Friday, September 30, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Princess Diana and the Ban on Landmines

Three weeks before she died in a Paris car crash, Diana, Princess of Wales was making headlines in Bosnia. Her 1997 visit to the country was the last in her world tour to raise awareness about the persistent dangers of anti-personnel landmines. Earlier that year, she had visited Angola to meet with several generations of landmine victims--and was criticized publicly by members of the British government as a "loose cannon" for her outspoken insistence that nations sign on to an international treaty banning landmines.

Outspoken was not the word for Diana as she began her career in the public eye. Early on she was dubbed "Shy Di" for her way of shrinking from photographers and podiums. She admitted that she giggled too much when she became nervous during a speech. But she was also aware that public speaking must become one of her strengths. Her speaking coaches included the actor Sir Richard Attenborough, Peter Settelen (who later become infamous for his candid recordings of Diana), and communications strategist Richard Greene.

They encouraged Diana to overcome her fears of public speaking by allowing herself to speak more conversationally and more passionately. One of her greatest strengths as a public figure was her sense of warmth, which conveyed beautifully in photos and video when she was filmed hugging a person with HIV or playing games with children in homeless shelters. Speaking would feel more comfortable, Greene told her, if she drew from the sense of compassion that seemed to come so easily to her.

Her Angola visit was highly publicized, and for the first time Diana found herself political news as the British government--not ready to sign on to a landmine treaty--was dismayed by her strong words on the topic. Arriving home, she gave a speech on landmines at the Royal Geographical Society in London that was anything but shy. Here's what you can learn from her famous speech:
  • She acknowledged what was in front of her audience--herself: Early in her speech, she addresses the controversy surrounding her Angola visit, defusing the question and defining her role in the cause: "Some people chose to interpret my visit as a political statement. But it was not. I am not a political figure. As I said at the time, and I'd like to reiterate now, my interests are humanitarian. That is why I felt drawn to this human tragedy."
  • She dressed for the occasion: Her choice of business-like black and white for the speech--severe and plain by the standards of the wardrobe of the world's most photographed woman--kept the focus on her words. She wore a similarly unadorned suit for another famous speech on the treatment of AIDS patients in 1993.
  • The problem belongs to all of us: Diana used several strategies throughout the speech to encourage the idea that landmines are a problem for all countries to solve. "We," "ours" and "us" appear frequently, and her rhetorical questions are some of the most passionate lines of the speech: "How can countries which manufacture and trade in these weapons square their conscience with such human devastation?"
In the following weeks, she repeated much of the speech in interviews and at other public events. Less than a year after her death, the United Kingdom became an official signatory to the Ottawa Treaty outlawing anti-personnel landmines around the world.  Watch this news report of her London landmines speech, with excerpts from it:



(Frequent contributor and freelance writer Becky Ham wrote this edition of Famous Speech Friday for the blog.)


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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#Speakers: Get insider tips on debating, moderating

When a presidential campaign is on, voters learn much from televised political debates as the candidates slip, stumble and spar their way through these structured speaking situations. In the U.S., there have been 35 such debates since 1960, and newsman Jim Lehrer has moderated 11 of them, something of a record. Now past his debate moderating days, Lehrer has written a guide that debaters, moderators and speakers can use to learn more about the form: Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates, from Kennedy-Nixon to Obama-McCain. It's loaded with tips and insights about debating and moderating, and includes interviews with the candidates themselves as well as other journalists participating in the questioning.

Lehrer--who includes honest assessments of his own mistakes and how they impacted the debates in which the errors occurred--and the actual debaters all underscore the need for preparation, and the fact that a debate format demands the preparation that a good speaker might skip under other circumstances. You'll find plenty of recollections of famous presidential debate moments, and what happened behind the scenes, making this a timely read.

Lehrer did an hour-long interview on NPR's Diane Rehm Show recently; you can listen to it here or read the transcript here. But he's not the only journalist offering debating tips. NPR's David Folkenflik notes that many debaters get distracted by the theatrics of a presidential debate, but need to ignore that and focus.

Do you have a favorite presidential debate moment? Share it in the comments.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No projector? No problem. Use QR codes + SlideShare to share your slides

Here's a useful and easy social-media option speakers can use to put their slides into the hands of the audience right away--even if there's no projector or the projector's not working. From the SlideShare blog, we learn how: First, upload your slides to SlideShare, the popular website for making slides easily available. Then create a QR or "quick response" code like the graphical bar code at right  with a link to the SlideShare version of your presentation. The code embeds an easy-to-scan version of the web address where your slides reside.
From there, your audience members can scan the code to bring your slides up on their smartphones or tablet computers. It's easy for the audience, and much faster than typing a URL.

