Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Guest post: In praise of quotations

(Editor's note: Brian Jenner, founder of the UK Speechwriter's Guild, published this appreciation of using quotations in speeches in the Guild's most recent newsletter, and graciously extended permission for me to republish it here. Thanks, Brian!)

When I was 13, I heard a speech at my school which was made by the Principal of St Hilda’s College, our next door neighbour. She used the postcode, ‘O*X*4 1*D*Z’, and repeated it over and over again. I think the general idea was co-operation between institutions. She pronounced the letters as a mantra, and they stuck.

One of the few things I can remember David Cameron saying is ’N*H*S’ - which worked probably for the same reasons.

In the lower sixth, the Chaplain gave a speech titled ‘sicut lilium, inter spinas’ which was the school motto - like the lily among thorns, taken from the Sermon the Mount. He went on to talk about legitimate pride in institutions. The fact that the phrase was in Latin helped make it sticky.

A year later I remember my headmaster using the quotation that is attributed to many different sources, ‘Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.’ The rhythm of that quotation helped to embed it in my memory.

Considering I left school 25 years ago, these speakers were either very impressive or I was very impressionable.

Nowadays when I listen, with a critical ear to speeches, I’ve become convinced a good quotation is one of the simplest and most powerful was to lift a speech. Quotations are coriander in the salad. They add vitality and depth.

In rhetoric, there is a term diatyposis, which means recommending useful precepts. A classic example is the speech of Polonius to Laertes in Hamlet. Proverbs are easy to remember - they’re concentrated thought.
Quoting is a straightforward way to amplify a message. You’re using an external authority to make your point and the fact that you need a build up and context, means the line will stand out.

Before Neville Chamberlain left for Munich for talks with Hitler in September 1938 he spoke at Heston aerodrome using just over 50 words, quoting proverbial wisdom and Shakespeare. It’s a superb example of economy of expression to express the seriousness of his task: “When I was a little boy, I was told if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. This is what I am doing. When I come back, I hope I may be able to say as Hotspur says in Henry IV: ‘Out of the nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.”

One of my favourite writers is the psychotherapist Irvin Yalom. He writes books popularising the ideas of psychotherapy. Almost every book uses the same half-dozen quotations to illustrate his principles. One from Nietzsche, for example: ‘To become wise you must learn to listen to the wild dogs barking in your cellar.’

This makes it very easy to communicate Yalom’s ideas in conversation to other people because you remember the key phrases and you can use them as a starting point to expand on what he believes.

Organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous use mantras, which they repeat at meetings, to help their members change their behaviour and give them strength.

It’s perhaps appropriate to end this article with a shower of wise sayings to summarise the ideas in this article.

‘The aphorism is the perfect fishhook, for it catches the most fish’ according to Nietzsche. Samuel Johnson said: ‘He is a benefactor of mankind who contracts the great rules of life into short sentences, that may be easily impressed on the memory, and so recur habitually to the mind.’ Dorothy Sayers put it more crudely: ‘I always have a quotation for everything—it saves original thinking.’

Introverted speakers: Check out my November 27 workshop on public speaking and presenting for introverts. Registration is open until November 16 or when all seats are filled, but you'll get a good discount if you register by November 2.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Margaret Chase Smith's 1950 Declaration of Conscience

When she successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1948, Margaret Chase Smith made history as the first woman to serve in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. But her defining moment came with a speech, one she called her "Declaration of Conscience," speaking out against fellow Senator Joseph R. McCarthy for his investigations of Americans for alleged Communist activity.

It's now one of the few speeches by women among the list of the top 100 political speeches of the 20th century, but at the time, Smith's speech must have been fraught with risk and tension. McCarthy was a national figure, and a feared one; few would speak out against him for fear of reprisals, and people falsely accused felt they had no defense against his power. But Smith, having examined the documents McCarthy said made his case, changed her mind about him and began to question his approach.

