Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Enthusiasm counts: Do you want to, or have to, give that speech?

When I created my popular checklist for the whole speaker a few years ago, I started the list with questions about your intentions as a speaker, mainly to help you consider whether you're approaching the talk or presentation with your audience in mind. Since then, however, I've met some speakers for whom intent isn't always part of the picture.

I'm talking about speakers who don't want to give the speeches they're about to give, or feel compelled to do so--whether the compelling factor is pride, someone else's last-minute absence, or some other factor. In a few cases, I've had speakers tell me, "I didn't want to give this talk, and once it's over, I'm never going to give it again!" And in one of my recent workshops, a participant confessed she would rather "stick pins in my eyes" than speak in public.

To which I can only say, "Then why did you say 'yes' when they asked you?"

Or perhaps you "have to" do the talk for work. It's an assignment you don't relish. One of my coaching clients started a session recently by telling me, "I just have to get up and present this data. I don't have to be persuasive or anything." So I pushed back: "Don't you need this audience to do something once you've shared the data? Don't you need them to change their approach based on your findings? Doesn't your initiative need them?" And of course, the answer was yes in all three cases.

I'm a big believer in considering your intentions and motivations as a speaker.  When I ask, "Why did you say 'yes' to this invitation?" and you say, "Well, clearly, I had to say yes. It's an honor just to be asked," I usually push back and say, "No, really. Save that for the organizer. What's your motivation in coming here?" Many times the speaker doesn't know. Without that groundwork done ahead of time, the speech is often less than successful.

That's in part because audiences can almost smell a lack of enthusiasm in a speaker. Go ahead and try to dial it in or do a pro forma speech without attention to delivery or putting meaning and emphasis into the words. Or give a TED talk because you think you should give a TED talk, and for no other reason. You'll lose most audiences with that approach. If you're not convinced you should be there, and your intentions don't involve the audience, you won't be convincing. We need to understand not just why your topic is important, but why it is important to you. That "why"--your "why"--is often the missing ingredient in underwhelming talks. The speaker who gets excited, who thinks "I get to do this" versus "I have to do this" is the one who usually gets invited back.

The power of conveying enthusiasm and passion for your topic isn't just instinctive on my part. The one simple thing that can make you more impressive describes one professor's effort to measure his own lectures. He worked to make them identical in every way from one year to the next, varying only his gestures and vocalizing to indicate more enthusiasm in a particular year. Then he measured the results, using independent observers and comparing student ratings.

Guess what? In the year in which he made it clear that he was enthusiastic, via his presenting style, "He was seen as more knowledgeable, more tolerant, more accessible, more organized....Students said they learned more. They felt the grading was fairer. They even said the textbook was better." Trainers and teachers of the world, heads up!

Today, when I'm coaching a speaker, I ask about intent and motivation to help you make that connection--and to motivate you later, when the training gets tough. That's when I'll be reminding you what the speech can do for your business, your agenda, your policy or your image. It's also a good yardstick to use when you assess whether the speech did what you intended. What's your intention for your next speech? Can you get enthused about it?

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Monday, April 28, 2014

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:
On May 15, I'll be convening another session of Be The Eloquent Woman in Washington, DC. It's a subversive new workshop that helps women executives and public officials learn how women speakers are perceived and how to turn those expectations on their heads with confidence, content and credibility. Go here to read how the first workshop went and what participants had to say. But hurry: All registration closes May 9, and seats are filling!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Laverne Cox on transgender activism

In an awards season where a heterosexual man has been picking up prizes for portraying a transgendered woman in the movie Dallas Buyers Club, Laverne Cox is the real deal. A transgendered woman, she's best known for starring in the Netflix television series Orange is the New Black, playing a trans character in the series. Just as it helped Tanni Grey-Thompson, another of our Famous Speech Friday speakers, to see someone visible in public life who was disabled--not just an actor playing someone disabled--Cox is a powerful role model and an example of how many feel trans characters should be cast.

All that made her a popular choice for the opening keynote at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force conference, "Creating Change." But it was her content, inspiring and down-to-earth, that helped the speech get shared again and again in the days after it was posted.

Cox began with herself as an example to underscore what transgendered people experience every day:
Some days I wake up and I’m that kid in Mobile, Alabama who’s being bullied… Some days I wake up and I’m that sixth-grader who swallowed a bottle of pills because I did not want to be myself anymore, because I did not know how to be anybody else, and who I was told was a sin, was a problem… Some days I wake up and I am that black trans woman walking the streets of New York City, hearing people yell ‘that’s a man!’ to me. And I understand… that when a trans woman is called a man, that is an act of violence.
Cox's speech was interrupted by cheers and applause some 30 times, in part because she made the speech not about her, but about local nonprofits with a focus on helping transgendered people in the U.S. She name-checks cities and charities and individuals working in the field, and talks about the jailing of CeCe MacDonald, who was convicted of stabbing a man who attacked her and her friends in Minneapolis.

