Friday, July 29, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Phyllis Schlafly's What's Wrong With Equal Rights for Women?

Phyllis Schlafly, the "Queen of Conservatism," became a household name for her rousing challenge to the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. But she's been firing up supporters and detractors for more than five decades with an expansive repertoire that includes topics from education to same-sex marriage to the confirmation of Supreme Court Justices and arms control treaties.

From the start, Schlafly was a tireless worker. She paid for her education at Washington University in St. Louis in part by test-firing machine guns in a World War II ordnance plant, and she wrote her own speeches and planned her own speaking engagements during two unsuccessful bids for a congressional seat. Feminists were quick to point out that Schlafly's own life as a political activist and public speaker was far from the path that she championed for women.

But Schlafly countered that she had never meant for women to abandon a public life--just that the duties of wife and mother should come first. "I have canceled speeches whenever my husband thought that I had been away from home too much," she told Time magazine in 1978. And in a 2006 New York Times interview, she insisted that she never left her family overnight. "I'd drive out to give a speech, and sometimes I'd bring a nursing baby with me," she recalled. "There was always someone outside willing to take care of a baby rather than listen to a long lecture."

What's Wrong With Equal Rights for Women? began as an 1972 essay in her newsletter The Phyllis Schlafly Report, but she quickly adapted it for speeches and debates on behalf of STOP ERA, a group founded by Schlafly. What can you learn from the speech?
  • Tell me something I don't know. When Schlafly first wrote the speech, the ERA had been passed by Congress and the idea of women's rights was gaining mainstream acceptance. But Schlafly delivered a very different--and attention-grabbing--message: "The truth is that American women never had it so good," she declared. "Why should we lower ourselves to 'equal rights' when we already have the status of special privilege?"
  • The rule of three. Examine the speech, and you'll see that Schlafly uses a time-honored tradition of breaking down her argument against the ERA into three simple ideas: Women are already privileged because they bear children, because they receive special respect in a "Christian Age of Chivalry," and because the male inventors of the washing machine and frozen peas have relieved women of onerous work.
  • Us and Them. Throughout her speaking career, Schlafly has done a remarkable job of identifying with her audience and speaking of "us" against a carefully-defined "them." In her What's Wrong speeches, she made it clear that the era's feminists did not speak for all women.

Schlafly was also keenly aware of how a woman's appearance could affect her credibility as a speaker. She held workshops with local chapters of STOP ERA to prepare women to debate and testify at public hearings. She emphasized good grooming, makeup and colors that look good on television--and poise and smiles in the face of an attack.



Still publishing and still consistent in her theme, Schlafly this year co-authored The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know -- and Men Can't Say.

Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this edition of Famous Speech Friday. Photo from Gage Skidmore's Flickr stream.


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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Managing your energy as a speaker: The 90-minute cycle for you and your audience

Managing your energy levels is vital for speakers who want to be more dynamic and connect effectively with audiences. The tired speaker doesn't perform well, particularly in unscripted exchanges. Here's a clue that will help you rethink your next presentation or speaking gig: Think of energy in 90-minute cycles. Tony Schwartz writes in the New York Times about how our bodies' energy cycles throughout the day and how we override that:
When fatigue sets in over the course of a day, we all increasingly and unconsciously rely on emergency sources of energy: adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol. In this aroused fight-or-flight state, our prefrontal cortex, which helps us think reflectively and creatively, begins to shut down. We become more reactive, reflexive and impulsive. The pioneering sleep researcher Nathaniel Kleitman gave the name “basic rest activity cycle” to the 90-minute period at night during which we move through the five stages of sleep. A decade later, he reported that we experience a parallel 90-minute cycle in our waking lives. At night, we move from light to deep sleep and back out. During the day, we oscillate every 90 minutes from higher to lower alertness. In effect, our bodies are asking us for a break every 90 minutes. But we override the signals with coffee, sugar and our stress hormones.
How can you translate that to your speaking? Be aware that if you're onstage or on the premises, but have to wait an hour to speak, you might well be at the end of your energy cycle rather than the top of it--and so will your audience. You might then need to avoid coffee, make sure you've fueled your body with protein right before you talk, and integrate some physical activity--taking your mic into the audience, getting them to stand up and move for a warm-up exercise, or some other tactic--to keep energy high. If you're helping to plan the agenda, keep that 90-minute cycle in mind when planning breaks. This hour-and-a-half cycle is just one more reason to be brief and energetic and find ways to get the audience physically and mentally engaged.

