Thursday, March 31, 2011

March's top 10 public speaking tips and issues

This month, I'm seeing signs of spring and a growing interest in this blog's mix of inspiration, ideas and information about women and public speaking. Our version of March madness saw you piling up these posts in your readers. Here are your top 10 favorites:
  1. Feel vulnerable when you speak? Embracing weaknesses to succeed shared views from a researcher whose work looks at "messy" issues like vulnerability. She gives a great TEDxHouston talk, so there's video to savor.
  2. The all-in-one for introverts on public speaking: 6 essential resources summed up everything from a special pre-speaking checklist for introverts to how you can take advantage of what introverts do best in public speaking.
  3. Helen Keller: "I am not dumb now" and "Strike Against War" was a Famous Speech Friday selection from February that's still resonating this month.
  4. Don't wait to be asked: Take a permission audit of your speaking wonders whether you sound like you're asking permission, actually ask permission to speak or just wait to be asked. Concrete advice on reframing your language and maybe your thinking about how and when you speak.
  5. Davos forum to set quota for women at meeting, from January, looked at a new policy for the exclusive and high-powered business forum. This method of getting more women in the room, let alone on the program, is drawing a lot of attention.
  6. Moderators, skip the well-worn path with 14 creative themes and questions will help spice up your act for the next panel you moderate. Conference organizers have been sharing this with speakers already.
  7. Speakers, you *can* say more in less time than you think. Really. To prove it, this post shares insights from my trainings and gives you more resources on how fast you should be speaking and how little time it takes to pack a punch, verbally.
  8. Make a message "house" to give your key points context offers you a form on which to develop a three-point message and emphasize the need to focus on and reinforce those points. A tried-and-true post from April.
  9. Betty Friedan's call for a women's strike got March's Famous Speech Fridays off to a strong start. Check out how she turned a standard farewell speech into a call to arms that had women marching in the streets--and made family and friends finally see her as a serious political force. 
  10. Maya Angelou's eulogy for Coretta Scott King, a Famous Speech Friday item from last month, also picked up a lot of readers this month. Watch the video!
This week's a great week to sign up for the free email newsletter at the links below--it's out next week with useful content to help you improve as a speaker. Thanks for reading!

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Don't wait to be asked: Take a permission audit of your speaking

Almost as soon as I'd published Michael Melcher's great guest post, Do you auto-apologize? Time to do a sorry audit, reader Miriam Gordon tweeted that I should turn next to a "permission audit" for women speakers.

The more I thought about that, I realized there are two sides to asking permission in ways that don't benefit women speakers: One is asking for permission when you don't need to do so. The other is waiting to be asked, as if you needed someone to grant permission.

Asking permission when you don't need to do so can take many forms. It's that upward inflection many women make at the ends of sentences--the tonal change that makes it sound as if you're asking a question, even when you're making a statement. That has always sounded hesitant and permission-seeking to my ear, as if the speaker isn't sure she has the right to say the words coming out of her mouth.

The ask for permission can be straightforward, too: "Are you ready for me to start?" "Do you want me to stop and take questions now?" "May I say something?" "Can we take a five-minute break?" "Do you mind if I speak next?" It's polite and correct, but you may as well make that inflection. It suggests you don't know whether you have standing to speak and do. As this post suggests, it's one way to make sure you never, ever get anything done. Someone--usually someone who isn't waiting for permission--will be happy to talk you out of it. And that makes me wonder: Are you asking permission because you want someone to talk you out of it?

Waiting-to-be-asked is more passive. It happens when we hesitate to speak, to interject or interrupt, or to suggest ourselves as speakers or leaders: We're waiting to be asked, or feel that, without having been asked, we need to do the asking to get permission first. When no one asks, you feel even worse, of course, but haven't done anything positive to help yourself. Trust me, others are not waiting to be asked--and are getting those hearings, speaking gigs, and raises. Check out this post, Successful women don't wait to be asked, that I found through reader Bobbi Newman.

What can you do on a practical level to put this permission audit and some corrections into play? Here are a few ideas, and I welcome yours in the comments:
  • Think about why you're asking permission or waiting to be asked:  Is it a confidence issue, a need for reassurance, feeling as if you lack authority? Do you want someone to talk you out of it, so you're not responsible? All those things may be real, but you don't need to undercut yourself with your words to fix them. Get good at preparing to speak, and remember: Your audience, whether it's a small meeting or a big crowd, usually can't tell you're nervous or lacking in authority unless you give that away with your words or manner.
  • Turn those non-questions back into real statements: If your voice rises at the ends of statements and you don't mean to sound like you're asking permission, stop that self-sabotage. Instead, reframe your sentences to make them more declarative. Think about where to emphasize words other than at the sentence's end, and with something other than an upward inflection. (Consider the difference between a higher inflection here--"I'm ready to tell you about the new data?"--and here--"I'm ready to tell you about the new data." You'll automatically sound more energized and confident, and you'll confuse your listener less. If need be, record yourself during a presentation, then listen to the audio, noting which sentences sound like questions. Rewrite them and practice for the next time.
  • Make a mid-sentence course correction: Next time you find yourself asking permission or sounding as if you are, stop yourself. Pause. Correct yourself, mid-sentence if need be: "Are you ready for me--I see we're ready. Let's begin." Over time, practice until you no longer need to stop yourself, mid-ask. 
  • Plan some strong, declarative ways to break into conversations, start meetings or otherwise avoid asking permission:  Replace "May I say something?" with "Here's what I think" or "I have a different perspective." Change "Do you want me to take questions now?" or "Do we have time for questions?" into "Let's take some questions," and let the organizer cut you off when needed.  Remake "Can we take a five-minute break?" with "Excuse me" and leaving the room.
  • Figure out whether you're waiting to be asked, and act in the opposite way: If you find yourself looking at a conference notice and thinking, "I'd love to speak there," or leaving a meeting wishing your good idea had been featured, ask yourself whether you're waiting to be asked. Then pick up the phone or send an email asking the organizer how you can get on the program, and indicating your interest. You'll never know until you try.
  • Enlist a friendly listener: Get a colleague or trusted friend to listen for those times when you ask permission but don't need to, and get her feedback privately. You'll learn a lot, and you'll be helping to remind her to avoid this habit herself.
Do you ask permission too much when you speak--or wait to be asked? Share your thoughts in the comments and let us know your advice and tips.

