Friday, August 30, 2013

March on Washington notebook: What I noticed

White House photo: President and Mrs. Obama, Presidents
Clinton and Carter, emerge from "backstage"
at the Lincoln Memorial
I live and work in Washington, DC, where most weekends see at least three carefully scheduled protest marches, evenly spaced and with maps provided so the locals can avoid them as needed. But this week, the march of marches returned, marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech.

I watched the proceedings through many lenses. The daughters of Presidents Johnson and Kennedy stood on the platform and I saw my childhood represented--these women were my contemporaries-from-afar. The songs and call-and-response conventions of speaking pulled me back into my growing-up years, set against a background of protest marches, songs and legislation to pull blacks, women, gays and lesbians and others into some semblance of parity.

I campaigned for President Carter when he ran for that high office, and he pulled me back into the era this week, slyly admitting that "every handshake from Daddy King, every hug from Coretta, got me a million Yankee votes." Using the nickname made the grand setting more intimate, a nod to the insiders--I didn't hear Dr. King's father referred to any other way, back in the day. Carter gave us another intimate moment when he spoke of the invisible and basic effort he made as a board of education member in Georgia. He convinced other white board members to come out to see all the schools--not just the nice white kids' schools, but the makeshift schools in which black children learned because they couldn't be sent on buses to proper schools. If you fell for the optics and asked why old white men were on the program, it's because they walked this walk alongside the original marchers. As Carter said of his fellow presidents on the platform this day, none of them likely would have been elected if King's speech and the march had not taken place.

I call President Clinton my president because I served as a senior official in his administration, and we were used to hearing him called the "first black president," a moniker that would be shunned by many. I've been able to watch Mr. Clinton advance as a speaker for two decades now, and as a coach of speakers, wish more of us could manage his relaxed, non-anxious way of relating to the audience and sharing tough talking points without being strident. Far from it: He pushed us with the image of "stubborn gates" standing in the way of progress, and urged us on in a era he sees as "brimming with possibilities." Watch his gestures and facial expressions, writ small in a large setting, but speaking volumes.

President Obama had the day's toughest job, and handled it sparingly and with respect. He was humble yet presidential, the right mix, leaving the message to what anyone could see, without putting too fine a rhetorical point on it. The embodiment for many of King's yearning for justice, he barely touched on himself in his speech, saying "I" only rarely and referring to his ground-breaking presidency only elliptically.

His speech had a calm energy and verve and rhythm, with two repetitive riffs where he detailed the progress we've reached "because they marched," and later, talking about where "that courage" has led us. Best for me were the moments where he connected the ordinary people of today--the teacher who spends her own money on supplies for her students, as my niece Valerie has done--with the marchers of the past. For a crowd that listened to the familiar themes and rhetorical devices as comfortably as well-worn slippers, he gave them new running shoes as well, a path forward and a picture of themselves in the shoes of the marchers. On this day, the president spoke for the marchers, past and present, and not himself, and that's what we needed.

And yes, readers, this time--unlike the first march--women were included thoroughly in the program. Even better, for me, was watching the learning unfold on social media as today's marchers and observers learned how thoroughly women were excluded the last time. Progress, indeed.

I love the White House photo I've posted here: a current and two former presidents and a First Lady, all ground-breakers, seeming as small as ants in the shadow of the massive statue of Abraham Lincoln, which loomed in the shadows as backdrop to the day. Living here, you could take that backdrop for granted--but not in a week like this one.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Speakers ask: "What if nobody asks a question?" 6 options

When I'm coaching individual speakers or training a group of speakers and presenters, the question I get most often is about...questions. What if you don't get any questions after your talk, presentation or speech?