How do you manage your energy when you're speaking--or see to the energy needs of your audience?


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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The unexpected question: How speakers should prepare

The unexpected question--the one that comes out of left field and floors the speaker--doesn't just happen to you.

In "You are Making Your Biscuits Wrong," the New York Times notes that even Oprah got caught during a live appearance for the launch of her film Beloved, based on the Toni Morrison novel. Oprah's character is seen briefly making biscuits. At one screening, an eyewitness reported:
When the film ended...Winfrey took to the front of the theater to take questions about race, gender, oppression and literature. It did not work out that way..“The first audience member to speak said something like: ‘Oprah, y’all made your biscuits wrong. Don’t you remember how we make our biscuits round here?’ I believe the biscuit-making scene lasted about 20 seconds, but the roar of the crowd suggested the speaker wasn’t alone in her outrage.”
How can you prepare for the unexpected? Here's what I tell my trainees:
  • Acknowledge and accept the surprise. "No one's ever asked that question before" is a fine way to share your surprise, and start a conversation. It also signals the truth: That you're not ready to answer. You'll boost your credibility if you do this rather than start to make something up. After all, "I don't know" is one of the strongest speaker statements.
  • Take the time to anticipate three types of questions: The ones you want, the ones you expect and the ones you fear. Most of us understand we should prep for the queries we fear, and do so. But in my experience, speakers tend to forget to figure out their answers for the questions they want, those nice, easy questions that give you the chance to show what you know or talk about your program. And who wants to come up speechless when someone has said, "Tell us more about your wonderful program"? In this case, the biscuit question might have easily fallen into the "questions you expect" category, since it's a common activity and one the audience could relate to from experience.
  • Have some back-pocket phrases to buy a little time.  When you don't know what to say, stall for time to think while continuing the conversation. Ask a question of the questioner, or launch into an explanation with a few more words than you might normally use until the answer comes to you.
What's a question that caught you by surprise? Share in the comments.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

7 ways to spread your slides around: Where to share

Sharing your slides is a great way to build a bigger audience, enhance internal collaboration in a time of tight travel budgets, create a professional portfolio for your career or avoid the extra work of emailing or photocopying slides for the audience members who request them following your talk. Whatever prompts you to share, there's an increasing range of tools for putting your presentations out there, privately or publicly, for free or for a fee.A big advantage: Publishing your slides on a web platform is the easiest way to make sure they are useable on mobile devices and tablets. Here are seven options to consider when you want to share your slides:
  • SlideShare is sometimes called the "YouTube of presentations," and its free version includes unlimited sharing of presentations and Zipcast meetings, simple web-based meetings that don't allow downloads.     (You can share your presentations using the SlideShare app on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook.) Premium versions let you share slides privately and more.
  • Scribd also lets you upload presentations (browse some Scribd presentations here), and allows users to share or "readcast" them across social networks, print them, or view them on mobile devices.
  • Prezi uses a zoom feature rather than a linear approach to advancing your slides (handy if you want at some point to have all your slides in thumbnail size on the screen so you can go back to a particular one) and it includes sharing.  You can invite someone to view or edit your slides, or publish them widely. Prezi includes an iPad version and you can "Prezify" slides from PowerPoint or Keynote.
  • Present.me says it's the easiest way to upload and record your presentation. You upload the slides, then use your webcam to record yourself giving the presentation, a nice video adjunct that's shown side-by-side with your slides. It's an easy way to make a video of yourself speaking--something conference organizers want to see when they're considering you as a speaker.
  • PowerPoint Radio is a feature of PowerPoint 2010 that lets you watch live broadcasts of slide presentations or broadcast your own by sending a link to anyone you want; they'll see a synchronized view of your presentation in their web browsers.Your audience doesn't need PowerPoint to watch the broadcast, but you'll need a Windows Live ID to do this. Here are the instructions. PowerPoint also uses slide libraries to help you share slides in more routine ways.
  • 280slides, now in a beta test, lets you create or load presentations and makes it easy to publish them to SlideShare, create linking and embedding codes, email presentations and more. Its presentation-building tools also make it easy to search for movies and other content you can embed in the slides.
  • SlideBoom lets you publish slides for free, with premium options to share them privately with clients or colleagues. It also includes PowerPoint templates and other tools for building presentations.

