Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November's top 10 #publicspeaking tips & issues

This month kicked off a season of holidays, with all the activities that come with them. But readers still came here to get inspiration, information and ideas about public speaking and presentations. This month's cornucopia of popular posts come from the readers' favorites. Here are our most-read posts for November:
  1. Five invisible speaker tricks to improve your presentations and speeches ran away with top honors this month. We'll just keep these tips between us, okay?
  2. Kindle v. tablet for public speaking: What's on your gift wish list? revised recommendations for which device you should use when speaking, given all the new options. Santa checked this post, I'm pretty sure. Did you?
  3. What to use instead of a pointer when you speak drew lots of readers seeking alternatives. No need to cling to that laser device.
  4. Hillary Clinton's "women's rights are human rights" speech, featured on our Famous Speech Friday series, was an international sensation when delivered, and a big hit here this month.
  5. A guide to slides for non-designers offered tips anyone can use to modernize and improve their approach to slide presentations. Irresistible.
  6. The all-in-one on gestures for public speaking: 12 great tips pointed the way for lots of readers this month. A jam-packed post.
  7. Last-minute prep: What can I do if I just have 5 minutes before a speech? was so popular, I figure it indicates we're all eager to keep improving, right till the start--or just a bunch of procrastinators. Either way, this post will help.
  8. A great line when you're a woman who's a "first" shared IMF chief Christine Lagarde's clever response to the trite question "Does it matter to you to be first?" Steal this line.
  9. Sandra Day O'Connor on "Portia's Progress" looks at how women have fared in the legal professions, part of our Famous Speech Friday series.
  10. Frances Perkins on the roots of Social Security, another Famous Speech Friday, was a one-of-a-kind experience for its audience, and an historic example for us.
Thanks so much for reading and contributing to the blog this month!

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Monday, November 28, 2011

A great line when you're a woman who's a first

Sometimes the heart of eloquence involves having the right response ready at the right time--especially for those hard-to-answer, almost-trite questions. That happens a lot to women who are "firsts," the first in their field, position, or specialty.

Recently, Christine Lagarde, the first woman to head the International Monetary Fund, was featured in a profile on the CBS News program 60 Minutes. In her in-depth interview with reporter Lara Logan, the inevitable question about being a "first" came up--and Lagarde managed a refreshing and thoughtful response. From the transcript:
Logan: In lots of the things that you've done you've been the first woman. Does it matter to you? Is it important? 
Lagarde: Well, what matters to me is that I'm not the last one.
If you're a first, that's a line well worth borrowing when you need it. It's a "keep your eye one the ball" statement, one that suggests "I'm not as important as the change becoming permanent."

Lagarde was featured in our Famous Speech Friday series with a guest post from speaker coach Marion Chapsal. Watch this outtake video from the interview in which Lagarde talks about women's issues in business, the glass ceiling and helping other women to succeed:


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Friday, November 25, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Sandra Day O'Connor on "Portia's Progress"

(Editor's note: I've been wanting to include Sandra Day O'Connor in our Famous Speech Friday series for some time--and since our regular contributor Becky Ham hails from Arizona, as does O'Connor, I figured she'd have the best perspective. She's turned up a gem of a speech, with the full text for you to see.)

Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, couldn't find work at a national law firm after her graduation. She finished third out of her class of 102 students at Stanford Law, but the closest she came to a job offer was the position of legal secretary.

That kind of rejection wasn't likely to deter a woman who kept a pet bobcat as a child. Raised on the Lazy B cattle ranch in Arizona and often left to fend for herself, O'Connor grew up resourceful and focused on getting the job done--whatever the job might be. She worked as a public attorney in California and Arizona, took five years off to raise her children and finally sat on the Arizona Court of Appeals before President Ronald Reagan named her to the nation's high court in 1981.

