Do positive role models increase public speaking confidence?

confidenceI was at a conference recently on ‘Inspiring women in academic medicine and the medical sciences’, organised by the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine.  I don’t want to talk about the conference (this time) but several of the speakers quoted interesting research and there was one article entitled Successful female leaders empower women’s behavior in leadership tasks* that I want to mention now (and any male readers bear with me because this isn’t just for female students).

A sample of 149 male and female students were asked to give a speech in a virtual reality environment.  During their speech they were exposed to a picture of Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel or Bill Clinton.  The length and perceived quality of the speeches were measured to give an indication of behaviour in a stressful leadership task.  The essence of the research findings were:

  • Female students spoke for less time than men when a picture of Bill Clinton or no picture was used
  • But female students spoke for longer and rated their presentations more highly when speaking in the presence of a picture of a female role model, speaking for similar times to male students
  • There was no significant effect of any role model on the speech length or rating of male students
  • They concluded that subtle exposure to successful female leaders inspired women’s behaviour in stressful leadership tasks.

Putting aside your views on how good these political figures are as role models (and there was a lot of interesting / funny debate on this on another post about this I read somewhere!) I wondered what you thought about this?  What factors influence your confidence when giving presentations (and you can extend this to having difficult conversations with other researchers / supervisor, networking…)?

Dame Sally Davies (Chief Medical Officer, the UK government’s principal medical adviser) said she imagines winding herself up before going into difficult meetings.  A senior member of staff in College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine mentioned she always makes sure she wears a jacket (and applies some lipstick!) before important presentations.  I posted before on power poses and how these can increase confidence levels.

So what works for you?  It would be great if you could share your tips for increasing confidence (and decreasing nerves) before presentations or difficult conversations in the comments below.

* Ioana M. Latu at al Journal of Experimental Social Psychology Volume 49, Issue 3, May 2013, pages 444 – 448. (You can get access to the full text through the library e-journals).

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