Learn from the world's greatest female public speakers

From Oprah Winfrey to Malala Yousafzai, Taylor Swift to Michelle Obama, what can we learn from the world’s best female speakers?

Table of Contents

Inspiring Female Speakers


This is one part of a two-part series on great public speaking role models. This part focuses on female speakers. If you’re looking for great male public speakers, head on over here.

Writers of dialogue always listen to how people speak.

It’s the same with speaking. A good way to improve your own speech writing and delivery is to listen to experienced speakers.

Put another way, to be the best verbal communicator you can be, you must study the world’s best speakers.

The more you listen to experienced speakers, the more you will absorb their techniques into your own talks.

You can learn a lot by paying close attention to how they construct their talk and to the pace at which they deliver it.

Everywhere from YouTube to TED.com, the world’s best speakers are just a few clicks away.

If you need to speak before an audience regularly — or, indeed, if public speaking is something you would like to practise — you should make a recurring calendar appointment with yourself to dip into a selection of talks on YouTube or TED.

Here are some exceptional female speakers who can inspire you in any communication or public speaking setting.

Public speaking lessons from Oprah

Great female public speaker Oprah Winfrey

Here, we take a look at Oprah Winfrey’s techniques and break down a series of tips and tactics straight out of the Oprah communications manual.

The American TV host — and, who knows, possible future United States President! — is one of the most influential people in the world, and her communication style has earned her the love of millions worldwide.

Oprah routinely shares great advice on becoming a great executive communicator.

So let’s see what she can teach us about effective communication.

1. It’s a conversation


Oprah never lectures.

Instead, she converses with her audience. If you listen to Oprah’s show, you feel as though you are talking to her one-on-one.

When presenting, this is the feeling you want to give your audience—to make each audience member feel as though you are talking to him or her individually.

When creating your speeches and presentations, forget the big fancy words and the complicated terminology.

Read over the script and make sure it sounds conversational.

Ask yourself simply: Is this how I would talk to a friend?

After all, a speech/presentation is simply a conversation you are having with many people.

2. Open with a big promise


Oprah always opens her show with a Big Promise.

She provides her audience members with a roadmap (an outline) of all the exciting things that will happen during the show.

Here’s just one example:

Today on Oprah, Dr. Phil will show you five easy steps to reigniting the romance in your relationships.

After that, Suze Orman will show you how to eliminate all your credit card debt.

Putting the heat on romance and getting debt free??? Now there’s a big promise to start any performance. And every talk or presentation or speech you deliver, whether from a conference stage to 1000 delegates, or to your team in a cramped meeting room, is a performance.

If it’s applicable in your scenario, always provide your audience with a quick outline of the value they are going to get out of your speech.

3. Share personal stories


Oprah shares plenty of personal stories about her successes and struggles.

These personal stories create rapport with the audience.

Personal stories are interesting to listen to, and they’re also memorable.

When creating your speeches and presentation, reach into your reserves and try to find the personal stories you can use to back up your core message.

They add credibility to your message and make your speech interesting.

The outcome of getting personal is that you will subtly demonstrate to your audience that you’re just like them.

No matter what our station in life, all of us want that reassurance.

By sharing personal stories, Oprah shows her viewers she was just like them.

Even though she’s a billionaire, her authentic personal stories about her struggle with weight-loss made her seem like “one of us”.

It gave her massive credibility, which in turn gave her the ability to connect on a deep emotional level with her viewers.

If you want to inspire people with your message, if you want your audience to connect with you, you need to make them feel that you’re just like them.

Share your successes, by all means.

But make sure you don’t forget to also share your struggles.

4. Show them you care about them


Once you’ve established that you are just like your audience, the next step is to prove to them that you really care.

That you care about their problems, struggles and challenges.

Oprah made her viewers feel that she cared about them.

She did this by empathizing with their struggles and letting them know that she was facing those very same struggles.

When giving your speech, let your audience know that you care about them, then tell them why.

Have you faced a similar situation in the past?

If so, let them know!

And don’t sugarcoat it. If you can remember what it was like, dive into those memories. That will build rapport and relationships.

5. Stand for something bigger than yourself


Your speech can’t be all about you. It has to stand for something bigger than yourself.

Oprah’s show stood for:

“Live Your Best Life”.

What do you stand for?

Do you have a purpose that drives you forward?

What value will your speech provide your audience?

It really pays to think about these questions before any speech, talk or presentation—and the truth is this applies equally to personal and business communications.

6. Make it emotional


Oprah’s stories of struggles and successes were full of emotion.

Why is it important to invest your communications with emotion?

Because emotion is the fuel that drives action.

If you want your audience to take action, then you need to use emotional stories that will touch them and inspire them.