Related post: 7 reasons to convert your slide deck to video--and how to do it

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Jill Bolte Taylor's "stroke of insight" TED talk

There's a reason this speech appears on TED's list of most-watched TED talks, with more than 8 million people having watched it via downloads, TED.com, iTunes and YouTube. It made neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor famous, leading to an interview with Oprah, a book, a movie in the works, and a place on TIME magazine's list of 100 most influential people of 2008. That's because this talk describes what happened when this brain researcher had a stroke herself:
But on the morning of December 10, 1996, I woke up to discover that I had a brain disorder of my own. A blood vessel exploded in the left half of my brain. And in the course of four hours I watched my brain completely deteriorate in its ability to process all information. On the morning of the hemorrhage, I could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of my life. I essentially became an infant in a woman's body.
That happened due to a golf-ball-sized blood clot pressing against the language centers of her brain. Bolte took eight years to fully recover, a fact that makes this eloquent speech an even more stunning accomplishment. The audience is led through the unraveling of a mystery as Taylor describes exactly what it felt like to be having a stroke and trying to figure out what was happening to her. It's dramatic: Will she be able to dial the phone to call for help? It's visual, with an unusual prop and expressive gestures. It's intensely personal and emotional, and while it's loaded with technical details, they are delivered in language anyone can understand. Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:

  • As props go, nothing beats a real human brain: You'll hear the audience gasp as she brings out the brain, testament to one of my favorite rules of thumb for props. If you have access to an object that helps you explain what you're describing, and it's unusual, hard-to-find, rarely seen or intriguing, use it. Scientists have this as a distinct advantage when they speak, and should use it more often.
  • Humor can underscore an improbable experience and connect with the audience: She can afford to do this now that she has recovered fully, but Bolte injects humor throughout the speech, often making gentle fun of herself as she describes trying to figure out what was happening. Make no mistake, it takes enormous learning, effort and skill to pull off a detailed description of what is happening to your body as it stops functioning. But Bolte helps the audience get through it with humorous comparisons, imitating a golden retriever to show how her language skills had disappeared or joking about how she suddenly forgot about her work and every source of stress in her life, making it sound like a good thing.
  • Gestures help the audience understand a technical process: Bolte uses gesture effortlessly. When she says "I woke up to a pounding pain behind my left eye," she gestures with one hand near left side of her head. Those small accompanying gestures actually help your audience to comprehend what it is you are saying.
  • She mixes the emotional with the eloquent: When Bolte describes feeling all her functions fail, she says, "And in that moment, I knew I was no longer the choreographer of my life." You can hear her choke up as she continues describing this moment, which might have been the moment of her death had things gone another way. It is a humbling moment: For all her expertise and understanding of what was happening, she was no longer in control.
This talk isn't just technical, but also is inspirational to many, as Bolte shares insights from this near-death experience and describes her recovery and what it means to her today to be alive. What do you think of this famous speech?




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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Speaker trainers and speechwriters: A workshop on working with experts

I'm offering a workshop in late August for communicators, fundraisers and others who work with experts--from scientists and engineers to policy experts--that I think also works well for speaker trainers and speechwriters. Be an Expert on Working with Experts is a one-day workshop will focus on helping you do a better job working with experts. We'll focus on skills like:

  • How to anticipate your experts' default communications style, how to help them see it, and how to show them what public and media audiences want instead;
  • Why they don't need to "dumb down" their information to communicate clearly (and how to handle other common objections they raise);
  • How to assess your experts' skills and training needs, to help you approach coaching in savvy ways; 
  • Handling hands-on training, giving feedback to smart people, pushback and Q&A when you're training experts. Find out what they don't know--but won't tell you--and how to fix that.

