Shola Kaye is a sharp, intelligent and inspiring public speaker who spends her time helping women find their voice. She’s delivered TedX talks, done cabaret, stand-up comedy and performed in front of tens of thousands of people.
So it’s a surprise to hear her say she’s an introvert who once had trouble speaking up.
“My first corporate job was a management consultant and as a consultant, you’re asked to do a lot of speaking,” she tells me. “But I was an introvert and I was very quiet and very timid in meetings.”
With the help of a colleague, Shola managed to find enough confidence to get her through. But then a similar thing happened when she took another job and ended up being let go.
Thinking she wasn’t cut out for corporate work, she decided to follow her childhood dream – to be a singer.
“I took singing lessons and became a professional singer,” she says.
Now that may sound bizarre, giving her hesitance to talk at meetings, but Shola had found the magic formula: “I was still as an introvert, but I found I had a way that made it work for me. My ethos was: how can I give my audience the best possible experience? And that took a lot of the pressure off me because I was just thinking about them.”
She’s now turned that passion into a successful business Speak Up Like a DIVA, helping women find their voice and becoming a multi-award winning speaker and communication specialist. If that weren’t enough, she’s also written the best-selling How to be a DIVA at Public Speakingto help people improve their public speaking and presentation skills.
With many women struggling to be heard – how often have you been spoken over in meetings by male colleagues or been overcome by imposter syndrome? – I couldn’t resist the chance to ask Shola to pass on her tips to make us more confident speaking out and tell us why we should all be more DIVA…
Midlife women often feel invisible. What advice would you give them?
Interesting question. As somebody who’s a midlifer, there’s that benefit of confidence, the confidence that comes from experience, which is invaluable. And then also the wisdom that we have.
I think it’s important to not hang back and it’s different these days – in terms of clothes and mindset, a woman who’s 50 or 60 is like a woman of 30 or 40 20 years ago. I definitely feel women should embrace who they are and all they’ve learnt they can be.
Dreams don’t stop just because you’ve reached middle-age. It’s almost like life can open up again at this particular age, whether it’s because of the confidence or because of the freedom, or more time on your hands because the kids have gone, or even knowing better who you are or what you need to be happy.
It’s about grasping the opportunities that are there with both hands and saying: “Hey, you know, if I want to wear this funky outfit, if I want to speak up, if I want to do something that perhaps is frowned upon, who gives a damn, because I know who I am and I’ve got this experience behind me and no one should be telling me to hang back or shut up.”
Is this a DIVA?
Divas have a bad rap – the word actually comes from “divine” so diva isn’t a negative thing. Being divine or godlike is obviously a good thing.
Diva is also an acronym I use when teaching public speaking: Dynamic, Inspiring, Valuable and Authentic, which is what a communicator needs to be. It can be rearranged so it could also spell “vida” and it can also spell “avid”. So if you don’t want to be associated with “diva”, the framework still stands.
What tips from public speaking can we take to our everyday life?
I’m going to use the DIVA analogy and how that applies to day-to-day.
It’s very easy to talk about something that’s important to you but deflate the energy from it because you don’t want to beat yourself up or seem overexcited. The way we talk about what we do and who we are is almost as important as the content itself. If we’re talking about something we’ve done which we’re really proud of, but we make it sound like it’s very everyday, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. Whatever your style of being dynamic is, it’s important to make sure you infuse your communication with that, whether it’s that you’re very interactive or relatable or empathetic, or you’re very excitable or loud or whatever. Find your own style.
Is about storytelling, I’ve had clients that come to me because they really don’t like making small talk so they keep everything to the bare minimum. But often we have to give people conversational hooks to to enliven the conversation. So for example, if I said: “Oh yesterday, I had a really good evening.” That’s not very interesting versus: “Yesterday, me and my best friend went to this amazing hotel and we drank this new cocktail which had these ingredients and there was this DJ playing this music…” Whatever it is, the more detail you give, the more interesting the conversation will be.
Know what value you bring when you’re communicating with people, what’s your worth, and keep that in your mind because it’s very easy to have negative self-talk and talk away who we are and what what we have to offer. I find myself doing it too so I have to keep reminding myself: “Hey, look, this is who I am. This is what I’ve got.” Don’t downplay that because it’s very easy to let negativity bias take over and start thinking of the downsides rather than the good things.
Being yourself, knowing who you are, doing work on your values, what’s important to you, what makes you happy, what makes you not so happy. Try to skew your activities towards the ones that make you happy rather than the ones that don’t.
Finally, what inspires you?
A sense of fairness and trying to make things fair for people or equitable. That’s really important. Helping people recognise their their worth and what they bring to the table and being acknowledged for that is also important.
Service as well. Everybody’s got something to offer other people, everybody’s got something they do well or some intrinsic value, and just figuring out what that is so you can make the world a better place.
Really, it’s about bringing out the best in people. We’ve all had that one teacher in school who was excellent at inspiring you and making you feel you’re bigger than you are and that you can do anything. We can be that for the people around us. We don’t have to be it for everybody, it may not even be for our immediate family, but there are people out there we can be that for – and even be that for ourselves. That’s incredibly important.
Do you think you could be more DIVA? I’d love to know your secrets. Leave me a comment below.
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