Chase began her speech by looking at how the Senate's rules had allowed McCarthy's diatribes to go on, contrasting them effectively with the liberties guaranteed Americans--and not favorably. "It is ironical that we Senators can in debate in the Senate directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to any American, who is not a Senator, any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming an American -- and without that non-Senator American having any legal redress against us -- yet if we say the same thing in the Senate about our colleagues we can be stopped on the grounds of being out of order," she said. And in some of the most famous lines in the speech, she spoke for those who could not address the Senate:
The American people are sick and tired of being afraid to speak their minds lest they be politically smeared as "Communists" or "Fascists" by their opponents. Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America. It has been so abused by some that it is not exercised by others.
The setting for these remarks is described here:
When Smith rose to deliver her fifteen-minute speech in the Senate chamber, McCarthy sat two rows behind her....After Smith finished, although she had not mentioned McCarthy by name, she fully expected him to respond. Instead, McCarthy quietly left the chamber. A few senators spoke in praise of her remarks, but for the most part the Senate remained silent, fearing to engage McCarthy in further recriminations. The mail, however, showed an eight-to-one approval for Smith's stand. Newspaper editorials endorsed her position, and numerous organizations awarded her recognition for her courageous stand in favor of civil liberties against the politics of fear. The next time that President Truman came to the Capitol for lunch, he invited Margaret Chase Smith to join him. "Mrs. Smith," he told her, "your Declaration of Conscience was one of the finest things that has happened here in Washington in all my years in the Senate and the White House."
Smith did face reprisals for speaking out. She was removed from a permanent subcomittee--a violation of Senate norms--by McCarthy, who also helped fund her opponent in her next campaign and ridiculed her speech publicly. But in 1954, the Senate, including Smith, voted to censure McCarthy, effectively silencing him and ending his campaign of fear. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Cast a wide net: Smith's speech is all about McCarthy and his witchhunts, but she never names him. Instead, she goes after bigger fish: The U.S. Senate and the Republican party. She makes it clear that these larger groups will be tarred with the same brush if they support McCarthy's views or just seek to avoid fighting them--a clever tactic that puts the focus on the real price that will be paid. Not naming McCarthy might have served two other purposes, keeping her speech from sounding like a personal vendetta (and therefore easy to dismiss), and snubbing him by not paying particular attention to him as an individual.
  • Anticipate the major argument against your points: McCarthy's fear campaign had worked well precisely because anyone who objected was branded as a Communist sympathizer and a likely target for investigation themselves. Smith makes clear that she is not a sympathizer, then takes us to a higher ground, saying, "I want to see our nation recapture the strength and unity it once had when we fought the enemy instead of ourselves."
  • Include your proposal in your speech: This speech concludes with the actual declaration and makes it part of the official text, rather than decoupling the two and using the speech to announce the declaration. That fits the setting, but also ensures that her proposal comes with context wrapped around it, all in the parcel of one speech. 
You can read more about her remarkable career in No Place for a Woman: A Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith. Here is the transcript of Smith's speech, and you can hear an excerpt from it in the video below. What do you think of this famous speech?



(Photo from the U.S. Senate Historical Office)

Introverted speakers: Check out my November 27 workshop on public speaking and presenting for introverts. Registration is open until November 16 or when all seats are filled, but you'll get a good discount if you register by November 2.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Speakers, stop talking: How to let questioners get a word in, edgewise

Some speakers view questions as an open door...and barrel right through it, with answers so long they might qualify as mini-speeches. That happens not just in Q&A after a speech or presentation, but in media interviews, where you can almost hear the interviewee take a deep breath and keep going. Here's a classic example from Ira Flatow, host of NPR's Talk of the Nation: Science Friday:
Sometimes the scientist will do very well in the pre-interview, but put them in front of a microphone and they don’t do well – one launched into an eight-minute PowerPoint presentation. We reverted to ‘let me summarize and you say yes or no.’ I asked one scientist about why one alternative energy source is better than another, and he launched back into the history of civilization and how cavemen used fire. When we got to the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania, I stopped him. 
When I coach speakers and use this example, I ask, "Did that speaker succeed?" The answer's always no, on many counts. He didn't answer the question--something the audience expects--and presumed too much about what the interviewer wanted to get at with that question. He lost the chance, perhaps, to say more about what he's doing today, rather than the full history of his field. And if you are speaking to a live audience, that chatty response is just shutting out introverts, shy audience members and those not aggressive enough to shout you down. Is that the effect you wish to have?