Related posts: Jump in, don't apologize: Tina Fey on using improv skills to speak up

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Conference co-chair asks "Would I attend my own conference?"

The Web 2.0 Expo opens today in San Francisco, and one of its co-chairs, Sarah Milstein, has shared a thoughtful and provocative post she calls Would I attend my own conference? Why conferences need more diversity . She starts by thinking about how would-be attendees decide whether to go to a conference, based on her experience:

If you’re like me—some of you are and some of you aren’t—you’ll also look for diversity among the speakers. If every speaker is a man, or if everyone is white, or both, I know this isn’t an event for me. I don’t need to hear more of the same prominent voices, and I don’t get much value out of an environment that takes a narrow, old-school view on who’s worth listening to.

Because some of you aren’t like me in your choices, there are profitable conferences with speaker rosters that look like roll call for the signers of the Constitution. But conferences that want to be taken seriously by people who take other kinds of people seriously need more diversity among the speakers to thrive. And conference organizers, whose goals often include highlighting new ideas, cannot simply recycle the same short list of well-known speakers from show to show.
Here's the difference: Milstein isn't just any attendee, she organizes major conferences and has spent a lot of time focused on the problems around getting more women on the program at professional conferences, something we've discussed frequently on The Eloquent Woman. You'll learn a lot from this post, which not only does a great job summarizing the many debates on this topic in the tech world, but Milstein's process of looking for great women speakers, from keeping lists to watching videos.

What do you think of this post and its suggestions? What are your suggestions for addressing the issue--which is a problem even in professions dominated by women? Share your ideas in the comments.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Lady Bird Johnson's 1964 whistlestop tour

Lady Bird Johnson died just a few months before The Eloquent Woman blog launched, and it was during her funeral services that I realized few today recall her shy start as a public speaker. Robert Caro, prolific biographer of the late U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson, her husband, describes in Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 2) just how she sabotaged her own speaking early on:
So deep was her shyness that, as a high school senior, she prayed that if she finished first or second in her class, she would get smallpox so that she wouldn't have to be valedictorian or salutatorian and have to make a speech at graduation.
Eventually, circumstances forced her to face -- and speak to -- the public. When her husband was John F. Kennedy's running mate in the 1960 election, she was pressed into service to give dozens of speeches when Jacqueline Kennedy's troubled pregnancy made it impossible for her to travel. After her husband become president, Lady Bird was the first of the First Ladies with her own press secretary, made hundreds of public appearances and wound up giving as many as 16 commencement speeches, if only to accept her own honorary degrees.

On the LBJ Library website, you can read a biography of Lady Bird Johnson; read and listen to quotations from her speeches, interviews and conversations with her husband; and read the eulogy to her written by PBS journalist Bill Moyers, a former special assistant to President Johnson. He divulges a tip she gave him about speaking early in his career:

She was shy, and in the presence of powerful men, she usually kept her counsel. Sensing that I was shy, too, and aware I had no experience to enforce any opinions, she said: “Don't worry. If you are unsure of what to say, just ask questions, and I promise you that when they leave, they will think you were the smartest one on the room, just for listening to them. Word will get around,” she said.
Despite all that shyness, Lady Bird Johnson demonstrated courage as a public speaker during a 1964 campaign whistle-stop tour of Southern states. It took place just after her husband had signed the Civil Rights Act--a time when political advisers decided he could not himself risk personal appearances in the South, so unpopular was the new legislation. So they sent the First Lady on a four-day, 1,600-mile, eight-state train trip, stopping in small towns and giving her speech off the back of the "Lady Bird Special" train, as shown in the photo.

In all, she made 47 speeches in as many towns in four days, reaching about a half-million people in person. And she liked the idea of a whistle-stop, in part because it would reach local people who didn't usually get to see or meet national leaders. But her fears were still there. She alluded to her speaking fears right at the start, according to a PBS documentary:
"For me this trip has been a source of anxiety and anticipation," Lady Bird said at the start of the whistle-stop. "Anxiety because I am not used to whistle-stopping without my husband; anticipation because I am returning to familiar territory and heading into a region I call home."
On this tour, she listened to catcalls that said her husband--and her daughters--were "nigger lovers," and more. Moyers' eulogy noted that in the face of jeers, protests and name-calling on the tour:

