Saturday, February 28, 2009

Our top 10 speaking tips for February

Women with an interest in learning more about public speaking will find these our ten most-visited posts on ideas, information and inspiration for your next speech in the month of February:

Friday, February 27, 2009

what's the opposite of anxiety?

This question was posed in a recent search that brought a reader to the Eloquent Woman--and, while I've covered research on keeping your cool in public presentation settings, this is a question that begs for input. Here's my take on what's the opposite to anxiety:

  • Calm. This is the internal part: Doing what centers and calms you in anticipation of a speech--which, for most folks, is the most unnatural of settings--can counterbalance anxiety. Too many speakers fail to take a few moments to breathe, stretch and center their focus before a talk. (Find a handy stairwell or hallway for this purpose.)
  • Care. Are you well-rested? Hydrated? Fed? (I've had trainees faint in speaker training without breakfast, or get to foreign countries and find no available food before a talk--so tote protein bars, if you must, but fuel up.) Wearing comfortable shoes? Stretched out? Care of the speaker is a critical part of avoiding anxiety, in my view.
  • Collected. We use this as a term for calm, but I mean collecting all the things you may need in advance of your speech: notes, text, handwritten cues on your speech, a box to stand on if you're shorter than the lectern, a Yellow Pages to prop up your text if you need it closer to your eyes...whatever. Gather your props, aids and helps ahead and you'll feel that much more prepared.

Let me ask you: When you speak, what's the 'opposite of anxiety?' Define it for us in the comments.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tips: Be Powerful with Body Language

(Editor's note: I had to miss this dynamic presentation about women speakers and body language, but colleague Debbie Friez -- an officer of Washington Women in Public Relations, the event convener, and vice president at BurrellesLuce -- sent in this guest post about the event, emphasizing tips Eloquent Woman readers can use.)


Body language expert, Janine Driver, aka “The Lyin’ Tamer”, is calling 2009 “The Year of the Woman”, and she has made it her goal to help women be aware of their body language. Speaking at the February 24 Washington Women in Public Relations (WWPR) professional development session, Janine made us all aware of our own body language and provided insights into projecting ourselves more positively. Here are some of the great tips you can use for your next presentation, media interview or just everyday life:

  1. Keep your hands at your side, not clasped, to show power.
  2. Never hold a large sheet of paper when presenting. You should always use small note cards (if you need them), and hold them at your side, if possible.
  3. Don’t create a wall with your feet or hands. You should “open-up” your body.
  4. “Steepling” (creating a steeple with your fingers in front of your stomach) is a great power gesture. President Obama uses an open steeple gesture. Hillary Clinton has also been seen using it.
  5. Women tend to have a small stance (six inches or closer). Having a wide stance shows power. Cindy Crawford is a great example of a woman with a wide stance.
  6. One hand on your hip conveys attitude, whereas two hands on your hips projects control.
  7. When you shake someone’s hand, the hands should meet side to side. If the other person gives you the palm-down shake, you should bring your other hand over and lay it over theirs.
  8. Point your belly button at a person when you shake their hand to show openness.
  9. The more times you change locations or do different things during a meeting, the more the other person will feel like they know you.
  10. Never hide your thumbs in your pockets, it is not powerful.
  11. The last person through a door is usually the most powerful.
Driver noted that, as women, we need to work extra hard on projecting power, because these gestures are usually thought of as being manly.

A new blog on CEOs & speakers

Washington-based speechwriter Jeff Porro has launched a new blog on speeches for CEOs, called Tough Talk for Hard Times. Porro, who writes for Fortune 250 CEOs, leaders of professional and trade associations, diplomats and more. Here's what he says about the blog's focus:
With the economy stuck in meltdown, dragging down earnings and stock prices, a CEO’s ability to perform well behind a lectern, in front of cameras and microphones, or at a hearing table is more important than ever. In fact, I’d argue companies must have CEOs who can inspire confidence through speeches and presentations or they simply won’t survive.
Porro's offering tips, analyses of famous speeches, and inspiration. Check out this newcomer blog!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Twitter helps get women on program?

Along with other women interested in public speaking, I've sometimes wondered "Where are all the women speakers?" Today, on Twitter, I saw another woman, Allyson Kapin (who goes by @WomenWhoTech), get frustrated when she saw a list of "top" folks in social media that, once again, omitted all but one woman. (We started following each other on Twitter after airing similar issues about women unable to get speaker slots at professional conferences.) Today, she tweeted:

Another top 10 list with one woman and 9 men. So irking. Hello we women in tech and social media experts do exist. Just look outside the box.