Todd Ogasawara came up with the steps for this great tactic, which he used when presenting in a restaurant venue where no projector or screen would be available, something that often happens at awards events or professional networking events. Speakers and presenters also could put this approach to work in such speaking situations as:

  • Presentations or demos in a booth at an exhibit;
  • Poster sessions at scientific meetings;
  • "Greener" conferences where paper handouts are discouraged;
  • Work sessions where you want to include slides in the discussion on an impromptu basis, or on the fly;
  • Demos outdoors or in non-traditional settings: on a construction site, at a restaurant, in a hallway, in a cab. 
And of course, every speaker should have this tactic as a backup plan should the projector fail. I'm going to add it to my arsenal of "just in case" tactics, and bring a QR code for the slides that can be easily photocopied and shared with the audience. How about you? Share how or when you might use this option in the comments. And don't forget: The Eloquent Woman on Facebook includes the SlideShare app, so you can easily share your slides with us there. Please do!


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Monday, September 26, 2011

Why speakers should let audience members doodle

Have you ever been annoyed while speaking--in a meeting or a formal speech--when you notice audience members doodling? Think again, speakers. That might be the listener who's paying the most attention, the one who's going to make the best and most informed decision based on what you're saying.

This under-six-minutes TED talk by Sunni Brown looks at why and how we've looked down on doodling for centuries, and why research shows it can contribute to your audience's ability to take in and comprehend what you're saying. She wants to reframe your view of doodling so you see it as "an incredibly powerful tool."  Her definition? "Doodling is to make spontaneous marks to help yourself think." She reviews how learners take in information, and what they retain, in a short talk that might just change your view of that doodling listener in the audience.

What's your view about audience doodling? Do you doodle in meetings or when you listen to speakers? Did the video change your views? Share them in the comments.



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Friday, September 23, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Nellie McClung's "Should Men Vote?" speech

I asked readers for nominees for Famous Speech Friday posts, and Canada-based speaking coach Heather Stubbs wrote, "I don't know if you'd find any speeches by her, but Nellie McClung was an outspoken Canadian feminist, politician and social activist. 1873-1951. She was instrumental in getting women in Canada accepted as 'persons' in 1927, clearing the way for women to enter politics."

As it turned out, while I don't have the full text, the speech was easy enough to identify. McClung, a noted novelist and temperance campaigner, became involved in the Political Equality League in the effort to get women in Canada the right to vote. According to the CBC, "These women were repeatedly told that 'nice women' didn't want the vote. In 1914, the Conservative premier of Manitoba, Sir Rodmond Roblin, said women's suffrage 'would be a retrograde movement...it will break up the home'." 

McClung and other suffragettes in the League convened a mock parliament that same year. Women sat on the stage, playing members of parliament, and a delegation of men presented a petition asking for men to get the right to vote. McClung, acting as the premier of the parliament, gave a stem-winder of a speech, using the same words, phrases and accusations that were made about women voters to debate whether men should have that right. She even began her remarks by complimenting the men on their appearance, much as a man might do to a delegation of women. This passage from "Should Men Vote?" gives you an idea of the speech's tongue-in-cheek approach: 
Oh, no, man is made for something higher and better than voting...The trouble is that if men start to vote, they will vote too much. Politics unsettle men and unsettled men means unsettled bills, broken furniture, broken vows, and divorce. Men's place is on the farm....if men were to get the vote, who knows what would happen? It's hard enough to keep them home now!
McClung, already a frequent speaker due to her temperance work, was described by many as a dynamic speaker with a ready wit, and this speech brought those qualities to the fore. The audience howled with laughter, and the speech was an overnight sensation. Suddenly, the campaign to get votes for women was popular, even fashionable--and Manitoba, along with some other provinces, granted women the right to vote in provincial elections in 1916. McClung later served in the legislative assembly in Alberta. Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Use humor to sound confident: It takes confidence to use humor, which can so often backfire--and using humor with skill in a speech makes the speaker look extra-confident. In this case, McClung's approach allowed her to avoid looking defensive, anxious and critical, as she might have done if she'd chosen a less humorous approach.
  • Turn your opponent's words back against him: In this speech, her goal was to show that objections to votes for women made little sense. Using her opponent's oft-repreated dire predictions and insinuations against him was a stroke of genius. When you have the chance to do this, the tactic can make your case for you. 
  • Have fun with your speaking: By all accounts, McClung delivered these remarks in an over-the-top style, emphasizing the warnings about "nice" men not voting and making the dire predictions sound extra ominous--a cue for the audience to have fun with it, too.  Leavening the serious issue with entertainment value didn't hurt the cause a bit.
Here's a recreation of the mock parliament in a "heritage minute" from Histori.ca:


This CBC interview with Beatrice Brigden, who saw the mock parliament when she was a young girl, notes that the session was "uproariously funny." You'll see footage from suffrage protests of the period to get some of the flavor of this famous speech:


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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why are speeches important?

