributions, and we see these unfortunate scenarios play out all the time. 

Women avoid being assertive for fear of being labeled “ aggressive” or “too disagreeable.” 

They err on the side of having overwhelmingly positive sentiments and minimizing what they disagree with.

They’re worried about what others will think; thus, they allow themselves to be interrupted or run over by their male and female peers.

They feel they can’t raise their voice without being accused of yelling.

Female students and women in business may find day-to-day communications challenging. As teachers, we must help them re-engage and find the right balance between confidence and impactful expression. Students who buy in — regardless of whether they are men or women — and progress faster will ultimately become more effective leaders. 

They will show confidence when communicating with their teams and eliciting healthy dialogue. They will be empathetic, persuasive, emotionally intelligent, and inclusive. Furthermore, they will know how to communicate their ideas to higher-ups. 

So, how do we get them there?

10 Tips To Help Female Students Master Persuasive Communication Skills

  1. Practice active listening in the classroom and the ability to engage with what’s being said.
  2. Have them get into the habit of repeating the speaker's message to ensure they understand.
  3. Include exercises that help them build on the ideas of others with ideas of their own.
  4. Get them into the habit of responding and speaking.
  5. Practice kicking the habit of being a people-pleaser. Disagreeing with each other is OK and can lead to better ideas and outcomes.
  6. Talk about appropriately “turning up” their assertiveness meter when they disagree with something.
  7. Practice emphasizing their point without yelling.
  8. Help them be aware of their body language, voice, and word choice.
  9. Promote exercises that help them remain calm and control their vocal modulation and speed  
  10.  Rely on real-time feedback as much as possible.

The Business World Demands Improved Communication

Your students’ success in the future depends on how well well they master and refine their persuasive communication skills now. This is where tools such as TalkMeUp can add more depth to classroom instruction. TalkMeUp is an innovative, one-of-a-kind software that offers a unique and compelling way to activate experiential learning and eliminate traditional scenarios that are too predictable or emulate the old way of doing things. TalkMeUp profoundly addresses these needs and related communication shortcomings by leveraging AI for instant measurement, analysis, reporting, tracking, scaling, and more. 

Like having a communications coach on speed dial, it gives you and your students the feedback you need to understand how you communicate — all in real-time. As they practice more with TalkMeUp and do things differently, this practice becomes who they are. To me, that’s the best feature. You can practice with TalkMeUp repeatedly and track your progress. 

As they begin to see changes in how they communicate, and TalkMeUp backs those thoughts up with accurate data, others will see them as a leader who emphasizes effective communication.

Interested in seeing how TalkMeUp could help your students communicate?  Book a time for a brief demonstration.

About the Author
Ann Velenchik is an associate professor of economics and writing at Wellesley College. She spent six years as the Director of Wellesley's Writing Program and one year directing all of Wellesley's First-Year academic programs prior to becoming dean of academic affairs. Her teaching portfolio has included a writing course entitled Wealth and Poverty in America, which looks at income distribution in the United States over the past three decades, and economics courses such as Principles of Microeconomics, Intermediate Microeconomics, International Trade, and Economic Development. She is particularly interested in active learning techniques in economics and in writing in the economics curriculum. She has written and published several pieces on using the case method in the economics classroom. Most recently, she participated in the development of a web resource for teachers of economics as part of an NSF-funded project.