What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Let the details be the people: Some speakers don't name-check well, but not so Cox. Each of the people she names are being celebrated, and you can tell by the tone of her voice, her humorous asides, and her calls to those who are in the room. In name-checking cities and charities, she does more than just congratulate them: Their stories make real the vision she's describing of a supportive world for transgendered people, and show that the issue is found in city after city in the U.S.
  • Use the story arc: Cox creates a story arc, as described in my interview with Marcus Webb, TEDMED's chief storytelling officer, who notes, "you start with a hero, which can be an idea or a product you’re advocating. You open with a first act that describes the problem. You progress to a second act that describes the ideal solution. You conclude with a third act that describes an actual solution or policy or course of action that conforms to the ideal." Here, the hero is the idea of activism to support transgendered people. Cox starts by using herself to describe the problem, paints the ideal solution as she talks about the community that advocated for MacDonald while she was in jail, and concludes by expanding her call to action to the wider community in the room, urging them to do the same in their communities. She includes calls for changes in health policy, criminal justice and other sectors at the same time, bolstering the volunteer call with one for societal change.
  • Be a non-anxious speaker: You can see Cox's non-anxious approach to speaking evident right from the start, when she dances in place while the music introducing her goes on a bit long, and at the many moments when she waits for the crowd to finish cheering. She's not in a rush to cut them off, and takes her time with the crowd's catharsis. Listen as well as look at this aspect of the speech: While she's discussing controversial and provocative issues, her voice remains calm (but not comatose). There's lots of vocal variety here, but not because she's nervous or rushed.
Below is video of Cox's keynote. What do you think of this famous speech?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

From NASCAR slides to "Any questions?": 8 kinds of slides to delete right now

Lately, I've been coaching several speakers getting ready for industry conferences--hired either by their companies, or the conference organizers. As a result, I've spent an enormous amount of time telling speakers to ditch slide after slide after slide.

This alarms the speakers (and their assistants and interns) no end. Some see the slide deck as a shield against forgetting a point or having to speak without giving the audience something else to look at. Some plan fully on reading them aloud, reducing the slide to a cue card and the audience to a read-along experience. One confessed that the slides she submitted reflected "thinking out loud" about all the things she wanted to say, but that she then couldn't bring herself to omit them once they were created, even though her presentation was just five minutes.

They'd better not try that in the boardrooms of LinkedIn or Amazon, where the CEOs have banned slides from presentations, joining the ranks of scientific teams, military units and even the Central Intelligence Agency in the U.S. as places where PowerPoint isn't allowed. The main reason? The audiences engage better, attendance goes up, and the discussion is of a higher quality.

Even if you're not ready to give up slides altogether, let's agree: It's far too easy to turn your slide deck into a dense layer of igneous rock instead of a tool that will help illuminate your points. If you're short on time, or just interested in a cleaner, clearer, clutter-free presentation that better engages your audience, omit these slides:
  1. Your title slide: The title of your presentation is in the program, on the sign outside the door, and in the podcast/social media post/press release for the conference. If you're being introduced, it will come out of the mouth of the introducer. We don't need to see it on the slide in addition to all that. Save it for when you distribute copies or publish your slides independently on the web, but don't show it in your live presentation. 
  2. Your bio: Make the introducer do her job and leave it out of your deck. No introducer? Introduce yourself verbally, no slide needed.
  3. Today's report: Don't tell us what you're going to tell us, an antiquated set of instructions for military field instructions rather than slide presentations. Again, an early verbal outline will do.
  4. Charts no one can actually read: Unless this part of your presentation is about how bad overly complicated charts are, do not include charts that make people squint. Saying, "You probably can't see this, but..." and pointing to a particular section do not, in fact, aid our understanding.
  5. A thank-you slide: Thank yous are most effective when they come from the heart and from your lips, not from your slides. Pepper those thank-yous throughout the presentation at the appropriate moments, rather than loading them up at the end or beginning. They'll mean more. "This is the part of our research where our lab assistants really had a chance to shine..."
  6. The "Any questions?" slide: Repeat after me: "And now I'd be delighted to answer any questions you may have." Again, no slide needed.
  7. The NASCAR slide: Named because it resembles the race-car drivers' jackets loaded up with logos, you may call this slide "our partners," "examples from industry," or something else. But I call it a NASCAR slide. Expressing your points in logos does not actually make them clearer, and loading ALL the logos on one slide doesn't actually feature your partners. Instead, work them into your presentation where they belong, just like thank-yous. "And this phase of the project got some much-needed help from...." or "No one else would have funded this aspect of the project but..." are better acknowledgments. 
  8. Slides that exist only because you use one slide per point: Put some mystery and interest back in your presentation and prove that you're not using them as cue cards. Use slides only for points you cannot make any other way. Need a slide in that spot so you don't advance too far? Insert black slides where you just want to talk, a tip that applies for any slide I've omitted in this list.
If your rationale for a well-packed slide deck is "it will make a great handout," bear in mind that research shows that only shorter slide decks actually get read. The longer the deck, the less likely your audience will flip through it later, let alone sit through it. This may seem like a painful exercise, but you can thank me after you get a standing ovation for your crisper, on-time presentation.