Let's face it: A lack of questions is a bad sign, speakers. But what does it mean, and what can you do to generate questions? Here are some reasons and solutions to consider:
  1. Did you pack too much into your presentation? When you cover your topic like a blanket, you're not leaving much room for questions to arise and emerge. I've yet to work with the client who lacked material to deliver, and all of my trainees are looking for ways to create more room for their plentiful facts in a presentation. My suggestion: If you've got lots to say, save some facts for the Q&A. You'll look smarter and give your audience room to participate.
  2. Did you allow enough time for questions? Some speakers manage to suck all the oxygen out of the room, often by filling up all the allotted time or failing to build in pauses during which they could be engaging the audience directly. Your audience wants to do more than just applaud, as you'll find out if you use the advantages of the speaker who allows extra time.
  3. Did you announce up front that you would be looking for questions? Instead of launching into your talk, take a moment to say, "My presentation is about 15 minutes and then I very much want to save the bulk of our time today for your questions," right at the beginning. You'll then have done two wonderful things, by warning the audience you won't be using all the oxygen in the room and by inviting them to start thinking about what they want to say. 
  4. Did you walk the talk about questions? You can demonstrate your willingness to receive questions before you ever begin talking, by wandering into the audience as it gets settled to shake hands with people or greeting them at the door, saying, "I'm eager to hear what you have to say on this topic." You can even start with Q&A, taking a handful of questions right away, then promising to cycle back to answer them after your talk.
  5. Are your answers too long? Questions aren't an excuse to give another mini-talk, but many speakers treat them that way. Let the audience get a word in edgewise to keep the engagement going.
  6. Did you work with the moderator or host beforehand? A word with your moderator, chair or host before your talk can prompt her to be ready with the first question, after which she can turn to the group and say "Who else would like to ask something?"
One tactic to lose: Don't plant questions in the audience by giving friends questions to ask in case you don't hear any. This inauthentic approach can backfire and ruin your credibility.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But you won't miss a thing, since I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog for all readers to see. Here's what I shared in the week just past:
Get a good discount if you register by September 6 for my next public speaking workshop, The Keys to Confident Public Speaking on October 17. Join us and register today!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Readers: Help me with my Famous Speech Friday wishlist

Nearly every week, I hear from readers who ask, "Why don't you have so-and-so's speech in The Eloquent Woman Index?" This week, I'm turning the question back to you: Which famous speeches by women do you want to see here?

I like these inquiries, because they suggest that this collection of famous speeches by women (113 so far) is a comprehensive catalog of women's speeches, and I have somehow grossly overlooked that one speech. But the Index is by no means comprehensive. In fact, longtime readers will recall that the Index, and the Famous Speech Friday series that serves as its basis, began because of the lack of such a comprehensive catalog of women's speeches. Seen from that perspective, we are only just beginning to gather steam and speeches.

Perhaps this is a good time to remind readers that the Index isn't intended to be a catalog, but a curated collection. At the same time, readers sometimes fail to check the Index. "No room for Julia Gillard?" came an inquiry on Twitter recently, after I posted the Index collection of speeches by women legislators. In fact, Gillard, when prime minister of Australia, was a head of state, not a legislator--and is one of the rare women who appears in the Index more than once. Please, check before you complain. 