7. End with enthusiasm


End on a high note.

Make sure that when your audience leaves the room, they leave feeling excited and hopeful.

Craft the ending of your speech or presentation so that your audience leaves feeling hopeful about the future.

No matter whether your company is aiming for $100 million revenue, you’re aiming to build a successful team and culture, or you’re trying to help colleagues with a healthier work-life balance.

Whatever your goals, ending your presentation on a high note will carry you and your team or audience forward towards that future.

Fail to do this, and all the wind might be out of the sails before you even leave the room.

Here’s one of Oprah’s best performances, her Golden Globes Speech in 2018.

Learning from the public speaking techniques of US soccer star Abby Wambach

Great Female Public Speaker Abby Wambach

Mary Abigail Wambach is an American retired soccer player, coach, and member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

A six-time winner of the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year award. She retired from soccer and began a new direction to her life.

She wrote the highly acclaimed Wolfpack, a leadership book based on her own experience. She’s married to Glennon Doyle where they co-host a hugely successful pod cast WCDHR (We Can Do Hard Things).

One of the things we most admire about Abby Wambach is that she’s not the “polished” keynote speaker we seem to have grown to expect, but that doesn’t get in the way for her ability to move and inspire her audience.

You don’t need to be perfect to be a great communicator, you just need to believe your message and connect in an honest way and speak from the heart and she does that powerfully.

There is a blend of courage and vulnerability when she communicates with her listener.

Have a listen!

Public speaking lessons from Michelle Obama

One of the best talks by Michelle Obama was her speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

She highlighted the importance of the United States coming together as a country and working towards a common goal. She also discussed the importance of having a leader who embodies the values of empathy, compassion, and integrity.

But it wasn’t just what she said, but how she said it. Watch her body language and presentation style below, and see what you can learn.

Public speaking tips from Brene Brown

Brene Brown is an Internet phenomenon.

Her speeches have been viewed tens of millions of times on YouTube, TED and elsewhere online.

She is a researcher of shame, vulnerability, courage and empathy.

Her TED talk—”The Power of Vulnerability”—is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world with tens of million of views.

She is also the author of three #1 New York Times bestsellers.

But the real reason I bring Brene Brown up here is because she is a stunningly powerful presenter.

Her confidence on stage is a sight to behold. Here we analyse why.

1. Wholeheartedness


Brene Brown’s confidence is based on wholehearted living and wholehearted presenting.

What is wholehearted living?

It roughly translates to:

By accepting vulnerability in our lives we can live more meaningful, more connected, more successful lives.

Her research is based on following 10 guideposts for vulnerability which she urges us to practice daily.

But does she practice these guideposts when she speaks to her audiences?

In short, is Brene Brown a wholehearted presenter?

Hell, yes!

And you can learn so much from her if you want to connect in an authentic way with your audience.

Let’s discuss a number of her 10 guideposts in the context of her presentation approach, so that you too can bring Brene Brown’s confidence into your own presentations.

Guidepost 1: Cultivating Authenticity (Letting go of what people think)


“To be willing to let go of who you think you should be, to be able to connect” — Brene Brown

Brown communicates with her audience as if she’s having a chat over coffee.

She talks in an authentic, conversational easy way.

She has the courage to be herself (in true Texan fashion), to “show up authentically”, no pretense, no facade.

To adopt Brene Brown’s confidence and become a more powerful, impactful, confident presenter, we need to let go of what others might think of us—our colleagues or managers.

You need to have the courage to show up for your presentation as your true self, not trying to be something you are not—this honesty connects powerfully with any audience.

Guideposts 2 & 3: Cultivating Self-Compassion (Letting go of perfectionism), and Cultivating A Resilient Spirit (Letting go of numbing and powerlessness)


Brown’s TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability”, was originally going to be named something like “Variables Mitigating Self Actualising”.

Which begs the question: why the change?

Well, how often do we intellectualise our language? Speaking in conceptual language stifles audiences.

Why do we do it?

In truth, we do it to protect ourselves, to appear like we are worthy and perfect. We put “armour” on — complex language, or a data dump on a PowerPoint slide — to protect ourselves from being vulnerable.

When we strip the humanity from our presentations, it numbs and stifles presenter and audience alike.

By allowing self-compassion (as Brene does in her talks) we allow ourselves the permission to be imperfect in our presenting.

This allows us to show vulnerability, to show emotion when we speak, whether that’s fear, anger or asking for help if we need it.

By allowing this self-compassion, a presenter becomes more resilient as a result. And ultimately creates a more honest, authentic, stronger relationship with the audience.