She never flinches. Up to forty times a day from the platform of the caboose she will speak, sometimes raising a single white-gloved hand to punctuate her words — always the lady. When the insults grew so raucous in South Carolina, she tells the crowd the ugly words were coming "not from the good people of South Carolina but from the state of confusion." In Columbia she answers hecklers with what one observer called "a maternal bark." And she says, "This is a country of many viewpoints. I respect your right to express your own. Now is my turn to express mine."
That's something any speaker can use today with a heckler. Here's an audio clip from her whistle-stop in Tallahasse, Florida, October 8, 1964 and, in the same year, this excerpt from a speech at Texas Women's University in March:
We've conquered so much in technology...What we haven't learned is how to get along together. Technology can be the prop, the aid, but it still is the human machine, the mind and the heart of each individual, which spells success or failure in this. It is a good time to be a woman  because there are so many roads to take. It is a good time to be a woman, because your country, more now than any time in its history, is utilizing your abilities and intelligence. Witness the 93 top appointments since January, including two ambassadors and a woman on the Atomic Energy Commission.
As the PBS documentary notes, her speaking was an astonishment in 1964: "Lady Bird had embarked on her political tour at a time when only 30 percent of married women had jobs, and only 20 percent of women with children were employed."  In the two anecdotes in his eulogy, Moyers captures several smart tactics employed by this eloquent woman:
  • Ask questions. More than a stall tactic for the shy speaker, asking questions of your audience--whether it's one person or 500--will help you to better understand your hearers. You'll be less likely to make a misstep with the help of this "market research." It builds your confidence, and theirs in you. And it's a great attention-getter.
  • Word will get around. Whether you're quiet or loquacious, people are watching. Your reputation rests on moments when you're resting, as well as when you're actively speaking.
  • Speak calmly and for yourself. Lady Bird Johnson was spit on, yelled at, had things thrown at her, heard her children insulted, and still remained calm in front of the angriest of audiences. In some cases, she confused and silenced the protesters who were seeking to embarrass her, simply by acting as she planned, rather than reacting. And she spoke for herself: In disagreeing with the protesters, she used "I" statements, saying, "I respect your right" to disagree, but insisting on her own right to express her views.
The National First Ladies Library offers this extensive biography of Lady Bird Johnson and I wish there were more of her speeches available for you in text and video. Here's a video half-hour tour of the White House in 1968, featuring the First Lady and President Johnson. It will give you some idea of her presence and speaking style:



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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Moderators, skip the well-worn panel path with 14 creative themes and questions


Most panel moderators follow a tried-and-true approach--typically, one honed by watching others moderate panels. Sure, that way you and the speakers know what to expect. But too often, the result is a lackluster panel in which the discussion rarely takes off and goes someplace interesting.

Instead of following the well-worn paths to panel moderation, introduce creative themes and provocative questions to get your panelists off the beaten track and into creative discussions that will keep the audience buzzing for days to come:
  1. Instant hot seat, aka "better you than me:"  Have each panelist ask the next panelist a question they'd hate (or love, or fear) to have to answer themselves. Make sure each has had the chance to hear the others speak, first.
  2. What ifs:  Moderators can push envelopes with "what if" questions, taking panelists beyond their prepared remarks. "What if you had...." started sooner or later? Not doubted yourself? Won the lottery? Had no customers? Kept your job? Could only use one hand? Were trying to do this in 1985? Heard about a better option? Plenty of room here to get creative.
  3. Why nots? I sit through way too many panels where the speakers' broad statements aren't challenged--even gently. You can fix this by asking why, after a pronouncement, or even better, use "why not?" It's energizing and requires a good defense or explanation.
  4. Fill in the blanks: An antidote to long-winded, typical answers: Frame a moderator's question as a fill-in-the-blank that each panelist has to answer with one word, then make some remarks to tie them together or ask followup questions to draw them out.  "Fill in the blank: Right now, I'm looking for ________________" or "My least favorite project is ____________" and similar constructs can add spice and insight.
  5. Do's and don'ts: Create a panel of tipsters. Ask each panelist to share one "do" and one "don't" when it comes to the topic of the panel. Your audience will walk away with a handful of focused tips. Make it even better and demand that they offer different do's and don'ts -- no "what she said" offerings.
  6. Instant advisory panel: Got a panel of experts, each talking about lessons learned in achieving what they've done? Let them go through it, then ask each panelist to turn to her right and share one piece of advice with the panelist next to her. A variation: Tell a questioner asking for advice that she just got an instant advisory panel, and ask each speaker to advise her as if she were a peer. 
  7. I liked/I wish: A gentler way of examining what went wrong and right. Ask each speaker to evaluate an issue, event or lesson by sharing what "I liked" and what "I wish" had happened instead.
  8. My favorite mistake:  Go ahead, play some Sheryl Crow to introduce this one. I love gathering panels of wise folks to discuss "my favorite mistake." The rules: It must be a mistake you've made, not one you think someone else made, and you must explain why it's your favorite. This takes guts, but it results in gripping stories and is the perfect antidote to long war stories and self-congratulatory speaking.
  9. Myth-tery: Take the time to do some myth-busting, particularly if your panel's covering complex, controversial or challenging territory. Ask each panelist to share a myth and bust it effectively; set a time limit if you want to make it more challenging.
  10. Probe origins:  "What did you want to be when you started out in this field?" is a question that works well for both junior and senior practitioners in any profession, and might lead to intriguing perspectives. Ditto, "How much were you making when you first started out?" or "Who was your first customer ever?" or "What was your very first job?" And no, you needn't save these for career panels or job discussions.
  11. Little-known facts: Ask your panel to stick to the least-known, not the best-known, sources, gadgets, tools, tips and advice they use in their work. If you work this theme throughout the discussion, you've got a built-in set of self-introductions: Ask each speaker to begin by sharing a little-known fact about himself. Gets you and the audience right past the same old, same old.
  12. Ten-second rule: Ask each speaker to name as many items in one category as they can in ten seconds--and time them. You can ask them to name their inspirations, what they're grateful for, things they can't live without, what's on their wish list, and much more. If you want a concise panel, use this throughout, with breaks to let them expand.
  13. Tweetability:  Give the people things they can tweet. Ask speakers to come up with a summary of the topic in 140 characters. Ask them to come up with a hashtag for their most difficult experience or for this panel, based on the questions they've received. Ask them how they use Twitter.
  14. Turn the tables:  Let the panelists ask questions of the audience. A sure-fire attention getter--and one that will yield topics they can riff on. Or, start with the audience questions first, then have the panelists weigh in.
Some of these tactics can be worked into the moderation of any panel. Others--like "my favorite mistake"--will work best if the speakers agree to them first and have time to think through their remarks. A word of caution for all moderators looking to use themes:  Think through whether you need to clue your speakers in early, particularly if your theme will dominate the proceedings. A speaker who's going to be asked to work entirely from audience questions or give her answers in 10-second bites should know that, so she doesn't overprepare.