Keeping your answer short is important for a variety of reasons, from letting reporters do their job in an interview to making sure your audience members don't feel silenced. If you have trouble putting on the brakes on and letting your questioner get a word in edgewise, you'll benefit from practice with partners and friends ahead of time. Walk through the questions you expect, the questions you want and the questions you fear, and have your friends clock your answers and suggest shorter paths to success. Use these tactics to keep your answers thoughtful and shorter:
  1. Use a three-step formula for every answer: It's Pause. Answer. Stop. Pause so you take a quick moment to gather your thoughts and make sure you're responding, not reacting. Answer what was asked, without too much embellishment. Then stop. If the questioner wants to hear more, you'll find out quickly.
  2. Put some checks on your assumptions about the question: Many long-winded answers get their start when the speaker assumes the questioner wants to know several things, instead of just one. An easy way to focus and narrow down your answer is to turn the tables, briefly, by asking a question or two of your questioner. Then proceed down that narrower corridor.
  3. Don't make your default a description of the entire history of your field of expertise. This is a professional liability for scientists and other subject-matter experts, and it suggests that they fear the questioner won't understand the answer of today without learning (in capsule form) everything they themselves were taught to get to this point. Problem is, that's often too large a capsule for the rest of us to swallow. A better approach: Answer today's question, but hint at some directions you'd like the follow-up question to take, just in case there's a follow-up. In the example above,  you might say, "Knowing what we know right now, I'd rather bet on wind technology than hybrid vehicles, because they have so much more potential to change the world economy" is a direct answer that suggests there's more to say.
  4. Think of your answer as a menu. If you have plenty of answer and aren't sure how much the questioner wants to order, offering a menu in your answer is a smart idea. Narrow yourself down to three options, stated briefly, then stop--and let the questioner choose which one to explore further.
  5. Remember the introverts in your audience. Introverts are great listeners, but if you don't give them an opening--and a clear closing to each of your statements--you'll be cutting them off without realizing it. Use the pause-answer-stop formula to keep the lines open so none of your audience members needs to talk over you to get in a question. It's just one of the things extroverted speakers can do for introverts.
Do you have pet peeves about speakers who answer too completely? Share them in the comments, please.

Introverted speakers: Check out my November 27 workshop on public speaking and presenting for introverts. Registration is open until November 16 or when all seats are filled, but you'll get a good discount if you register by November 2.

Monday, October 22, 2012

From the vault: A checklist for the whole speaker, annotated for introverts

(Editor's note: I'm sharing again this popular post from August 2010 as registration continues for my new workshop on public speaking and presenting for introverts. Scheduled for November 27 in Washington, DC, the workshop's content and format are designed with introverts' needs and preferences in mind. I hope you can join me for this special training session, and that you'll share it with your friends and colleagues.)

My checklist to prepare the whole speaker is one of this blog's most popular posts of all time.  But many readers have asked me whether they need to do anything differently because they're introverted speakers.  I think they do, so I've remodeled the checklist just for them. Some questions are the same, and some have added considerations for introverts; I've also created a special section on audience interactions, because those often don't allow the planning that makes introverts more comfortable. The principle behind it remains the same: To succeed as a speaker, you need to prepare the whole speaker for your presentation, not just one or two parts of yourself. 

This type of preparation is great for all speakers, but utterly essential for introverts to feel more comfortable when speaking, be it in a meeting or a major speech. Introverts, how many of these preparations are on your checklist? Do you have any to add that you find helpful? Leave a note in the comments section.

Intent

Do I know what the audience wants from me?

Is that what I'm going to give them? Do my goals match theirs? If not, why am I speaking to them? How will I reach them?

What do I want to get out of this speaking experience?

Do I intend to engage the audience? Do I just want them to listen? Do I intend to get them to act on something?

Can I "fake it until I make it" when it comes to projecting confidence?

Content

What do I need to include or exclude to meet my intentions and those of the audience?

Have I allowed extra time in advance to plan my content and practice it so I'm more comfortable?

How can I put my facts across persuasively? What are my data, ideas, proofs?

What emotion or personal experience can I add to the mix? Am I comfortable sharing this publicly?

Is there content the audience can contribute? Am I comfortable with them sharing their insights?  Should I welcome others talking so I don't always have to?