Still other inquiries make interesting assumptions about the collection. I've shared before the thinking that goes into it, but let me recap my selection methods, expressed as answers to the common questions I receive:
  • "But that woman isn't famous!" That's not necessary to make it to the Index. It's the speech that needs to be famous in some way. The other criteria: It needs to be given by a woman, and ideally, touch at least in part on women's issues. After that, sky's the limit. I'm eager to see what you bring me. 
  • "But some of the speeches on your list aren't very good at all!" Perhaps so, although that's in the eye of the beholder. Speeches in the Famous Speech Friday series are never chosen as "best speeches," partly because women's speeches are so often left out of such lists. It's also true that I've been sent some beautifully written speeches by women as possibilities for the Index, but there's no evidence of their impact, delivery, reach or fame. Overall, I'm looking for variety: My audience doesn't just include professional speakers, but women in all situations, all over the world, who must speak in public sometimes; the Index reflects that variety, so that everyone can see a useful example here. Selecting a speech that models a variety of tips for everyday speakers is important to the series.
  • "Are all the speakers American?" Not by a long shot. I'm especially pleased to have speakers represented in the Index from Argentina, Australia, Burma, Canada, France, Haiti, India, Kenya, Liberia, Macedonia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and the UK. More than 30 percent of the Index speakers come from outside the U.S., and there's plenty of potential for expanding that range.
  • "Do you only pick speakers you like?" I need to see value in the speeches presented, but there are many speakers in the series with whom I do not agree. Other factors are more important to me, and I don't hesitate to reach beyond my own views to present important speakers and speeches.
  • "Must it be a formal speech?" No. Famous Speech Friday has looked at formal speeches of all kinds, as well as Q&A sessions, panel moderation, television essays and more. I do look for variety, again to provide a range of examples that any woman speaker can use.
  • "Why is so-and-so's speech missing?" There are reams of reasons that the collection is missing speeches. The most common reason is that I have nothing to work with, as in the case of speeches for which no text, video or audio can be found. The reasons they can't be found vary: Some are tied up in lawsuits, like the speeches of Rosa Parks. In the case of American author Harriet Beecher Stowe, she did several book tours--but appears in most cases to have let her husband deliver her remarks, as the era frowned upon women speaking in public (as, apparently, she did). Some were never preserved in the first place. Still others haven't made it to the accessible web and are buried in archives. This is not just an issue with speakers from history, I'm afraid. Many current speakers' riveting and well-known talks are not recorded in any form, nor published. Think about it: You give a talk that's riveting, but there's no text, no video, no media coverage, no record. Did you make a sound--at least, one that I can write about?
  • "You're missing a lot of important political speeches."  This isn't a list limited to famous political speeches. My goal is to make it possible to read about speeches in many formats, by women in many roles and age groups and locations, and on many topics. In addition, some speeches are in the queue or being held back so that I may present a wider variety. Don't worry, we'll get there. Feel free to suggest it anyway.
  • "Why didn't you cover that famous speech sooner?" I'll always reserve the right to swing into action quickly to cover a fantastic famous speech by a woman, but more often, I find the posts benefit from waiting a week or more. I'm better able to capture the true impact of a famous speech, or, if it's about a moving target, have the benefit of a fuller picture after the debate is completely over. It's The Eloquent Woman, not The Speedy Woman, after all.
Despite all those limitations and preferences, I'm especially gratified that readers of the blog lead me to so many famous speeches by women and I'm eager to keep expanding the collection. Now it's your turn: Please leave your suggestions in the comments, on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn or on Google+, and I'll research them all. Got a pointer to a video, text or audio you can share? That will get us moving forward faster on these new leads. But don't hesitate if you can't find the actual speech. I'm happy to hear the names of women speakers you'd like to see, a lead about an elusive speech, topics you want to see or any other clues. Let's build our way to 200 speeches in the Index--and please share this post on your social networks so we can cast a wide net.

Get a good discount if you register by September 6 for my next public speaking workshop, The Keys to Confident Public Speaking on October 17. Join us and register today!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Will the 50th anniversary of March on Washington remember the women?

I keep threatening to put together a public-speaking tour of Washington, DC, where I live--and if I did, this spot would be a highlight of the tour. It is the place where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood to give his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, capping the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, 50 years ago this month.

The commanding view all the way to the Washington Monument never fails to impress visitors, who can imagine the space filled by the estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people who heard the speech that day. Most of us give formal speeches, talks and presentations in conference rooms, hotel ballrooms, auditoriums. There are few speeches for which the location's marked in this way. If you're curious, look on the landing below Lincoln's statue at the Lincoln Memorial; you'll find the marker of the spot where King stood 18 steps down.