Monday, April 21, 2014

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

5 famous speeches by women about the environment

Next week, we celebrate Earth Day, and it's no surprise that women have shaped so much of the public speaking about environmental issues. I've pulled these five speeches from The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women to showcase their messages about the environment, from pesticides and wildlife conservation to economic arguments for dealing with climate change.

Fittingly for a global issue, this is a global array of speakers, with women from France, Kenya, the United States and the United Kingdom represented, and all of their messages ring true today. Click through to see video of most of these speeches, along with what you can learn from them as a speaker. I'm a proud former Deputy Associate Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in charge of communications, education and public affairs, so it's a particular pleasure for me to share this collection with you:
  1. Rachel Carson's "A New Chapter to Silent Spring" was a 1963 speech to the Garden Club of America, taking her clarion call about the effects of pesticides on human health and the environment right to the people. Her conviction about her message helped her overcome her public speaking fears and changed our environment for the better.
  2. Severn Suzuki's 1992 UN Earth Summit speech was delivered when she was just 12 years old, and she wisely kept her message in the voice of a child. "If you don't know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!" she urged the delegates.
  3. Jane Goodall's "What separates us from the chimpanzees" uses unusual tactics, from sound "props" to Shakespearian influences, to put her message of wildlife conservation across. Another scared speaker, she learned from experience the value of speaking to live audiences to get her environmental message across.
  4. Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai's hummingbird fable was a simple tale she used to convince audiences ranging from poor women in Kenya to powerful world leaders that a small volunteer effort could do much to protect important ecosystems. In her case, a campaign to reforest Kenya led to the planting of 30 million trees--and a Nobel Prize.
  5. Christine Lagarde's speech on "dynamic resilience" led the World Economic Forum in 2013. Titled "A new global economy for a new generation," the International Monetary Fund's managing director put the assembled financial titans on notice that climate change and its effects had to be central to their efforts to reshape the world's economy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Women speakers: Are you the backup singer or the lead performer?

One of the many insights I've had as I roll out my Be The Eloquent Woman workshops involves women who, in effect, are playing backup singer to other speakers. Here are some of the things I've heard in workshops and conversations in the last couple of months:
  • "Since I'm in public relations, I'm really behind the scenes. So when I have to speak--at a press conference or in front of my peers--I don't feel sure of myself."
  • "I like to think that I’m pretty good at chairing, even very large events with high profile speakers, whether the speakers are male or female, but I have been doing this since I was a student and find it quite easy, I’m guessing because the focus isn’t on me."
Call it the backup singer syndrome for public speaking women: You might be willing to moderate or chair, to help others get the prime speaking slot, but not to speak as an individual. I can relate to those comments, having spent much of my career helping to put other people out front as speakers, both in public relations and now as a speaker coach. But at some point, I realized my own career needed to include public speaking and it's a skill I continue to sharpen and use regularly. 

There's a Catch-22 for women more comfortable with the backup-singer role as a speaker, however. It's one of the subtle ways in which women are discriminated against in public speaking. Some conference organizers use women as gendered window dressing, relegating them to moderators or chairs, without including women in the more substantial featured role of keynote speakers or panelists. (That's just one of my 12 ways you can evaluate speaking gigs for gender bias.) It's not just an issue for organizers. If you are always chairing or moderating, you're not speaking about your own content and ideas. Do you want all of your speaking to be about others? Do you want all of your speaking content created by others? I didn't think so.

