Monday, September 30, 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:
If you found this post useful, please subscribe or make a one-time donation to help support the thousands of hours that go into researching and curating this content for you. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Bella Abzug's American Express ad parody

Not quite 40 years ago, a woman in the U.S. couldn't get a credit card in her own name, or without her husband's permission--even if she was a member of Congress. Bella Abzug, then representing New York City, discovered this as many women did: She applied for an American Express card, and found she couldn't get one unless it read "Mrs. Martin Abzug" and her husband signed for it.

Abzug went on to propose and pass the 1974 legislation giving women the right to credit in their own names, a right that is new enough for many of us to remember its passage. In 1983, the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University worked with Abzug to make this short video explaining what she had done. She starts with "Do you know me?", which was the American Express tagline at the time, and the video gently mocks the credit card's popular celebrity commercials. After all was said and done, Abzug said "I didn't know whether I should really get an American Express card, but I decided I would so that I could tell this story."

Abzug, who successfully used the slogan "This woman's place is in the house--the House of Representatives" in her 1970 campaign, was famous for her signature wide-brimmed hats, which she started wearing in the 1940s at the start of her law practice. (Her thinking was that they would keep her from being mistaken for a secretary.) Self-described as "born yelling," she was an early leader of the women's movement who often remarked on efforts to limit women from speaking or speaking up, saying "women have been trained to talk softly and carry a lipstick." One tactic that Abzug modeled well was insisting that she be taken seriously, saying, “There are those who say I’m impatient, impetuous, uppity, rude, profane, brash and overbearing. Whether I’m any of these things or all of them, you can decide for yourself. But whatever I am—and this ought to be made clear from the outset—I am a very serious woman.”

There's a serious lack of available video and text of Abzug's speeches and she was so colorful that much of what the public saw came in her comments in news interviews, so this short mock commercial offers a rare look today at her delivery, tone and content, brief as it is. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Be loud and proud: Abzug paired serious legislation with forceful delivery at a time when this was nearly unheard of for women in public life. She projected with volume and with confidence, and did not apologize for being a woman, nor for her efforts to right what she considered wrongs. Everything about her speaking style underscores her approach to social change.
  • Don't alter yourself to suit the audience: The daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, Abzug held forth in a Bronx accent, a wide-brimmed hat and an at-times casual way of speaking that any citizen could follow, despite her advanced degrees. It's tough to recall her being inauthentic in any way as a speaker.
  • Take charge of your story: Given that there's so little surviving video or audio of Abzug speaking, I'm grateful that she agreed to do this video--and wish she'd also done similar projects for her legislative action on sunshine laws and government transparency, on rights for gays and lesbians, and more. Make sure you're telling your authentic stories and capturing those speeches on video or audio, in published texts, and online.
I've always been grateful to have had Abzug's voice and confidence ringing in my ears early in my life. You can read more about this famous speaker in the biography Bella Abzug. What do you think of this famous speech?




I've got two smart workshops for communicators this fall: 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!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chairing a conference: How did I do? Lessons for chairs from #esnbxl

"You are going to tell us how it went, aren't you?"