Many times, experts' default communications styles run directly counter to the advice and coaching you'd give them when communicating to a non-technical audience. The workshop's designed to help you turn that situation around so you (and your client) can be more effective. You'll get an early registration discount if you sign up by August 5, so register today! I welcome your questions and hope you'll share this with interested colleagues.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The faceless bitch slide: Why women have trouble with public speaking

From time to time, smart women I like and admire get defensive about the topic of women and public speaking. "Women don't need to be fixed," they say. (I agree--never said that.) "So why do they need special advice about public speaking?" I can talk about the long history of women being prevented from speaking in public and the myths that have arisen--myths still in use today--that help keep women silent in meetings and conversations.

But now, instead, I think I'll just talk about the faceless bitch slide.

Programmer Anne Gunn recently attended a professional conference she values. But after she wrote that post about what she got out of it, she wrote another post, Noah Kagan and the Faceless Bitch Slide, about that speaker's presentation. It's a careful, thoughtful analysis, something you'll value more when you read what happened during the presentation, for which Gunn was in the audience:
...as a way to bring emphasis to a point he was making about the mixture of pleasure and pain with which many of us approach our email inbox at the start of the day, Noah put up on the screen a picture of a young woman . . . writhing, I guess you’d say . . . on a floor, maybe? . . . in ecstasy — well, maybe. . . in pain, probably (a lot more pain than pleasure is what it looked like to me).  And he tried very hard to get a couple of the audience members to describe the picture in some detail or put a word to her state.  One of them stuttered out enough of a response to earn a bottle of hot sauce. Now, however weird and tasteless writhing-woman was, she was, at least, displayed on the screen in service to a point Noah was making in his speech. 
But then came the faceless bitch: a headshot, not even particularly recognizable as female because the face and neck were covered by a huge opaque circle across which, in large letters, was enscribed BITCH.

A short time after the slide flashed on the screen, Kagan glanced over his shoulder, as if a bit surprised, since she clearly didn’t have anything to do with the point he was making, and said, “Oh, that’s just my previous girlfriend.” Then he just left her up there — for a long time. Long enough that finally I came to my senses, picked up my phone, and snapped a picture of the screen.
Gunn goes on to describe her reactions, which stopped short of leaving the room or confronting the speaker fully. The comments following her post include many angry, nasty words about women and about her, a backlash against her daring to write about the event.

When I came across this post in a thread on Google+, I was saddened, but not surprised. This is just one of several recent examples, such as:
Those soldiers were punished, my client got training--a defensive move on her part to show she was trying to correct the "problem"--and the tweets about Boyd were removed from Twitter. Commenters on my blog post argue against what's noted, saying in essence, "we don't see it on Twitter." So if Boyd hadn't blogged about this, there'd be almost no evidence that it happened. The same thought went through my mind as I read Gunn's post: Had she not snapped the photo (which you can see in her post) and blogged about the experience, we'd never know. It's not the kind of thing that gets discussed at conferences. Organizers are unlikely to linger over such an episode. And who wants to talk about that at the "happy" hour?

Yet, when we do have the chance to read about it, it just reminds women of the uncomfortable place they may be putting themselves in when they stand up to speak--or just sit in the audience. They can get coached, dress differently and practice up a storm, but when they speak or watch presentations, they very likely may be reminded that to men present, they're nothing but a sexual object. And we wonder why women hesitate about public speaking. Even the most confident and polished speaker who's female might think more than twice about participating, given these circumstances.

This isn't new behavior. Even the charismatic Sojourner Truth, in her day, was accused of being a man at one assembly (no woman could speak that well, right?) and called on to show her breasts to a group of women so they could verify her gender. Instead, Truth bared her breasts to the entire audience, to silence her critics.

Uncomfortable as it is to have the faceless bitch slide out in the open, it's at least clear--unless our actions serve to obscure the incident. That kind of discrimination is far more difficult to spot when it's coded and hidden, as in those comments about how women talk more than men, when the genders speak about the same number of words per day. What works here is shining a light on it. I'd love to see more men and women calling men on this behavior, in person, on blogs, in letters to conference organizers and fellow speakers, and any other platform they can find. Let's at least create a realistic, rather than romantic, view of what women face when they attend presentations or give them.