Mind

Am I focused and ready? Do I feel prepared?  If I'm telling myself I won't succeed, can I silence that voice?

If not, what am I anxious about? What's the worst thing that could happen? How will I deal with it?

What are 3 successful things I've done before that I can use again this time?

Have I considered the advantages that introverts have because of the way they "think first, talk later?"

What are 3 things I'd like to improve this time, based on previous speaking experiences?

How and where will I fit those into my presentation?

Am I prepared with breathing exercises or other ways to stay calm?

What will help me relax and focus?

Audience Interactions

Can I be comfortable handling Q&A without feeling challenged whenever a question is asked? Have I reviewed the 17 reasons to welcome audience questions?

Can I find out what I need to learn from the audience in a way that makes me comfortable? Does that mean getting questions submitted online, or standing at the door so I can greet people one-on-one first, rather than "meeting" them all at once?

Have I thought through events that may challenge all my assumptions about this speech? Do I know what I'll say and do if no one agrees with me, or if someone gets angry?

Am I setting myself up for more probing questions or challenges from the audience that will make me feel uncomfortable or under attack?

Am I ready to roll with whatever situation arrives, with calm and good humor? Or am I going to give up, get scared or withdraw?

Will I feel more comfortable during Q&A if I can walk up to the questioner, so it feels like I'm speaking one-on-one? Will that be possible, given the room setup? Can I make that happen?

Do I know how to use time-buying phrases and an active listening stance during Q&A so I have a little time to think about my answer?

Should I plan to spend more time talking to audience members one-on-one after my talk, rather than take most questions from the stage, if that would feel more comfortable?

Have I planned some down time after the presentation, so that I can regroup and recover without others around?

Body

Have I taken care of the basics? Am I rested, fed, hydrated, stretched out, relaxed? 

I need to spend 10 minutes before the speech attending to breathing and stretching. Can I find a convenient stairwell, hallway or restroom where I can do that in private?

Am I wearing clothes and shoes that are comfortable enough to help me stand and move as needed?

If I don't feel well, what do I need to change to get through my speech successfully?

Have I thought about how I will gesture, move, sit or stand during the course of the presentation? Are those movements planned or random? Do they help underscore my points?

Is my posture straight but relaxed? Are my shoulders hunched? Am I centered at my core?

Am I inadvertently clenching anything--teeth, hands, shoulders, neck? Why?

Wardrobe

Are my clothes clean, pressed and mended? Do they fit me?

Will my wardrobe allow me (if needed) to do things like crawl under a table to plug in a cord or reach high to point at a chart? Have I rehearsed my movements while wearing my intended outfit?

Am I using color to my advantage? Will it help me stand out in the setting?  Can I get over the fact that I'll be standing out and noticeable?

Is there anything about my outfit that will distract me? Distract my audience?

If I plan to gesture, have I removed rings and bracelets?

If I'm standing behind a lectern, have I focused attention near my face? What from my outfit will be seen in that setting?

Technology and the unexpected

Do I know how my own technology works?

If I'm soft-spoken, do I have an adequate microphone and sound system to help me?

Do I have any adapters, cords or batteries I may need? Am I making the mistake of assuming there will be technical help?

Can I give my presentation even if all the technology fails? Can I speak without my slides?  Since extemporaneous speaking may not be my strong suit, what's my backup plan--written notes? more practice?

Do I have plans B, C and D ready?

Have I seen the room and the available technology ahead of time, or do I need to show up early to do that?  Am I prepared for how it feels to be on that stage, with that large or small an audience?

Is the room too hot, cold or noisy? Have I asked the facility staff for help fixing that before my talk?

Introverted speakers: Check out my November 27 workshop on public speaking and presenting for introverts. Registration is open until November 16 or when all seats are filled, but you'll get a good discount if you register by November 2.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Australia's Julia Gillard calls opposition leader 'misogynist'

Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave a pointed speech--in every sense of the word--in October in her nation's parliament, and it took off like a rocket.

She wasn't the only prime minister to give a major speech that week, but hers ran away with the web traffic, getting hundreds of thousands of views, shares and even more media coverage:
As of this week, that number climbed even higher, to close to 2 million views of the speech on YouTube alone. For perspective, that puts Gillard's speech--in little more than a week--at the level of the most-watched TED talks in a given year.

