Slaying on stage: why your next event needs a female keynote speaker

Aug 6, 2019, Author: Candice May

In a not-too-distant past, many a conference or event programme resembled an 80s lawn bowling team. Well, we don’t see people clamoring for seats for the next Bowls SA Masters Singles Championship now, do we? But when Arianna Huffington comes out for a Discovery Leadership Summit in Sandton, it’s a different story altogether. 


South African businesses and professional conference organisers are catching onto the immense power and value of women when it comes to curating a meaningful lineup of speakers at a conference. Those who claim that the ‘pool’ of speakers is too small or that women don’t have the same impact on stage as men are talking big fat BS and need to rethink their strategy pronto. 

Know who you’re talking to  

Extensive research shows that group intelligence is increased when there’s a diversity in a room. It isn’t a difficult concept to understand. An all-male panel or lineup of speakers offers little value to your audience or event in today’s world – unless you’re addressing the bowls team. With diverse groups of people attending events comes a critical need for voices that resonate with and reflect that audience. It’s that simple. Today, not having a balanced representation, not having a woman on stage, is a liability for your conference and in short will turn people away.  

The narrative has changed  

Yes, there was a time when an audience looked to a speaker for action – how to get things done! But now we have the Internet and Suzelle DIY for almost any ‘how to’ question. Audiences who live and operate in today’s collaborative and emotional economy need a different kind of help and motivation. They want advice and guidance on how to manage people, relationships and ego – and women are simply better poised than men to tackle the topic.  


Sharing is caring 

It’s not that men don’t reflect on lessons learned, it’s just that most women do it better. Oprah Winfrey, the undisputed queen of daytime talk television, has never shied away from sharing her failures and resultant insights, winning over her audience time and time again. Talking about your personal botches is more than an opportunity to teach lessons – it creates a platform for connecting people from all walks of life. Airing your failure is not quite the execution many men consider it be. Just as you bounced back to tell your story, others will understand and ultimately draw strength from your experience.  

Stop. Collaborate and listen!  

It’s easy to spot the speaker talking at you rather than with you, especially when it comes to Q&A time. Many men have a script that they stick and are likely to steer any questions received back to that narrative to land their message. That’s understandable, but women are different. As inheritably better listeners, female presenters can pivot to transcend their notes or rehearsed words to sincerely consider questions asked and offer a meaningful response – and that’s ultimately what will bring people back to your event the following year.  


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