Soon after, a discussion ensued, and, within minutes, Kapin started a new "event" on Twitter: She put forward the idea that women imitate an established Friday event, called #followfriday, in which Twitter users suggest other users folks should follow. The difference? This would happen on Wednesdays, under the hashtag #women2follow. And here are the results, which are changing moment by moment. Women and men are suggesting women worth following on Twitter.

It remains to be seen how this will play out, but it's already a community-builder. It's a twist on what other women speakers have done--like create their own "speakers' bureau"-- in order to get visible in hopes of getting more women placed on conference program. If you're on Twitter, it's one more option to make you more visible as an available speaker. You can follow me on Twitter here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I wanna thank the Academy...

It's the Academy Awards tonight, and so far, winners have kept their thanks brief and powerful. Accepting an award's a time when eloquence = less is more. Audiences can easily relate to your being overpowered by emotion, and don't expect a long speech--or list of credits. (Our favorite tonight: The winner who said he'd spend the next year thanking all his personal helpers every day, instead of on the stage tonight.) Even better: Craft something casual, quick and powerful to say...and if emotion takes over, just say "Thank you."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

how gestures contribute to your message

Lots of speakers and many of my trainees gesture when they speak--often, seemingly without purpose. (You can tell the unintentional speakers best when they gesture below the top of the lectern, where no one can see the gestures.) So I'm looking forward to delving into a book that's new to me: Hearing Gesture: How Our Hands Help Us Think by Susan Goldin-Meadow, a University of Chicago psychologist. Many speakers use gestures only inadvertently, and the book aims to show that "gestures can reveal, and propel, cognitive change." In fact, gestures may be helping the speaker to think and formulate ideas and concepts--along with helping the audience understand what is meant.

Goldin-Meadow recently presented new research at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science about how parents' gesturing influences vocabulary development in their young children. I'm looking forward to sharing insights from this book with you.

Buy Hearing Gesture: How Our Hands Help Us Think

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

7 bite-sized ideas to get you speech-ready

For some speakers, the dangers of a speech lurk in the preparation. They over-prepare for speeches, focus on the writing, or worry about potential pitfalls. In some sense, they may be biting off more than they can chew. Here's an alternative: 7 bite-sized, manageable steps you can take to get ready for your next speech. None of these will overwhelm you, and all of them will help advance your next effort:

  • Breathe. Take 10 to 20 deep breaths a few minutes before you're going to speak. (Step into a handy stairwell or restroom if you don't want to be observed.) It's a physiological way to calm your body so it responds better while you're speaking.
  • Sip. Starting an hour before your talk, hydrate your vocal chords. For preference, choose water rather than caffeinated beverages, and avoid alcohol if you're an after-dinner speaker. Got a cold or sore throat? Try hot water with lemon.
  • Stretch. Make sure you're limber before a speech. Stretch your arms and legs (that stairwell, again) and do some shoulder rolls and neck stretches to keep your body looking and feeling calm.
  • Re-open. You'll never have a higher level of attention than at the start of your speech, so use it. Practice your opener several times, so that you can do it without referring to your notes and make early eye contact with the audience.
  • Annotate. If you're working from a text, take the time to plan and write in stage directions to yourself: "pause here," "gesture toward audience," or just underscoring words you want to emphasize will help you add grace notes to your speech.
  • Center. Find your core, your center of gravity, and the best stance that will hold you steady when you're not moving around the stage. You want to be able to stand in a relaxed stance, without swaying or hanging on to the lectern, to look most authoritative--and to keep attention on your words.
  • Smile. Smiling helps in two ways, relaxing your mind and your body. Bring a funny picture, child's drawing, or photo that only you can see at the lectern to start your speech with a welcoming face.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