I didn't initially intend to blog about chairing the European Speechwriters Network autumn leadership and communication conference in Brussels. But reader Emily Culbertson is curious about chairing and moderating, and her question--sent in before the trip began--became a challenge for me along the way. Could I glean lessons anyone might use in chairing a conference? What did I notice? What did others notice? What went well, or could have gone better? Any speaker tackling a big public speaking task will learn more and do better next time if she takes the time to do this kind of assessment, and I'm happy to share it with you, in the form of my takeaway lessons:
  1. If you're going to chair something, say "yes" to an excellent organizer: Brian Jenner is the executive director of the UK Speechwriters' Guild and the European Speechwriter Network--two groups he created--and the spring conference I keynoted was one of my all-time favorites. He thinks big, builds communities, and curates speakers well, and we have a shared understanding of what makes a good conference experience. I should note that it was Brian who selected and recruited the speakers and curated the conference content; anyone who approached me about speaking was sent to him with a note that I was merely the handmaiden of the organizer.
  2. Script like mad, so you're ready to seize the great opportunities of the moment: Emily also wanted to know how much I scripted vs. worked from talking points vs. winging it. I scripted my five-minute introduction to the day, every speaker's introduction, and closing remarks that wove the speakers' themes together in yet another way while thanking each of them for their contributions. I changed one or two introductions and a couple of closing remarks as I listened to the speakers, right on the Chromebook. I took some notes to help me ask the first question for some speakers, and extemporized for others. I didn't script announcements, but knew where they would come and put those directions into the script (Coffee/tea break here, back in 15 minutes, etc.). That let me make jokes, react to speakers in real time and have some grace notes already up my sleeve. Did I work hard ahead of time to make the scripted stuff feel unscripted? You bet I did. And by the time I had to say it, it came out relatively smoothly. I referred to my notes, but did not read them aloud.
  3. Listen: Scripting most of my day did one more important thing: It let me listen to the speakers, instead of worrying about what I was going to say or do next. Without the chance to listen, I would have missed many wonderful perspectives from the speakers, like communications researcher Max Atkinson saying what a privilege it was to be able to address the audience in his first language of English, or columnist and speechwriter Mia Doornaert sharing with me privately all the languages she speaks (in addition to having studied Greek and Latin), an important piece of background I asked her to share with the audience when it came time for questions. I could catch things to use later in blog posts, as well as nuances I could put to work from the chair's desk immediately.
  4. Get thematic: Brian left the description of the conference themes up to me for my opening remarks. Several speakers were tackling different aspects of the challenges involved in preparing speeches for leaders who were delivering them in their second language, to audiences who might speak one language but be listening in their second language. To my mind, that begged the question of how speechwriters can achieve understanding of their words when those words have to go through so many filters, many of which don't aid understanding. So filtering became my opening theme, and I asked the audience to listen as the day progressed for what the speakers would say about the filters of language, public opinion, historic perspective, social media, technology, distance and more. In my closing remarks, I mixed it up differently, pairing speakers to tie their themes together as I thanked each of them. For example, "Fred Metcalf showed us that humor is infectious--he had all of us laughing--and Rune Kier showed us how to make sure our speeches go viral with social media. Thanks to both of them."
  5. Get a feel for the space: I have the preparedness gene, so I checked out photos of the room online and made sure I dropped by the venue the
    day before when the organizer would be there. Together, we looked at how much room the participants had at their seats (good leg room), how well the sound system worked, where we wanted the lectern given the available setup, what the lighting was like. The room had modern frosted glass panels over the building's old-fashioned stained glass, but we decided to slide the modern panels out of the way to let in more light. I would spend most of the day behind a fixed panel desk, and I removed two of the four chairs behind it to give me more leg room and make it easier for me to get into and out of my chair for the day. 