On a long flight home from my recent London trip, I found inspiration in 20 Feet From Stardom, a documentary about the primarily female backup singers in the music industry. Blues singer Mable John--one of the first singers Motown founder Berry Gordy signed to his own label, and a backup singer in Ray Charles's Raelettes--shared a perspective on backup singers that women speakers would do well to borrow:
We in the music industry, especially African American people, need to know our worth. We need to know as women, we're important. And I think the breakdown is when a woman doesn't know who she is and she settles for less. Check out your worth. You're worth more than that.
I'm not saying you shouldn't moderate or chair. These are important speaking roles, and good stepping stones as you progress as a speaker. They're not simple tasks, by any means. But if you look at the last few years of the speaking you've done and find you are always supporting others and their ideas, it may be time to push yourself forward, into the spotlight. The documentary's great inspiration if you've been lurking behind the scenes, and shows what it's like to always be in someone's shadow. How will you work on moving from backup singer to featured performer in your public speaking?

  On May 15, I'll be convening another session of Be The Eloquent Woman in Washington, DC. It's a subversive new workshop that helps women executives and public officials learn how women speakers are perceived and how to turn those expectations on their heads with confidence, content and credibility. Go here to read how the first workshop went and what participants had to say.

Monday, April 14, 2014

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:
  • Pressure cooker: LinkedIn's career expert talks about how she's learned to build her confidence under pressure--including public speaking pressure.
  • This is phenomenal: Listen to poet Maya Angelou read her poem "Phenomenal Woman" -- I'm pretty sure she's talking about you.
  • Practice makes perfect: Got a video interview? Here's how to do a practice run.
  • About the quote: When you approve of yourself, you don't need much more to step forward and own the room.
  • Seats are filling: On May 15, I'll be convening another session of Be The Eloquent Woman in Washington, DC. It's a subversive new workshop that helps women executives and public officials learn how women speakers are perceived and how to turn those expectations on their heads with confidence, content and credibility. Seats are filling, so register today!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Justice Sonia Sotomayor's law school question

Sometimes, asking a question can seem like giving a high-stress, if short, speech. If you stand up in a classroom and confront the professor out loud, in front of everyone assembled, you're taking the floor--and could be displaying your own knowledge, or your ignorance. It's a risky, on-the-fly form of public speaking, one that takes confidence. Double the risk if you are questioning the authority who has the floor.

All that would apply to law school classes, and to current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who talked about not raising her hand in law school until the third year in this interview with NPR's Fresh Air host Terry Gross. Sotomayor graduated from Yale Law School in 1979 and has published her memoir, My Beloved World, admitting she hadn't so much as raised her hand, let alone ask a question in all that time. Sotomayor said:
And I don't know that I've ever been shy-shy, but I was a much more self-contained and less outgoing person in the earlier parts of my life. It took real effort for me to come out of some of the protective layers I had put on because of the difficulties in my childhood and some of the emotional withdrawal that I had to do to survive. It took a good part of my life to learn how to shed some of that and how to become a more people person. But I had some measure of self-confidence but not enough to feel secure among my very brilliant Yale classmates. Spent a whole lot of time in law school feeling inadequate and not quite sure that I measured up to the accomplishments of my classmates.
It turns out that the question she waited so long to ask was one in which she figured out that her professor's example didn't actually prove the rule he was teaching. To top it off, it was her "first voluntary interchange with a professor." What can you learn from this question-as-speech?
  • Are you just protecting yourself when you don't ask questions? In "Why Don't Women Raise Their Hands More?" a law student reports that "While men are more likely to be judged on their potential in professional settings,women are more likely to be judged by their achievements. In a related pattern, men's mistakes are overlooked and soon forgotten while women's mistakes are noticed and remembered." Choosing not to put your hand up might be a self-defense mechanism, not a weakness--something that women do to protect themselves.
  • Trust your gut: Sotomayor has a facility for math, which was at the heart of the rule being discussed, so she worked out the numbers and came up with a different answer. Instead of apologizing, she simply told the professor that his example didn't fit the rule--something he had not realized in decades of teaching it. To challenge a senior attorney and professor, she had to trust in her sense that the answer was wrong.
  • Keep your hand up: Even when women want to ask questions, they're often passed over in favor of men. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's TED talk on women and leadership tells how she learned from a young woman in one of her audiences that she'd passed over the woman with her hand up, said she would stop taking questions, then called on two more men after the woman had pulled her hand down. So keep your hand up to be recognized when you have something to say.
You'll find a transcript at the NPR link as well as audio of the program. 