For women, the lack of women speakers at this historic event--there was just one, who did not speak at length--reflected the low status of women in the civil rights era. Women of the movement even marched separately from the men as they approached the Lincoln Memorial.  Rosa Parks, arguably the most famous woman in the movement, was merely mentioned in a "tribute to the ladies" speech given by a man, put on the program only after it was noted that no women were speaking. The March on Washington Twitter account has been tweeting historic facts about the march, including the omission of women speakers and some of the discussion about that during the planning of the march.

African-American basketball player Maya Moore says in this appreciation of the speech, "That speech is one that captures humanity, no matter where you're from, no matter what you look like." You can read more about the march right here on the blog:
The King Center and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are sponsoring a week of commemorative events in Washington next week, culminating in a day-long program at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, the anniversary of the speech. Go here to register and learn more about the schedule. President Obama, who keeps a framed copy of the program from the march and rally in the Oval Office, will speak at the event, along with former presidents Carter and Clinton. I certainly hope there's more participation by and recognition of women this time around. Here's a video of the speech itself:


 Get a good discount if you register by September 6 for my next public speaking workshop, The Keys to Confident Public Speaking on October 17. Join us and register today!

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But you won't miss a thing, since I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog for all readers to see. Here's what I shared in the week just past:
Get a good discount if you register by September 6 for my next public speaking workshop, The Keys to Confident Public Speaking on October 17. Join us and register today!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Simone Campbell and the Nuns on the Bus Tour

Sister Simone Campbell is a nun, an attorney and a poet, and you'll hear a little bit of all three roles in this week's famous speech.

As the executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic lobby for social justice issues, Campbell became a familiar face in the 2012 presidential race. NETWORK strongly opposed the U.S. House of Representatives' 2012 "Ryan Budget" (named after its architect, Republican vice presidential candidate and Wisconsin Senator Paul Ryan) as a plan to "decimate programs meant to help people in need." That summer, Campbell organized a nine-state "Nuns on the Bus" tour to bring attention to the budget and its impact on poverty, education and health care programs.

The tour brought Campbell to center stage everywhere from the Democratic National Convention to The Colbert Report. And this summer she's on the bus again, to support immigration reform. But we've chosen the Des Moines, Iowa kickoff speech launching the 2012 bus tour to showcase Campbell's skills and and style as a public speaker. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Speak like a poet. The House had just passed the Ryan budget, and Campbell is offering her passionate rebuke. She isn't afraid to let her emotions--especially her anger--show. Listen to this:
    "What Paul Ryan wants us to think, and what he says is, it's his Catholic social teaching that made him do that. His Catholic social teaching? If he had never uttered those words, I don't think we'd have a bus trip. He made me mad, and I'm a stubborn woman."
    She creates a rhythm in her speech, using deliberate pauses between "made him do that" and the incredulous "His Catholic social teaching?" The long pauses help her sense of outrage sink in with her audience. She also uses a series of asides in the speech, which are more personal but closely linked to the overall themes of the text. The pointed "He made me mad, and I'm a stubborn woman" acts here as a kind of emotional punctuation.
  • Speak like a lawyer. Campbell doesn't come to the podium armed only with her heart on her sleeve. In this budget fight, she's got a slew of her own numbers and statistics to show exactly why NETWORK is opposing the Ryan plan. What's more, she is savvy about tailoring her speech to show how these numbers affect her Iowa audience. To the people sitting in the pews of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, for instance, she explains that every house of worship in the U.S. will have to raise an additional $50,000 each year for the next ten years to make up for the budget cuts to social programs.
  • Speak like a nun. The close of Campbell's speech is particularly rich in the use of the "invisible visual," a way to put an image into the minds of the audience that persuades and remains in their memory long after a speech is finished. For this audience, Campbell uses two familiar and vivid stories of Moses and the burning bush and Ezekiel and the breath of life over the field of bones to assure her listeners that they can bring about significant change. "Our solidarity is what will keep us from slipping into isolation, loneliness and depression," she said. "Because the only time we are fully human is when we are connected to each other."
 

