Last July, I had an epiphany. Not a life-changing epiphany, a “Did you guys ever notice?” epiphany. I wrote about it in my column in the July issue. I talked about how, while hosting conferences, I noticed I was the only woman on the main stage and there weren’t many women in leadership roles for organizations that were predominantly women! Around that same time, the #MeToo movement was also taking off.
I mentioned to my husband that there was such a need for public speaking for women in executive positions (and everywhere). Perhaps with some classes and experience, more women would have the confidence to speak up and move into the leadership roles they deserve, and their presence on these main stages would have such a profound effect on the women in the audiences watching them. I was working it all out in my mind. I was going to start teaching public speaking classes. I was going to do my part. I was going to teach public speaking using the skills I attained through stand-up and comedy. I asked anyone interested to contact me and about 15 women responded to my request and we met in January and February to discuss some options. The volunteers came from all walks of life with such unique stories and backgrounds, but with similar experiences of either not being great speakers or knowing that having great speaking skills helped them get ahead. We talked about stage fright, speaking “tells,” speaking from the heart, negotiating, learning how to pitch, how to introduce yourself and nailing an interview. I realized that there was such a need for speaking training and we couldn’t possibly fit all of it into a six-week class.
After much discussion, we created a new nonprofit called “Ladies Out Loud.” The organization is dedicated to teaching young women public speaking through the arts. We utilize skill sets from comedy, theater, poetry, spoken word and improv to teach stage presence, how to use speaking aids (note cards/poster boards), audience connection, getting over stage fright and finding your unique voice. The six-week program is open to all high school-age girls and culminates with a graduation show where the girls perform a three-minute set for their family and friends.
We are in the middle of our pilot program and have 15 amazing young ladies, all scared out of their minds on the first day, who come every week and take risks on stage. We also have six amazing mentors in each of the respective art fields volunteering their time to create this amazing program. We have girls in the program who have been on stage before and others who struggle each time to get on stage. We promote only an environment of support. Every girl is applauded. Every time you get on stage is an accomplishment, mistakes and all. I think it’s important to teach young women that a mistake is not the end of the world and crying doesn’t make you weak. Sometimes, it’s a real, natural reaction to life that you just can’t control. I’ve cried like a baby even after I did a great job in an interview, just because my body needed to and it took me a long time to realize that was OK.
Every girl in Ladies Out Loud is working at her own pace. We are not trying to create poets and comedians, but if it turns out that way, great! We need more female writers and performers across the board! What’s most important about this program is teaching young women that speaking your mind can be fun. My hope is we can create something that can be replicated anywhere in the world so moms, who are not necessarily artists, can launch Ladies Out Loud in their communities and young women everywhere can discover their unique voices, get in front of people and speak their truth.
I don’t think we can expect women to speak out with confidence because of a hashtag. We should, but it’s scary, especially when in an uncomfortable situation. If we can teach young women the joys of expressing themselves now and give them real, tangible skill sets, they are more likely to reach for them when they need them—a college presentation, a new job or out of a bad relationship.
Ladies Out Loud is open to any high school girl, free of charge. If you or your company would like to make a donation to help support our programming or if you would like more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be running another pilot program this summer with the hopes of training other leaders (moms) to run programs in their communities in the fall. If you are interested in learning more about starting your own Ladies Out Loud program, contact us at email@example.com.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 1 (April 2018).