(Photo from the Supreme Court of the United States)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Oxford notebook: Women speakers, speechwriters at #uksgox2014

The second half of my England trip was to Oxford, where I attended the spring conference of the UK Speechwriters Guild and European Speechwriters Network and offered a pre-conference workshop, the UK debut of my Be The Eloquent Woman workshop. So I had a day of leading the workshop, followed by, as fellow speaker coach Alan Barker noted on Twitter, "A pleasant prospect: Sitting back and letting *others* be brilliant." Since I've keynoted and chaired this conference, getting the chance to listen and absorb was a fair treat.

I learned last year that this conference (and its autumn counterpart) are highly productive for me, and this session yielded inspiration you'll see on the blog for many weeks to come. Here are my impressions from the Oxford leg of my trip to get things started:

Seeing your self(ie) in historic context
As in London, my workshop participants and I found ourselves surrounded by a lot of masculine imagery in Oxford. In the dining hall at Trinity College, a lone portrait of a woman appeared--and she alone among the portraits had no identification. Fellow speaker coach Marion Chapsal captured two of the women at the conference taking a group selfie with this unknown inspiration from history. Sisters need to stick together, even across the span of centuries. I wasn't surprised by the lack of visible female role models, having prepared a Famous Speech Friday post on novelist Dorothy Sayers, who studied at Oxford and completed degree work, but couldn't receive the degree for several years until the university finally began awarding women that credential.


Women and speaking workshop
The best part of any trip like this is getting good feedback from participants in my workshops. The most frequent feedback from the UK session of Be The Eloquent Woman, my Oxford workshop? It was "too short." I'll take it--and I'll be adding more time for practice and feedback on building skills in future sessions.

It was an honor to have fellow coaches Marion Chapsal and Caroline Goyder in this session, along with executives from the publishing, legal, technology, consumer products and academic worlds. Participants came from various parts of England as well as Ireland and France, and I was struck again with the willingness of the group to trust themselves and the others enough to speak frankly about their challenges, questions and fears about speaking. Nearly every woman present had a presentation in mind during the workshop: corporate speeches, briefings for students, technical presentations, author talks and a short talk at the speechwriting conference. And the group came away from lunch early to talk more about building confidence and dealing with fears about speaking. The picture at right shows the view as you leave the workshop room, crossing one of the quadrangles at Trinity College.


Tips from one chair to another
The speechwriting conference followed my workshop for another day and a half. Fellow speaker coach Celia Delaney (pictured above) chaired the conference in a lively and well-paced way. We put our heads together early on, and my best advice to her was to be the boss of the schedule. Speakers who allow time for questions, rather than filling the entire space allotted, should get questions. When speakers fill all their (and our) time on the topic, direct the audience to find them in the break. For the record, I wish more speakers would leave time for questions, particularly for an audience as eager and curious as this one. But failure to do so doesn't mean that the chair magically has more time in the schedule, and sometimes, the quest to follow up with a speaker makes the breaks even livelier. Delaney kept us on time and in good humor throughout the conference, the two best things any audience member can say about a chair.
Speechwriting insights, tips and ideas
Two unusual speakers at the speechwriting conference in Oxford caught my attention so well that I've already bought their books. I'll be writing about them more in weeks to come, but you may find useful pastor and preaching professor David Day's Preaching With All You've Got: Embodying the Word and hostage negotiator Richard Mullender's Communication Secrets of a Hostage Negotiator. Despite their disparate topics, they share a common approach of listening for and respecting the listener's values, and of tackling the elephant in the room in order to build credibility. I'm looking forward to diving into both these resources from the conference.

Mullender urged speechwriters to use his listening techniques to elicit more useful information from the speakers for whom they are writing--including clever ways to get them to share what's important to them, a tactic I'll incorporate in my training sessions for communicators trying to do the same with subject-matter experts. And Sam Leith, author of Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama, shared an insight about speakers who wrap their ideas in complex, obfuscating words: They have an inner fear, he says, of being understood--and thought banal rather than wise.

Caroline Johns, the speechwriter at Deloitte who attended my session in London for the Fabian Women's Network (shown at left in Marion Chapsal's photo), demonstrated how to jump right into a speech, without a hint of throat-clearing thank yous, jokes or cartoons--something I always recommend. She says, of writing about and for accountants, "If you follow the numbers, a human story will always emerge." Johns also demonstrated with ease how to speak from a written text without reading from it, using great verve in her vocalizing. Marion Chapsal spoke on the second day with a wonderful analogy that used French profiteroles and English trifle to compare and contrast rhetoric in those languages--and made the audience hungry at the same time. Neringa Vaisbrod─Ś, speechwriter to the Lithuanian president, reminded us that rhetoric isn't always glorious, but can be viewed with cynicism and suspicion...even as she summed up the feeling with a rhetorical turn, "dishonesty, danger and disbelief."