  6. Have redundant systems: We were in a room with a permanent setup for panels and news conferences, with a great sound system. But outlets were at a premium and many of us (myself included) were working on adapters for electrical power. I had a Chromebook, a Kindle, and my phone to back one another up. I used my Kindle for notes for my introductory remarks at the lectern--it's more portable and compact--and worked from the Chromebook while seated and chairing the rest of the day. Loaded in front of me were a timer app, Tweetdeck (so I could monitor live tweets in multiple columns), and my script, as well as Evernote, so I could take notes.
  7. Be a boss of others' time: That doesn't just mean the speakers' time, but also the audience's time. Meetings need breaks, questions, pauses. Speechwriters, of course, spend lots of time thinking about timing on behalf of the speakers for whom they write. But in the end, timekeeping is the chair's job. Every speaker heard from Brian and from me in advance about the amount of time allotted to them, and that they needed to plan that time to include time for questions. Early on, a speaker ran overtime. I let him finish, then turned to the audience and said, "One thing to know about me as a chair is that I like to run an on-time meeting. This topic is of such interest that I know there are many questions, but since I want to keep us on time, I'll take two questions now and encourage you to find the speaker during the break." Publicly announcing my intention of an on-time meeting early in the day set the tone: The audience knew what to expect from me, and the speakers did, too. As the day progressed, I used the chair's prerogative (and timer) to decide whether we had time for questions or needed to move forward. That means not just watching the clock, but reading the room. The speaker right before lunch, Fred Metcalf, had the room laughing at his rapid-fire commentary on using humor in speeches, so I borrowed a minute or two from lunch to allow questions. Speaker Jonathan Parish, senior policy planning officer and chief speechwriter to the secretary general of NATO, made up time in his remarks to get us back on track--and thus had plenty of time for questions himself. That's the kind of gift a good speaker can give the chair and the audience.
  8. Be a boss of your time and energy: I was on stage and up front the entire day, with only the breaks and breakouts as exceptions. For me, those not-on-stage times were not times to socialize, but critical moments for checking technology, stretching, making sure I had water, and taking quick breaks myself. My scripting kept me on time and focused for my introductions. I skipped things in order to stay prepped and energized, like dinner the first night after the introductory reception, and the afternoon breakout sessions. I got plenty of sleep, meditated and did yoga before arriving at the conference. I had an energy lag in the latter half of the afternoon, when I permitted myself some tea instead of just water, and used my breaks to get up and move, since sitting all day wrecks your energy. To make up for my focused behavior, I attended all the other social events, which are an important part of the mix at this conference.
  9. Even so, be firm but kind: One of the group's seasoned pros sent me an email after the conference
    to say "I loved how your chairmanship was firm but kind," a piece of feedback I cherish. Too many chairs and moderators think that they can't tell speakers to stop or have no control over on-time delivery--or worse, that they have to sternly lecture the speakers or interrupt them loudly to get them to stop. But most audiences and organizers want the chair to be competent and likeable, on time and non-anxious about it. Chairmanship is a time to embrace both the firm and kind approaches.
  10. Don't settle for pro forma chairing: Even a robot can read standard bios and introductions. I wanted to do better than that. Brian urged me to "make the day your own, put your stamp on it," and while he was the actual curator of the day, I was serving as the public voice of that curation. Speakers sent me their biographical information, some with helpful cultural notes that were especially useful in this setting, some nearly as long as their talks, some with the scantest of details. Everyone got about the same length of description from me, but no two introductions followed the same path. Where I could inject my perspective on a speaker, I did so, without making the introduction more about me than about the speaker. Thinking about myself as the public curator helped me take the introductions to a different place.
Did I mess some things up? Absolutely. I forgot an announcement that was wanted, messed up the citation for a review of one speaker's book, and more. Emily also asked, "What was your best moment, specific or general, and did prep make it possible?" I'd say my ability to handle an overtime situation and get the meeting back on track, as described above, was one good moment--after all, it's the biggest task facing the chair. But I'll also say that my ability to have fun with the day and to relax into it was another strength. As a result, I had just as much fun as I had hoped I'd have, and gave myself the chance to enjoy the speakers and my catbird seat watching the audience's reactions to them. This summer was a busy one for me, so the time I spent on prep and coaching kept this big speaking job from taking a back seat, and I'm glad I made it a priority.