Guideposts 4 & 5: Cultivating Gratitude and Joy (Letting go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark), and Cultivating Meaningful Work (Letting go of Self-Doubt)


Brown refers to scarcity as a mindset of “never enough, never perfect enough, never relevant enough…”

Many presenters live in constant scarcity, or what some people might recognise as “imposter syndrome”.

Brown admits to working daily to overcome her scarcity self-talk and to conquer her “imposter syndrome”.

Moving from “I am not worthy” to I am worthy and enough. In the context of becoming a confident presenter, we need to let go of our scarcity self-talk.

This is a huge factor to overcoming fear/lack of confidence when presenting.

Guidepost 6: Cultivating Creativity

One of the most striking things about Brown is the skill with which she weaves years of research with her personal, vulnerable, honest stories—both funny and painful.

I just love the quote:

Stories are just data with a soul

The vulnerability in her stories, metaphors and analogies resonate very strongly with her audience.

Stories help audiences to remember important points and they also build that important empathy with listeners.

In order to connect with audiences, there needs to be a balance of Evidence-Based-Content (Head content) mixed with emotive content (Heart content). Brown achieves this balance perfectly. This results in a fully engaged audience when presenting.

Throwing data coldly at audiences will numb them, and yet we see this all the time.

So I strongly encourage you, on your journey to becoming a confident presenter, to close your laptop, get a pen and paper out or go for a walk.

Get creative, brave, and playful with your presentation content.

Guidepost 8: Cultivating Calm and Stillness (Letting go of anxiety)

This one is, I believe, absolutely essential to becoming a confident presenter.
Listen to Brene Brown speak (I’ve included the videos at the bottom).

There is no rush, no anxiety, no sense of urgency. She pauses, to think and reflect.
Now this is confident presenting.

She’s not distracted with whatever content is coming next. She’s not worried about “getting through” her content. She remains present with what she is speaking about.

Of course she has researched and prepared her talk.

But she is also a big believer in the power of meditation and the importance of breathing, and we experience this as she speaks.

Working to understand the role breath plays is vital to help connect with both our content and our audience.

Guidepost 10: Cultivating laughter, play, intuition and trust (Letting go being cool and being in control)

Brown has fun in her presentations, and as a result the audience has fun.

She laughs at her stories, she laughs at herself!

Whilst her content is grounded in strong evidence, she allows herself not to take herself too seriously.

She doesn’t rely heavily on a script or slides, and she reacts to her audience’s reactions throughout.

She “lets go of total control and certainty” – not totally but just enough!
Conclusion: How to Gain Confidence from Wholehearted Presenting
Implementing all of this in your own talks, speeches and presentations is easier said than done, of course, but as we’ve seen from Brown, weaving personal stories through your talks certainly makes it easier.

To reach the level of confidence embodied by Brene Brown requires preparation, practice and BRAVERY, but when achieved it will totally captivate an audience.

All 10 of Brene Brown’s guideposts encourage us to show vulnerability in some way.

As a presenter in a corporate context, this requires immense bravery.

This bravery will ultimately give you a deep sense of connection with both your message and with your audience.

I strongly encourage you to explore wholehearted presenting if you want to become a confident presenter.

It really does work.

Watch Brene Brown’s confidence at first hand in her two most lauded TED talks below – “The Power of Vulnerability”, and “Listening to Shame”.

Public speaking lessons from Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai delivered a power speech at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 2014.

In this talk, she discussed the importance of education for girls and the need to support and empower young women around the world. She also spoke about the power of young people to bring about positive change in the world.

Showing both great humility and plenty of humour, Malala gains ovation after ovation by standing at a lectern and bravely speaking her truth.

Ellen DeGeneres public speaking techniques

Short but pitch-perfect, Ellen DeGeneres delivered a brilliant acceptance speech for the Carol Burnett Award at the 2020 Golden Globe Awards.

Public speaking techniques from UN Human Rights leader Michelle Bachelet

Michelle Bachelet delivered a powerful speech on taking up her new role at the United Nations General Assembly in 2018. 

She discussed the importance of human rights, gender equality and the need for global cooperation to address challenges such as climate change and conflict.

Despite sitting down at a UN assembly, she was able to inject powerful feeling into her address.

What we can learn about public speaking from Taylor Swift

Singer-songwriting superstar Taylor Swift’s 90-second acceptance speech for the 2019 MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year was a tiny masterclass in powerful speaking.

Note the way she uses pause, careful hand gestures and eye contact (to the camera, in this instance) to excellent effect.

Public speaking tips from Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel may not have won many prizes for warm charisma, but she was still a powerful leader across Europe, and one of her best talks was a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2019.

The video is dubbed in English, but that shouldn’t stop you noting her posture and body language as she delivers her message.