Fellow speaker coach Alan Barker has done a thorough look at the conference here, and you'll be seeing more of my inspirations from this meeting in the weeks to come. My head's still buzzing with ideas. Check out the tweets from the conference here, and stand by for more to come.

I can't finish without saying once more that Brian Jenner, the group's founder, curates and organizes the best conferences. They are content-rich and loaded with speakers who are not the usual suspects, as well as attendees who elevate the discussion (and are fun to be with). He makes it look easy, and I know it isn't. Jenner gets my thanks as well for inviting me to bring Be The Eloquent Woman to the UK and to this conference. I loved the opportunity to reach across the ocean and get this workshop off to an international start.

On May 15, I'll be convening another session of Be The Eloquent Woman in Washington, DC. It's a subversive new workshop that helps women executives and public officials learn how women speakers are perceived and how to turn those expectations on their heads with confidence, content and credibility. You can grab a sweet discount by registering by April 11. Go here to read how the first workshop went and what participants had to say.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

London notebook: Inspirations on women and speaking


Columns, a closet, committee rooms, a conversation, confidence. What do they have in common? They all were inspirations on my recent trip to London in the week before I headed to Oxford to debut the UK version of my Be The Eloquent Woman workshop at the UK Speechwriters Guild/European Speechwriters Network conference.

I gathered ideas enough to blog for weeks to come in both cities, but want to share some insights about the London portion of my trip today. You'll see the companion Oxford notebook on the blog tomorrow. Here's what I noticed:

The columns
Barrister Charlotte Proudman, pictured with me above, gave me a long tour of Parliament before my workshop with the Fabian Women's Network in the House of Commons. She co-chairs the public speaking and debates committee of the network with Paulina Jakubec.

To my surprise, women and speaking figure even in the architecture: A Parliament policeman pointed out the gargoyles of men and women in the hallway linking the central lobby to the committee rooms. The men are pictured speaking, and the women are gagged, supposedly a protest by the sculptor about the silencing of women's voices. We snapped a picture so you can see for yourself. I welcome any information you can share about them, and have some research in motion so I can write more about this on the blog. It was just the first instance of an experience I'd have again and again on this trip, talking about how women can subvert expectations of themselves as public speakers under the gaze of portraits depicting a long history of patriarchy. I'd advertised my workshops for women speakers as subversive, and this underscored how true that is.

On our tour, we sat in the galleries of both houses of Parliament while they were in session and heard several members of those august bodies displaying speaking tactics that I would be disavowing later on that evening. And I stood in Westminster Hall, a portion of the complex dating back to the 11th century, on the spots where Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth stood to address both houses. The shoe was on the other foot, here: In Washington, we also might take visitors to sit in the gallery of the congressional House or Senate, and put them on the step of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. Turnabout is indeed fair play, and these rituals don't get old for me.

The closet
Proudman wrangled for us a look at the Chapel of St. Mary in the parliamentary crypt, where the late Member of Parliament Tony Benn had lain in repose only the day before. Just outside the chapel, I had the chance to stand in the closet where suffragette Emily Wilding Davison had locked herself during the 1911 census, so that her address would read "The House of Commons." It was Benn who erected a plaque to commemorate this act of defiance--and to read it, you have to get inside the closet. There's poetic justice in that.

Benn was a noted speaker, as described in this article on Tony Benn and the living art of rhetoric. In describing the plaques he had put up for Davison and others, he explained his effort as countering the images of patriarchy: "If one walks around this place, one sees statues of people, not one of whom believed in democracy, votes for women or anything else. We have to be sure that we are a workshop and not a museum."

The committee room
We did our part to turn Parliament into a workshop rather than a museum that evening. Eighty-five women crowded into a committee room in the House of Commons for my workshop with the Fabian Women's Network, with the topic Succeeding as a public speaker. The indefatigable Felicity Slater and others live-tweeted the proceedings, and you can get a sense of the topics we covered in my post with notes from the session, including a link to the Storify I created of the audience tweets.