Yes, there are speeches that can make you feel as if you never want to hear another word on the topic, or as if they'll never end. Speeches abound that don't deserve the title, muttered and mumbled and delivered off-hand or ill-prepared as they often are. But at their best, why are speeches important--especially today?

This time, I'm not talking about presentations or extemporaneous remarks, but formal speeches of all kinds. Here's how I started my list:
  • Speeches let us meet our leaders and hear what they have to say in person.
  • Speeches reveal the speaker's best and worst qualities, which can impact business, politics, world events and more.
  • Speeches inspire groups and call them to action.
Can you add to that? Why do you think speeches are important today--or do you disagree, and why? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"I'd enjoy public speaking more if..." What readers said

I recently asked readers to finish the sentence "I'd enjoy public speaking more if..." It was not a surprise to me that they responded with a lot of self-awareness, pet peeves about the speaking process, and enthusiasm. Here are their responses:


  • Kelli Schmith said "if I did it more often and organizers effectively understood their attendees."
  • Colleen Intero said "if I had even more audiences!"
  • Joy-Mari Cloete said "...if I didn't lose my train of thought mid-way through a presentation."
  • Beth Schachter said "if I could more effectively engage the audience. (Most of my talks are meant to be instructive. I'm a big fan of participatory learning but my seminars/workshops don't always show it.)
  • Erin Donley said "if there was an audience already there and I didn't have to be the one doing all the marketing."

How would you finish the sentence? Leave your response in the comments and add to the list.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Do you end sentences with an upward inflection? 3 ways to sound sure of yourself

I just listened to an interview in which a woman physician was trying to correct misinformation that's been in the media recently about her specialty--a serious task, and one that required her to sound credible, accurate and sure of her facts. Instead, she sounded unsure of herself and as if she were trying out answers rather than putting them across convincingly, all because of one vocal issue: An upward inflection at the end of most of her sentences.

You know how it sounds. That upward inflection makes every sentence sound like a question, whether you wanted to ask a question or were striving for something else.

Vocal coach Kate Peters, in a guest post on this blog about your vocal image, helps define the deflection and the role it plays in creating your image as a speaker:
Cadence is the general inflection at the end of spoken sentences. This inflection can lead people to make conclusions about one’s gender, geographic origin, as well as one’s openness and flexibility. According to Deborah Tannen, we hear a downward cadence as “closed” or “final,” with the extreme being “controlling.” Conversely, we hear an upward cadence as “open” and “flexible,” with the extreme being “indecisive.” Perhaps that’s why New Yorkers are stereotyped as abrupt and Californians as flaky!
The combination of the upward inflection, along with starting sentences with "so," have come to be known as Valley Girl voice, although it's thought that at least the "so" part began with engineers from that area.  Over time, the Valley Girl vocal image has hardened as one that's less serious and smart than you may want to appear. Some listeners find this indecisive-sounding tone decidedly annoying. You may not be questioning what you're saying, but that's what it sounds like.

Like any other vocal habit that you may be using over and over again, frequent repetition of that upward inflection in the same place in most sentences makes your listeners start to anticipate its use, or even count how many times you use it...which means they're no longer listening to what you are saying. It's also something you can correct, with practice. Here are 3 ways to curb that upward cadence and get back to sounding decisive and sure of yourself:
  • Correct real questions first:  I've had success asking some clients to change the way they state actual questions before we tackle these unintentional question-like inflections by working to use a neutral or downward cadence at the end of a question. It's the difference between saying "Are you going to do THAT?" or "Are you going to DO that?" with the upward inflection coming where the word is capitalized. There is, after all, more than one way to ask a question.
  • Analyze before you emphasize:  In any sentence, you have lots of choices about which words deserve the emphasis. If you're just winging it when it comes to emphasis, take the time to think through your statements and choose the words that would benefit the most from extra attention, then place it there. Using the upward inflection is often a habit--which means you're not putting much thought into it. Careful emphasis, by contrast, conveys in a subtle way that you know precisely what you're saying and how you want it to be heard, and that's a much more confident and decisive image.
  • Run with the urge to vary your vocals for emphasis. Cadence is one of the ways speakers can add audible interest and help the audience follow along--but using the same cadence over and over skips the variety needed to hold interest. Instead of an automatic upward inflection, practice using different techniques to add vocal variety: Use pauses, "pop" certain words with louder/higher/lower tones, use forceful or delicate levels of emphasis. It helps to do this by marking up a text at first, then reading from it, until you're comfortable varying your vocal tone.
Do you use an upward inflection at the end of sentences, or just find it annoying?