Want more on moderating panels? Buy my ebook, The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. Just $3.99 in all ebook formats.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Readers' tips for newbie speakers, with resources

One of the best thing you can do as a newbie in public speaking is to get advice from more seasoned speakers. To get you started, I've asked readers of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook to share their top advice for new speakers or presenters--and I've added links to resources that will help you act on their wisdom. Here's what they advise:

If you've got advice for newbie speakers, please feel free to leave it in the comments--we'll all benefit from the wisdom of this crowd!

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Monday, March 21, 2011

The all-in-one for introverts on public speaking: 6 essential resources

Here's the good news: Being an introvert doesn't mean you'll be a failure as a public speaker. Many an introvert has gone on to a great speaking career, and introverts speak up in meetings and conference calls every day in the workplace.

But introverted speakers do benefit from understanding how this personality factor applies to public speaking and presenting, so they can better plan and manage it. Here are the best of The Eloquent Woman's insights for introverts on public speaking:
  1. Get a better handle on your speaker self: If you're an introvert, or think you might be one, you'll benefit from thinking through these four factors, including your introversion, before you figure out what you need to improve as a speaker.
  2. Factor in your personality type takes that a step further and looks at the differences between extroverts and introverts when it comes to public speaking--using Hillary Clinton as an introvert example. Two good books on understanding your personality type also are noted.
  3. A checklist to prepare the whole speaker--annotated for introverts:  This checklist works for any speaker, but introverts will want to prepare even more for public speaking or presenting tasks, so it's ideal for them. I've included specific questions introverts should ask on this list that looks at all aspects of what a speaker should consider before a presentation, meeting or speech, from body and mind to equipment and audience.
  4. 8 reasons speakers should check (out) your audience at the door: Does the idea of connecting with a big audience scare you back into your seat? Try this effective tactic--one that works well for either extroverts or introverts, for different reasons--to get to know your audience before you begin speaking.
  5. Does an introvert's speaking style aid leadership?  Most introverts think extroverts always win in the workplace, but introverts have important bonuses. You're less likely to wing it and more likely to bring a thoughtful approach, among other advantages. Read this post to make the most of your introvert advantages.
  6. Speaking up for introverts: A business coach took the time to analyze her introversion and pinpoint what it means for her in everyday meetings, speeches and presentations. Learn from her roadmap to how she needs to handle interactions--she translates it all into "What does that need to look like on Monday morning?"

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Friday, March 18, 2011

What do you want to see in Famous Speech Friday posts?

Now that we're a couple of months into our new series, Famous Speech Friday, I want to pause this week to take stock, get your reactions and hear your suggestions for what you'd like to see in this feature going forward.

Famous Speech Friday was suggested by a reader as a way of sharing and analyzing famous speeches by women. I upped the ante a bit by looking for speeches in which women talk specifically about issues that women face. The series is intended to offer role models and inspiration; insights into how successful speeches work, whether that involves the writing and wordplay or the presentation style; and inspiring examples of how women can use the speaking platform to address women's issues. I'm working to include many speaking situations, from farewell speeches and eulogies to political speeches, commencement speeches and much more.

But you might be hoping for something else. What are your reactions to this series? How is it helpful to you? What else--and who else--would you like to see? Please leave your suggestions in the comments. We'll be back next Friday with another famous speech...

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hold your tongue: Historic ways of keeping women from speaking up

The next time someone urges you to hold your tongue or refers to a female colleague as "shrill" or a "scold," get ready to get medieval--because that's where those terms come from, and they refer exclusively to talkative women. Back in the day, women who were considered to be talking too much were punished in a variety of ways, not just by name-calling. The device at right, a "scold's bridle," is described this way in Wikipedia:
A scold's bridle, sometimes called a branks, was a punishment device for women, also used as a mild form of torture. It was an iron muzzle or cage for the head with an iron curb-plate projecting into the mouth and pressing down on top of the tongue. The "curb-plate" was frequently studded with spikes, so that if the tongue remained lying calmly in place, it inflicted a minimum of pain.
And if you spoke, well, heaven help you. The scold's bridle was mostly used in England and Scotland; in German and Austria, the shrew's fiddle was used as a yoke to lock around the neck and hold the hands of a woman considered to be bickering too much. Wearing any of these devices would be accompanied by public shaming (some versions of the bridle feature a bell on the top, to get onlookers' attention) and the calling of names, labeling women as shrill, scolds, gossips and worse. "By condemning the expressive woman, these names enjoin her sisters to silence," wrote Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Today, you'll hear this expressed in more subtle ways, as in those instances when people say that women talk more than men do, when in fact they speak almost identical numbers of words in a day. (See more myths about women and public speaking here.)