O'Connor handled the intense press surrounding her appointment with humor, while never downplaying the historical significance of her new job. When the New York Times carelessly referred to the "nine men of SCOTUS" (the Supreme Court Of The United States) in a 1983 editorial, she wrote a playful rebuke signed by "FWOTSC" (the First Woman Of The Supreme Court).

Like most Supreme Court Justices, O'Connor soon became a frequent public speaker. Some of her earliest speaking lessons came at the El Paso, Texas, Radford School for Girls, where one of her elementary teachers, Miss Fireovid, made her recite poetry, read aloud and give speeches before the class to help her overcome her shyness. "It is something that probably helped me the rest of my life," O'Connor said.

Her most-quoted speech is "Portia's Progress," delivered at the New York University Law School in 1991 on the 100th anniversary of the school's admission of women. The occasion and the topic--focused on the history and prospects of women in the law--was a natural for O'Connor. What can you learn from this famous speech?

  • Don't be afraid to be contrary. Ten years after her appointment to the Supreme Court, O'Connor had learned confound expectations. The speech skewers the myth of the "True Woman"--unsuited for argument, best kept at home and out of the public fray--that barred women from the law for hundreds of years. But O'Connor also disappointed many women with this speech by rejecting what she called a "new feminism," which suggested women had different (and perhaps more useful) aptitude and style than men when it came to the law.
  • Take advantage of speaking opportunities when you're the ultimate insider. Who better to give a speech about the progress of women in the law than the first woman to reach the pinnacle of the profession? O'Connor shares her personal experiences behind most of the topics in this talk, from her rejection by private firms to the difficulties of blending work and family. She also gave the audience an insider's perspective on how and why the Court ruled on the latest cases regarding women in the workplace.
  • Use quotes that say it all. Like most lawyers, O'Connor layered her talk with case names and decision minutiae that can make a non-legal mind wander. But the talk remains lively with her choice to include colorful, often stinging quotes from the people involved. My favorite comes from Clara Shortridge Foltz, the first woman lawyer in California. When an opposing attorney suggested Foltz should be at home raising children, Foltz replied, "A woman had better be in almost any business than raising such men as you."

Since her retirement, O'Connor has given several forceful and surprisingly candid speeches about judicial activism and the need for an independent judiciary. The most pointed of these speeches, delivered at Georgetown University in 2006, was not recorded at O'Connor's request. But here's a shorter take on the topic from 2008:




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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful for you, readers...

In the United States, today is our Thanksgiving holiday--the perfect time for me to let you know how much I appreciate you as readers, tipsters, and followers of the blog, The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, and the Step Up Your Speaking newsletter. I'm grateful for your comments, ideas, questions and participation; for your shares and retweets; and for your recommendations, tips and good reads that wind up here so others can find them.  It is no surprise to me that the most-read posts on this blog come right from readers' questions--and readers send them everywhere, on email and Twitter, in person, on Facebook, even handwritten notes. Keep them coming! You're helping me make this blog an eloquent expression of the public speaking goals we're striving to achieve--and a real reflection of your needs and wishes. Thank you for reading and contributing.

Now's your chance to be eloquent: What are you thankful for? Post your thoughts in the comments.

(Photo from Litandmore's Flickr stream)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The toast post: Tips for speakers on making a celebratory toast

'Tis the season for toasting, which means it's time for all sorts of advice on how to raise your glass without also putting your foot in your mouth. One of the better guides we've seen on this topic is in this month's Cooking Light magazine.

Their tips on how to give a good toast work for any speaking occasion: know your audience, be brief, and practice, practice, practice. I'd add to that some advice on the importance of eye contact and ways to quiet your nerves.

The guide also helpfully suggests that you might want to skip the toast altogether, especially if you don't have something different or personal to say. (Author Dan Okrent, quoted in the article: "My failures as a toaster have always been for people I didn't know well enough, and I'll never do that again.") But if you do have to stand up and say a few words, here are some ways to make sure your toast offers something unique.

Have you given a toast that went over well--or brought the occasion to a crashing halt? Share your stories and advice in the comments.