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

9 things to do with the video of your TED, TEDMED or TEDx talk

You've done what many speakers only dream of, giving a talk at TED, TEDGlobal, or TEDMED, or at a locally mounted TEDx conference. You got through the talk and the video's been posted online...so you're done, right?

It's an assumption I see frequently in the course of my work coaching speakers, including speakers at the TEDMED conference. You don't relish the idea of looking at the video of yourself speaking, anyway, and sending it around to others seems a bit like bragging, so why bother? But if that's your approach, you'll miss out on the great value those speaker videos represent. Here are 9 smart things to do with that precious video of your talk:
  1. Use it as a learning tool on your own: I developed the checklist Instead of wincing, 10 things to look for on that video of your speech to help some of the TEDMED speakers I coach, so they could review their videos with learning in mind. You can learn much about yourself as a speaker this way, and start on that list of things to improve for next time. To me, this is the greatest value of the video.
  2. Use it as a learning tool with a coach: Not sure how you did or want to talk through factors you'd like to handle more smoothly next time? Look for a coach to review the video independently and then with you. I do short reviews (one to two hours) for speakers with a talk on video, and I always see different things than the speakers do. My reviews can cover content, delivery, appearance, audience reaction and more, and I always include specific feedback, ideas for improving the talk next time, and resources you can use to follow up and improve on your own. This is a convenient option, as we can work remotely and use Skype for the consultation. It's a great way to get the most out of the experience. 
  3. Embed it on your website or blog. Most TED conferences post video on the conference website and on YouTube, where you'll easily be able to generate an embed code to put the video of your talk on your own blog or website. Put the video on your "about" or bio page, where more people will see it over time, as well as in a blog post about your talk. While you're at it, publish a transcript of your talk (you can read more here about why and how you should publish your speeches). If you're always hunting for video to liven up your site, this is ideal. I recommend posting your talk to your own website, as well as your company or organization site, to make sure you always have it accessible.
  4. Connect it to your social network profiles: You can add slides and video to your LinkedIn profile--and as a bonus, once you post your TED talk there, your network will be able to see it as an update. That's also true for your profiles on Facebook and Twitter, your Pinterest boards, and more. When future employers or conference organizers use those social networks to learn more about you, the talk will be there to represent you and your topic. Bonus: Your friends can help spread it around for you.
  5. Show it to the home crowd: Don't be shy about holding a session for your coworkers in which you
    show your TED talk and then answer questions about it. Since not everyone will have access to the talk when it happens, make an event of the video release. It's a great way to create excitement within your company or organization, and you can talk about what it was like to prep for and deliver the talk, as well as your topic.
  6. Share it with your marketing or PR office: If you work for a company or organization large enough to field marketing or public relations teams, make sure they're aware of your talk, both in advance and once the video's available. They may have even more ways to use it on the company website or blog or social media channels, and with local and national news media, depending on your topic. Media attention or attention on social networks can lead to more gigs and invitations, so don't skip this step--it's always surprising to me how many speakers miss this opportunity.
  7. Use it to raise funds: Whether you're an entrepreneur looking for investors or a nonprofit executive looking to find donors, your video can be an effective calling card with people who can support your initiatives, projects and products. Make sure the people who can help you raise money--your investor relations or development pros--know about the video, have access to it, and share ideas about how they might be able to put it to use to further your goals.
  8. Send it to conference organizers to boost speaking gigs you're already planning to do: More and more, conference organizers are looking for video to see how well you do as a speaker. If you've got a good TED talk to show organizers for a gig you already have in the works, you may find yourself getting better placement, more time or other advantages. Send it on!
  9. Use it to get more and better speaking gigs in the future: That talk video also can help you get more speaking gigs, or perhaps paid gigs if you've only previously spoken for free--again, because it's an easy way to make you a known quantity to the organizers. If you're pitching talks to conferences, be sure to include the video in the first pitch. Don't forget to include data on page views or downloads of the video as an indicator of audience response. And be ready for approaches from organizers who see your talk online (if you've done your part to get it out there, that is). You may be asked to do a version of your talk or a brand-new one.
The best news? This list works if you have a video of any good talk you've given, not just those affiliated with TED conferences. Are you using the videos of your talks to your advantage?