And that's just a sampling. Women in history have been bound, gagged, imprisoned, dunked and drowned for public speaking. Read chapter 4 of Jamieson's Eloquence in an Electronic Age for a good, focused review of the history of women's speaking--and why it is so short. Or as she says: "History has many themes. One of them is that women should be quiet."

In Women's History Month, what does this bit of history make you think about women and public speaking--and your own speaking?

(Photo of a 16th century Scottish brank or scold's bridle, made of iron. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, Scotland.)

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Before you recycle that presentation: 5 questions

There's nothing wrong with using a presentation more than once, and often you must do so in business situations. But a recycled presentation also comes with risks for the speaker. Here are 5 questions to ask yourself before you pull that tried-and-true slide deck out for another use:
  1. How many times have you given this talk? Keeping track of the number of times you've given a particular talk or presentation will help prompt you to update it and to consider what has changed since its first iteration. And it'll serve as a reminder that you might now want to consider another approach.
  2. Who's in the audience? Are you sure? If you've lost count of the number of times you've given a talk--even a well-received one--I can match that. I can't tell you how many times I've avoided events when I knew or suspected the speaker was going to opt for a well-worn presentation. Often, that means I miss some headliner speakers, but I don't miss the repeat preso. Don't assume that your audience is full of newcomers every time. If you're building a following, they'll follow you...and expect new content.
  3. How bored are you? I ask for an important reason: If the speaker's bored, then I'll be bored. Your interest level, excitement and motivation may be dimmed the more you give a particular preso. If you must repeat it, figure out some new ways to make it exciting once again for you, and for me.
  4. Have you adjusted the small details? A telltale sign of the recycled presentation are out-of-date titles, names, dates, and data. Make sure you take the time to proofread and update if you're reusing a presentation.
  5. What does it say about you? Trust that someone, perhaps many people, will know that you've given this or a similar talk before. Does that tell them you're dialing it in? Lacking time to update? Not concerned with tailoring your remarks to the group at hand? Think about how it looks to be giving a talk you've already delivered before you choose it as your topic.
(Photo from AGeekMom's photostream on Flickr)

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Conversation: Public speaking to a smaller audience

One smart thing to know about public speaking and presenting: The same skills that help you speak to a large crowd can help you speak to a smaller group, or just one person. You can use message development skills to plan ahead what you want to say when asked about any situation--from what you do for a living to what you think of the event you're attending--and use confidence-building skills to get through difficult conversations.

A good start for those more focused speaking situations is the book A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation, which advocates active listening and paying attention to body language when you're conversing with someone. Author Daniel Menaker did an interview with The Splendid Table, since lots of these conversations take place around the dinner table, with tips and advice for your next conversation:




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Monday, March 14, 2011

How you stand, sound and look: 3 insights on public speaking's physicality


Speaking is a physical act, something you do in three dimensions. So it pays to pay attention to how your body works when you're speaking, to know your own habits and options. Here, three insights on your posture, voice and face to help you become a better speaker:

  1. How's your posture?  Lifehacker offers a comprehensive look at posture and gives us one more reason why you shouldn't keep your hands in your pockets when you speak (it leads to slumped shoulders). If you spend way too much time sitting at a desk, you'll want to read this to counteract those bad-for-your-posture sitting sessions when you stand to speak.
  2. Got a frog in your throat? Vocal coach Kate Peters offers suggestions and remedies in one of  her "who let the frogs out?" posts to help speakers with compromised vocal chords.
  3. What's in a face? Plastic surgeon Iain Hutchinson spoke at TED about his work saving the faces of people with severe facial deformities...and in the process of watching this video, you'll learn a lot about how faces and facial expressions move us, change our minds and influence what we think of the person speaking. A warning: Photos in this presentation show facial images that may be disturbing to some. It's a compelling talk that will help you better understand the impact of your own face on an audience.



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Friday, March 11, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Virginia Woolf's 'Room of One's Own' lectures

Millions of writers claim inspiration from Virginia Woolf's 1929 A Room of One's Own, a short book of long essays about the challenges women writers face because of their lack of education and financial independence. But many forget that the book is really based on a series of lectures Woolf gave in the fall of 1928 at Newnham College and Girton College, two women's colleges at Cambridge University.