Related posts:  So, do you start sentences with so? If so...

What's your vocal image? Part I

Vocalizing tips from an NPR intern

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Lucille Ball at her Variety Club tribute

CEO. Glamorous movie starlet. Studio owner. She was all of those, but Lucille Ball will always be remembered for her zany, physical comedy on the "I Love Lucy" show. Many of her most famous scenes were mostly physical pantomime, slapstick and sight gags. Much of her dialogue was the opposite of what you'd expect from a powerful woman: shrieks, wails, and laughs.

But behind the scenes, Ball was an astute entertainment executive, first heading Desilu Productions, then buying out husband Desi Arnaz's share, then selling the company for $17 million. Her New York Times obituary quotes her describing the keys to her success--skills that also help her communicate effectively:
Discussing how she became an executive, Miss Ball said: ''My ability comes from fairness and a knowledge of people. I ran my studio like I run my home, with understanding of people. We touch in our house. I tell my children, 'There's so little time.' '' ....on the set, she was said to know every term, every lighting fixture and every worker.
At the end of a career in which she dominated popular television, the tributes began, including a Kennedy Center award and more. But it's her speech at the end of an all-star tribute show, a benefit for Variety Clubs International, that I think best shows the mix of talents Lucille Ball brought to her work in front of and behind the camera. Here's what I think you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Her trademark shtick was mentioned, but put aside for the night: Right at the start, Ball refers to crying at some of the tributes, then points to her fake eyelashes and jokes about not wanting them to run down her face. But she does it in a way that makes clear her remarks will not be funny in that way: "I did that in a show once and it worked, but not tonight." That line lets her transition to a more serious tone.
  • She devotes ample time thanking others: As a hardworking executive, she knew the effort that went into mounting such a show, and devoted much of her speaking to thanking others. "The entertainment tonight was special. Really special, perfect," said the perfectionist herself. "I heard different things tonight from different people, and for all of you who shared your talents so generously, I applaud you again."  Then she leads the group in applause. She also devotes significant time thanking the behind-the-scenes person from Variety Clubs International, producer Mike Frankovich. Since this was a televised special, using on-air time to thank others was a generous gesture.
  • The humor was gentle, and used sparingly: "For all of you who said such really wonderful things about me, I just wish you were all under oath" is a line anyone might use at such a speech. It doesn't distract from the proceedings, and lets the audience have a brief emotional outlet in laughing that helps balance the rest of the remarks.
Watch Ball balance sharing her emotions, thanks to others and carefully inserted but gentle humor in a mix most appropriate for an acceptance speech in this recording:




And here's Lucy describing one of her favorite scenes from "I Love Lucy" while it plays in the background, from The Dick Cavett Show. Notice the distinction between how she sounds describing it and how she looks doing it, and the contrast to her speech above:






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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Do you under-explain? 3 ways to check whether you're saying too little

Some people over-explain when they speak, loading up details and numbers and explanations into every sentence. But other speakers have the opposite problem, pulling their punches and under-explaining, offering few facts and absolutely no embellishment.

I found myself doing just that when I was first learning to handle media interviews. I'd been a reporter and knew too much about how statements might get taken out of context, so my answers were terse at best. The trainer took me aside and said, "I almost never say this to anyone I'm training, but you need to say more."

Learning how to balance--not too much, not too little--became my goal. Along the way, I learned a lot about how speakers disadvantage themselves when playing it too close to the vest. Here are three ways you might be cutting off your words to spite your speaking:
  • Your explanation isn't long enough to be clear.  Particularly with technical topics, some detail's needed if you want your audience to follow where you're leading. That doesn't necessarily mean more jargon and data, by the way. Some speakers sound dismissive when they don't take the time to explain; you can catch yourself doing that when you say things like "As we all know..." -- because 9 times out of 10, we don't all know. So tell us more.
  • You're not keeping up your end of the conversation. When you're answering questions--whether from the audience, your board of directors or a reporter--that "yes" or "no" answer doesn't help your conversation partner go very far. Instead, you can shape the way the discussion moves, just by adding a statement that takes the topic where you want to go. "No, I don't see that as a problem, but I have found three other areas you should give serious thought to before proceeding" leaves your audience a natural next question, and a place to go.
  • You're less convincing than you want to be. If you're trying to persuade an audience, you've got to move past the curt answer or the data-free sentence to something more concrete and specific. Try this combination: Make your statement, offer some data, then bridge to an anecdotal example. "We're absolutely committed to completing the project. Eighty percent of the survey data are in hand, and we're already seeing inquiries about volunteer opportunities once the center is open." That will do much more than a "Yes, we're committed to finishing the project."
Related post: Do you over-explain? 5 ways to use data, details wisely when you speak

