Tuesday, October 28, 2008
A hat tip and a vitamin C supplement to reader Mary Fletcher Jones, who sent us this interesting item about foods that curb anxiety, which included this advice for speakers:
People who take a 1,000 mg of C before giving a speech have lower levels of cortisol and lower blood pressure than those who don't.I'm still hunting down the actual research to bring you, but thought readers can tell me: Have you tried this? On the strength of this, I'm starting a new thread on "the healthy speaker," with tips for how you can relieve stress and improve the physical aspects of speaking. Stay tuned for more.
Great question, Alice--it underscores the subtle signals, many silent, that speakers can send to their audiences, whether it's colleagues around a table or listeners in a lecture hall. And in truth, there's nothing to stop a woman from rolling up her sleeves or taking off her jacket, right? But if you're uncomfortable doing either, try these options:
- Take command of the space: If everyone's seated, stand. If you're behind a lectern, walk out to the front of the audience. If there's a U-shaped table format, walk into the space inside the "U." Move in a relaxed way; a good look if you're standing is to hold your arms with elbows bent, hands lightly clasped, as here. If you're seated at a table, put both arms stretched out in front of you and lean forward.
- Take charge with your words: "Let's get started," or "let's get to work" couldn't be clearer. But make it an invitation to join you--"I know everyone here has good ideas, so let's get started," or "I'm excited to be with you at such a critical time. Let's not waste a moment getting started."
- Do either before you sit down. If it's your meeting--or you want it to be--try either of the above strategies as you enter the room or shortly after, but before you're seated.
SOME OF the best talks I've heard have been by women. I think, firstly, that's because despite huge strides in equality, women still need to prove they are as good as, or better than men in "traditional" roles - which means they put in the necessary preparation.Montagu also questions a source about why she's not heard any good women speakers in the Knesset. Check out the column for another favorite of mine, her reference to what may be the shortest speech ever, by the late Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek: "I am known for my long speeches," he once said. "Welcome!" he concluded. Do pay attention to her good advice about how you can hold an audience's attention!
Secondly, women are excellent communicators, empathetic and looking for a response. They tend to be practical and are more likely to stick to the point. So provided they can exercise discipline and have something to say, they are natural speakers.
Monday, October 27, 2008
After trying out the Amazon Kindle not just as an e-book reader, but to serve as electronic notes for a talk--I offered readers of this blog a discount. Now Oprah's doing the same, after a show last week in which she raved about this new device as her favorite new gadget. If you order the Kindle and enter OPRAHWINFREY during checkout, you'll get $50 off the price, plus 10 percent off The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. (No promotional code needed for that.) But hurry: The offer ends November 1, 2008. [UPDATE: This offer is no longer valid.]
Since first test-driving the Kindle, I've found it especially useful for other tasks of the speaker, including:
- Toting many speech texts with me while traveling. You just email documents to your special Kindle email address, and for pennies, they're converted to the format and sent to the device wirelessly. As the Kindle weighs just 10.3 ounces, it's a lightweight travel companion.
- Reading and annotating texts to cite in future speeches. More than a reader, Kindle lets you clip, mark and make notes on books, blogs, newspapers and documents downloaded to the reader, making them easy to find when you're putting a speech together. There's even a dictionary built in so you can check meanings of words.
- Reading long sections of text from an existing book or blog. If your speech requires a long quotation, download the document to the Kindle and bring it along. You can even electronically "dog-ear" the page in question.
Click on the box below and use Oprah's discount to get your own Kindle. And let me know your experiences with it as a speaker in the comments!
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Honorata Kizende looked out at the audience and began with a simple, declarative sentence.Helping Congolese rape victims to speak out in front of local audiences is one facet of a larger effort to change the culture, along with increased criminal prosecutions, legal clinics and special police units. The speaking serves several purposes, raising awareness locally and internationally, as well as helping the women recover their confidence as well as their voices in a country "where women tend to be beaten down anyway," according to the article. (Embedded in the online article is a video showing one event where women were encouraged to speak, so you can watch this amazing tale unfold.)