She knew what she was talking about: Raised in the Victorian era, her father kept her out of school, believing that privilege should be reserved for boys. She became an intellectual and writer despite that--and in these lectures, "Woolf is speaking to women who have the opportunity to learn in a formal, communal setting....[she] lets her audience know the importance of their education at the same time warning them of the precariousness of their position in society."
Writing recently in The Guardian, Mary Beard looked at the missing place of women in the history of great oratory--echoing themes Woolf struck about writers in A Room of One's Own, but about public speaking. And she used these very lectures of Woolf's to suggest that the circumstances would have made for a very poor speech, indeed. From the article:
In fact, when a few years ago the Guardian published its own collection of great oratory of the 20th century, it obviously had a problem with the female examples. In addition to Thatcher, the collection ended up including speeches by Emmeline Pankhurst and Virginia Woolf – both of which survive only in written form (and in Woolf's case in the heavily edited version published as "A Room of One's Own"). We have no clear idea how either of these would have come across when they were originally delivered...My hunch is that Woolf's speech – given in 1928 in the acoustically dreadful setting of Newnham College's hall (it's hard to make yourself heard today even with a microphone) – would have sounded quirky and tremulous, and probably scarcely audible to any but the very front rows, no matter what a tremendous classic of feminism the written version has rightly become. I suspect that the same would also be true for Elizabeth I's speech to the troops at Tilbury.
You can hear Woolf's voice on the rare BBC recording in the video below. Unlike Beard, I think her voice is strong, and you can hear how she uses vocal variety to emphasize particular words.
On Craftsmanship: The only surviving recording of Virginia Woolf's voice by brainpicker
Now, to the speeches. Despite being edited into a short but inspiring book, they retain the feel of a speech because of the devices Woolf used to bring her topic into focus. Here's what I notice about them as speeches:
  • She turns the artifice of the speech inside-out to frame her points: From its opening line -- "But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction — what, has that got to do with a room of one’s own? I will try to explain." -- Woolf uses a device many speakers turn to. Using the creation of the speech as the device for framing her discussion lets her bring the audience immediately into the picture she's creating. Throughout, the published version preserves enough of these touches to suggest that Woolf used this device as a recurring touchpoint in the lectures.
  • She warns them early on that she intends to confound and surprise them:  "I soon saw that it had one fatal drawback. I should never be able to come to a conclusion. I should never be able to fulfil what is, I understand, the first duty of a lecturer to hand you after an hour’s discourse a nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantelpiece for ever." In this seemingly self-deprecating way--one that slyly pokes fun at standard lectures and the uses to which they were not put later--Woolf sends up several flares early in the talk suggesting that she will be turning a few precepts on their heads. It's a useful tactic for speakers who are addressing controversy, and most of the ideas in the book were considered outsized and heretical in her day.
  • She puts her core message up front, and reiterates it throughout: "All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point — a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved." The idea of "a room of one's own" is introduced early, and carried through the lectures so clearly that the audience can envision that room and what it would mean to a woman writer.
  • She tells stories, about herself and about famous women writers, to illustrate her points: Woolf describes small moments about herself to demonstrate what financial independence can do for a woman writer, describing how she paid for a lunch, feeling proud that earnings from her published writing allowed her the independence to do that. And she draws us a picture of how Jane Austen had to do her writing in the family sitting room, hiding it from servants and visitors, then wondering how much greater her great novels might have been without those interruptions--the rationale for that room, again. And she uses her novelist role as an excuse to spin fictional stories, surmising what life and work would have been like if William Shakespeare had an equally talented sister Judith who also wanted to write.
  • Her stories and descriptions make vivid, memorable word-pictures:  I've studied Woolf's fiction and nonfiction extensively, and am always struck with her active verbs and crystalline descriptions. Whether she's talking about lunch or a breeze or a cat crossing the quad, you can imagine the scene. That quality in a speech makes the words memorable for us, even without a text. It's a quality missing from too many speeches, loaded as they are with platitudes and buzzwords.
There's much to dip into in these essays, and I'm always struck these days by the fact that they help to explain the spotty history of women and public speaking. If women historically haven't been able to write, or felt they needed to hide as writers, how much more difficult was it to speak in public?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Is poise connected to practice in public speaking?

A while back, I asked readers of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook "If you could improve one thing about your public speaking, what would you focus on?"   Tina Laue said, "Inner poise and self worth. Also actually rehearsing a little more and flying by the seat of my pants a little less!"

Which begs the question:  Is poise related to practice, in public speaking? I think Tina is on to something, or at least, knows what she should be doing to feel more confident about her speaking and herself. Here's what  I think practice can do to help you develop a poised, confident delivery:
What do you think? Is practice helping you develop poise as a speaker? Do you share the same goals? Let us know in the comments.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Feel vulnerable when you speak? Embracing weaknesses to succeed

University of Houston social work researcher Brene Brown looks at "messy" topics in human relationships, like vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. In this TEDxHouston talk, she begins by sharing a public-speaking experience in which the organizer didn't want to call her a researcher because no one would come hear her talk.

You won't feel the same way once you've watched this talk. She looks at shame, fear and vulnerability--the feeling that "I'm not good enough"-- and its opposite, what gives people courage. If you watch this talk through the lens of public speaking, you'll gain lots of insights as to why we hesitate or charge in, volunteer or hang back, apologize or assert ourselves. One of her conclusions: Embracing your vulnerability may be a necessity in the effort to get past your perceived weaknesses. She describes her own issues with vulnerability, something I think many women will recognize. It's a powerful talk. What do you think about her findings and discoveries?



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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Speakers, you *can* say more in less time than you think. Really.

I train lots of data-driven presenters who resist brevity. They worry that they'll leave too much information on the speaker's version of the cutting room floor. "I'll have to rush," they think, or "Five minutes just can't be enough. I'll never be able to say everything I need in that time." This holds true no matter what the time allotted may be--it's always too short. If told they must fit into a short time, you know where the detail goes: On their slides.

But you need not rush, nor dump all your data in to a visual. Before going to those extremes, try saying what you want to say in a well-organized way--and recording it to see how long it really takes. In a recent workshop, I was delighted with the before-and-after videos one participant accomplished. In his first try, he rambled, pausing to look at his notes, stammering a bit with ums and uhs, losing his place. It felt endless--to him and to the rest of us.

We did a do-over, focusing on a crisp three-point message he developed during the workshop. He used alliteration to tie the three points together, sharing them in an overview statement, then going through each point with detail describing it, and winding up with a short conclusion. His fellow workshop participants thought this was the shorter of the two, and the more effective.