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

For Thursday: Step Up Your Speaking newsletter

Whether you write speeches or deliver them, a good library of books can help you strengthen your speeches, providing inspiration, facts and useful insights to improve your performance. My library of recommended books for speakers is not your typical list, and you'll find it in this month's issue of Step Up Your Speaking newsletter--which is free if you sign up at the link below. Check out the books on Thursday this week!

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Using storytelling to stand out: What speakers can learn from 9/11

(Editor's note: Freelance writer Becky Ham is a regular contributor to the blog. She approached me about doing this piece after listening to one of the stories noted below in her car, and arriving at her appointment with tears in her eyes. Stepping back, she observed that it "seems like there's always one very vivid mention in each [story] of something that was worn, some private joke, etc, that (strangely enough) makes the tragedy more bearable and human-sized...the story becomes necessary, and worth adding to our big conversation about all this." I couldn't agree more, and hope speakers will use these lessons to shape their storytelling, today and every day.)

When the flood of news coverage about the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks began a few weeks ago, I headed for higher ground. I wasn't sure what--if anything--I wanted to hear about that terrible day, and how--if at all--I wanted to reflect on the years since.

I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the coverage, which made me wonder how those speaking and writing about the anniversary could hope to make their particular part of the conversation stand out in a meaningful way. And then I turned on the radio.

Retired New York City firefighter John Vigiano Sr. was talking about his sons, firefighter John Jr. and policeman Joe, who had lost their lives on 9/11 at the World Trade Center. Vigiano recalled that John Jr. had worn his grandfather's badge number: "We had the boys for...John for 36 years and Joe for 34 years, ironically. Badge number 3436."

Vigiano shared the story of his sons with StoryCorps, a nonprofit oral history project often heard on National Public Radio. Although StoryCorps didn't set out to collect stories from 9/11, founder Dave Isay said the project was a natural fit when the 9/11 Memorial and Museum asked them to collaborate on a memorial to lives lost on the day.

In less than two minutes, Vigiano's remembrance had broken down my resistance to listening. Storytelling had opened me up to the conversation in a way that the speeches and analysis and retrospectives couldn't do, using a few powerful techniques:
  • Storytelling offers an experience. In a Twitter chat about storytelling and 9/11, writing teacher Roy Peter Clark noted that stories are not about information but are instead a "mode of experience." Effective stories contain an inciting incident, he said, where normal events are interrupted by or crystallize around something out of the ordinary. Even when the inciting incident is well-known, as is the case with 9/11 stories, the mention of it immediately transports the listener to a specific time and place and prepares them for the details to follow. It's those details that create a compelling experience. The things I'll remember most from the 9/11 StoryCorps collection are the neatly folded clothes on the bed of Azucena de la Torre, killed at the World Trade Center; the enviably long eyelashes of Johnny Doctor Jr., killed at the Pentagon; or the fact that Michael Curci and his co-workers stopped at a Snapple machine as they carried their quadriplegic colleague John Abruzzo down 69 flights of stairs at the World Trade Center.
  • Stories find the right level. Clark said one of the strategies learned by journalists covering 9/11 was "the bigger, the smaller." The larger and more incomprehensible the news event, they found, the more important it is to focus on the experience of individuals. Storytelling, often intensely personal, is one of the best ways to bring the focus to a significant level. Nearly 3000 lives were lost in the 9/11 attacks. Do you know 3000 people? Richard Pecorella knew one person who died in the World Trade Center: his fiance Karen Juday. When he described how she had gently turned him away from his gruff New Yorker ways, I felt pain in a size and shape I could recognize.
  • Stories evolve over time. It took Kurt Vonnegut more than 20 years to write about the horrific World War II firebombing of Dresden, finally figuring out the right way to tell the tale in 1969's Slaughterhouse-Five after reminiscing with soldier friends against the backdrop of a new war in Vietnam. There can be something powerful in the immediate telling of a story, especially for accessing and sharing vivid emotion. But the StoryCorps contributors show that distance from events can lend perspective, distilling a chaotic event into its key points or even lessons. "I wouldn't have changed anything," Vigiano said. "There's not many people that the last words they said to their son or daughter was 'I love you,' and the last words that they heard was 'I love you.' So that makes me sleep at night."
Learn more about storytelling from these online resources.