how speaking up affects your image

Speaking up in meetings can be an issue for many women--and it's the most common opportunity for "public" speaking. But how does it affect how you are seen by your colleagues? A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that many equate speaking up with competence in workplace groups. Two experiments were set, the first asking teams of four to organize a nonprofit environmental group for a cash prize. Members of each group, along with independent observers and the researchers, rated participants (who were videotaped) on a range of leadership qualities. From the TIME magazine coverage of the research:
Consistently, the group members who spoke up the most were rated the highest for such qualities as "general intelligence" and "dependable and self-disciplined." The ones who didn't speak as much tended to score higher for less desirable traits, including "conventional and uncreative."
To test whether those who speak up are actually more competent, a different set of teams of four were asked to solve math problems from older versions of the Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT). Once again, speaking up in the group mattered:
When the work was finished, the people who spoke up more were again likelier to be described by peers as leaders and likelier to be rated as math whizzes. What's more, any speaking up at all seemed to do. Participants earned recognition for being the first to call out an answer, but also for being the second or third — even if all they did was agree with what someone else had said.
Researchers divided groups into all-male and all-female participants for this pair of experiments. (I'm looking for similar studies that mixed genders for a similar experiment, so we can look at what TIME calls "the wild card of gender.") Does this inspire you to speak up more in meetings? At a minimum, it should inspire you to focus on speaking skills as one part of your leadership arsenal.

what does your speaker wardrobe say?

Over at the Capital Buzz, a Washington public relations blog to which I contribute, there's a discussion going about about this post on the messages women speakers send with their dress, by fellow blogger and meeting planner Jennifer Collins. Some agree with Jennifer that the speaker's lack of attention to her dress (in this case, leaving her stomach visible to the audience) diminishes her overall impact; some came to her defense. I agree that it leaves an impression--whether you're sympathetic or turned off is up to you to decide--but also know it's an area where women speakers have more variables to deal with than do men, whose wardrobe choices are more limited. There's a plus side, as women can draw attention to themselves with brighter colors and more variety of styles in dress...and a down side, because drawing more attention means your audience will focus on the details. I also know that many speakers fail to consider appearance when preparing for a speech or presentation, and always advise my trainees to do so. What do you think about how a speaker's dress impacts her performance? Join the conversation here or at the Capital Buzz. You can see all The Eloquent Woman posts on speaker appearance issues and tips here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

are your presentation slides colorblind?


While I'm not a big fan of presentation slides for speakers, I know that into each life some PowerPoint must fall. So here's a useful site, Vischeck, which checks your slides (or other visual work) to make sure that color-blind people can actually see it. From the website:
Many pictures, documents and web pages are hard for color blind people to read because the people who designed them didn't think about the problem. Vischeck lets them check their work for color blind visibility. It is also interesting to anyone who is just plain curious about what the world looks like if you're color blind.
One in 20 people have some form of color blindness, and the problem is most acute with shades of red and green, so think of this as a way of ensuring that your audience has a fighting chance to pay attention to your slides. A related part of the site, Daltonize, corrects for color blindness. A hat tip to Casey Wright, who passed this resource along on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

new Kindle offers features for speakers

The new model of the Amazon Kindle was released yesterday (see the New York Times's live-blogging from the announcement here). You know I'm excited about using the Kindle as a text-carrier for speeches from my previous posts, so I noted that new features of the Kindle 2 include some that may benefit speakers: 20 percent faster "page-turning" -- essential for you to be able to keep your text moving quickly while you speak -- as well as longer battery life, 2G of memory and capacity equivalent to 1,500 books. You also may find useful the "text-to-speech" feature, which allows the Kindle to read any document aloud to you -- for speakers, that means you can listen to another voice read your text so you can devote yourself to listening for awkward phrases or areas you might mispronounce. Amazon has made the Kindle even thinner, just one-third of an inch, making it all the more unobtrusive as a speech-text device. And the display includes more shades of gray, making it easier to read. (Check the Amazon announcement for more features.)

Buy the 6-inch Amazon Kindle

Sunday, February 8, 2009

clowning around: public speaking fear

Here's a great performance to educate and entertain young audiences about public speaking fears: Circus INcognitus, written and performed by clown Jamie Adkins. It's coming in March to Washington, DC's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Here's their description of the program:
He's a clown with something to say--but can't quite get it out! Beginning with an empty stage and a single microphone, shy clown Jamie Adkins musters the courage to face what he fears most: speaking in public. Over the next hour, he uses everyday objects, discarded props, and acrobatic feats to create his very own one-man vaudeville act, with hilarious results! Whether on the ground, on a ladder, or on a high wire, new challenges face Jamie every step of the way, but for every problem there's always a solution. The New York Times says "this dexterous clown walks a daffy line"--showing why you should never give up when all goes wrong. Because you'll never know what you can do until you try! Age 5 and up.
Adkins seems to like clowning around nearly wordlessly with situations where words become a problem, as in here, where he performed on Broadway about writer's block. Go here for tickets and more information about the performances, which take place March 27-29, with some shows already sold out. Take a young girl with you and use this as a chance to talk about public speaking fears, and to encourage her, as a woman, to tackle public speaking.

michelle obama speaks and 'tongues wag'

For the past two years or more, Michelle Obama's been making thousands of speeches and informal remarks in public appearances on the campaign trail. As First Lady, her remarks have more weight--despite the fact that she has no official role. Even so, I didn't expect to see coverage like the story in today's New York Times, calling into question her speeches to employees of two federal agencies where she reiterated priorities of her husband's administration. These were contrasted with what are considered more traditional First Lady duties: lunches, parenting of her daughters, and other social activities.