The time difference? Statement one took 27 seconds. Statement two--the crisper, better one--took 55 seconds. Neither one could be described as long. But statement two packed a punch and held the audience's interest, despite being twice as long--and still brief.  This group of scientists and engineers discovered, firsthand, just how much you can pack into a minute. (Need a real-life example? Biologist E.O. Wilson delivered a defense of biodiversity--thoroughly--in 45 seconds on live radio.)

It drove home the point that speakers rarely understand how long it takes to deliver their messages, unless they've practiced and timed themselves throughout the practice. Your "too little time" might work just fine for the audience--and for your content. Here are some tactics to make the most of your time (and keep it short):
  • Prioritize. What needs to be in your presentation? What can wait till the Q-and-A, or go into a handout or weblink? If you've got lots to say, I recommend you save some for the Q-and-A. What will make you look smart, and reach people when they're curious and warmed up to your topic? What's interesting but not urgent? Save it for question time, and make sure to end your formal preso early so you leave the audience wanting more. If you've saved up some key facts and figures, you'll be ready for questions and able to deliver--and that's a satisfying (and less nerve-racking) experience for both speaker and listener.
  • Organize your presentation content with a structured message. Using a well-developed message or plan for your content means you'll be making the most of every second. Read all my posts on developing messages for your speaking to get a solid overview.
  • Figure out what a gesture, prop or visual can convey, without adding to your words. Showing something without feeling like you have to over-describe it can add heft to your presentation without necessarily making it longer.
  • Observe and time your delivery. If you tend to speed up to fit in more facts, you're not helping yourself make your points. Take the time to learn the research on speaker speed. The takeaway: Your audience can hear more slowly than you can speak.  Learn how to hit the brakes and slow down if you've picked up the bad habit of being a speedy speaker.
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Friday, March 4, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Betty Friedan's call for a women's strike


It was an ending speech, her March 20, 1970 farewell speech at the conclusion of her term as the first president of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She was nearly 50. But Betty Friedan used what might have been a pro forma speech not to thank everyone and reflect backwards, but to make a call for action that astonished its hearers: She called for women to go on strike.

Friedan, the author of the 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, had already broken ground by saying "We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: "I want something more than my husband and my children and my home." But with this speech, she astonished the early leaders of the women's movement of her era. Sadly, I haven't been able to find a full text of the speech. But here's a compelling excerpt that described her vision of what would happen on the strike day
The women who are doing menial chores in the offices as secretaries put the covers on their typewriters and close their notebooks and the telephone operators unplug their switchboards, the waitresses stop waiting, cleaning women stop cleaning and everyone who is doing a job for which a man would be paid more stop … And when it begins to get dark, instead of cooking dinner or making love, we will assemble and we will carry candles alight in every city to converge the visible power of women at city hall … Women will occupy for the night the political decision-making arena and sacrifice a night of love to make the political meaning clear.
Friedan wrote at length about the origins of the Women's Strike in her book It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement, in which she shared how this speech affected her, and shared the last line. She wrote:
I was told later I that talked for nearly two hours--"like Castro or some Communist commissar," Kay Clarenbach teased me. But the women of NOW listened. It was late in the afternoon, and intense. I was so tired when I finished that I held on to the lectern. I ended, knowing it was so--"I have led you into history. I leave you now--to make new history."  They gave me a standing ovation, the members of NOW, and I was moved.
In the speech, she called on women to muster on the 50th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, August 26, 1970, at the end of a workday  -- an effort to make sure more of them would participate -- and envisioned this as a march and strike that would throw into high relief women's contributions to society. The strike had concrete goals for equality, from equal pay for equal work to abundant and accessible child care.

Ms. magazine recalled: "That was a tall order for a three-and-a-half-year-old organization like the National Organization for Women, with 3,033 members, 35 chapters and an annual budget of $38,000, to carry out." That's just one reason why no one thought it would work: Not her sisters in the women's movement, not the media (who made relentless fun of the march), not even her children. In this remembrance, her son recalls being cajoled by friends to go to the march, even though he, too, thought it would be a failure:
He agreed out of pity. “I’d seen the Charlie Chaplin movie where he marches down the street waving a flag with no one marching after him. I thought at least there’d be four of us,” he says. But once Jonathan got to Fifth Avenue, he couldn’t get anywhere near his mother. The street was teeming with people. When the march ended at Bryant Park, Jonathan climbed up on a wall so he could glimpse Friedan standing on a podium. She spoke to an audience in the tens of thousands. “This was the moment I realized who she was,” he says.
In the end, the speech she gave as a farewell to NOW wound up bringing some 50,000 women into the streets of New York City alone, with marches, rallies and other events in 90 cities and 42 states. It was the first major event to bring the late 20th century women's movement onto the front pages (the New York Times, covering her initial speech on the strike, called her a "militant leader"), and succeeded beyond anyone's expectations. In the end, her 2006 obituary in the Times said she "permanently transformed the social fabric of the United States and countries around the world."