“There was no dinner,” she said.
“It was me who was dinner. Me, because they kicked me roughly to the ground, and they ripped off all my clothes, and between the two of them, they held my feet. One took my left foot, one took my right, and the same with my arms, and between the two of them they proceeded to rape me. Then all five of them raped me.”
For every person who comes to this site after searching for "how to be eloquent," these speeches are models of simplicity--and all the more powerful for the lack of flowery rhetoric which would be superfluous here. It's the cold, hard facts, dramatic enough in their own right, that cut through the culture of ignoring the problem. Concrete and sticky, these words demand that you listen: "There was no dinner. It was me who was dinner." The next time you're searching for an elaborate turn of phrase, consider "simple power," and see whether you can transform your speech into something this extraordinary.
This isn't about party politics or ideology. It's about professional presentation. Female candidates — for the corner office or political office — face a different scrutiny than men. Women have to work harder to break sexist stereotypes...Many professional women also are disappointed to hear a public figure speak in a "valley girl" delivery, the manner of speech in which the voice rises at the ends of sentences...That's not good when a woman is trying to project competence.I've heard women on all sides of the political spectrum wonder aloud or express concerns about both of this year's prominent women candidates, Palin and Sen. Hillary Clinton -- much as I often hear women critique another woman speaker at professional conferences. In politics as in public speaking, part of the concern stems from a sense that women have historically had fewer opportunities to speak and often aren't taken seriously as speakers, adding to the pressure on women speakers to "make good" and represent the gender well. (The double-edged sword here: I've seen plenty of women decry other women speakers, in circumstances where they wish they'd had the opportunity--as if one women gaining access to an audience damages other women's chances.) In Palin's case, far from attracting women to the campaign, her efforts seem to have attracted more men and raised concerns from more women. What do you experience when you speak? (Photo of Palin from McCain-Palin campaign website.)
Monday, October 13, 2008
In Woodhull's case, her home state of New York did not extend the vote to women, so she couldn't vote for herself (and was in prison on election day, in any case). The NPR story today talks about her famed "free love speech," actually a response to a question in which she advocated free love--an issue that overshadowed and marginalized her campaign in the eyes of many, prompting the engraving below of her as Satan.
Go here to find all things Victoria Woodhull, including a useful listing of books about her, some of which include the texts of her speeches. The website's FAQ notes that reporters of the day who wanted to mock her made fun of her trilling of her R's when she spoke. (Engraving of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee receiving a deputation of female suffragists, January 11, 1871. A "lady delegate" believed to be Victoria Woodhull is reading her argument in favor of woman's voting, on the basis of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Constitutional Amendments. Published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, v. 31, no. 801 (1871 Feb. 4), p. 349 and today found here in the Library of Congress collections. Caricature of Woodhull as Satan by Thomas Nast.)
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Her clothes don't have the aura of sophistication like that of Michelle Obama's sheaths and pearls. They do not have a patina of glamour like Cindy McCain's heiress wardrobe. And they do not announce themselves with the confidence, assertiveness and listen-to-me-ness of Sen. Hillary Clinton's bold pantsuits. Palin's clothes are common. Everyone knows someone who dresses like her, which is partly why so many folks seem to think that they know her.Givhan notes at the end of her review that Palin's ability to answer questions is itself an unanswered question. As an unpdate on yesterday's post, a major poll taken since the debate show that voters like her--but don't think she's ready for the vice presidency.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
The attention on Sarah Palin's debate performance has been at an all-time high. Palin bingo cards have been filled out, the pundits and Tina Fey have weighed in, the polls have been taken. You can find word clouds of Palin's debate performance on Wordle.net, showing larger those words more frequently used (those would be McCain, also, and going). The vice-presidential debate last week was the most-watched-ever, reflecting not only the unusual drama of a woman candidate, but the roller-coaster economic week the nation's been through. That context helps account for the unusually high number of debate-watching parties, an excuse to gather with friends during a nerve-wracking week for most Americans. The Associated Press noted, of the more than 70 million viewers, "Generally, only Super Bowls bring together so many Americans to watch the same thing."