(Regular contributor Becky Ham wrote this post. Let's toast to her!)

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Kindle v. tablet for public speaking: What's on your Black Friday gift wish list?

Tablet computers are expected to be a hot item when holiday shoppers start taking advantage of the "Black Friday" deals that will start later this week. But should speakers ask for tablets or a standard Kindle e-reader? Close readers of the blog know that I recommend Kindles for public speakers, who can use them to:
  • replace note cards or text;
  • adjust type size when reading a speech;
  • store quotes, notes, and references related to a speech;
  • email speeches and other notes or documents to the device and read them;
  • hear your speeches read aloud;
  • avoid lugging lots of paper when you travel on a speaking tour;
  • create a makeshift teleprompter for video recordings; and
  • refer to and read notes in direct sunlight for outdoor events or well-lit rooms.
Today, there are several new Kindle models as well as a new Kindle Fire tablet, as well as the Nook and iPad tablet computers. For speakers and presenters, your choice of tablet or e-reader will come down to these considerations:
  • Price: The least expensive new Kindle is just $79; the iPad comes in at $500 or higher, depending on the features and model.
  • Color v. black and white: Only the Kindle Fire has full color, but the standard Kindles do just fine with text.
  • Back lighting: A huge advantage for the speaker is the standard Kindle's lack of a backlit screen. It's better for your eyes, and allows you ease in reading outdoors as well as indoors--the closest thing to text on paper. But if you find yourself needing to read aloud from a text in a dark room, those backlit screens on tablets are for you.
  • Photos and video: If you also want a camera in the device, the iPad's your choice. Want to show slides, photos in color and video--perhaps when demonstrating something at an exhibit or other informal presentation? Then a color tablet, such as the iPad or Kindle Fire are your targets. The standard Kindle does well reproducing graphics and black-and-white photos.
Amazon helpfully includes this comparison of Kindle versus iPad features to help you along. Can't wait for Black Friday? Shop Amazon's "Holiday Countdown to Black Friday Store." Will you be asking for (or buying) a tablet or Kindle to help with your public speaking? Leave your questions and wish list in the comments.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

The all-in-one on gestures for public speaking: 12 great tips

You carry three important sets of tools with you into every presentation, speech or informal talk: Your arms, hands and fingers. With them, you can use gestures to add color and emphasis to your words. The advantages are twofold, since gestures not only help you produce words, but they help your audience to understand what you're trying to put across--and that's true whether the gesture is generic or specific to the point you are making. Think of gestures as a way to help the audience "see" your point, and use these 12  resources to do a better job with this important speaking tool:

  1. Gestures don't just contribute to your message. They may actually help you to think while you're speaking, says this book from a researcher who looks at gesture and how it helps us to speak.
  2. Understand where gesture began: When you shrug your shoulders and turn both palms up, you're repeating what might be the oldest gesture of all, one that signals you're not going to hurt the person in front of you. Researchers think it might have been the start of helping humans produce speech.
  3. Want to persuade? Gestures (as well as vocal patterns) that mirror your audience's gestures--whether that's one person or a crowd--can contribute to your ability to put your point across, research says.
  4. If you think you're losing the audience, gesture is among the tools you can use to bring their attention back to your remarks.
  5. Planning gestures in the course of your talk is a smart move, particularly if you want to emphasize certain points, or aren't sure whether you use gestures too much or too little. Marking your text to remind yourself when and how to gesture is one of my 7 bite-size ideas to get you speech-ready.
  6. What gets in the way of your gestures? Perhaps jewelry. Check my list of 4 things to remove before speaking to find out.
  7. Trying to master gestures? Be sure to record yourself on video. Gesturing is among my 9 not-to-miss reasons for video practice. You might be like the trainee in one of my workshops who was convinced she was gesturing too much; a review of the video showed she gestured just once or twice. But you'll never know without some video practice.
  8. Why gesture? Here's the speaker's secret: If your hands are immobilized (gripped tightly, or in your pockets), you'll stumble verbally more. If you gesture, it actually helps you to speak better.
  9. Pointing can be considered impolite by audiences in many cultures, so try my 5-finger exercise to avoid pointing while still directing your listeners.
  10. Left or right may have meaning.  Researchers who looked at politicians' gestures found that they use one hand more often when making positive points, and the other for negative points--regardless of whether they were right- or left-handed.  (This is tough to control, but good to know.)
  11. Don't lock on to the lectern. In fact, gestures can help you use--or lose--the lectern to good effect.
  12. Who needs that pointer, when you brought two perfectly good ones into the room with you? Use your arms and hands instead.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Frances Perkins on the roots of Social Security