From here inside the Beltway, there's no question that local audiences are excited about seeing and hearing from the Obamas, and the idea of anyone reiterating policy priorities from what must be highly vetted talking points is hardly cause for alarm. So why does a First Lady's speaking -- in 2009 -- occasion such notice? Comparing a policy speech to social lunches and suggesting that the speech is somehow risky and out-0f-line is ridiculous in this day. Even the article's title ('Mom-in-Chief' Touches on Policy, and Tongues Wag') uses a tired term suggesting female gossip, when, in fact, the "pro" and "con" observations in the article come from two established female authorities, a scholar of first ladies from Rutgers University and a co-director of the National Women's Law Center.

Missed in this coverage: Obama's an excellent woman speaker, playing an important and often-overlooked role in cheering on career government workers at a time when more work lies ahead. My wish for future coverage: Go ahead and keep the spotlight on her--but don't make her seem like an exotic, out-of-place example, so that women seeking to do more of their own public speaking feel encouraged, rather than called out for odd behavior. (Photo of Michelle Obama's portrait in the First Ladies exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History by aka_lusi from Flickr.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

igniting your way to a 5-minute talk

Take 16 speakers, give them five minutes and 20 slides apiece. What you get: Ignite, a mini-movement that takes place in various cities in periodic events where all sorts of professions, from artists to thinkers, get up and speak to fellow residents within those parameters. Here's the site for Ignite Baltimore, which starts its second-ever event tonight. You can go here to read Dave Troy's blog post on being the first speaker at Ignite Baltimore #1, and here to read Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson's post about her presentation, which included her first-ever PowerPoint. Want to start an Ignite in your city? Use the worldwide site as a guide.

Even if you don't go that far, using Ignite's parameters--five minutes, 20 slides--is a good practice tool. (Remember, no audience ever complained about a speaker who kept remarks brief!) Dickinson notes in her post that she realized at one point her title alone took up too much time to say, proving that parameters can help you sort out what's important to convey--and inspire you to keep it brief.

Take a voice lesson with Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda, now in rehearsal for a short-run Broadway play, has started a blog about the experience--and, in addition to reading about rehearsals and seeing photos of her backstage life, you can now watch a short video of Fonda getting a voice lesson from Kate Wilson, who's on the Julliard School faculty. Much of the discussion concerns the effect of humidity and dryness in the room where you'll be speaking, theaters being notoriously dry environments. At the end of the video, Wilson reminds Fonda of something you may find useful before your next speech: Make sure you're drinking water at least an hour before you are to speak, as it will take that much time for the water to have an impact on your vocal chords. I'd add that this is even more important in colder winter climates, where humidity's in short supply indoors. Speakers should prepare by drinking water, avoiding beverages that may dehydrate you further (like alcohol) and preferring hot water with lemon if your throat isn't up to par. You can find out more about Fonda, including her own experiences as a public speaker, in her fine autobiography, My Life So Far, a revealing and well-written book.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

tracking tears while speaking

I've written here before about the impact of tears in public speaking situations--most often when it hits the public eye as well as that of the speaker. It remains an issue when women and public speaking are discussed. Today, the New York Times science section looks at the psychology behind crying (something difficult to measure), and quotes this woman:
“I cry when I’m happy, I cry when I’m sad, I may cry when I’m sharing something that’s of great significance to me,” said Nancy Reiley, 62, who works at a women’s shelter in Tampa, Fla., “and for some reason I sometimes will cry when I’m in a public speaking situation. “It has nothing to do with feeling sad or vulnerable. There’s no reason I can think of why it happens, but it does.”

While inconclusive on all the reasons you might cry in such a situation, the article notes that the prevailing views of tears as catharsis no longer provides a complete view. The article notes that, for biochemical and cultural reasons, women cry more often and more easily than do men.

What about you? Have you cried during a speech or presentation? What do you think was happening?