Speaking in public has always come with certain risks, especially when what you have to say might be controversial. Whether you’re sharing a video on social media, holding a difficult conversation at work or picking up a megaphone at a rally, you’re engaging in public speech—and others will respond to what you’re saying, for better or worse.
In 2018, the risks of public speaking have escalated. Women have received death threats after speaking publicly about their sexual assaults. Government officials are having their security clearances suspended for speaking truth to power. Every day seems to bring new, dramatic displays of backlash against public speech—but it’s also never been more important for feminists to get off of the sidelines and start speaking out.
We can all resolve to make ourselves heard in the new year and at the dinner table this season—whether that’s by raising our voices around friends and family or pushing our legislators to make change in our communities. Your voice matters, and it has the power to change opinions and actions. You may start with an audience of just a few people, but you could start a domino effect.
In just five steps, you can even start right here.
#1: Determine what you care most about.
There are so many critical issues that need our attention, from immigration to health care, and it can be hard or simply overwhelming to try and address all of them. Ask yourself which one or two issues you care about the most and why: What is your personal motivation? Who is this really about? Understanding why an issue is important to you and how it’s bigger than yourself will give you more confidence to speak up.
#2: Learn as much as you can.
Getting involved in an issue means understanding all of its perspectives—even the ones you don’t agree with. Lawyers may prepare for trial by presenting the opposing side to their staff in order to better understand their arguments. Use that model: Spend time researching the issue you’ve chosen to understand all views and the underlying interests people have, not just their positions, so that you can better find common ground. Find ways to connect based on shared interests.
#3: Seek out allies who support you.
It’s hard to speak up when you have to speak alone. Indeed, the #MeToo movement created such a tidal wave of support because women finally saw others like them speaking up about similar experiences. They realized they were not alone and started to see how others could make a difference by raising their voice.
Who in your network already cares about this? Who is in a position to support you and also has their own platform? Find people—friends, colleagues, classmates and family members—who support you and would be willing to speak up alongside you.
#4: Build your skills.
Many times, women hold back from speaking up because they don’t like public speaking or they don’t believe have the right skills. In my workshops, I find that when women build their communication skills, they build their confidence to speak up on behalf of what they believe in.
Do a self-assessment to determine where you can improve your skills, and take steps to build those skill sets—from communication skills to negotiation skills. Ask trusted friends or colleagues for their own assessment. Find a practice partner who you can try things out on and consider their feedback on what you can improve.
#5: Start small.
Start with one-on-one conversations with colleagues or family members, raising an important issue for the first time. See how that goes: What works? What doesn’t? How can you phrase something differently? Learn and adapt.
Then, when you’re comfortable, try writing a blog article or a post on social media. Then, start to write a speech or presentation on the issue. Record and post a video. Look for an organization that represents your beliefs; get involved, attend events and apply to speak at their conferences. Even asking a question in public at a conference will build your skills, your experience and your confidence.
You don’t have to pick up a megaphone on day one. When you’re ready to get even louder, the world will still be waiting to hear from you.
Allison Shapira is a speaking expert and author of Speak with Impact: How to Command the Room and Influence Others.