How to Own the Room, by Viv Groskop

Woman talks through a loud speaker
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Stuffed with practical tips, examples and exercises, How to Own the Room is a masterclass in the art of public speaking.

How to Own the Room was written for women who want to learn public speaking, but don’t be misled: Groskop’s expertise is ripe for anyone who wants to find their voice or conquer nerves.

The book is built around notable (yet not flawless) speeches by women. Michelle Obama is there, along with Virginia Woolf, JK Rowling, Joan Rivers, Ellen DeGeneres, Emma Watson and Susan Cain.

Groskop analyses a speech by each of them in turn, using it to flesh out tactics and explain how speeches work. Each chapter ends with related exercises that build the confidence and skills needed to open your mouth in public.

This makes it a useful book for sure. What makes it powerful is how rare Groskop’s approach is: she likes these women. She talks about why they’re amazing, rather than why they’re not. There are no put-downs or scathing judgements or reductive discussions about what they were wearing or carrying (unless it explains something about the skills these women demonstrate).

“[Joan Rivers] opens up her whole face, her eyes, her mouth. She uses extreme gestures: hands on hips, shoulders shrugging, arms held wide in a ‘What fresh hell is this?’ expression. Maybe not how you’d like to address your postman if you were saying good morning. And maybe not how you’d like to present a six-month forward-planning strategy if you’d just joined a new team. But effective nonetheless. And worth $150 million by the time of her death in 2014.”

This not a gushing book. It’s clear-headed, analytical and plain-speaking. Groskop uses that to explain how these women make it work, and why – contrary to what you’ve probably been told – any woman can gain the same skills.

The skills necessary for public speaking are not in short supply. There aren’t a limited number of places, and you don’t have to push down another woman (or man) to take a seat at the table or, indeed, to own the room.


Viv Groskop, How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking. Bantam Press, 2018

Other books like How to Own the Room
  • Happy, by Derren Brown (positive thinking, self help)

Picture credit: Clem Onojeghuo