What do you think about this uncomfortable situation? Have you walked out of similar presentations? Would you now? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

The all-in-one on humor and public speaking: 10 ways to make it work

Speakers love to inject humor into their talks and presentations, believing it relaxes the audience (and themselves) and puts folks in a good mood. But that's not always the case. Humor, like a banana peel, can result in something funny--unless it trips you up. Use these tips from the blog to find the right places and cases where humor in public speaking will work for you:

  1. Inject introductions with humor. Whether you're introducing yourself or someone else, use humor to take charge of your introduction. You'll make it memorable and avoid the usual trite start to a talk.
  2. Use it along with "I don't know." Saying you don't know the answer to a question is one of the strongest speaker statements--and you can make an "I don't know" even more effective (and less embarrassing) if you say it with some humor.
  3. Recover gracefully with humor. If you can pull out of a problem or stumble with well-timed humor, you're on your way to being a top speaker. Check out this video of California Governor Jerry Brown, flubbing his lines during his swearing-in...and getting a laugh in the bargain, thanks to his smooth recovery with humor. Then read my tips for dealing with mistakes, including humor as an important tool.
  4. Humor? In a eulogy? Absolutely. Read that tip and others offered by our readers when one of them had to deliver her mother's eulogy and turned to The Eloquent Woman for help.
  5. But lose that joke or cartoon right at the beginning. That's because a joke will waste those precious moments when audience attention is highest.
  6. And the most important reason to avoid jokes for humorous touches is that jokes are the toughest thing to remember...and awful when you forget the punchline. Don't set yourself up.
  7. Using humor to connect with an audience is high on readers' wish lists. Here are 6 core tips for using humor that will help you make that happen.
  8. Listen to a speechwriter: Make 'em laugh says Peggy Noonan, in this advice to politicians in the last presidential election in the U.S.  She makes the case for humor eloquently.
  9. Listen to a comedian: It doesn't have to be angry humor to work. Marlo Thomas's memoir about growing up in a houseful of comedians yields wry and useful insights for speakers who want to use humor (and she's got lots of great stories, too).
  10. Don't turn humor on yourself. Most speakers know they shouldn't make fun of the audience, but often, they fail to recognize when self-deprecating humor doesn't work. A thoughtful guest post that every speaker should read.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

This Friday: A mid-year review for The Eloquent Woman

This Friday, I'm on a retreat where I'll do a mid-year review of The Eloquent Woman and chart the course for the rest of this blog's year. So there's no Famous Speech Friday post this week...but an open invitation for you to use the comments on this post to leave your praise, wishes, feedback and more. Tell me what issues you're facing, the questions you have about public speaking or presenting, what you like or don't like. Readers make this blog the success that it is and I can't do it effectively without you! We'll be back posting next week....

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Will you host a TEDxWomen event near you on December 1?

TED has announced it will launch TEDxWomen, a one-day event worldwide, on December 1, 2011. The main events will take place in New York and Los Angeles, but you are encouraged to organize local viewings with live speakers, too. From the TED blog:
TEDxWomen will stream live from the Paley Centers in New York and Los Angeles to the world, through the global TEDx community. Organizers of TEDxWomen events will watch the livestream of TEDxWomen from the Paley theaters and host local speakers on women’s issues, and collaborate via Skype and social media.
Go here for more information on hosting at TEDxWomen event. Will you consider organizing or hosting a TEDxWomen event near you? Share your plans here.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Is singing like speaking, and vice versa? The eloquent Eno

Do you think speaking in public is like singing in public? Musician Brian Eno does, after incorporating spoken-word poems into a musical composition. From this interview on the Big Think blog, Eno says:
We are all singing. We call it speech, but we’re singing to each other, and I thought, as soon as you put spoken word onto music, you start to hear it like singing anyway. You start to develop musical value and musical weight, and you start to notice how this word falls on that beat, and so on and so on. So in a way I think I was trying to draw more attention to the fact that everybody is a singer—everybody who uses their voice is kind of singing. And that was a big liberation for me, to realize that.
I know readers of this blog who sing and speak (and some who coach both speakers and singers), and I've helped my speaking trainees think about pacing and tempo and vocal quality in the same way they might if they were singing--although that works best if the trainee is already a musician, in my experience. Back when I was looking for famous speeches by women in the movies, and coming up short, a good friend of mine said her thought was that most speeches by women in film were in the form of songs in musicals--otherwise, they did little in the way of giving public speeches.

