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In a different voice...Leading with Language

May 1, 2003
With all the talk about the need for strong women leaders in dentistry, there is not a lot of talk about public-speaking skills for women. Public speaking is one of the skills that you need as a woman leader.

Finding your voice as a woman leader in dentistry

Written by Paul Homoly, DDS

With all the talk about the need for strong women leaders in dentistry, there is not a lot of talk about public-speaking skills for women. Public speaking is one of the skills that you need as a woman leader. You can use this skill to build your practice within your community, as well as your comfort and self-confidence when you communicate in front of others. You can also enhance your ability to communicate effectively with your peers about your many accomplishments in dentistry.

If you don't think you feel comfortable with public speaking, think again. This is your time to speak. Your voice is needed given the dearth of women speakers on local, state, regional, and national dental programs. In fact, most of the scouts for these programs are men, and their expectations may be rigorous. A valued woman expert in dentistry (you!) is needed to fill this void.

Using leadership skills

Leadership skills demand the use of a special language and presence that carries energy and intensity. Women leaders move, look, sound, and say things in a distinctive way that attracts people. Here are some basics.

Women speakers may need to avoid certain kinds of conciliatory movements, such as bowing or moving tenuously in front of the room. Don't fidget, and try to make good eye contact with a few people in the room. When you move, move definitively. With their smaller stature, women leaders may have to move boldly from one side of the room to another, move their arms widely or make bold, definitive moves. This kind of movement is reserved for men in many cultures, but it is an asset and tool for women speakers.

In dentistry, our language gives us the best opportunity to transform an average dental experience for patients and peers into a "wow" experience through storytelling, dynamic delivery, and humor.


Leaders tell great stories to influence listeners and make their messages memorable. They link emotion with logic. Many women have been trained to keep their emotions in check, but public speaking is an opportunity to let it out. Some of the best examples come from the oral traditions of many cultures, like Mother Goose stories, along with modern-day storytellers like Eudora Welty, Nora Neale Hurston, or Frances Pinkola Estes. Storytelling and dentistry are perfect companions. Stories about people who have confronted similar experiences can help patients address barriers to treatment with happy endings.

Dynamic delivery

Dynamic delivery means bringing energy to your words. Think about your voice as a musical instrument for the listener. Like a musician who varies pitch, volume, tempo, and rhythm, leaders add vocal variety to their words to earn their listeners' attention. Women speakers may need to ramp up the volume on their voice, and be careful about smiling too much or not enough. Once you have your audience's attention, you can influence them. Expressiveness inspires confidence and creates interest. No one loses credibility by being interesting. Don't be afraid to show people who you really are. Revealing yourself with expressiveness will bring you in touch with your audience, whether they are one or hundreds.


Is humor necessary for the "wow" experience? It's second only to oxygen! Humor earns patients' attention, influences them, and puts you on their level. Humor brings people closer together and is an antidote for stress. It's hard to laugh and be stressed out at the same time. Humor and laughter provide tacit approval and a nonjudgmental environment for your patients. Dentists, team members, and patients who laugh together can create a "wow" experience for everyone.

Start thinking about how you communicate. Emphasize your style to transform your speaking from one patient, to your community, or to national dental organizations into great experiences for you and your audience. It's time to show off your leadership with the language you use.

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Paul Homoly, DDS
Dr. Homoly, known for his innovative and practical approach to dentistry, is author of Dentists: An Endangered Species and Isn't It Wonderful When Patients Say "Yes"? He is director of Homoly Communications Institute. You may contact Dr. Homoly at [email protected].