Frances Perkins led one amazing life focused on labor and social issues. As a social worker and political activist, she witnessed the infamous Triangle Fire in New York City in 1911 and ran the National Consumers League. She served as New York's industrial commissioner in the state's labor department when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was New York Governor, and then became FDR's Labor Secretary when he was elected president--making her the first female member of a presidential cabinet in the U.S.

In her cabinet role, Perkins gave numerous speeches and represented the FDR administration in a variety of settings large and small, such as the time she described social insurance for the U.S. in a nationwide radio broadcast in 1935, outlining what would eventually become the Social Security programs. When FDR died, she hoped that President Truman would appoint her to run the Social Security Administration, but he did not. Many decades later, however, she returned to the Social Security offices in Baltimore, Maryland, to give a 1962 address to the staff about the origins of the law that governed their work. "The Roots of Social Security" is an astonishing speech, full of the types of details that often get lost in the shuffle of history--details that make this a fascinating personal account from a woman who made it her business to bring about social insurance. And from her opening lines, she also made it clear that she had strong opinions about the issue: 
I must say I feel very much at home even though I just arrived. I feel at home because the Social Security Administration has, ever since it was established, been a sort of special concern of mine, although by the chicanery of politics it was not placed in the Department of Labor. I, of course, thought it should be.
No word-mincing there. Perkins at this stage of her career was an almost irreplaceable source of small historic details, and they're peppered throughout this speech, as in the moment when she describes how social security records were retrieved for citizens in the pre-computer era:
I remember seeing ladies climbing up on great high stepladders and getting files out of shelves--dusty, dirty--many wearing gloves so they wouldn't get their hands dirty while hunting through the files for John Jones' record. A terrific problem of recordkeeping! You don't do that today.
And she recalled how her appointment as Secretary of Labor came about: 
Before I was appointed, I had a little conversation with Roosevelt in which I said perhaps he didn't want me to be the Secretary, of Labor because if I were, I should want to do this, and this, and this. Among the things I wanted to do was find a way of getting unemployment insurance, old-age insurance, and health insurance. I remember he looked so startled, and he said, "Well, do you think it can be done?" I said, "I don't know." He said, "Well, there are constitutional problems, aren't there?" "Yes, very severe constitutional problems," I said. "But what have we been elected for except to solve the constitutional problems? Lots of other problems have been solved by the people of the United States, and there is no reason why this one shouldn't be solved."
She also describes visiting the home of Supreme Court Justice Harlan Stone for a social tea during the time she was working to create the establishing legislation for what became the Social Security Administration. When the justice inquired about her progress, she confided that the issue of where to find the constitutional authority for the legislation was problematic:
He looked around to see if anyone was listening. Then he put his hand up like this, confidentially, and he said, "The taxing power, my dear, the taxing power. You can do anything under the taxing power." I didn't question him any further. I went back to my committee and I never told them how I got my great information. As far as they knew, I went out into the wilderness and had a vision. But, at any rate, I came back and said I was firmly for the taxing power. We weren't going to rig up any curious constitutional relationships. "The taxing power of the United States--you can do anything under it, " said I. And so it proved, did it not?
Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Recreate conversations: Don't just summarize important discussions you've had. Once in a while, it pays to recreate a conversation to add drama and interest to your narrative. In this case, Perkins chose wisely, recreating two highly significant conversations that others could never have overheard.
  • Talk like an eyewitness: Describing the little details--such as the clerks wearing gloves and climbing ladders to retrieve dusty files--adds immediacy to history and brings the past alive. If you were there, it helps us to feel as if we listeners were there alongside you, and that makes for a gripping speech.
  • Have fun with it: Despite discussing far-reaching legislation and big political battles, Perkins does so with tongue firmly in cheek when she says "As far as they knew, I went out into the wilderness and had a vision" of her confidential chat with a Supreme Court Justice. So should you, when you're talking about the historic and important. Bring it back down to earth with a little humor, and you'll avoid sounding self-important, to boot.
Audio clips from this famous speech are archived here, and the full text of the talk is here. Below is a short excerpt from the documentary "You May Call Her Madam Secretary," about Perkins. What do you think of this famous speech?



