Thursday, April 30, 2015

From the vault: How speakers can find out about the audience, 5 ways

(Editor's note:  I'm curating a series of posts from the past. Here's one from 2009 about a critical piece of research every speaker should undertake.) 

That sea of faces, those nudging/texting/distracted people, the eager fans, the strangers, your office colleagues. Who are they? What do they want from you? What should you know about your audience?

That was reader Emily Culbertson's question, posed on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. I think speakers have five opportunities, at minimum, to find out what they need to know about an audience. Are you making use of all of them?
  1. Ask the organizers. I always take the time to ask the organizers of any conference, session or meeting at which I'm speaking what I should know about the audience, especially in reference to my topic. What prompted them to put on a program with this topic? Why was I invited? What does the group expect from me? What's their level of knowledge about my topic--beginner, moderate, or expert? What are their concerns? Is this an important issue for the group? Why? If it is relevant to your topic, it may help to ask about the demographic makeup of the audience, such as age ranges and gender. And then ask the last, best question: What else should I know about this talk and this audience? to get at the answers you can't anticipate.
  2. Ask yourself. These questions will help shape your talk and your approach to the audience: Do I have something in common with them? Have I been or am I a member of this group? Use the answers to build in some details to your speech that are unique to the group, if you are a member, or that build a connection with your audience by sharing your commonalities.
  3. Ask the audience beforehand. If you know members of the group to which you're speaking, by all means, reach out to them. Anyone who lets me know they're coming to hear me speak usually gets a response email saying, "And what would you like me to cover?" or "What issues do you see on this topic?" But even if you don't know the audience, you can post a question on your blog, Facebook or LinkedIn profile or on Twitter to get a sense of what the audience might want. Some organizers use electronic registration programs to elicit audience questions, so ask your program's organizers if they do that--and get the questions in advance.
  4. Ask the audience in person. I often start with a quick poll of the audience--a few questions to which they can respond with just a show of hands--to gauge things like level of expertise (such as "Who's using Twitter for business purposes?" for a social media talk) or to establish a bond between the audience and myself ("Who else is here because their boss thought it would be a good idea?" or "How many mothers are in this audience?) Want to know more? Start with some Q&A before you begin your formal presentation. This is a powerful tactic that works well when the audience is likely to have a wide range of expertise or questions about your topic, and helps give you a preview of what's to come, so you can adjust your remarks. If you try this, don't answer all the initial questions--after all, your talk should do that--but let it be known that you want them all on the floor. Then open it back up to questions when you're done.
  5. Ask the audience afterward. If your organizers use a feedback form, by all means, read the comments to learn what else you can do next time. And don't forget the value of lingering to answer questions one-on-one. Many audience members prefer to speak privately, or to wait to contact you for a few weeks, so be open to these opportunities to ask them what they liked or wanted to see more of.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by rosarodoe with words added)

The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels is now available to help you figure out your role as a moderator, what to ask when you're asked to moderate, and lots of practical tips for managing the discussion, from creative lines of questioning to a tactic you'll use over and over again to keep the panel on time and productive. Please share it with organizers and speakers!

Monday, April 27, 2015

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:
Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you. Reader Cate Huston gave it a great review here.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Stella Young's "I'm not your inspiration"