I'll be blogging about the many insights I gained from the speakers about public speaking over the next several weeks, rather than compiling them all into one post. But you can get a sense of the overall program by reading these posts from speakers David Murray, Alan Barker (who posted here and here), Max Atkinson, and Rune Kier Nielsen, who put together a Storify of all our tweets from the conference. If speechwriting is part of your work, consider attending this wonderful conference. The next session will be in early 2014 in London.

If you found this post useful, please subscribe or make a one-time donation to help support the thousands of hours that go into researching and curating this content for you. 

Monday, September 23, 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:
I've got two smart workshops for communicators this fall: 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!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Sarah Kay's "Tshotsholoza"

You've seen spoken-word poet Sarah Kay on the blog before, demonstrating the power of poetry in public speaking with her 2011 TED talk. But this long interview with On Being highlights another talk she gave at the Acumen Fund in New York City. It's called "Tshotsholoza" after an Ndebele folk song originally from Zimbabwe but popularized in South Africa. She tells a story set in Cape Town's District Six, where 60,000 residents were forcibly removed during Apartheid.

Kay found the nugget of this story--the idea that a man with homing pigeons had lived there, and the pigeons kept returning to his home after he'd been forced to leave--from a photograph in a museum in District Six. Then she added and embellished it so you can see the setting, an elaborate invisible visual:
Noor Ebrahim had 50 homing pigeons. He lived in District Six at the center of Cape Town. Noor Ebrahim lived in District Six at the center of Cape Town where there were 12 schools and Holy Cross Church, and Aspling Street mosque and the Jews on Harrington Street, with the Indians and the Malayas, the natives and the immigrants, the blacks and the coloreds. Noor Ebrahim lived in District Six at the center of Cape Town where there was Beckenstat Bookstore and Parker's Corner Shop where you could buy paraffin for the stove, fish oil, bull's eyes and almond rock, where you could walk down to the public bath, pay a tickey, get a 15-minute shower and find yourself in between the businessmen and the gangsters bathing side by side right there at the corner of Clifton and Hanover streets. Noor Ebrahim lived in District Six at the center of Cape Town with 50 pigeons and his family.
In the interview, she talks about using concrete details to make the story come alive:
So something that I can smell, something that I can taste, something that I can touch, something that I can hear, something I can see — that is what I can relate to. So even if you're talking about an experience that I haven't had before, if you're telling me about it in a way that you invoke my sensory memory and my sensory understanding of the world, we're talking about the same universe and I can understand what you're saying. That makes sense to me in a way that abstract terms sometimes don't. So even if I hear a story about somebody's experience that I could never have imagined, if they're explaining it using these very concrete and real sensory details, I have an access point and I am enthralled with that story.
What can you learn about storytelling from this famous speech?
  • Anchor your story in a place: This story was inspired by and is steeped in a specific place, and Kay takes the time to describe it so we can "see" it. Listen to the video with your eyes shut once. You'll be able to picture it in your mind's eye. That's the most compelling way to ensure that your audience will remember what you said, again and again.
  • Use details wisely: So many speakers--especially those with technical topics--think detail is an all-or-nothing factor in presentations and speeches, as in you have to put them all in or leave them all out. But judicious use of detail is what makes this story sing. Think about the most compelling, most concrete details, the ones your audience can best relate to, and put those in.
  • Play with cadence, pauses and timing: Kay plays with all these elements, so that her storytelling evokes ancient ways of relating a tale rhythmically and with speed, pauses and cadence as elements of emphasis. Try using these factors to take your next speech up a notch, particularly where you're telling a story.
Here's the video of her talk. What do you think of this famous speech?

 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Big ideas don't need big words. But where can you find the small ones?

When I train scientists, I often pull someone out of the audience to share three points about her research. The goal is to say them in ways a non-scientist can understand. One wildlife biologist talked about animals invading a condo development that used to be their habitat. What kind of animals? Turns out they were all "charismatic megafauna."

I told the group that's what we call members of Congress, here in Washington. But what did the biologist mean? Charismatic megafauna is an eight-syllable term for well-known, easy-to-name, popular wildlife species--pandas, bald eagles, whales. In this case, it meant mountain lions, salamanders and several species of birds--so we went with those names, instead.

We embroider our ideas with language, yet you don't need complex words for complex thoughts. As my friend and fellow speaker coach Peter Botting likes to say, "Big ideas don't need big words." If your professional vocabulary is complex, how do you find small words for your big ideas?

Science communicator Sally James shares the Up-Goer Five Text Editor as one solution. The online engine contains the 1,000 most commonly used words. Guess what? They're not at all complex, so much so that "1,000" is not a word on the list. Up-Goer translates that to "ten hundred." A cloud becomes a "rain-holding sky thing." The "up-goer?" A rocket ship. James's Ignite! talk, with its limit of five minutes and 20 slides, suits the subject. In the video below, she describes how a University of Washington researcher wrestled her scientific work into smaller words using Up-Goer. Frustrating at first, but ultimately, a process that yielded insights.