The speech took to task the leader of the opposition party, Tony Abbott. The parliamentary action at hand was his motion calling for the prime minister to fire the House speaker, part of her very narrow majority, after a series of offensive text messages from the speaker became known; Abbott suggested the speaker should resign because of these sexist and misogynistic texts. In effect, he labeled Gillard as sexist by association. But Abbott himself has displayed such views, and those form the core of Gillard's response. It appears to be a case of psychological projection, in which he's accusing someone else of the thing he's done himself, and Gillard turns the tables on him in a speech that was described variously as face-peeling, blistering, shaming, and impassioned:
The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror. That's what he needs.
Pointing repeatedly at Abbott, who was sitting across the way, Gillard never refers to him by name, a move that can be considered at once formally correct, a slight, and an attempt to underscore his disrespect for her office by addressing him as an individual. But when it comes to her defense, she goes wide and narrow, taking him to task for offending women generally, and herself specifically:
I was also very offended on behalf of the women of Australia when in the course of this carbon pricing campaign, the Leader of the Opposition said “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing…” Thank you for that painting of women's roles in modern Australia....I was offended too by the sexism, by the misogyny of the Leader of the Opposition catcalling across this table at me as I sit here as Prime Minister, “If the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself…”, something that would never have been said to any man sitting in this chair. I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition went outside in the front of Parliament and stood next to a sign that said “Ditch the witch.”
Sydney-based speaker coach Claire Duffy, who has written about a different Gillard speech for Famous Speech Friday, thinks that the anger worked for Gillard in this speech: "Gillard's rage is an engine, which drives but does not drown her speech." Feminist and author Anne Summers said that, despite the force of the speech, she didn't think it would change the level of attacks on Gillard. "I think it's really energised a lot of people especially a lot of young women who maybe felt that there was no entry point for them into these kinds of conversations," she said. "It's given a lot of women permission to say 'yep, these issues are important and I want to stand up for them'." As a result of the speech, the Macquarie Dictionary announced it would add a second definition to misogyny, expanding from a pathological hatred of women to what Gillard meant: "entrenched prejudice against women." Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • On occasion, pointing works: Nine times out of 10, I'll tell you that pointing with a single finger is considered among the most potent and offensive gestures a speaker can use, in almost every culture--and so I'll counsel you to use other options. In this parliamentary setting, however, it works. You can see how it adds to the volume, drama and anger in Gillard's remarks, helping to visually put Abbott's words back on him as the speaker does the same.
  • A well-rehearsed speech should still take advantage of the moment: You can see Gillard referring to her notes before her in what appears to be a well-practiced, well-scripted diatribe. But she has an eye on her audience and on Abbott, so she's able to work in one of the best lines of the day: "Now he is looking at his watch because apparently a woman's spoken too long." 
  • Substantive arguments must underpin a salvo like this: This isn't just strong emotion and personal attack. Gillard's remarks include at beginning, middle and end several reminders of the parliamentary action at hand, and spell out her opposition on concrete terms, such as awaiting the outcome of a judicial action before parliamentary action is taken. They make her argument stronger, and the personal criticisms become the icing on the cake. Together, it's a potent combination. Less well known: Gillard's commentary mirrors actual research about how women's speaking is perceived and shut down by men. It rings true, even if you don't know about the statistical significance of her words.
  • When someone's projecting on you, put it back where it belongs: This happens all the time in the workplace, and Gillard's spirited effort to reverse the projected suggestion that she's a sexist does the job perfectly. Her suggestion that the opposition leader "needs a mirror" is an overt reference to this. Keep that in mind the next time the office gossip accuses you of gossiping you haven't done, for example, and fire back with a "but I was just thinking the same thing about you."
While cheered the world over, the speech was not universally loved, and Gillard was said to have "played the gender card," suggesting that she did so only for cheap effect and unwarranted sympathy. The New York Times has a good summary of the sexist comments made to and about the prime minister here, for background reading before you watch this speech. You can read a transcript of Gillard's remarks here, and watch the speech below. And if you want a key to the times in the video where the most-noted lines occur, Upworthy has that for you. What do you think of this famous speech?



