Is There Social Class in America? Hell, Yeah!
When I was growing up, the American middle class was the envy of the world. We had good educations (free), great jobs (with health care and pensions), and respect. The government built highways for our new cars, regulated the banks, and even subsidized home purchases (with the mortgage deduction). We were sitting pretty!
But even in that heyday of equality, social class mattered — and it still can affect how you relate to public speaking.
Does Your Social Class “Entitle” You to Speak?
For many of my clients, the answer is a big NO:
- One of them, a working class entrepreneur builds a $50 millon construction business from $50,000. Yet when he negotiates contracts, he feels that the “suits” in the room must be smarter than he is.
- In spite of her Ivy League education, one journalist from the lower middle class doesn’t think she has enough status to speak about an issue she’s been researching for 10 years (and understands brilliantly).
- Client after client after client explains to me that they don’t speak well because they don’t know big words (of the sort that doctors, lawyers, engineers, and professors learn in graduate school).
I’ve heard hundreds of stories about people with valuable ideas not sharing them because of social class and the internalized, often unconscious belief that they’re not “entitled to speak” because of the class they came from.
The View from One Social Class: Professionals
I grew up privileged in the professional (upper-middle) class of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and professors. (I’m sitting in the center of this Kaye family portrait from roughly 1970.)
In my social class,
- We were expected to have and express opinions;
- We were taught how to express them well (that’s what dinner was for in my family); and
- We expected that, when we were speaking, other people would listen.
This great home gave me a verbal confidence that I wish everyone received as a child.
But if you didn’t get this benefit in grade school, don’t worry!
It’s Not Too Late To Become an “Entitled” Public Speaker
How do you become entitled?
Well, first, in the words of Amy Cuddy (who researches power postures), you fake it ’till you become it.
At the same time, work on your attitude.
Work on losing the voices in your head that are telling you things that just aren’t true.
In particular, whenever you speak up in public — whether it’s in a meeting, on a conference call, or from a podium — take a tip from my entitled class and understand that these three things are true:
1. You Have the Right to Speak!
Regardless of your class, income, or education, you’re entitled to speak for yourself — to share the unique thoughts and ideas that come from your experience in the world.
You have a lot to teach the rest of us, so don’t ever let those little voices tell you differently.
2. Big Words Don’t Matter
The British essayist G. K. Chesterton wrote that “the main use for big words is to hide the errors of the rich,” and too often, that’s exactly true.
If you enjoy using big words, go ahead and use them. But don’t ever believe that someone who’s using longer words than you is smarter — or that they’re even making any sense!
3. Smart People Don’t Need to Speak in Complicated Sentences
Complicated sentences, like big words, are not a sign of intelligence or sophistication; and simple sentences win the prize for being easier to say, hear, and remember.
Again, like with big words, there’s nothing particularly wrong with speaking in complicated sentences.
There’s just nothing particularly right about it, either!
What Does This Add Up To? How About…Speak Like Yourself!!
No, really! Speaking like your (best) self — with confidence, with pride, and with a gentle sense of entitlement — is always the classiest move you can make.
And that’s true whatever social class you come from!
Want to Be a “Classy” Public Speaker?
Contact me and we’ll talk about how you can move from intimidated to entitled!