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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New: Full movie trailer of Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady"

You've already seen a short preview on this blog of the forthcoming movie, "The Iron Lady," about British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher--and read about the speech that gave her that nickname in our own "Famous Speech Friday" series. Now, with the movie premiere around the corner in early 2012, you can get a look at the movie's full-length trailer and the first photo released from the production, which stars Meryl Streep as Thatcher (see right).

Because public speaking was such a big part of Thatcher's political career, the movie promises many scenes that recreate not only her speeches, but how her advisers prepared her for them--and how she took control of her own public image and speaking style. Reviewers are already describing the role as another in which Streep appears to become the character she's playing.

You can keep up with the news on the UK official blog for the movie. Here's the full-length trailer, below. Will you go see this film?


(Photo by Alex Bailey, courtesy of Pathe Productions Ltd.)


Related posts:  Famous Speech Friday: Margaret Thatcher's "Iron Lady" speech

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What to use instead of a pointer when you speak

When I train scientists or academic instructors, I get plenty of groans when I answer the question "What do you recommend about pointers?" -- mainly because my advice is "Don't use them."

Whether you favor the laser pointer or its wooden-stick ancestor, pointers tell me there's a problem: Too much data on a slide, type that's too small to see easily, or just a disconnect with the audience. But it's not fair to take away popular tool without alternatives, so here are a few ways to go pointerless in your next presentation, lecture or talk:
  • Emphasize a point on a slide close-up:  That might mean making a special slide that focuses on an enlarged image or part of a table, or using large type to highlight one word on a slide, by itself.
  • The audience's eyes and mental acuity: If you have a complex photo and want to point to a particular feature, ask the audience to find it--giving them a clear description of what they're looking for. You'll be engaging the audience and involving them, rather than just showing them. Want to test whether they can find it? Give the audience mini laser pointers and ask them to point to the spot (but make sure to avert your eyes from all those lasers).
  • Gesture: Don't underestimate the visual impact that's conveyed when you move your arm and reach to point toward the item in question. One downside to pointers is that they reduce your natural gestures, and give us a dot to watch instead of you--so be the pointer.
  • Get creative: You don't need to ride up the side of a slide as Al Gore did in a cherry-picker in An Inconvenient Truth, but you might be able to incorporate one dramatic, funny or creative method of pointing toward a particularly important slide. Just do it once, for emphasis.
Share your points on going pointerless in the comments...

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Monday, November 14, 2011

TEDxWomen events take place December 1--and you can host one

This year on December 1, you'll find scores of TEDxWomen events, all themed "the conversation continues," a nod to the discussions started at last year's TEDWomen conference.

The 2011 one-day event will take place in New York and Los Angeles, organized and hosted by Pat Mitchell and the Paley Center for Media. Among the speakers: Barbara Walters, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem.


Can't attend on either coast? Get involved by hosting a TEDx viewing event around TEDxWomen in your own community. It's a great way to meet other women interested in public speaking and in issues about the future of women and girls. Share a note in the comments if you're hosting an event, so our readers can find you!