What do you think? Have you ever thought of singing as speaking--or speaking as something akin to singing? Which is easier for you? How does singing help your speaking, or vice versa? Let us know if you're a singer or musician in your reactions and comments.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Speakers: When it comes to words, concrete=credible

Smart speakers concern themselves with credibility. And while the expertise in your bio helps to introduce you, most audiences will decide how credible you are after you start speaking. The test? How concrete your language is.

In Why concrete language communicates truth, you'll learn that psychology research shows most people find vivid details and lots of facts make a statement more credible. There's a catch, though:
But all these involve adding extra details or colour. What if we don't have any more details? What if we want to bump up the believability without adding to the fact-count? Just going more concrete can be enough....
The solution means choosing words that reinforce the concrete nature of your statement. Here's how to do it:
  • Avoid abstractions in your nouns and verbs:  With nouns, that means specificity (instead of cars, say Thunderbird; instead of breakfast, say steak and eggs). With verbs, that means less passive tense verbs and more action verbs (less "I was hoping you'd have questions" and more "Ask me anything"). Overall, use fewer adjectives and adverbs and stick to concrete nouns and verbs; you won't sound as if you're exaggerating and your credibility will shine through.
  • Avoid ambiguity: Can your words be miscontrued easily? That might involve how they sound (mussels versus muscles), whether your audience understands a technical term, or terms that mean different things in different circumstances. Reading your lines aloud to a friend will help you figure out the words that make an audience pause and think through confusing terms. Aim for simple, universal terms.
  • Add the invisible visual--the description we can picture in our minds' eye. That kind of specific, easy-to-understand, simple description does more than any slide can do to make your talk memorable--and credible.
Concrete language also may help make you sound more confident, another credibility booster. Start analyzing your presentations and speeches and replace the abstract with the concrete.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Does your conference have a "women to watch" list of female speakers?

Thanks to the Amazing Women Rock blog, we have this handy guide to all the women speaking this week at TEDGlobal, taking place July 11-15 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Blog founder Susan Macaulay, who has attended TEDGlobal, pulled the list together and notes that TED still averages just 30 percent women speakers. The list at the link includes videos and photos, plus links to the speakers' websites and blogs, making it a useful and thorough resource.

And it made me wish more conferences did just this: Save me the work of figuring out how many or how few women are on your program. Instead, make a feature of it--call it marketing to women participants, if you want to, or transparency, or whatever. But make note of your women speakers. Put that list on your website, in your registration materials and press kits, and at the venue. It's great in this case that a blogger's done it, but if you want to demonstrate your commitment to a gender-balanced program--and let women attendees have another reason to register--conference organizers should tackle this task next.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Updated: Famous Speech Friday: Betty Ford's 1975 speech to the American Cancer Society

(Editor's note: I chose and wrote about Betty Ford earlier this week in preparation for the regular Famous Speech Friday feature. By Friday evening, word came of her death today--a coincidence, and a chilling one. Still, I'm glad to have been timely in reminding readers of her special talents as a speaker. Ford lived a full life, as you'll see in this post, and speaking was a major part of her legacy. It's telling that former First Lady Nancy Reagan expressed her condolences tonight by recalling Ford's public sharing of her breast cancer, the subject of this post.)

