Is There Social Class in America? Hell, Yeah!
When I was growing up, America’s white 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 relative equality, social class mattered. People from different social classes had different expectations for public speaking, and in many cases, they still do.
Does Your Social Class “Entitle” You to Speak?
For many of my clients, the answer is a big NO:
- A working class entrepreneur built his dad’s $50,000 paving company into a $1B construction business. Yet when he negotiates with government managers, he feels that the “suits” in the room must be smarter than he is.
- A 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).
- Other clients explain to me (in all seriousness) 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. (Communicating well actually has very little to do with words!)
- I’ve heard countless stories about people not sharing valuable ideas because they think (sometimes unconsciously) that folks from their social class aren’t “entitled to speak.”
The View from My Social Class: Professionals
I grew up privileged in the white professional upper-middle class of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and professors.
In my social class,
- We were expected to have and express opinions;
- We were taught to express them confidently (that’s what dinner table conversation was for); and
- We expected (and our experience confirmed) that, when we were speaking, other people would listen.
This great home training gave me a verbal confidence that I wish everyone received as a child.
But if you didn’t, don’t worry, because…
It’s Not Too Late To Become an “Entitled” Public Speaker
How do you achieve that attitude?
- In the words of Amy Cuddy (who researches power postures), fake it ’till you become it.
- At the same time, work on countering 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 — understand these three things:
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 unique experience of the world.
In fact, it’s often true that people with less privilege understand vastly more than the people who are buffered from reality by their status or wealth. By definition, you have a lot to teach people who are different from you, if you choose to generously share what you know.
2. Big Words Don’t Matter
To paraphrase British essayist G. K. Chesterton, the main use for big words is to cover up the errors of the rich (and powerful, and otherwise entitled).
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 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, as 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? Speak Like Yourself!!
That isn’t just the title of my comprehensive public speaking workbook, it’s great advice!
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 an Entitled Public Speaker?
Contact me and we’ll talk about how you can move from intimidated to entitled!
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