Special thanks to Claire Duffy for sharing links and Aussie perspective on this post.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What women speakers can learn about interruptions from the debates

In "Would you please let me finish..." linguist Deborah Tannen today tackles the second debate between this year's U.S. presidential candidates and looks specifically at interruptions as a speaking tool, since there were plenty of them in this debate. Tannen, who has published widely on men's and women's differing speaking styles and preferences, takes note of three aspects of interrupting relevant to women speakers. From the article:
  • When women interrupt as moderators: "[A] moderator who interrupts risks being seen by viewers as rude. When Ms. Crowley told Mr. Romney she would 'get run out of town' if she didn’t stop him, she not only stopped him, but cleverly put the responsibility for doing so on others. The fact that these moderators were women complicated the challenge for the debaters, who were mindful of the need to appeal to, and not offend, female viewers."
  • Women, interrupted and interrupting: "It’s well documented that women tend to be interrupted more than men, and that women who interrupt others are seen more negatively than men who do. (Some years ago John McLaughlin showed me a tape to illustrate what he’d noticed — that Eleanor Clift was cut off far more often than the men on his show.)"
  • Women, interrupted by other women: "But it’s also been found that there are more interruptions in all-women conversations, though the talking-over may be more a talking-along in a lively free-for-all."
You'll find more useful information about women speakers and interrupting in two of my favorite books: Tannen's own landmark book, You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, a must-read for understanding how the genders converse differently; and Cecelia Ford's Women Speaking Up: Getting and Using Turns in Workplace Meetings, a thorough-going look at the research on how women interrupt and are interrupted, which is part of getting a turn to speak in a meeting.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New workshop: Public speaking & presenting for introverts, 11/27

I'll never forget the day I went to a lunch session to see another speaker coach talk about her services and approach. During the Q&A, an audience member asked what sounded like a perfectly reasonable question to me: "What do you do when you're training an introvert?"

"Oh," said the coach, "if you're introverted, I really can't help you. Next question?"

That coach must have believed one of the biggest myths about public speaking, that introverts aren't good at it and don't want to try.

After training thousands of people, many of them introverted, I'd answer that question a different way. Introverts can be great at public speaking, and they're not impossible to coach. But both the introvert and the coach need to approach speaker and presentation training differently, using introverts' special advantages well and avoiding the situations that work for extroverts but don't suit introverts. This session is specially designed so that you:
  • Don't have to do all the talking, sharing and demonstrating--unless you want to;
  • Do learn about the special advantages introverts have as speakers and presenters;
  • Don't waste time learning tactics that only work for extroverts;
  • Do learn how to prepare for your next speech or presentation, without over-preparing;
  • Don't say yes to presentation logistics that work against you as an introvert; and
  • Do hear the data, research findings and tactics that work best for introverts, from how to interrupt effectively to how to plan a presentation that won't sap your energy.
I'm really making an effort to create a workshop where introverts can feel comfortable, so that the setting is as productive for you as the content. For example, spaces are limited in this session, to keep it manageable for all of us--and so you can get a word in edgewise, if you want to do so. You'll get lunch, break refreshments and a follow-up email full of links, videos, books and resources that you can refer to again and again after the session, and a good network of fellow introverts seeking speaking and presenting skills.

This workshop will take place on Tuesday, November 27, in Washington, DC, from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. Our workshop location is at Metro Center, very close to public transportation (and for out-of-towners, it's a stop that is convenient even if you are coming to DC on a train or from the airport).

Early registration gets you a significant discount: Sign up by November 2 and pay just $300 for the day; after that, it's $350. All registration closes November 16 at midnight ET, or when all seats are filled. I hope you'll be able to join me for this new workshop--and that you'll share it with a few fellow introverts. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Hillary Clinton's statement on 9/11 killing of Americans in Libya

Public diplomatic statements are a highly specialized form of public speaking. Every word is coded, intended not just for general hearing, but to send specific messages to other nations and their diplomats. No diplomatic words convey as much as those expressed "in the strongest terms," a phrase used sparingly for the gravest moments between two countries. And those were the terms U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used September 12 in her statement about the killing of four U.S. citizens and diplomats in Libya on the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the U.S. It was a rare moment to see this speaker in a highly structured format with a high-stakes message to deliver.