Looking back, you might call Betty Ford the forthright First Lady. She had a lifetime of speaking about forbidden topics, and very personal ones. And in the eyes of many, it was her decision to speak openly about her breast cancer that made it clear she was a speaker of substance. From the Miller Center at the University of Virginia:
She wore a mood ring and pantsuits. She liked disco and danced the hustle. She was pro-choice, pro-ERA, and pro-women in general. She had been divorced, seen a psychiatrist, and been diagnosed with breast cancer. In many ways, Betty Ford was like a lot of other American women. But unlike many of her predecessors as First Lady, Betty Ford used her position to focus attention on the issues important to her, discussing them candidly in public. In so doing, she became one of the most outspoken First Ladies in American history.
Ford's credibility stemmed from two approaches she took to her public speaking: She wasn't afraid to express an opinion different from her husband's views, even when he was President, and she made decisions to use her public role to speak in behalf of other women, even when the issues was extremely personal. After her 1974 diagnosis with breast cancer and a subsequent mastectomy, Ford gave many interviews about her cancer and in 1975, while she was First Lady, delivered a major address to the American Cancer Society that is remarkable in many respects. Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Use plain, forthright language when you're addressing the unspeakable: Cancer of any kind was not openly discussed in the 1970s by anyone, let alone a First Lady. Yet this speech was one of the first to not only discuss it publicly, but do so in language anyone could understand. Here, she speaks about her mastectomy: "It isn't vanity to worry about disfigurement. It is an honest concern. I started wearing low-cut dresses as soon as the scar healed, and my worries about my appearance are now just the normal ones of staying slim and keeping my hair kempt and the make-up in order. When I asked myself whether I would rather lose a right arm or a breast, I decided I would rather have lost a breast."
  • Simple language helps your speech work for the ages:  I do a lot of communications consulting with cancer experts, and find this speech's simplicity a telling example of what clarity can bring to a complex topic. You could give this speech again this week, and it would still be clear and relevant, sticking as it does to universal themes and simple words.
  • Don't shy from humor when addressing a tough topic:  Ford opened with a wry twist on the tired speaker intro with "I'm very glad to be here tonight, and that is not a line borrowed from someone." And she followed up with the details of her prognosis, just what everyone likely wanted to know.
  • Share the emotions to which we can all relate:  Ford devoted almost as much space in this speech to the emotional aspects of a cancer diagnosis as the physical ones, including the shock and surprise her family felt: "The malignancy was something my husband never expected, and he couldn't believe it was happening to me. The whole family felt that way. I think their surprise was a very natural reaction, because one day I appeared to be fine and the next day I was in the hospital for a mastectomy." Professionals and patients alike could relate to her words.
Ford, who is now 93, turned out to be a long-term survivor of her cancer. Many think this speech set in motion a level of interest, activity and concern about cancer that continues today; in the wake of this speech, women worldwide sought out treatment and preventive mammograms, in some cases overwhelming local cancer centers with thousands of calls. More importantly, this speech demonstrated the power of speaking publicly, making cancer commonly discussed rather than taboo--a strong legacy for any speaker to claim.

Ford's habit of speaking frankly about her personal life led to many more disclosures and political statements. You can find more at the Ford presidential library and in this research by doctoral student Melody Lehn about Ford's public speaking on the Equal Rights Amendment.  Here's later video of Ford talking about her family's intervention regarding her substance abuse, an episode that led her to found the Betty Ford Clinic:

(Photo of Betty Ford touring a breast cancer center courtesy of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library)

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bold idea: Could you be the summary speaker?

Frequent speaker Scott Berkun writes about being the last speaker of the day, following a long line of speakers. But he turned that slot to advantage with a bold idea:
I threw in a wrinkle the awesome organizers let me try: I built my talk during the day, based on the best and most dangerous ideas I heard other speakers and attendees say.
Of course, it takes a willing organizer to let this happen--but would you, as a speaker, suggest it? Here's why I think you should consider trying this:

  • It's automatically fresh: There's no way to have prepared this type of talk ahead of time, which makes it exciting for the audience (and perhaps you, too).
  • You really set the agenda by setting the takeaway: No matter how planned it was in advance, you get the last word--and the chance to shape what participants think about the day. Powerful stuff!
  • It'll keep you sharp: This approach means you need to listen, distill and keep it simple and short. If you're up for the challenge, it requires you to move fast, speak clearly and focus.
  • You stay out of the weeds: Let others dive deep into detail. By choosing the top-line summary, you're playing a very different role and sharing an overall vision.
  • It's bound to be brief: You're standing between the crowd and happy hour. Brevity is your friend here.