The day of the debate, I was asked a dozen times "What would you advise Sarah Palin?" by all sorts of people: doormen, cab drivers, family, friends, colleagues, avid poll-watchers and ambivalent non-voters. I said I'd give the advice I'd give any debater: Answer the question, admit what you don't know and what can't be excused, don't get angry or respond in anger, pause, slow down. My intent was to write something that distilled advice for readers of this blog from this high-profile performance, but I realized once more that there's little in a vice presidential debate that yields good examples or tips for the everyday speaker who's not running for office. Lucky for most of us, this isn't the hothouse we'll be growing in as speakers.
In fact, the setting of low expectations for Palin--a standard approach before campaign debates for all candidates, and predictable given her poor performance in one-on-one media interviews--made it impossible for her not to exceed expectations. Or, as Queen Latifah (posing as moderator Gwen Ifill) said on Saturday Night Live's sendup, "due to the historically low expectations for Governor Palin, were she to do a simply adequate job tonight--at no point cry, faint, run out of the building or vomit-- you should consider the debate a tie." (See Maureen Dowd's column today for a long list of "mush-mouthed" politicians, mostly men, in regard to Palin's stumbling.)
This morning, it struck me that Palin's candidacy cuts across party lines to demonstrate, as Clinton's did, the prevailing view that women leaders -- whether experienced or newcomers -- can be competent or likeable, but not both. You can be a substantial policy wonk like Hillary Clinton, but you'll get dubbed a "nutcracker" and "shrill" by men and women. Or you can wink your way through a debate like Sarah Palin, but your grammar will get diagrammed and your policy positions will get parodied as insubstantial. Merely seeking higher office or touting your own accomplishments can, for women in particular, bring a backlash. And many non-political women speakers tell me they get a similar feeling of disapproval from others when they step up to the mic--perhaps the same shunning, in smaller settings. Research has shown they're not paranoid, but actually sizing up their audiences, both male and female, with accuracy. At the same time, campaigns are reaching faster for the sexism argument, making a simple label out of a phenomenon that's deep and complex...and absolutely unworkable on the campaign trail, at least as it's currently paved.
That's not firm ground on which to plant yourself when speaking in public, which may explain why Clinton's campaign actually talked publicly about entering a "likeability" phase, and why Palin's been crash-coursing in foreign affairs. They've both veered between the competent and likeable poles. Women in all sorts of roles have sensed the same tension every day, wondering whether colleagues and audiences "love you because you're beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?" as Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote in their musical Cinderella. Women aren't just passionate about women candidates because they're women--but because they see themselves in those candidates and their perceived troubles and barriers.
Motherlode blogger and New York Times contributor Lisa Belkin has an apt take on "Palin talk," from the audience's point of view, and it's one I've noted in my own circles: Women who speak about Palin (and Hillary Clinton before her) more often than not explain their take on the candidate in intensely personal ways, projecting their experience onto the candidate. Belkin particularly looks at parenting issues, and notes:
This could all be dismissed as merely politics, and it certainly started out as politics, but there was a hunger and a fury in the conversation about Palin that hints at something deeper. Because what we are looking at while dissecting the parenting cred of our politicians (O.K., O.K., of our politicians who are mommies — we pay very little attention to the parenting of men) has little to do with them, and everything to do with us.If you've gleaned a good tip, an issue, or an opinion about women speakers after watching this historic campaign, please leave them in the comments! (Photo of winning Palin bingo card by danperry.com and photo of Clinton nutcracker by dsjeffries, from Flickr.com)