(Photo by Larry Bruce / Shutterstock.com)

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Ruth Reichl on not becoming her mother

It was just an acceptance speech, one being given after she received the 2008 Matrix Award from New York's Women in Communications. She was alongside other luminaries, important women like Diane von Furstenberg and Christiane Amanpour. But when it was time for food journalist Ruth Reichl to speak, she shocked the audience.

Reichl, a former food critic for the New York Times and Los Angeles Times and--at the time of this speech--editor of Gourmet magazine, spoke of her mother, as many of the other honorees did. But her tribute took a turn the others did not. From the speech:
My mother would have been one hundred years old today. And so I've been thinking about her, and how she helped me to become the person that I am.... 
But my mother was a great example of everything I didn't want to be, and to this day I wake up every morning grateful that I'm not her. 
Shocked silence met those lines. But as Reichl continued, giving a blunt assessment of her mother's life and its influence on her, the audience members started to see themselves and their own mothers. Immediately, she said:
Grateful, in fact, not to be any of the women of her generation, who were unlucky enough to have been born at what seems to me to have been the worst possible time to have been a middle-class American woman.
Many were in tears by the end of the talk, brief as it was. Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Tell your most difficult stories:  Reichl's mother was a horrible cook, almost "taste-blind." She was  depressed and bipolar and not a particularly good mother in many respects. But by having the courage to talk about how that motivated and shaped her own success, Reichl demonstrates what I mean when I talk about finding your voice as a speaker: If you can bring yourself to share your most difficult stories in a speech, you’ll have the most compelling content and a riveting voice.
  • Don't go for the obvious: Award acceptance speeches are almost entirely predictable...and can easily bore the audience, especially if there are several to sit through. By not just thanking her mother but using her mother as a foil for her achievements, Reichl had the room in the palm of her hand.
  • Say the things only you can say:  No one, but no one, could have stood in front of that room and said, "Ruth's so grateful not to be her mother." But she could--and in doing so, shared an intimate and insightful part of herself that made the talk unique.
A publisher approached her immediately, asking her to write a memoir of her mother.  Later, on the book tour for what became Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way,Reichl recreated the speech--a gift to this blog, since the original wasn't recorded--and talks about the reactions to it, in the video below. You also may want to listen to the audiobook version, or read the speech text in this NPR excerpt from the bookReichl also talks about her mother and the book in this NPR Fresh Air interview.  What do you think of this famous speech?




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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

From the vault: Balancing technical & non-technical for mixed audiences

(Editor's note: I've updated this post, one of the most popular ever on the blog, because this question just keeps coming up. Here, your balanced formula for presentations.)


A young executive in a special training program at a multinational corporation wrote in because she's riding a see-saw on a particular presentation issue. Here's how she puts it: "Technical people want details that execs don't. How do we balance this?"
She's got a lot of company. Scientists and non-scientists tell me they have trouble presenting when there will be both scientists and non-scientists in the group.  My clients tell me they want to show what they know, and they anticipate the technical experts in the audience will criticize them for leaving out details. At the same time, they know the decision-makers' eyes will glaze over if too much detail is presented. It's a special dilemma for the presenter who's a scientist or technical expert--and the non-expert presenting before an audience full of smart folks.

This happens a lot in corporate cultures, but not exclusively: Government officials and even nonprofits will find occasions when a technical expert's knowledge is needed to help a group of important decision-makers get informed on key issues.  At some point, technical folks need to work with fundraisers, marketers, policymakers, decision-makers of all kinds. 