What do you think of this idea? Would you try it or suggest it--or have you done this type of talk already? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

For Wednesday: Step Up Your Speaking Newsletter looks at appearance

This month, Step Up Your Speaking will look at appearance issues--how you look when you speak or present, from wardrobe and gesture to wearing color. You'll get to read answers to readers' pressing questions about appearance and how it affects credibility and respect, as well as find the questions you should ask yourself about your appearance before you speak. And you'll get access to this month's free download, a checklist of factors to look at when your speech is caught on video--perhaps the most useful tool for analyzing your appearance. These are tips both men and women speakers can use. The newsletter is out tomorrow  morning, so sign up--and share with a friend or colleague--today.

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Be part of a speaking tradition: Read the Declaration of Independence aloud

Before CNN and the Internet, public speaking helped  communities learn the news--particularly major developments. And when the colonies that became the United States declared their independence from England, that declaration was read in public in cities and towns. It has become a 4th of July tradition still in force--and it's wonderful practice for today's speakers. Reading aloud from a well-known text can help boost your eloquence, giving you the chance to work on inflection, pauses, and vocal variety without having to learn a new set of words. Don't want to practice on this U.S. holiday? Listen to NPR's hosts and correspondents share their annual reading of the Declaration of Independence.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Edwidge Danticat's testimony on death in detention

Edwidge Danticat's "second father" was her uncle Joseph, the man who took care of her and her brother in Haiti after their parents had moved to New York City in the 1970s. In her book, Brother, I'm Dying, the award-winning novelist and MacArthur genius describes her profound attachment to her uncle--who schooled her with sermons and sweets--and the lingering sadness she felt to be separated from him when she joined her parents in New York at age 12.

It's a family memoir with a shocking ending. In 2004, battles between Haitian police forces and neighborhood gangs forced the frail and elderly Joseph Dantica to flee Haiti and seek asylum in the United States. Despite having a passport and valid visa to enter the U.S., Dantica was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in Miami, and died in their custody soon after being taken off his regular medications.

In 2007, Danticat testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee about her uncle's treatment. (You can read the full transcript of her testimony here.) Her short but heartbreaking statement soon became a rallying point for immigration reform efforts, and open up a window into the detention practices and oversight of ICE. Why was Danticat's testimony so effective?
  • It was in her own words. Personal stories have power, especially when the topic is a complicated one of bureaucracy, law and competing political agendas. Danticat is a gifted storyteller, but her testimony gains its power not from wordplay but from the simple and short description she gives of her uncle--not as "Alien #27041999" but as a vibrant and well-loved person that anyone would miss and mourn:
His name was Joseph Nosius Dantica and he was 81 years old. He was the patriarch, the head, of our family. He was a father of two and grandfather of fifteen, an uncle to nearly two dozen of us, a brother, a friend, and even, after having survived throat cancer, which took away his voice, a minister to a small flock in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
  • She describes a vivid scene. Halfway through her testimony, Danticat's "voice" shifts gears as she relates a horrifying scene during her uncle's detention hearing. She's unflinching with the details, but also tells this part of the story with dialogue, like a scene from a movie or novel. The technique draws listeners into her story, as if they were observing the events firsthand: 
To those who saw him, including his lawyer, he appeared to be having a seizure and he began to vomit. Vomit shot out of his mouth, his nose, as well as the tracheotomy hole he had in his neck as a result of the throat cancer operation. The vomit was spread all over his face, from his forehead to his chin, down to the front of his dark blue Krome issued overall. 
  • Sometimes, facts speak for themselves. As Danticat recalls how her uncle's health rapidly deteriorated within hours, her testimony begins to sound like entries from a medical chart. But each change in his condition gets a time stamp that gives the testimony a relentless pacing, like a ominous drumbeat:
At 7:55PM, his heart rate rose to 110 beats per minute. An electrocardiogram (EKG) was performed at 8:16PM. The next note on the chart shows that he was found pulse-less and unresponsive by an immigration guard at 8:30PM. He was pronounced dead at 8:46PM.
You can hear more about Joseph Dantica's detention in three short clips from the Washington Post's audio archive on immigration issues. In these clips, Danticat speaks in a conversational style that makes the issue of asylum seem more personal than political. For more stories from Brother, I'm Dying, check out this reading from the C-SPAN video archives. Below, see Danticat speak about how storytelling and its oral tradition informs her writing:



(Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this Famous Speech Friday. Photo and video courtesy of the MacArthur Foundation.)

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