Giving young women a voice

Ladies OUT LOUD is a seven-week program dedicated to teaching young women public speaking.

By KELLY FLYNN

The Sun

For the past few years, Dena Blizzard has been ruminating on the idea of helping women find their voice. A professional comedian, Blizzard was hosting corporate conferences where she was struck by the fact that more often than not, she was the only woman on stage.

It was at one of these conferences that a female engineer sought her counsel. She told Blizzard that her inability to speak in front of people was holding her back at her job and asked where she could get some practice. In that moment, Blizzard realized just how few opportunities to practice public speaking existed.

“People say all the time women have to speak up for themselves, and you can keep saying it but nobody teaches you how to do that or gives you the skillset,” Blizzard said.

Through her soon-to-be nonprofit, Blizzard is hoping to give women that very skillset. Ladies OUT LOUD is a seven-week program dedicated to teaching young women public speaking. Blizzard said the goals are to encourage young women to get on stage, to know their “tells” and to help them overcome their fear of failing.

Once she decided to teach public speaking, Blizzard got to thinking about why her artist friends have no problem getting on stage. She realized the answer was simple: practice.

“Whether you’re doing comedy or spoken word or theater, you practice over and over,” Blizzard said.

So, she got together with some fellow artists and brainstormed what their program might look like. Last winter, they ran their first program at the Moorestown Library, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

At the start of the program, each girl sets her own goal. Whether it’s sweating, pacing, shaky hands, everyone has their tell. Blizzard said one of the top priorities is identifying those tells and giving girls the confidence to overcome them. She said many of these physical reactions begin to subside once a person gets more comfortable.

The program shies away from intimidating stages. Instead, the young women perform in classrooms or even sitting on the floor in an open-mic style setting. Blizzard said they focus on volume and inflection. One of the first assignments the girls have is to talk about a happy current event and to deliver the news as angry as possible. To date, none of the girls will yell without some coercion, so at some point, they get them screaming from across the room.

Blizzard said one of the fundamental problems with how people teach public speaking at universities is students are given a topic they don’t care about and asked to present it one time to the class. She said that’s not how you make people a great speaker.

“We believe if you’re passionate about what you’re talking about you’re going to be great at talking about it,” Blizzard said.

Participants can perform poetry, theater pieces, skits or write their own work. Blizzard said they give the ladies writing prompts in the hope they start to find their own voice.

While there may be a reticence on week one, by week three, many of the girls have had a breakthrough and are willing to make mistakes and be silly, Blizzard said.

Their improv-based style of teaching forces women to be in the moment. Blizzard said often people will practice a speech to the point of memorization, but they’re not very present when they deliver their words. She said they’re teaching women that it’s OK to go off script and to react to what’s going on in the room.

Since starting the program a year ago, women from around the world have reached out to Blizzard about starting their own chapter of Ladies OUT LOUD. She said they’re hoping to franchise the program, but right now, they’re trying to figure out the best model to give to people.

In the meantime, Ladies OUT LOUD is waiting to hear back regarding its official nonprofit status and is hosting winter chapters in Moorestown, Collingswood and Mullica Hill.

The Mullica Hill chapter will be held at Harmony Fire Hall on Main Street starting on Jan. 23 with the time to be determined. Those interested in attending can email rachel@ladiesOUTLOUD.org.

The program is open to high school-aged girls. To date, Blizzard has seen girls emerge from the seven weeks with a confidence they didn’t walk in with. She said listening to these young women perform has underscored that women have a lot to say, and she’s hopeful they’re giving them the bravery they need to tell them.

“There needs to be more female stories; there needs to be more female voices,” Blizzard said.

To find out more about Ladies OUT LOUD, visit https://ladiesoutloud.org.