(Photos: Diana Nyad and Ivan Oransky speaking at TEDMED)

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But you won't miss a thing, since I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog for all readers to see. Here's what I shared in the week just past:
The Keys to Confident Public Speaking is a half-day workshop I'm offering October 17--but you get a great discount if you register early.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Nine famous speeches from women legislators in The Eloquent Woman Index

Yes, I can see you rolling your eyes from here. You're thinking of droning discourses on the merits of House Bill 147, punctuated with quaint lines like, "I yield the remainder of my time to the gentlewoman from the great state of..." It's true that legislators aren't often called upon to make the soaring speeches that executives like presidents and prime ministers are known for. But listen closely to these selections from The Eloquent Woman Index, and you'll learn a thing or two from these careful speakers. They know a lot about crafting a talk that gets to the art of compromise and the wooing of constituencies. And that's not to say that they don't speak eloquently when the occasion arises.

1. "The unspoken assumption is that women are different." U.S. Representative Shirley Chisholm was the first African-American elected to Congress in 1968, and she wasted no time in putting her speaking skills to work on the House floor. Her 1969 speech introducing the Equal Rights Amendment is a terrific example of how powerful plain speaking can be. She doesn't mince words to describe what's at stake, and she uses her own compelling story as a way for listeners to immediately grasp the need for the amendment.

2. "We can shape a better future." Speaking of firsts, U.S. Representative Geraldine Ferraro's 1984 vice presidential nomination speech and her campaign highlighted some of the barriers that women still face in political circles. Despite being a standing member of Congress when she campaigned, her opponent George H.W. Bush referred to her as "Mrs. Ferraro" instead of "Congresswoman" or "Representative." Her speaking style was also criticized as being too masculine, but none of that mattered in an acceptance speech guided by the momentous occasion.

3.  "Everything that takes place in this chamber goes out somewhere to strike a human heart." Speeches by pioneering women legislators can be notable for bringing new perspectives to traditionally male-dominated institutions. When Dame Enid Lyon gave her "Strike a Human Heart" speech as the first woman elected to Parliament in Australia, listeners praised her beautiful voice and diction. But she also spoke about her own experiences in the 1943 speech as a mother of 12 living through a world war, and insisted that these experiences were meaningful in the political sphere.

4. "Someday, by God, I want to throw a wedding for that kid." Washington State Representative Maureen Walsh's surprising 2012 speech before the state legislature, supporting same-sex marriage, also mixes the personal and the political to great effect. She would probably agree with Dame Enid that the work of lawmakers, eventually and inevitably, influences the lives of real people and not abstract "voters."

5.  "The American Dream need not forever be deferred." If you want eloquence, there's no better place to find it than in Barbara Jordan's keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. U.S Representative Jordan was the first woman and first African-American to deliver the convention keynote, and she rose to the historic occasion. Listen for her amazing cadences, classical rhetorical devices and strong declarations throughout the speech.

6. "Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America." What, no applause? When Margaret Chase Smith spoke out against Joseph McCarthy in 1950, she spoke as the first woman to serve in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. At a time when many Americans feared McCarthy's investigations against alleged Communists, her "Declaration of Conscience" speech in the Senate chamber was a brave act. The response? McCarthy himself left the chamber right after Smith spoke, and most of the senators stayed notably silent.

7. "Man is made for something higher and better than voting." This is a fun one: Canadian activist Nellie McClung's "Should Men Vote?" speech, delivered at a 1914 mock parliament convened by the Political Equality League. It's a rollicking satire, where McClung uses confidence and humor to demolish all the reasons for denying suffrage to women. McClung later served in the legislative assembly in Alberta.