So what can we learn from the speech that ignited this charge?
  • Active verbs make a call to action: Read the verbs in the excerpt above: Put, close, unplug, stop, assemble, carry, converge, occupy, sacrifice, make.  There is no waffling, no hesitation in an active verb. That means the audience was clear on what was wanted of it. Is your audience as clear on what you want them to do when they leave the hall? Passive verbs do not a call to action make.
  • She used her (seemingly) last leadership platform to create something new:  This could have been a true farewell speech. Instead, Friedan used it to push the group beyond what seemed possible and to propose a preposterous idea--but one she thought could happen. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, might be the lesson here. Why pull your punches? Why dial in a perfunctory farewell speech, when you can do this? Instead, she said, "I have led you into history. Now I leave you to make new history."
  • She flew in the face of conventional wisdom. I have to believe Friedan knew that her listeners, committed as they were to the cause, would doubt that this could happen. And that thought was borne out by everyone from the news media to her family. The police reserved only one traffic lane on Fifth Avenue for the march, a sure sign their estimates said there'd be low turnout. But Friedan reinforced her message in many subsequent speeches and interviews. A persistent message and strong vision paid off, as did her instincts and research about the women she hoped would march.
  • She drew a picture of what the strike would look like in terms of the lives of those whom she hoped would march.  Instead of lecturing or cajoling, she envisioned in words the picture of what would happen on the day of the strike. Evoking secretaries covering their typewriters and waitresses and cleaning women stopping their tasks put the march in terms to which women could relate and respond. No platitudes, just a platform. By the time of the march, that simple language was translated into signs like "Don't iron while the strike is hot."
After this march, Friedan went on to nearly another 40 years leading women--and she was almost 50 when she gave this sparking speech. What do you think of it?

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A quotable challenge: Let's use more examples of women speakers


From what I'm reading--including email requests from speechwriters and speaking coaches--we've got a problem finding great speeches and presentations by women speakers.
Just as women find it difficult to get on the program as speakers at major conferences, time and again, I get inquiries asking, "Are there any top women speakers of today that I can use as examples? I can't seem to find any." Most recently, The Guardian looked at the history of public speaking and concluded it's tough to tell what makes a great speech when it's hard to find the ones women have given.

It's not that women aren't speaking, but they're apparently not visible. Or maybe folks just aren't looking that hard. Witness that some of my inquirers ask the question above and specify "Since Eleanor Roosevelt" or "since Barbara Jordan," two powerhouse speakers who nonetheless left us many decades ago.

So here, readers, is The Eloquent Woman challenge: Let's each spend the next year taking the time to quote women speakers when we're writing or delivering speeches or presentations. Let's mention and quote them on our blogs. Let's use them as examples when we are training, coaching or encouraging other speakers, men or women.

And if you're wondering where to find them, well, I'm ready for you: We've been collecting, naming and featuring women speakers on The Eloquent Woman blog for many years.  And I don't have any special tools, except for Google and a desire to find women speakers as good, even great, examples for others. Here's a guide to the resources I've assembled so far, and I welcome your additions in the comments:
  • 3 sources for quotes by women to use in your speeches: In finding a quotable eloquent woman, I've done some legwork to share links to books of women's quotes, historical recordings of women speaking, and an overall reference of quotes by women.
  • My collection of great speeches on audio alerts you to audio recordings in collections of great speeches that include women's speeches--and offers special discounts to readers for audio subscriptions.
  • Our top women speakers series focused on today's top women speakers, suggested by readers and friends of the blog--the collection at the link includes nearly 40 women speakers of today, and where possible, we included video, audio or links to texts.
  • This blog's recent series, "Famous Speech Fridays," included in our tag for famous speeches, focuses exclusively on women's speeches--with an extra focus on speeches by women that discuss women's issues. It's a growing series that works to bring you video, text and analysis of great speeches by women.
  • Inspiration from 40 women speakers named on the blog:  Follow the tag inspiration for women speakers and you'll find (so far) nearly 150 posts that mention 40 women speakers, from "real people" to celebrities. (Of course, many have more than one post to their credit.) Not all of these posts focus on a particular speech, but many share background, stories and experiences that I hope will prompt you to explore these speakers more--they are great examples all.
Will you start using examples and quotes from women's speeches? Add your voice to the comments.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Guardian: What makes a great speech? Hard to know, with so few by women

Writing in The Guardian, columnist Mary Beard looks at the history of public speaking and what makes a great speech -- and concludes it can't be defined well because of the absence of women speakers in much of our history:

Yet there is something problematic about the very notion of "great oratory". For a start, it is an almost entirely male category. I doubt that there have been many, if any, "great" female orators, at least as "great oratory" has traditionally been defined. Margaret Thatcher may have delivered some memorable soundbites to the party faithful ("The lady's not for turning"), but she did not give great persuasive speeches. In fact, when a few years ago the Guardian published its own collection of great oratory of the 20th century, it obviously had a problem with the female examples.
Beard makes it clear that the problem doesn't lie with women. On the contrary, she notes:
I'm not meaning by this that women have in some way "failed" to master the art of public speaking. Not at all. The point is that "great oratory" is a category that has been consistently defined to exclude them – and the more you search for the roots of our own oratorical traditions in the classical past, the more obvious that exclusion becomes. In ancient Greece and Rome the ability to speak in public and to persuade your fellow (male) citizens was almost as much a defining attribute of the male of the species as a penis was. Men spoke, women kept quiet – that's what made them women. "Great oratory" even now has not shaken off its male, "willy-waving" origins. We are not even sure, I suspect, what a great woman's speech would sound like. Thatcher tried to get round the problem by lowering her voice an octave, but she ended up sounding more like a woman pretending to be a man.


The article shares a good summary of the history of classic oratory, and if you're not familiar with the long history of public speaking and great oratory, it's well worth a read. I'm delighted to see Beard correcting the record, as her points about the exclusion of women from public speech throughout so much of our history are rarely made.
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