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Hillary Clinton's "women's rights are human rights" speech

Lists are underrated by speakers, but when Hillary Clinton--then First Lady of the United States--took to the stage at the 1995 UN Conference on Women, it was her list of atrocities committed against women and girls that held the audience in thrall. It wasn't that the audience hadn't heard the list before, since the listeners all were advocates for women's rights in countries around the world. But because such a prominent political woman gave voice to them, the items on the list took on a special significance...and the audience knew those words would carry beyond the room.

The Beijing location of the speech and conference lent an electricity to her words, given China's own human rights record and American diplomats' reluctance to publicly tackle those issues at the time. The New York Times described the significance of the setting and her words: "Speaking more forcefully on human rights than any American dignitary has on Chinese soil, Hillary Rodham Clinton catalogued a devastating litany of abuse that has afflicted women around the world today and criticized China for seeking to limit free and open discussion of women's issues here."

Early on, Clinton declared the grand goal of the conference: Helping women to speak. Here's how she put it:

The great challenge of this conference is to give voice to women everywhere whose experiences go unnoticed, whose words go unheard. Women comprise more than half the world’s population, 70% of the world’s poor, and two-thirds of those who are not taught to read and write. We are the primary caretakers for most of the world’s children and elderly. Yet much of the work we do is not valued -- not by economists, not by historians, not by popular culture, not by government leaders.
Her list of human rights violations against women around the world was simple, direct and pulled no punches. It included these atrocities:
It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls....It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire, and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small. It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war.
The Times reported "As Mrs. Clinton recited her litany from the podium, many delegates applauded, some cheered and others pounded the tables." She brought the speech full circle with its most famous lines:

If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely -- and the right to be heard.
Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Graphic, violent descriptions need no embellishment:  The list of atrocities and harsh treatment of women and girls is a marvel of simple, direct language. There was no need to stretch to make this list sound dramatic. Instead, simple stating the facts added all the drama. Here, the speaker's prominence, the location of the meeting and the harsh facts carried the day.
  • Mentioning women makes a difference: Yes, this was a conference on women, and perhaps it sounds obvious, but Clinton's defining line -- that "human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights" -- had not been said before in such a prominent context, and it needed to be said. It's not a mistake that that line has been quoted again and again since this speech was delivered, so much so that it is the de facto title of the speech. It underscored her main theme, that women's issues have been overlooked, to the peril of women and girls around the world.
  • Delivery matters:  At this diplomatic-mission meeting, in a country hostile to these ideas and with the world watching, Clinton kept her delivery grave and formal to match the seriousness of the issue, and wisely let the audience and those watching from afar add the enthusiasm, cheers and accolades.






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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Five invisible speaker tricks to improve your presentations & speeches

Pay no attention to these tactics. Most audience members won't notice them, so speakers and presenters can consider these your stealth partners, tools you can use without drawing additional attention to your method:
  • Your invisible nerves: Don't tell them you're nervous, and the audience usually won't know. That can be your secret, and it's one that automatically makes you look confident.
  • A smile: It not only covers your nervousness, but also counteracts the natural tendency of your mouth to turn down or flatline (which may make you look more somber than you intend).
  • Toe taps, done inside your shoe without moving your entire foot, can be your invisible way to mark time so you slow down when speaking. Try this line while adding two toe-taps where noted: "Good morning [tap, tap] Thank you so much for inviting me to speak about social media [tap tap], a subject that gets me really excited [tap tap]. Let's start with online video..."
  • Suck in your gut and lower your shoulders -- two moves that are invisible if you do them before you're on stage. Your posture will improve imperceptibly to the audience, but in a way that should energize you.
  • A remote with a timer can be set to buzz silently in your hand at particular intervals--say, when you have just five minutes left, or at the points where you want to transition. Try the Logitech Professional Presenter R800 with Green Laser Pointer.  
What are your unseen tactics when speaking or presenting? Add them in the comments, please.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

For Wednesday: Gr8 gifts for speakers in Step Up Your Speaking newsletter

This month's issue of Step Up Your Speaking, our free monthly newsletter, will focus on great gifts for speakers, just in time for the holidays. You can do much better than a pen-and-pencil set or mug. Instead, check our our collection of books, recordings, subscriptions, gadgets, technology and more, all concrete and useful tools to help speakers advance their craft.