You can see from the photo at right that the committee room--with rows of seats facing each other on either side of a long aisle, with a distancing podium intended for the committee at the front--was not the best layout for an interactive talk. So I put myself at ground level with the participants, walking up and down that center aisle. Since my back would be turned to parts of the audience no matter what, I made sure I moved around and looked at participants in all parts of the space. A real challenge in action for someone talking about good speaking skills.
I wasn't the only person who noticed the "pale, male and stale" images lining the walls:
Those optics and surroundings really do have an impact on women speakers, but at least this group was comfortable pointing that out:
The conversation
Once done with the workshop, it became time for museums--but even there, I found inspiration on speaking. One of the points I make about women and speaking in my workshops is that women, long forbidden to speak in public in our history, have developed a different style of speaking. Linguist Deborah Tannen refers to this as "rapport talk," or conversational style. It's a style that has been popularized by the TED talk, and co-opted by male speakers like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, in contrast to the "report talk" that characterizes the traditionally popular masculine rhetorical style. Urging women speakers to take back their authentic, conversational, connect-with-the-audience style was a big part of my message on this trip. That's why I was delighted to come across the lovely Vanessa Bell painting, A Conversation, at the Courtauld Gallery. It captures perfectly this traditional female style of speaking.

At the Victoria and Albert Museum, I kept coming across examples of lecterns, essential in times when the prayer and choir books were large in format and too heavy to hold unassisted. One model featured a female angel hoisting the lectern overhead--talk about a woman in a supporting role for another speaker--and an older model included a detailed carving of a bagpiper, considered a comic symbol of lust that was in turn supposed to prompt the virtuous to think penitent thoughts. Wonder how well that worked? Both examples are a far cry from today's popular plexiglass lecterns, intended to disappear and take away any sense of a barrier between speaker and audience. These, instead, are like armored vehicles that protect the speaker and lend the appearance of authority.

The confidence
No lectern can lend the authority that comes from inner confidence when you step forward to speak in public. Hands down, the best part of my London trip was hearing from women who attended my workshop about how they felt more confident or were able to make changes in their approach to public speaking, putting the tips to practical use right away. Here's a sampling:
  • "You taught me many valuable skills last Thursday which have already increased my confidence, I can't wait to speak publicly again and test them out! I will even be doing power poses..."
  • "I just did a talk to a group of 15 and wanted to thank you for your advice. I prepared in advance, had 3 key points which I listed in my intro, and started with a story. It went really well, and I was amazed at how comfortable I became. Writing it out made such a difference, and has really given me a huge boost of confidence to take on other talks!"

No better music to the ears of a speaker coach than to hear "I can't wait to speak publicly again" or "I can't wait for next week's workshop!"

The last two tweets are the transition to the Oxford portion of my trip, from women who attended the Fabian Women session and the Oxford conference: Cate Huston, a longtime reader of and contributor to the blog whom I had the chance to get to know in real life on this trip, attended my Oxford workshop. Deloitte speechwriter Caroline Johns also was at the London event prior to speaking at the Oxford speechwriters conference. I'll have my Oxford notebook for you on the blog tomorrow!

On May 15, I'll be convening another session of Be The Eloquent Woman in Washington, DC. It's a subversive new workshop that helps women executives and public officials learn how women speakers are perceived and how to turn those expectations on their heads with confidence, content and credibility. You can grab a sweet discount by registering by April 11. Go here to read how the first workshop went and what participants had to say.

Monday, April 7, 2014

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:
  • Speakers and speechwriters in pictures:  I posted an album on Facebook of photos from my recent trip to London and Oxford, which included a talk to women speakers, a UK session of my workshop for women speakers, and a speechwriting conference. More coming on the blog this week about those adventures.
  • Second to none: My article on Speaking in Your Second Language is in the April edition of Toastmaster, the official magazine of Toastmasters International. Members have the issue now, and non-members may access it here online at the end of the month.
  • Which type of speaking will you try next? My Toastmaster article on that topic is now freely available in the March 2014 issue. If you want to keep growing as a speaker, it's good to take an inventory of the types of speaking you've mastered, and those that remain a challenge.
  • Discounts available now for US workshop: On May 15, I'll be convening another session of Be The Eloquent Woman in Washington, DC. It's a subversive new workshop that helps women executives and public officials learn how women speakers are perceived and how to turn those expectations on their heads with confidence, content and credibility. You can grab a sweet discount by registering by April 11. Go here to read how the first workshop went and what participants had to say.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Dorothy Sayers & "The Lost Tools of Learning"

This week, I'm staying at Trinity College, part of the University of Oxford, for the UK Speechwriters Guild conference, and I've been thinking about Dorothy Sayers, a child of Oxford if ever there were one. She was born there and returned to be educated at the university, finishing her studies in modern languages and medieval literature in 1915. But because women were not awarded degrees at that time, she didn't receive her MA and graduate until 1920.