Simple words hold power. Hemingway knew that. You can put the opening paragraph of The Old Man and The Sea into the Up-goer handily, with the exception of the word "permanent." Translation sometimes achieves the same thing. John Steinbeck's The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights took the archaic and elaborate language of Malory's legend and put it into "plain, present-day speech." The spare and honest language dances and sings. Steinbeck then reversed the process, writing a dedication in the old style to knight his sister, so often relegated to lesser status in childhood battles--a gem polished by the contrast.

James concludes, "The most complicated big things are best explained using ordinary words." But Up-Goer rejects "complicated" and "ordinary." Let's just say again that "Big ideas don't need big words," which passes the Up-Goer test with flying colors.

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, September 16, 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:
I've got two smart workshops for communicators this fall: 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!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Victoria Woodhull's "Principles of Social Freedom"

Victoria Woodhull led a fascinating life, without a doubt. Her father, a snake oil salesman in the 1840s, soon put his young daughter to work as a fortune teller. She married an alcoholic at age 14 or 15--a devastating experience that probably fueled her later thoughts on marriage. Victoria and her sister Tennessee became the first woman stockbrokers on Wall Street, after a stint as spiritual advisers to Cornelius Vanderbilt. The sisters also were the first women to found a newspaper in the U.S., and Victoria was the first woman to campaign for president--50 years before women could vote.

Woodhull is perhaps best known for her "free love" views, which scandalized her Victorian audience but seem fairly tame by today's standards. Women, she said, should be just as free as men to choose and discard their sexual partners. Between this and her insistence that she could speak with the dead, it's no wonder that Gloria Steinem once called Woodhull "the most controversial suffragist of them all."

Juicy stuff, so why did it feel like a chore for me to dig into her most famous speech?

You can scroll through Woodhull's 1871 Steinway Hall speech here. It's long. Really long. It opens with an epic poem. She introduces about 10 major themes in the first few pages. It takes stamina to find the gems in here, like this one that wouldn't seem out of place in today's marriage debates:
To love is a right higher than constitutions or laws. It is a right which constitutions and laws can neither give nor take, and with which they have nothing whatever to do, since in its very nature it is forever independent of both constitutions and laws, and exists--comes and goes--in spite of them. Governments might just as well assume to determine how people shall exercise their right to think or to say that they shall not think at all, as to assume to determine that they shall not love, or how they may love, or that they shall love.
But then I read the background to this speech in Barbara Goldsmith's terrific Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull. And suddenly it all came to life for me. Here's what happened, and here's what you can learn from it.


  • A good introduction goes a long way. Woodhull was a confidante of Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most prominent ministers and social reformers of the day. She knew that the married Beecher had many lovers, and privately encouraged him to come forward in support of the free love doctrine. Beecher was supposed to introduce Woodhull at Steinway Hall, but lost his nerve and didn't show, fearing for his reputation (You can read more about Beecher's fate here). There was a restless delay as Woodhull and her friends waited for someone to introduce her, and Goldsmith says this may have rattled her from the start.
  • Plan to be spontaneous. Woodhull stuck to her prepared remarks for the first part of the speech, but she surprisingly abandoned the text when she began talking about sexual freedom and women's rights. Her words became more emotional and more pointed, and the historical accounts say that the crowd loved it, cheering and rising to their feet. But departing from her text may have made it more difficult for her to control the speech after what happened next.
  • Be ready for hostile questioners. Utica Brooker, another of Victoria's sisters, began hissing and calling out questions from one of the hall's balconies. Utica was an alcoholic and laudanum addict, and may have wanted to grab the spotlight from her famous younger sister. Utica and the others taunted Victoria about being a free lover, until Victoria...well, she sort of lost it. Goldsmith says that she tore a white rose off her dress and threw her speech to the floor, declaring:
    "Yes, I am a free lover! I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can, to change that love every day if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere."
  • Yes, it's long. But grab a cup of coffee, and read through to the end. I promise you won't be disappointed.

    (Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this Famous Speech Friday post.)