Everything about this statement and its delivery, from the words chosen with care to the formal setting and her somber outfit, offer a textbook example of how a speaker should deliver such a serious message. Yet it represents not only a swift and unequivocal diplomatic response, but a human one. Here, Clinton is not only the top diplomat representing the United States, but the leader of an organization that's a tight-knit network--and the person who not only asked Ambassador Chris Stevens, one of those killed, to serve as the U.S. envoy to the Libyan opposition, but who swore him into that role. As a result, the statement serves its diplomatic task while reflecting the different roles of the speaker. Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Humanize the people behind formal setting: "In the lobby of this building, the State Department, the names of those who have fallen in the line of duty are inscribed in marble. Our hearts break over each one. And now, because of this tragedy, we have new heroes to honor and more friends to mourn." By reminding the viewers that the place from which she spoke is a workplace for the U.S. diplomatic corps and not just a formal setting for her statement, Clinton humanized the largely invisible team of diplomats and reminded us that they were mourning coworkers. These lines also serve the task of any memorial remarks, to comfort the living while remembering the dead.
  • Ask the questions your audience is thinking: "Today, many Americans are asking – indeed, I asked myself – how could this happen?" Clinton said. "How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be." The smart speaker doesn't need to answer all the questions on the minds of audience members, but acknowledging them and restating them creates recognition and connection.
  • Fill the empty words with details that will stick with the audience: It's especially easy in formal pronouncements of this type to use words that may be heavy with diplomatic meaning, but sound like empty platitudes to the audience. In this case, just reassuring the listener that Libyans helped the U.S. diplomats might not have been so convincing, given the results. So Clinton shared a few details to make that more real: "And when the attack came yesterday, Libyans stood and fought to defend our post. Some were wounded. Libyans carried Chris’ body to the hospital, and they helped rescue and lead other Americans to safety."
Here's the full text of the statement and a complete video below. What do you think of this famous speech?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

7 secret advantages of the story-telling speaker

You've heard it's good to tell stories, and storytelling's a sought-after skill among those seeking public speaking training--but why?  Here are 7 great reasons, all of them advantages you may have missed in considering what stories add to your speeches and presentations:
  1. Stories expand your point.  Stories are the ultimate example, a key part of any presentation. Try making your point, adding a relevant fact or two, then using a story to expand on it.  You may start with a universal truth, backed up by national data, and expand on it with a personal tale, bringing the large point down to a human level.
  2. Stories build connection by adding color, emotion and personal detail about you.  The factors that move audiences are often the small, emotive details found in stories. Stories are an easy, natural place for you to talk about yourself, making you more approachable and likeable as a presenter.  When you're establishing a rapport with the audience, stories speed the process.
  3. Stories add drama.  You may be describing a hero's quest in your profession or the tale of woe of someone who ignored the facts and paid the price, or a story about a terrible tragedy. In all cases, stories, well told, can add drama and help your presentation progress to a successful finish.
  4. You can tell stories without using notes--and look more relaxed and spontaneous.  Never waste time writing down a personal story or anecdote. The written version will never come across as well as it will if you just look at the audience and tell the story. If it's an experience you know well, you won't need notes and you'll look more confident. If you're a speaker who works from a text, but would like to look more extemporaneous, work in a story or two that you can tell without reading. Then make sure your text says "Tell [name of story] here."
  5. Stories let you instruct or negotiate without lecturing:  You can push your points directly with an audience you're trying to educate, or with parties involved in a negotiation--but only so far. If they harbor not-so-fond memories of school days, they may start squirming rather than absorb your wisdom.  If the negotiation's tense, confrontive facts don't always help your cause, even if they are right. But a story to which anyone can relate can carry your points for you and even bring warring parties together, in a non-threatening, non-confrontational way.
  6. We're used to learning from stories.  Whether it's your mother's tales of her childhood lessons learned or parables and allegories, storytelling is an ancient method for sharing information with a broad public audience, and it survives today for a reason.  Your audience will respond positively to a good story.
  7. Stories were made to be remembered and retold.  Before we wrote things down, our cultures all used storytelling to convey news and information, because stories could be easily remembered and passed along to the next person. If you want your audience to do the same with your talk, craft a story that gets your main points across briefly, so that it's easy to remember and repeat.
(This post updates and expands on one I published in 2010.)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Mother Teresa at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast

In the yearly Gallup poll of most admired men and women, Mother Teresa has no competition. The Roman Catholic nun was named to the top 10 list of most admired women 18 times, and Americans called her their most admired person of the 20th century.