My recommendations?
  • Know the purpose of the presentation.  If it's to help non-technical executives make a decision, that should guide your path. If it's to show your technical expertise and eye for detail, that's another thing entirely.
  • Most important: Who's the decision-maker in the room?  If the room is packed with Nobel laureates, but the decision-maker is not, peg your remarks to the leader. And since that person is likely highly intelligent to begin with, don't dumb it down, but remember...
  • Even an audience of experts appreciates a clear, compelling presentation. Secretly, technical folks admire short and sweet presentations--despite the flow of questions that may follow--and the non-technical folks will thank you, again and again.
  • Define your territory.  State at the outset--and throughout your presentation--how far you will and will not be diving into detail. Both groups will appreciate that, and you'll head off some questions as well as subtly demonstrate that you do have the data, even if you're not showing it. 
  • Structure your presentation with a 3-point message:  Developing a three-point message helps you add focus and boil down the technical details into three themes, results or decision-making points. A message also can help you stick to simple, clear terms that any listener can follow, a must in this type of presentation. You can also work to make it more memorable by dressing it up with analogies, alliteration and other rhetorical tools.  In this type of presentation, use the three points strategically: to summarize findings (the three most surprising points), what will appeal to key audiences (the points you think donors or venture capitalists will appreciate), or decision opportunities (the points that suggest a change of course).
  • Head off some questions with advance information.  Can you post more detailed charts, data sets and analyses on an intranet or website sent to participants in advance? Then do it, and refer to that summary in the presentation.  "The data sets are all available at this URL, but for this morning, I want to focus on this..."
  • Leave something for the Q&A.  Don't underestimate the value of leaving some detail for the question-and-answer session.  You can even allude to your willingness to present it later: "We can go into this in more depth later if you like, but the main takeaway from our research is...." will go a long way to signaling to both groups your ability to ride that see-saw: You've got the details, but are passing over them to get to the results.
  • Speak to both groups when answering questions:  When you do get a high-tech question, be sure to answer in a way that both groups can appreciate. ("You're quite right, Fred--that does look like an anomaly. But the bottom line is that it should not affect a 'go' decision....")
Chemist Carolyn Bertozzi does a great job with that approach in this public lecture on "why sugars are good for you," below.  Note that she mentions a few items that her technically savvy colleagues will want to know, but keeps her general message at a level anyone can follow:



Share your additional questions, tips or challenges in the comments. What kinds of presentations are you making to audiences of technical and non-technical experts?

Related post:  What's the difference between when scientists present to other scientists, and to the public?

This post and the "what's the difference?" post noted above were included in the weekly roundup of the best public speaking articles in the blogosphere on Andrew Dlugan's great Six Minutes blog. Thanks, Andrew!

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hands in pockets while speaking? New & old-school solutions

When it's a communications director who hires me to train her executives or CEO in public speaking, I always ask what she especially would like me to advise the trainee, something she has been trying to get across. My favorite answer ever: "Hands in pockets, please!"

It's a speaking habit affected mostly by male speakers, in my experience. Typically, the arguments in favor of this stance in a presentation are that it's a "studied casual" look, something that exudes a relaxed, confident air. It also solves the problem many speakers anticipate of what they should do with their hands. But while this may work for models in the Sears catalog or on cool 1960s record albums, it doesn't work well for speakers.

I use a different argument against hands in pockets, typically citing Michael Erard's book Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean.  Few speakers realize that gestures are critical to them and their audiences. Gestures help the audience comprehend what you're saying, even when the gesture isn't precisely matched to what you're saying. But they also help the speaker's brain download to his mouth to produce the words he wants to say. If you immobilize your hands--by gripping the lectern, or putting them in your pockets--you are more likely to stumble in your speech, saying um, uh, or habadahhabadahhabadah when you really want to say something more eloquent.

I've found that a convincing argument, but my friend and former colleague Steve Tally just shared another, old-school (and pretty foolproof) method of curing this habit. His grandfather, the Rev. Sanford Ferguson, was pastor of the Tulip Church of God in Bloomfield, Indiana, and, it must be told, a big fan of hands-in-pockets while speaking in public. His wife, Glenda Ferguson, disagreed--a woman after my own heart.

Mrs. Ferguson, it turned out, had a better tool than most public speaking coaches do. She just sewed shut her husband's pockets. End of story.

Missing your needle and thread, or had this done to you? Read "What should I do with my hands when presenting?" for more useful alternatives.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

I declare: Use language to sound confident as a speaker

Many women readers of this blog write in about wanting to sound more confident. Some want to rid themselves of sounding tentative, as if they're asking a question even when they aren't. Some feel they're going too far in the other direction, being strident when something less pushy is called for. Others mask anxiety with a lot of enthusiasm. None of them feels good about how they sound when they speak, using those approaches.

So I think it's time we returned to a grammar basic, one that will help you strike the right tone, whether you're giving a speech, a presentation or just having a workplace or social conversation. It's the simple declarative sentence.

Declarative sentences are often defined as much by what they are not as by what they are. Declarative sentences contain no commands, no questions and no exclamations. They are straightforward statements, rather than explanations. Direct and plain, they also are confident and focused.