    If you found this post useful, please subscribe or make a one-time donation to help support the thousands of hours that go into researching and curating this content for you. 

    Wednesday, September 11, 2013

    What should a woman's speaking voice sound like?

    In a world where women's voices matter, one of those voices is speaking out...about women's voices. But will you like what she has to say?

    Lake Bell's new movie In A World..., the actor's directorial debut, is about an aspiring voiceover artist who struggles against the old boys' club of voiceover talent and her own insecurities about her voice. It's a topic close to her heart, since Bell herself has found it difficult to break into voiceover work. In the movie, her father--also a voiceover artist--says "The industry does not crave a female sound." It's interesting that both Bell and Fred Melamed, who plays her father, both say they were attracted to voiceover work because it didn't force them to rely on their looks alone as actors.

    "I was always interested in the idea that the omniscient voice was always considered male," Bell said in a recent NPR interview. "This sound that's telling you what to buy, what to think, how to feel about what bank to have, or what kind of car, or what movie to see..."

    The movie is getting good reviews, and Bell shows off her amazing range of accents and voices honed in acting studies in England. But in a flurry of interviews promoting the movie, she's also received a lot of attention for her stance against what she calls "sexy baby vocal virus." She says too many women use this combination of high pitch, vocal fry (think raspy creak) and uptalk (ending speech on a higher pitch, as we usually do with a question).

    "I think what I find most unfortunate about it is that it's diminutive, it's sort of diminishing," she said in a Washington Post interview. "And it's a dialect. It's not even justified by, 'Oh, she was born with that.' It's learned."

    Bell seems to be of two minds about how women should speak, however. She says in the Post:
    But I don't ever want to preach that women take on a false voice and speak lower. That's not the message. The message is, find your real voice. Which is a normal, big girl voice, which sounds like what a woman should sound like, instead of insinuating that you've regressed to being an 11-year old and you're submissive."
    But in The New Yorker:
    The vocal pandemic that is the sexy-baby virus is a form of submission to men, as if you're a twelve-year old girl. I speak lower than my natural voice, especially when I'm on a panel with a lot of dudes.
    Judging from the online responses to these interviews, Bell's hit a real nerve on this one. Should women try to lower the pitch of their voice to sound more like men? Are uptalk and vocal fry always something to avoid? And what should a woman sound like--except herself?

    Here's the trailer for the movie:


    Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this post.

    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, September 9, 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:
    • What's on your public speaking wish list? That's what I asked readers on Facebook, and I think keeping a wish list is a great way to set goals for yourself as a speaker. What's on your wish list?
    • How to be a powerful woman: Find out in this series of short films from the BBC Woman's Hour. It's a great way to get pep talks at your desk.
    • Still sounds good: Hillary Clinton's famous UN speech, declaring "women's rights are human rights," took place 18 years ago last week, so we shared the Famous Speech Friday post about it--it's still the most-read post on this blog. And in honor of Diana Nyad achieving her dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida, accomplished last week, we shared the FSF post of her TEDMED talk. It describes what that swim is like, and how she dealt with the earlier defeats and failed attempts.
    • Crickets no more: Ragan Communications published my post on what speakers should do if no one asks a question.
    • About the quote: This stirring quote comes from Liberia's president. You can find more like it on our Pinterest board of great quotes by eloquent women.
    I've got two smart workshops for communicators this fall: 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!

    Friday, September 6, 2013

    Famous Speech Friday: Jeane Kirkpatrick's "Blame America First" speech

    On the face of it, she was an unlikely keynote speaker for the 1984 U.S. Republican National Convention: A lifelong Democrat, she'd never spent time with a Republican before she met Ronald Reagan, first as an advisor to his campaign, then as the first woman to serve as United States Ambassador to the United Nations, during the first half of the Reagan administration. She was still, on paper, a registered Democrat, and her career had mostly been spent as a professor of government at Georgetown University--not typical preparation for the speaker who'd put the name of the President into nomination at the convention. And her topic? Foreign policy, her specialty, but not a topic that you'd think would rev up the convention crowd.

