• Speaking in public used to be seen as harder for women than men, and many women still resist

  • How to Own the Room podcaster, author and comedian Viv Groskop has spoken to 150 well-known women for inspiration and advice

  • She also believes therapy can help if low self-esteem is silencing you. Find a therapist here

In the modern world, there is little room for the shy and retiring. If you want to get any message out you need to be prepared to stand up and speak, in public, on Zoom, in front of friends, strangers and potential bosses.

But many of us feel particularly terrified of this. Viv Groskop, writer, broadcaster, and standup comedian, can help. Starting with her book How to Own the Room, published in 2018, she has become the go-to person for tips and advice on public speaking. 

Her podcast, of the same name, has included interviews with such well-known people as former politician Hillary Clinton, novelist Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Labour MP Jess Philips, activist Laura Bates, tech entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan and historian Mary Beard.

The vast majority of her speakers are women, because Groskop knew that women “really cared about this issue and worried about it.” Some women have no problem with public speaking, and some men do. But social pressure means that the genders do have different opportunities and feel different pressures.

Groskop believes younger women are much less likely to shrink away from speaking, fully understanding the power they stand to gain from having their voices heard. But there are also generational divides over issues such as presentation, clothes, appearance.

“Of course entertainment, show biz, television is where you are judged on your looks. And older women are more comfortable talking about this. But younger women feel they are betraying something by even talking about it.

“It has become a strange burden for women. A lot of women still harbour these insecurities but they know they shouldn’t any more because of the social media messages around body shaming, you are not ‘allowed’ to hate yourself any more. They may feel this insecurity, but they feel guilty about it at the same time!

Groskop’s own solution is to limit the amount of time she deals with the way she looks: “I have learned that the healthy way is to think I’ve ticked that box, now I can forget about it. You set certain standards, this much time to be concerned about this, and then forget about it. Once you are out in front of people, you focus on what you are saying.”

Groskop links to Welldoing as a resource in her book, and is a therapy advocate. Some of her interviewees use beta blockers to deal with their nerves before public speaking, but she she also notices there are others “who are always a bit down on themselves which will be carried in to your public speaking life. It will probably mean you won’t take those opportunities. 

“This is where you can see a therapist – I would and I have. There are issues there and a therapist will be able to help you through it. It’s not a quick fix, like breathing exercises, but it really is worth doing and it protects you more from those other superficial manifestations of anxiety.”

The new series of How to Own The Room has just started with a series of masterclasses, edited from over 150 interviews Viv Groskop has recorded for her podcast. 

Further reading

How can I stop my voice from shaking?

How hypnotherapy can cure a phobia of public speaking

3 simple steps for confidence in public speaking