How can you use declarative sentences more effectively? Use them to replace the things they are not:

  • Practice comparing how they sound in place of almost-questions. Instead of "I think we should go to the park at lunch?" with a raised inflection at the end of the sentence, "I think we should go to the park at lunch" sounds much more authoritative.
  • Replace commands with group declarations: Take the time to say "Let's stop arguing," instead of "Stop arguing!" Makes a big difference. Why? In effect, you're inviting a change in behavior, saying "Let us..." Old-school, but subtly effective.
  •  Dial back your exclamations and explanations:  Enthusiasm's great--unless it's unrelenting. Make sure your exclamations count, and choose declarative sentences. The same is true if you over-explain. A simple declarative sentence can save you many minutes of sounding defensive, if you use it right. Read Do you over-explain? 5 speaker tricks for using data and details wisely for more ideas.


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Friday, September 2, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: First Lady Michelle Obama's speech to young African women leaders

Michelle Obama's keynote addressing 76 young African women leaders earlier this year had to overcome an outsized set of factors. The soaring setting in the historic Regina Mundi Church in Soweto, South Africa, was famous as a refuge for anti-apartheid protesters. The group, the Young African Women Leaders Forum, was made up of hand-picked representatives of countries throughout the African continent. Additional attendees brought the audience to 2,000 people. And it was the first major address by the first African-American First Lady of the 
United States in South Africa. 


The speech, intended to inspire the young women leaders, included several calls to action, like this series:
You can be the generation that holds your leaders accountable for open, honest government at every level, government that stamps out corruption and protects the rights of every citizen to speak freely, to worship openly, to love whomever they choose. You can be the generation to ensure that women are no longer second-class citizens, that girls take their rightful places in our schools.You can be the generation that stands up and says that violence against women in any form, in any place -- including the home – especially the home – that isn’t just a women’s rights violation. It’s a human rights violation.  And it has no place in any society.You see, that is the history that your generation can make.
Even with that soaring rhetoric, Michelle Obama's speech worked because it made an intimate experience out of a big crowd, an historic space and an event full of significance. Here's how:

  • She pokes fun at the outsized situation to put the young women at ease:  "Now, I have to be honest. Your efforts might not always draw the world’s attention, except for today," said the First Lady, a line that got a laugh--and let her go on to discuss how small actions can make a difference. That kind of keeping-it-real remark helps her to connect with her young audience effectively.
  • She spends significant time recognizing individuals: From her opening acknowledgments of dignitaries to her examples of young women leaders in the audience and their accomplishments, Obama brings the audience into focus, making it a collection of individuals rather than a massive group--something that's true whether you watched this speech from afar, or right in the room.
  • She relates the big, historic events to her audience of today:  Recalling events in Soweto 35 years ago, Obama notes "Many of the students who led the uprising were younger than all of you." In so doing, she adds perspective, and right-sizes what seems outsized.
The video below includes an introduction and then the full address. What do you think of this famous speech?




(Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

August's top 10 #publicspeaking tips and issues

Summer's coming to an end, but readers' interest in improving speaking skills kept on going strong. From boosting your confidence to inspiring famous talks, here are the posts that caught readers' eyes the most in August:
  1. From the vault: Confidence: How to fake it until you make it offers foolproof tips to get you through any speaking engagement looking calm and collected.
  2. Famous Speech Friday: Christine Lagarde at the Global Women's Forum, a guest post, shares an important and inspiring speech about women from the woman just named among the most powerful in the world by Forbes magazine.
  3. Famous Speech Friday: Margaret Thatcher's "Iron Lady" speech looks at the talk that gave her the nickname of a lifetime. Includes a video clip from the forthcoming movie about her, starring Meryl Streep.
  4. Listen up, speakers, about how to listen takes cues from a TED talk on listening and turns it to your advantage as a speaker. The talk itself is exemplary--be sure to watch the video.
  5. Speakers' great examples of invisible visuals offers you concrete instances where speakers have created pictures in the mind's eye of audience members. It's the best kind of visual to use.
  6. Are you ready for fall conference season? How speakers should prepare gives you a head start on how to promote and otherwise make the most of your panels, keynotes and talks this fall.
  7. Mind your pronouns: What they say about you as a speaker shares cues from a psychologist. You'll give away your power status and even use pronouns differently if you're a woman. Find out how.
  8. What's your public speaking or presenting advice--fortune-cookie style? shared nuggets from readers here and on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook.
  9. From the vault: Eye contact--is it good or bad? updates a classic post, responding to readers who wondered whether too much eye contact could be a bad thing for a speaker.
  10. The speaker in a crisis takes two historic examples from First Lady Betty Ford and Robert F. Kennedy to show you how to handle the unexpected duty of speaking extemporaneously when something terrible has just happened.
This month, as always, I appreciate your readership--thanks for participating in the blog.

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