This issue will be out early Wednesday. Not a subscriber? Sign up today, using the links below. And if you're a speaker, pass this along. It really doesn't count as hinting....

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Last-minute prep: "What can I do if I have just 5 minutes before a speech?"

Tell people at a conference you're a speaking coach, and you'll get all sorts of reactions and questions. But recently, at the TEDMED conference, many people during the breaks asked me this difficult question:  "How would you coach me if I had just five minutes before a speech?"

That would be a high-pressure question--but unlike many speakers, I don't fear time limits. If you really had just five minutes before you were about to speak, you'd want to get down to basics. Your speech or slides are prepared, you know your content, you've anticipated questions. So the last-minute prep belongs to the intangibles: How do you feel? How do you look? Are you confident? Here are a few quick ways to use your precious five minutes before you speak:
  • Breathe deeply:  Excuse yourself to the restroom or a nearby stairwell or just stand backstage and take 10 deep, slow breaths. By doing so, you'll help your body release chemicals that will help calm you, and that will get you physically relaxed.
  • Smile: A smile is the fastest fix of all. Smiling helps relax your face and also releases the chemicals that relax your body--and smiling helps counteract the natural slight downward turn of most mouths, making sure you don't look sad or serious when you don't want to do so. And smiling makes you look confident and welcoming, an easy way to connect with your audience.
  • Stretch or shake: To relax and rev up your body, you may need to stretch (again, find that handy stairwell) so you feel limber and alert; stretching also can help you counteract the physical fatigue that comes with sitting, if you've been sitting and waiting to speak. Easy stretches include stretching your arms out to the sides and up to the sky; touching your toes; or loosening your neck by "drawing" circles with your nose in the air.  Are you shaking with nervousness? Try shaking out your shakes, advises Glasgow speaking coach Cordelia "Dilly" Ditton in this useful video. It seems counterintuitive, but will counteract those trembles. 
That'll use up your five minutes. Remember, you can plan ahead to allow yourself just this kind of right-before-speaking prep time, next time you speak.

Related post: The sushi of speaking: Seven bite-sized ideas to get you speech-ready

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Mary Roach on 10 things you didn't know about orgasm

Writer, humorist and "accidental science journalist" Mary Roach has given one of the all-time most-viewed TED talks--at this writing, garnering more than 1.9 million views of the talk. Here's a clue: It's titled "10 Things You Didn't Know About Orgasm." (And yes, this talk contains adult material.)

But there's more than titillation behind all those views. This is a research-based, fun, accessible talk that focuses on what, for many speakers, would be a difficult topic to get through. Here's how Roach handles one of her more unusual examples, in a talk full of them:
I think the most curious one that I came across was a case report of a woman who had an orgasm every time she brushed her teeth. This was something in the complex sensory-motor action of brushing her teeth was triggering orgasm. And she went to a neurologist who was fascinated. He checked to see if it was something in the toothpaste, but no -- it happened with any brand. They stimulated her gums with a toothpick, to see if that was doing it. No. It was the whole, you know, motion. And the amazing thing to me is that now you would think this woman would like haveexcellent oral hygiene. Sadly she -- this is what it said in the journal paper -- "She believed that she was possessed by demons and switched to mouthwash for her oral care." It's so sad.
Here's what you can learn from this often-viewed talk:


  • Tell us something we haven't heard before: Basing her talk in little-known data helps Roach hold the audience's attention, if only because we're unlikely to have heard these facts before. Choosing a taboo topic also means it's little discussed, and thus not overdone. Here, minute detail works.
  • Be bold: Just bringing up the topic of orgasm is bold, but dealing with it in a straightforward manner even bolder. Here's where the speaker leads the audience, into the topic and away from gratuitous humor. You'll learn a lot by the time she's done facing the topic down, because Roach makes the leap that you might want to hear more about the topic and takes the time to do it justice.
  • Use humor wisely: Roach is funny, but not in a way that undermines her topic--she laughs where we would laugh, but keeps moving. Deadpan delivery helps with this subject matter. She doesn't shy away from explicit details, but keeps them based in research and real observation.


  • What do you think of this famous speech?

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    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    A guide to slides for non-designers: Presentation find of the week

    If you've ever wanted to create eye-popping slides that will hold your audience in thrall and break you out of PowerPoint forever, have I got the post for you. In Slide Design for Developers, Zach Holman shares a look at his successful presentation slides and breaks down the factors--color, type size, orientation to the audience and more--that anyone can replicate. And just like any good presenter, he recommends you look at your slides as the audience will do:
    A good set of slides won’t magically make your talk great. But a great talk is really hurt by terrible slides. Spend some time thinking about your slides. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes: is this readable? Is this interesting? Should I pay attention, or should I get my laptop out and hack until lunch?
    It's a simple post, not a long read, but every word in this guide counts. Try his recommendations and see what happens.

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    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    A #publicspeaking first: Congresswoman gives speech made of tweets

    Representative Maxine Waters, who represents California's 35th District, last week delivered a first-of-its-kind speech on the floor of the House of Representatives. The speech was made up entirely from Facebook and Twitter posts from her constituents and social media followers, who used the hashtag #ourspeech to flag their contributions.

    Followers were asked in mid-October to post what they wanted to include in the speech, which was delivered last week. They chose to highlight a range of issues from jobs and the economy to education funding and gridlock in Congress. "Social media has offered us all a way to expand democracy. Now I want to bring it to the floor of Congress to let Washington know exactly how you feel. If you are tired of only politicians having a say in the debate, now is your time to change that," Waters said in a statement. 


    Waters's office has issued the speech in writing, showing the posts (and Twitter handles) of those contributing. You can watch the video of it below. It's worth listening to all the way through--turns out you can put a speech together from crowdsourced contributions:

     


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    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    October's top 10 #publicspeaking tips & issues

    Just like you used to save your favorite candies from your Halloween trick-or-treat stash, readers have their favorites posts on the blog. Check out our stash of the most-read posts last month--call them October's treats:
    1. 4 ways not speaking up derails women in the workplace looks at how your silence can hurt you.
    2. Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai's hummingbird fable, one of our Famous Speech Friday posts, appeared the week she won her prize. Watch the video on this one!
    3. The all-in-one on workplace speaking: 13 resources & tips will help with the most common types of public speaking, from conference calls and Skype to in-person meetings.
    4. 3 little leadership words every executive speaker should learn may surprise you, but these three are an essential tool.
    5. Famous Speech Friday: Ann Richards's 1988 Democratic Convention keynote celebrates her iconic speech delivery skills. This is one where the video is a must-watch.
    6. Reader question: What to do when the audience buzz distracts you offers solutions for managing the audience so you can speak.
    7. From the vault: Stay civil, but disagree with your audience helps speakers manage one of the tougher aspects of speaking on contentious issues and handling questions from a frustrated audience.
    8. Famous Speech Friday: Anita Hill's Senate testimony about Clarence Thomas put the issue of workplace sexual harrassment out in the open 20 years ago, with a real impact on women.
    9. What's holding you back from more or better public speaking? See what other readers had to say and add your own viewpoint to the list.
    10. What Prohibition did for women and public speaking introduces you to some of the women speakers featured in the recent Ken Burns film on Prohibition--all of them were frequent speakers, even though women were otherwise not accepted as public speakers in that time.

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