    It would not be the first time Jeane Kirkpatrick defied expectation. Despite her Democratic background, she was a favorite of Reagan, who told her she'd removed the "kick me" sign from America's back at a time when the Cold War was at its height. On this night, she employed simple, clear language and rhetorical devices intended to get the crowd to its feet again and again, including the line for which the speech is best known:
    They said that saving Grenada from terror and totalitarianism was the wrong thing to do - they didn't blame Cuba or the communists for threatening American students and murdering Grenadians - they blamed the United States instead. 
    But then, somehow, they always blame America first 
    When our Marines, sent to Lebanon on a multinational peacekeeping mission with the consent of the United States Congress, were murdered in their sleep, the "blame America first crowd" didn't blame the terrorists who murdered the Marines, they blamed the United States. 
    But then, they always blame America first 
    When the Soviet Union walked out of arms control negotiations, and refused even to discuss the issues, the San Francisco Democrats didn't blame Soviet intransigence. They blamed the United States. 
    But then, they always blame America first.
    It was the first time in more than 30 years that a non-party member was invited to give the convention's keynote. As you may have guessed, Kirkpatrick changed her party registration the following year. What can you learn from this famous speech?
    • Take advantage of your novel status. It's catnip for the audience to hear a member of one party speak in strong language about why she believes her own party is wrong--particularly when she goes to the opposing party to do that. Kirkpatrick took full advantage of that novelty in her speech, quoting Democratic presidents of yore to underscore her points about the current administration and why they weren't in step with American values. She refers repeatedly to the other party as "the San Francisco Democrats," a dismissive nod to their recent convention and an effort to make them seem out of step with the mainstream audience Reagan needed to reach.
    • Ask questions your opponent has omitted from the discussion: Another effective riff in this speech comes when Kirkpatrick runs through a series of questions that prompt the audience to imagine what would happen if the Soviet Union gradually took over different regions of the world. "What would become of Europe if the United States withdrew? What would become of Africa if Europe fell under Soviet domination? What would become of Europe if the Middle East came under Soviet control?" she asked, each question setting up another in a verbal game of toppling dominoes. "What then could the United States do?' she ended the list. "These are questions the San Francisco Democrats have not answered. These are questions they haven't even asked." It was one of many applause lines that night.
    • Take your time: Kirkpatrick's delivery is measured, not rushed. Even though she kept her language clear, her topic was complex and not one many convention attendees would likely know well. A measured delivery aided her ability to put her points across and keep the crowd with her. 
    There's no video of this famous speech publicly available to share, but you can listen to the audio below, and read the transcript. You can learn more about Kirkpatrick in the 2012 biography, Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick. What do you think of this famous speech?


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    Wednesday, September 4, 2013

    The cowardly lion: Are you afraid of your own power as a speaker?

    What happens when a speaker coach hires a speaker coach? In my case, she discovers her inner cowardly lion.

    You remember the cowardly lion, beloved character in The Wizard of Oz. He seemed bold, but quivered and quavered when confronted by a threat, a contradiction in terms.

    I didn't think I was a cowardly lion when I asked fellow speaker coach Peter Botting to help me prepare to chair the European Speechwriters Network autumn conference in Brussels this month. We were bookends at the group's most recent conference in London--he opened the day as a speaker, and I closed it. We talked enough shop to discover we share a similar approach to coaching, particularly for people expert in a field. He was excited to learn about the research that experts prefer to be pushed, even to hear negative feedback, more so than novices.

    You may wonder why a coach would get a coach. I don't lack experience, skill or nerve when it comes to public speaking or chairing meetings. But it's a poor chef who fails to keep her knives sharp. A trainer who seeks no training after she hits 'expert' status is just sharing the expertise of long ago, over and over again. I wanted to set the bar higher for myself. Peter struck me as a professional's professional, someone who could add value to the skills I already bring to the task. He agreed that I should push beyond rote and strive for exceptional.