Later, this scholar and mystery novelist both paid homage and got her revenge by writing Gaudy Night, the penultimate book in her series of mysteries featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. It's set so thoroughly in Oxford that it's practically required reading today for newcomers to the "dreaming spires" of the university.

And it was at Oxford that Sayers gave her speech, "The Lost Tools of Learning," in 1947. To this day, it is used as an effective argument for reviving a "classical education" in grammar, logic and rhetoric, fitting for the conference I'll be attending. All three are evident in this well-reasoned and -argued speech, which asks, "The modern boy and girl are certainly taught more subjects--but does that always mean that they actually know more?" Sayers makes the case this way, speaking of the post-World War II generation:
For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of "subjects"; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education--lip-service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Even before a highly technical audience, be clear: Too often, when the non-academic wanders into a den of researchers and professors, she tries too hard to be erudite and complex--and only succeeds in sounding out of her league. Whether you're a researcher speaking to a mixed audience of non-researchers and colleagues, or a non-researcher speaking to academics, you can't go wrong aiming for clarity. Sayers's clear writing style holds up well with this audience, and makes the speech one that anyone can appreciate. In no way is this "dumbed down," as she knows that big ideas don't need big words, and these are big ideas.
  • Answer the "who does she think she is?" question: "That I, whose experience of teaching is extremely limited, should presume to discuss education is a matter, surely, that calls for no apology," states Sayers right at the start, throwing down the gauntlet. If you suspect your audience is thinking "who does she think she is to be speaking to us?" -- something that happens a lot to women speakers -- tell them. No apologies, no prisoners taken, forge right ahead.
  • Show your passion: You could read one of her mystery novels or her master's thesis, and you'd come away with the certainty that, for Sayers, the life of the mind was of utmost importance. Here, she shares it abundantly. There are enough classical allusions here to convince even the greatest doubter that she herself was a scholar worth hearing. But more than that, Sayers shares her real passion: Making classical education relevant to the young people of that day. To her, it wasn't a dusty throwback pursuit, but a living and relevant one, necessary to the challenges of modern times and an antidote to woolly thinking.
  • Build excitement with your sentences: That last sentence in the paragraph quoted above--beginning with "We dole out lip-service..."--is at first glance very long, particularly when read silently to yourself. But try reading it aloud to hear the building momentum and excitement. Here, punctuation (a lost tool of speaking) is your guide to great vocalization. Pause for those dashes and semicolons as you enumerate this important list, and put some passion into it, as Sayers must have done. It's a masterful climax to her argument.
You can buy an inexpensive ebook version of The Lost Tools of Learning or read the full text here.

Sayers's essays in Are Women Human? Penetrating, Sensible, and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society share more of her feminist thinking, as does the novel Gaudy Night, in which strong objections to women in higher education turn into the harrassment and near-murder on which the mystery hinges. Gaudy Night also includes some wry observations of the male speakers who deign to share their knowledge in talks and lectures at the women's college in which the novel is set. The American book critic Michael Dirda has included this particular novel in a list of books you should read when you're thinking things through, which is what the story's heroine is doing and also how I use it. But it also can give you insights into Sayers's own experiences in higher education at a time when it was rare for women to pursue academic achievements. What do you think of this famous speech?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Be The Eloquent Woman: New workshop May 15 in Washington DC

Today, I'm convening my Be The Eloquent Woman workshop in Oxford, UK, as a pre-conference session at the annual conference of the UK Speechwriters Guild. I'm excited to bring this workshop to women working in UK and European corporations and universities--but want to be sure that U.S. readers take advantage of the next session in the series and its early registration discount.

On May 15, I'm bringing Be The Eloquent Woman back to Washington, DC. It's a subversive new workshop that helps women executives and public officials learn how women speakers are perceived and how to turn those expectations on their heads with confidence, content and credibility. Among the topics we'll cover are:
  • How to determine your speaking style and work with it to become a more authentic speaker;
  • Handling speaking fears and why, for women, it might not just be about anxiety, but about how you are perceived;
  • Preparing a "message wardrobe" so you can have content ready for almost any speaking task;
  • Using a message so you can speak with or without notes, briefly or at length; and
  • How to get more and better opportunities to speak.
"The information has given me a renewed enthusiasm for my next talk. I'm feeling back in the driver's seat." That's what one participant said in the first session of this workshop. Go here to read how the first workshop went and what participants had to say.

You can grab a sweet discount by registering by April 11, just nine days away. Will you join us?