Newsflash: men are from Earth - and so are women
I was in the breakfast dining room of Flemings Mayfair hotel in London last week when my phone rang. A prospective client called to tell me she had been asked to emcee an upcoming international business awards event but was inclined to say no.
"What's holding you back?" I asked.
"I am full of fear," she replied.
She then described a previous speaking engagement that did not go well and added an interesting question: "Do you think that men just have more ego and are more competitive, so that's why they emcee more often?"
When it comes to the battle of the sexes, I do remember that one time on Fire Prevention Day in Farmland, Indiana, when I beat fellow fourth-grader Donald Hughes in a sack race, but I'm no expert.
So, as to whether men are naturally more competitive than women? Let's see.
Last August, a leaked memo by a US-based Google engineer about that company's diversity policies claiming men were more competitive than women as a "truth universal across human cultures" went viral.
But a globe-spanning study published in 2009 by an ambitious team of academics from the universities of Chicago and Maryland suggests otherwise.
Researchers sought to discover if competitiveness was more connected to nature or nurture by rolling out a single experiment in two distinctly different cultures.
One took place with the Khasi tribe of Meghalaya in India, which has long used a matrilineal, or female-dominated, system of governance, and the other was conducted with the Maasai people of East Africa who are strictly patriarchal.
In each society, men and women were asked to toss a ball 10 times into a basket about 10 feet away.
They were offered a payment for simply tossing the ball on its own or, if they chose to compete against an opponent, they could earn three times the payment if they won.
The number of Maasai men choosing to compete for the ball-tossing prize was double that of the women from their tribe. With the Khasi, not only did many more women choose to compete than did their male counterparts, but the percentage of competing Khasi women even bested the percentage of competing Maasai men.
The study offers solid evidence that competition doesn't spring from our genes, but from our culture.
Change the culture, change the behaviour. In a society where women controlled the wealth, they were also more ambitious.
In the meantime, while we are all doing our part to help respect our fellow human beings as equals, what will help convince my caller that she should consider embracing her Master of Ceremonies opportunity?
Regardless if you're a woman or a man, if you've had a speaking event go south and are given another chance, here are some reasons why I suggest you try again.
1 Get back on the horse
The first time I did a TV news live shot, I was a freelancer for ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington, DC.
At the night-time crime scene of a shooting, when the camera's light came on, I felt like I was outside my body listening to some random woman aimlessly ramble.
Thank goodness this was before YouTube and thank goodness for news director Gary Wordlaw who told me: "You'll do better next time." He then made sure I had another live shot opportunity straight away.
One of the best ways to stop your head from replaying whatever went wrong in your past presentation or speaking event, is to do the next one. And another one after that. Create some positive space between you and the "incident".
2 Confront your past
While I recommend you moving past your past, that doesn't mean you shouldn't deal with whatever problem occurred. Go step by step through your performance in your mind. Better yet, difficult though it may be, if you were recorded, review the video.
It might not be as bad as you recall. But do examine what happened. How can you make sure it doesn't happen again?
3 Prepare and strategise
When you are an emcee, you are often working with an events co-ordinator.
Don't wait until you get their brief or bios of the speakers or script. Take it upon yourself to conduct preliminary research. Go to the event's website and explore the themes.
Who's invited? From where? Get your head in the game and write down your talking points outline sooner rather than later.
4 Practice the performance
If you're not at ease with the sound of your projected voice, practice is critical. It's called "delivery" for a reason.
How well you deliver the content is how you will connect - or not connect - with your audience.
Especially the opening and closing, when you practice out loud, in full volume what you plan on saying, you'll have a much higher rate of success.
5 Envision your success
Speaking of success, focus on your own. You have been asked to speak for a reason. You can say no and continue to dwell on your past stumbles or the perceived egos and competitiveness of others - or you defeat your fear by being positive and enthusiastic.
You can do it!
Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie
Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon
Sunday Indo Business