Back again folks. Sorry about the break. I somehow keep getting distracted.

Last week I gave a masterclass in Public Speaking to Gov Know. The results were, if I say so myself, spectacular.

Two participants started the day with a pre-prepared short presentation, then finished the proceedings by doing their presentations again in the light of what they had learned. It was as if two new people had joined the session as accomplished speakers – the second attempts were a vast improvement on the first shots and came over as lively, interesting, dynamic and effective. Both speakers used far fewer notes and radically simplified their PowerPoint presentations. Less was, indeed, More.

I was struck by the fact that several women participants mentioned that the very idea of public speaking created anxiety and stress. This raises an interesting and important coaching issue. Namely are there any aspects of training/coaching that might be different for women or in some way not apply to men?

I tend to think not:

Denise’s own presentation to the conference looked at various issues arising for women moving into the public speaking arena, not least an unending tendency for many in the audience to dwell more on what they are wearing than what they are saying. She told me today about an especially grisly example where a woman speaker was (unbeknownst to herself) the subject of obnoxious live Tweeting that was being put up on screens at the very event where she was speaking.

Grisly indeed. But do such episodes tell us that such things are in fact steadily getting rarer? I’ve been to plenty of top events with good top women speakers where nothing of the sort happened. That said, maybe the concern that it just might happen serves to unnerve some women? If so, what’s the answer?

As it happens, I have given private coaching to two women wanting help with public speaking. It did not occur to me to ask them about any ‘womanly’ concerns they might have about being treated in a sexist way. I gave them exactly the same advice I’d give to men or Martians. Keep it simple. Signposts. Stories. Structure. The usual basic principles that work a treat.

Was I missing something? And would it have been unwittingly male-privileged sexist on my part to ask them about any ‘extra’ problems or anxieties they as women might have as a public speaker? Eeeeek.

Some people make a living selling public speaking courses for women that stress these ‘confidence’ issues. Good luck to them. I am persuaded (the more so after seeing what happened last week) that the main things any woman (or man) needs in public speaking are good content and associated structure that are well tuned to what is expected for the occasion and venue. If there is any tendency for (say) men in an audience to start to let their minds wander to sexist NSFW thoughts when they see a women speaker on stage, that tendency will be hugely reduced towards absolute zero if the woman speaker is doing a great job in actually speaking on the day.

Once someone grasps how doing the simple things well in itself projects energy and engagement, the audience gets interested and the right sense of conversation is achieved.

Years ago I did a course on Nutrition and Development, when experts were still agonising over the hard policy choices in getting food to starving millions in Biafra and Bangladesh: should they focus on cheaper calories or more expensive vitamins? The then answer seemed to be that if you delivered the calories, the vitamins would ‘take care of themselves’.

So with Public Speaking. Once you grasp what it is all about and know how to create a punchy, interesting presentation, issues like voice management and ‘confidence’ will tend to sort themselves out. It does you no good to get coached in confidence and voice technique if your subject-matter is rubbish.

I’ll be doing a similar session with Guardian Masterclasses in November. Sign up now. Or if that does not appeal, sign up for a different session on Negotiation in Action in October. Lots of exciting roleplays and some very scary real-life examples from diplomacy.

Be there, or be square.