8. "I will never forget the trust you placed in me to be your voice." Farewells from legislators are often their most memorable speeches, but the 2012 resignation speech of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was even more heartfelt than most. The congresswoman, who had been shot in the head a year earlier, could only speak in short, slow sentences. So she used both a video message and a surrogate reading a letter for her from the House floor to craft a careful goodbye. The multipart speech is a powerful reminder that limitations shouldn't silence anyone.

9. "This is my life." Texas State Senator Wendy Davis held the floor for more than 11 hours in a dramatic effort to filibuster restrictive anti-abortion legislation. She used stories about her own life and struggles with financial security and reproductive health, and read from constituents' emails and letters about how the pending bill would impact their lives. So effective was she at serving as a voice of the people that record-breaking crowds took up the effort when she was stopped, chanting "Let her speak! Let her speak!" long enough to run out the clock on the session, effectively killing the bill that day.

Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this post.

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Chairing a conference: How I'm preparing

"That's a BIG job," said a friend of mine, when he heard that I'd agreed to chair the autumn conference of the European Speechwriters Network, coming up in Brussels in September. He's right: At the last conference in May, I was the keynote speaker, responsible for about 20 minutes of talking and another 25 minutes of answering questions. The chair, on the other hand, spent the day onstage, opening the conference, introducing each of the 9 or 10 speakers, asking the first question or two, and moderating the audience's questions. Add it all up and it's much more than 45 minutes of effort.

But this conference was, for me, among the best I've ever attended, yielding so many new ideas, colleagues and collaborators that I'm still using what I learned there in May, jump-starting a book on women and speaking, and more. When Brian Jenner, executive director of the UK Speechwriter's Guild and the European Speechwriters Network, asked me to consider chairing the autumn conference, I said "yes" right away. Recently, a reader said, "You are going to explain how you're preparing for this, right?"  Here's a peek into how I'm getting ready for this big role:

  1. Reading the speakers' writings: As the chair, I want to be able to ask intelligent questions and avoid any inadvertent faux pas in referring to the speakers or their work, which takes on additional weight when you consider that it's an international audience. While we will conduct the conference in English, I know from experience that I'll need to be precise. I've put every book by a speaker on my summer reading list of public speaking topics. Reading's been underway for some time now.
  2. Booking ahead: I speak better when I'm not jet lagged. I've seen speakers at high-level conferences get onstage after long flights, and they lose spark, energy and reaction time, vital ingredients. I'm heading to London first for a little more than a week before the conference, to give another talk, take meetings with contacts about my book, and get adjusted to the time difference.

  3. Consulting with the organizer:  I've already consulted with the organizer about his vision for the chair's role, the themes, and any questions or issues I can foresee so we can walk into that conference with the same goals for the day. This sounds basic and small, and I know from experience that it is not. If you're a chair or moderator, take the time to find out what the organizer wants.
  4. Looking for links and themes: My advance research and reading will help me find themes and grace notes, the factors that will keep me from being a name-reading, box-checking, pro forma chair. You can walk through chairing a meeting, or make it a contribution. I'm aiming for the latter.
  5. Getting social: I'm on many social media platforms and I've been sharing news about the conference as well as following fellow speakers and attendees. Speaker Rune Kier Nielsen from Denmark is giving a talk about using social media to promote your speeches, and this chair intends to set a good example.
  6. Asking the speakers for input: In this case, the organizer will put the speakers in touch with me so I can learn what they want me to include in their introductions, name pronunciations, and any other issues they wish to convey. 
  7. Scripting and working through the agenda: Much of the chair's role requires a script, so you can get names and titles and pronunciations right, remember all those juicy themes and ideas you got from your advance reading, make sure the housekeeping details are clear, and stay on time. The script will help me accomplish this task and reflect all my discussions with the organizer and the speakers.
  8. Getting coaching for me: I've had plenty of general speaker coaching, so my preference these days is to seek a coach for myself when I have a major speaking task on which to focus. I've asked a talented fellow coach to help me prep and strategize. Yes, even coaches get coached, and so should you.
  9. Planning my energy for the day: The chair's role is an on-again, off-again, energy-sapping role in some sense. I can't take a session off, and breaks will be my few scant opportunities to "relax." But I can prepare by managing jet lag, meditating, doing yoga and taking a run before the sessions start, as well as drinking plenty of water and making sure I'm rested and ready. 
  10. Participating fully in the conference and its social events: I can't do this in advance, but I can plan for it and make it part of my approach to the conference. At TED conferences, we insist on speakers who will arrive at the start, stay through the finish and engage with participants throughout. That has become my own approach when I'm invited as a speaker, chair or moderator--and organizers and attendees appreciate it more than you'll ever realize. You're part of the reason they're there. Have a presence off the podium, as well as on it.
Photos from the spring conference courtesy of the UK Speechwriters Guild