She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, nearly 30 years after she established The Missionaries of Charity, a new religious order devoted to the care of the poor and sick. Mother Teresa was not without her critics, however, some of whom thought she lent respectability to dictators by accepting their donations, and who accused her of offering substandard medical care in her missions.

As she traveled around the world to speak on behalf of the order, her advantages as a spokeswoman included fluency in five languages. And as her Nobel Prize speech and many other talks demonstrate, she insisted on the relevancy of scripture in her speeches. She didn't use biblical verse and prayer as an adornment or an afterthought, but rather as specific and direct instructions to her listeners.

With a background like this, Mother Teresa was a natural choice for the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast, an annual gathering that has become a "must-do" event for the president and members of Congress. But her appearance at the 1994 Prayer Breakfast startled more than a few people. In a setting usually known for its nondenominational and inclusive feel, the nun didn't shy away from offering definite--and divisive--opinions on topics like abortion and wealthy citizens' responsibilities toward the poor.

Let's take a look at what made this speech memorable:
  • Seize your moment if you can. Remember as you watch this speech that it's 1994, and Mother Teresa is speaking in front of a staunchly pro-choice President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. That might not seem like the best time to call abortion "murder by the mother herself" and to say that "any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use violence to get what they want." But she doesn't pull her punches here. Instead of agreeing with her hosts, she takes advantage of the opportunity to speak her truth to the people she thinks need convincing the most.
  • Make sure you're a sight to see. This one's more of a "don't" than a "do," but it's a great example of why it's important to check out your speaking area ahead of time. Mother Teresa is mostly hidden behind the bank of microphones at the lectern. It's impossible to read her facial expressions, it's impossible for her to reach out to her audience with eye contact and of course it's just bad tv. Another "don't" in this situation: The microphones are at the same level as her text, and the loud rustling of the papers emphasizes her pauses. This has the effect of making her seem like a speaker who has lost her train of thought.
  • Carefully consider your jokes. Not every speech benefits from humor--that was my thought after listening to this speech for the first time. It seemed at the very least jarring that Mother Teresa would tell the story of how she compared a woman's cancer pain to kisses from Jesus. But it's her deadpan delivery of the woman's request--"Mother, please tell Jesus to stop kissing me"--that changed my mind. Most of the humor in this speech is self-deprecating, and it underscores how she also finds it difficult to do what is needed, even as she asks everyone else to try harder.
How do you feel about this famous speech? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


(Photo courtesy of the Vatican)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What I'll look for in tonight's presidential debates

Washingtonian magazine included my thoughts in its roundup of what Washington-based speaker coaches advise you look for in tonight's U.S. presidential debates.* My advice will sound familiar to loyal readers of The Eloquent Woman. Tonight, I'll be watching for:
  • The candidates' hands: We value highly fluent, smooth speakers who don't stumble, um, uh or commit verbal gaffes...and the key to that lies in gesturing. I'll be watching for any hands-in-pockets, nervous gripping of the lectern or other ways to immobilize the hands, since gesture helps your brain produce speech fluently. 
  • Concrete versus abstract words: Research shows that the closer we get to an election, the more people want to hear concrete, specific terms. Candidates can get away with inspiring abstract words early on, but when it's time to seal the deal, specifics and the "how I'll get this done" specifics are what win the day and persuade the voters.
  • How they manage a difficult format: Here's what I told Washingtonian: "It is a very difficult format. You are unscripted; you’re in front of a very large audience; you’re not in control of the questions. All of those things make it difficult. You can cram all you want, but you don’t know where it’s going to go, and you are having to answer to three different sets of people: your opponent, the questioner, and the audience." All that makes it compelling viewing--and that's why I'll be watching.
Read more about tonight's debates in terms of what the moderators face and how they prepare, and journalist Gwen Ifill's smart debunking of five myths about presidential debates. Politics aside, what will you be watching for?

*And let me correct that article which states that I was the deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, as you can see here, I was a deputy associate administrator, as my EPA colleagues surely know.