    Then I got what I asked for, and I clutched. I sent out lame drafts, things that shouldn't have seen the light of day. I went straight for rote, and clung to it. I argued. I threw punches at the wrong targets. Despite knowing better, I acted as any speaker might when pushed. It's been a while since this shoe was on the other foot, and you'll be relieved to hear that I'm just like anyone else on this score.

    My coach listened, advised, nudged, and teased out the needed results. "I want to stretch you. Quality needs to be pushed," he'd say, reminding me that "good enough seldom is," a challenge to the ambitious lion if ever there were one. Finally, I realized the target of my angst was me. My coach was correct in pushing me to do better. I just needed to accept that I could. I had the inner lion, but needed her to stop being cowardly.

    The poet Marianne Williamson wrote, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure." And if we are being honest, that's my deepest fear. CEO Mary Kopczynski gets at the same point when she urges Don't just lean in, speak up, describing her own pattern of saying "But I'm not qualified..." when asked to speak at professional conferences. Now she rephrases that as "Yes," a word of courage women speakers need to practice.

    I worked on unpacking my reactions to this coaching, knowing that would help me and eventually, my clients. Normally, I am gregarious and analytical, my strong personality preferences. I know that when I get uncommunicative and emotional, I'm in a time of extreme stress. I'm also only slightly extroverted, and coaching can feel as if boundaries are being crossed. I doubled down on sleep, yoga, meditation, all to take the stress out of the equation, as it was just a signal of something deeper. I rearranged my schedule to avoid coaching others and getting coached on the same days.

    I knew without question that I'd picked the right coach. He was doing just what I'd asked him to do, and my feeling turned inside-out was something I could control. I went back to responding, rather than reacting, to the challenges. I decided to say "yes" to my coach, and even better, "got to yes" with myself. Instead of running from the power, I ran toward it. At one critical point, my coach reminded me that "turning yourself inside out is a bit like spring cleaning--you find old treasures and assets almost forgotten." I'd been in search of grace notes and mindset and themes when I decided to seek coaching, and I found them.

    Sometimes I tell my most stressed coaching clients about two scientists who attended the same workshop of mine, but gave me feedback forms that were exact opposites. One trainee wrote:
    If you had only told us at the beginning precisely what to say and do, we would have done it perfectly. Instead, you let us experiment, and we didn't do well.
    But another trainee in the same group had a different view:
    By putting us into 'hothouse' conditions, limiting our time and our ability to practice, you forced us to display our default behaviors, which made them apparent to us...and then we could fix them. Brilliant approach.
    That first trainee had fallen for a myth we tell ourselves about public speaking, and what training requires. We think speaking should be easy, and the training in it easily done. But in reality, speaking is more complex than we are willing to admit, and it's the speaker, not the coach, who has to do the work. Often, I describe the environment I create in a training workshop or coaching session as "a safe place to fail." Without that kind of trust, my clients can't reveal their soft spots, defaults and flaws. Nor can they correct them. And that goes double for a speaker coach when she's on the receiving end of coaching.

    In Washington, you can't throw a rock without hitting a speaker coach or media trainer. I've hired or worked with many of them, and have heard them say the same things over and over again. It's a cookie-cutter, off-the-shelf, robotic method of coaching. Peter takes a personalized approach, uncomfortable yet powerful precisely because it focuses on you as a unique speaker. Far from merely spouting tips and advice, Peter listens and reads with care, catching nuances and seeing gaps I miss. His ear is especially sensitive to what an international audience will hear, a real advantage as I head into this global conference. But it's also good at catching woolly thinking and flabby language.

    He's also good at pushing and insisting you do better, saying, "Good coaching can change my clients’ careers, their reputations, their income and their lives. So I apologise for not apologising to my clients if I am sometimes tough with them." Peter's seismic approach to speaker coaching can make you feel as if there's earth moving under that once-stable place you were standing. You can view that as a danger, something outside your control, and run away from it. Or you can view it as the early rumblings of your own power as a speaker, and run toward it. As Ursula K. Leguin's great metaphor for women as public speakers says,"We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains." Call me a mountain lion, then. I'm ready.

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    Monday, September 2, 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!