I've got two smart workshops for communicators this fall, and you get good discounts if you register this month for Be an Expert on Working with Experts on October 8, or The Keys to Confident Public Speaking on October 17. Join us and register today!

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But you won't miss a thing, since I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog for all readers to see. Here's what I shared in the week just past:

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Anna Maria Chávez at 2011 Girl Scouts Convention

When Anna Maria Chavez became the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA, she walked into a job with a description that might daunt a lot of us. Since taking the helm in 2011, Chavez has been tasked with nothing less than revitalizing a century-old institution while staying true to its cherished traditions. Financial troubles plague several of the organization's chapters, and membership has been declining since 2003.

As the group's first Latina leader, Chavez has managed an aggressive campaign to increase minority membership and to re-direct some of the organization's focus toward 21st-century skill building and leadership development for girls. Some of the changes she and her colleagues have sought, from camp closures to chapter mergers to staff shake-ups at the national headquarters have been controversial inside and outside of membership ranks.

So when the new CEO took to the stage at the Girl Scouts' 2011 National Convention, she had the huge task of introducing herself and the new goals and challenges facing the Girl Scouts. Chavez is an experienced leader and speaker after previously working in both state and federal government. It helps, too, that she has a wicked sense of humor. Here's what she said about her first Scouting experience:
So I ran home and told my parents and my grandmother, my Nana, that I was going to Girl Scout camp. And my Nana, she said, 'mi hija, no, no, no, we came from the migrant camp, we don't go back that way.' But I wanted to go, and so I went!
This convention keynote speech required some especially tricky tightrope walking. For many girls and women, the Scouts is a fondly remembered part of growing up. But it's also a business, and Chavez needed to project both personal warmth and professional competence in this important speech. Here's how she did it:
  • Don't be afraid to step away from the lectern. Chavez is an enthusiastic speaker, full of big gestures. It's entirely appropriate for her to convey her enthusiasm with these outstretched arms and movements across the stage. The National Convention is a rally of sorts, and she was there to get everyone fired up for the year ahead.
  • If appropriate, make it personal. Her speech is full of tales from her own long history with the Girl Scouts, but these tales also serve as vivid illustrations of what she thinks the Scouts can offer. It's one think to hear that the Scouts encourage girls to take on leadership roles. But it's another to "see" it, when Chavez describes how an early Scout camp experience showed her how to tackle vandalism she saw during a family desert hike.
  • Try out some classical rhetoric techniques. Chavez uses the Girl Scouts' "courage, confidence and character" motto throughout the speech, taking advantage of the alliteration to make her message stick. She also closes the speech with a call-and-response, asking, "Do you see her? Do you hear her?" as a way to get her audience thinking about their own roles in the lives of future Scouts. 


Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this Famous Speech Friday post. 

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