Stella Young was an Australian comedian, journalist, and disability advocate who spent most of her life in a wheelchair due to a brittle bone disease. In all three of her professional roles, she was a funny and frequent speaker. And in her TEDxSydney talk, "I'm not your inspiration, thank you very much," Young--who died just a few months later, in December 2014--used a public speaking story to describe her experiences as being "inspiration porn" for non-disabled audiences:
Years later, I was on my second teaching round in a Melbourne high school, and I was about 20 minutes into a year 11 legal studies class when this boy put up his hand and said, "Hey miss, when are you going to start doing your speech?" And I said, "What speech?" You know, I'd been talking them about defamation law for a good 20 minutes. And he said, "You know, like, your motivational speaking. You know, when people in wheelchairs come to school, they usually say, like, inspirational stuff?" (Laughter) "It's usually in the big hall."
And that's when it dawned on me: This kid had only ever experienced disabled people as objects of inspiration. We are not, to this kid -- and it's not his fault, I mean, that's true for many of us. For lots of us, disabled people are not our teachers or our doctors or our manicurists. We're not real people. We are there to inspire. And in fact, I am sitting on this stage looking like I do in this wheelchair, and you are probably kind of expecting me to inspire you. Right? (Laughter) Yeah.
Her talk was good enough to be featured on TED.com, where it's had 1.6 million views and counting. What can you learn from her famous speech?
  • Don't be afraid to call it as you see it: Own your viewpoint--it's what will make your talk your very own. We've all heard plenty of presentations with all the juice, pain, and awkward moments sanded down to smoothness. Let your words reflect the world you see around you.
  • Turn a popular form on its head: The inspirational talk by a cancer patient or disabled person has been done over and over again. As Young notes, it has tended to dehumanize these speakers, turning them into "not real people." So why not turn the tables and poke fun at the form? It's a clever device for a speech, and one that really differentiates you in a crowded field.
  • Use humor deftly: No question disability and how we view it in others are serious issues. But that doesn't mean you can't include some humor...or even a lot of humor. Young, who was, after all, a comedian, doesn't disappoint. Letting the audience laugh from time to time also provides a needed catharsis when you're tackling difficult topics. Just be sure you place it carefully and practice.
Watch the video of this funny, wise TED talk here or below.




Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Conference notes from #uksgcam2015: Diving into speechwriting

Last week, I had a deep dive into talking, speaking, and language...and it was all about writing speeches. But that dive took many different directions at the Spring Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference in Cambridge, UK, creatively organized by Brian Jenner and deftly chaired by Alan Barker. It's one of my favorite meetings, and, like any good diver, I always come away refreshed, having seen and heard new things. Here are some of the insights I gleaned:
  • Stories aren't really digressions. They're halos: I think Hanneke Kulik gave my favorite talk at this meeting, a lyrical and playful look at whether stories are digressions from the point of a presentation or speech. She used an indelible metaphor to explain that stories are "the halo around the star" in any speech. And she bravely used the Katrina and the Waves song "Walking on Sunshine" to form a playful opening, demonstrating vulnerability and lyricism before taking us to more serious ground in a talk that deftly led its listeners into new ideas. President Bill Clinton just demonstrated the art of a seemingly digressive story in his speech at the 20-year anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, which occurred during his presidency: “I prepared for this day yesterday, in New York, by taking Hillary to see our daughter and son-in-law and my about-to-be 7-month-old grandchild. And Hillary and I bathed her and fed her and put her to bed, and I looked at her in that crib so I could remember how you felt, those of you who lost your loved ones.”
  • I can draw a cartoon. So can you: Steve Bee, aka Pensions Guru, was a speaker who attended the entire conference, and by the time he rose to speak about visual communication, I knew enough to be braced for sly humor and deadpan delivery. But I wasn't expecting to draw. Bee,
    who cartoons about pensions (you try it), maintains that we all can cartoon if we can write several simple letters and shapes. But Bee did more than prompt a lot of drawing. Along the way, he had us doing math, seeing visual patterns, and gave us sly lessons in analogy, suggesting, for example, that we use time units rather than monetary units to describe the numbers he calls "illions." All new ways of seeing, and describing, which are tasks speechwriters do daily.
  • Smart speakers attend speechwriting conferences: In amongst the speechwriters who dominated the attendee roster were people who only write speeches for themselves--aka, speakers. They not only got a good look at the challenges speechwriters face, they learned more about themselves as speakers as they listened to the writers talk, and tried on new ideas. I love this approach to learning, in which you dive into a community to one side of your usual path. It's brave, and illuminating, to learn this way.
  • When planning your TED talk, talk to someone else about it: My favorite exercise from my workshop on what goes into a TED-quality talk had the attendees pair up to share their ideas for TED talks, so they could hear someone else's take on what the real story might be. It's a way to get past the obvious, since many speakers miss their best story by reaching for the obvious. Spotting the story is a skill that takes time, but our workshop yielded fresh takes on fledgling talk ideas and got the speakers thinking. Attendees at this workshop came from Germany, Denmark, Belgium, England, and Malaysia. I was honored to have such a thoughtful and international group to work with.
  • It doesn't have to be "he said, she said:" The Reverend Doctor Kate Bruce demonstrated how to refer to someone--in this case, a scientist--without referring to gender, something noted by an audience member and prompting her to comment that she makes a point of not gendering her speech as much as possible, so as to welcome more people into the ideas she's putting forth. Now there's an idea, and a smart way to reach your whole audience. I'll be following up with Bruce, who directs Durham University's Centre for Communication and Preaching, to learn more for a future post.
  • Scotch and sweeties get them to the breakout: Rodger Evans showed his Scot heritage when he pitched his breakout session--on promoting a positive culture for speechwriting--with the promise of, well, Scotch and sweeties. Then he made us wait for them while we discussed the topic, the best kind of bait and switch. Let's just say we earned it in a discussion that went deep and got serious before the refreshments.
There's much I love about this conference, but this time, I was especially struck by the number of women speechwriters who approached me as friends, even if we hadn't yet met, thanks to this blog and their readership. Both male and female speechwriters keep bringing me ideas, leads, and tips to help the blog move forward, and I'm especially grateful for their suggestions for non-U.S. speakers and speeches for our Famous Speech Friday series.

Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Monday, April 20, 2015

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:
Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Friday, April 17, 2015

For #EarthDay, 7 famous environmental speeches by women

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 seven 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.
  6. Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner opened the 2014 UN Climate Summit after winning a competition to be the citizen voice at the session. She combined a short appeal to the audience with a dramatic poem based on her experiences in the Marshall Islands, creating vivid imagery to get the deliberations off to an emotional start.
  7. Katharine Hayhoe's "elevator speech" on climate change is less than 90 seconds. But in that time, the climate scientist and evangelical Christian shares how you should do it, then shows you how it's done.
Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

From the vault: Got lots to say? Save it for the Q&A

(Editor's note: This 2010 post is a process I use for my own presentations: Start by planning the Q&A first, then work on your formal content. It's a great way to look smart when question time rolls around.)

I facilitated a workshop for scientists on communicating their research to public audiences, and asked a colleague to sit in to observe me and provide feedback (something you should do from time to time to ensure your ongoing development as a speaker).  One aspect he liked was an open-ended section, late in the day, when we were reviewing as a group short videos of some of the participants attempting to deliver messages they'd created early in the day.  The videos offered a jumping-off point for me -- and all the participants -- to share what we noticed in each video.  And those observations allowed me, as facilitator, to share more concrete tips and advice.

So a video showing someone um-ing their way through a message let me talk about ums, why they're natural and how to replace them with time-buying phrases.  A question about "Was I gesturing too much?" let me talk about planning gestures, just as you plan what you want to say.  Another question, "What should I do with my hands?" led to a demonstration of how to avoid immobilizing your hands, something that leads to more ums and speaking stumbles.

My observer said he loved how I was able to weave so many facts into the Q&A. It made me look knowledgeable, but also reached audience members right at the moment where they were learning something new and needed to know more about the next step to take. 

For many presenters, the goal is to show what they know, and they choose to do that in their "main" speech or presentation. But I make a point of holding dozens and dozens of facts in reserve, ready to emerge during the question-and-answer session. Even though this workshop lasts a day, I know going into it that there's no way for me to share an exhaustive knowledge base with my participants. We'll go "a mile wide and an inch deep," I tell them, and give them a good start. I could try to cram the facts into other parts of the day, but leaving them the chance to come out during the Q&A puts the participants in the driver's seat.  As the speaker, you can still look smart--and your audience can get in those questions at the time of their choosing, when your facts are most likely to hit home.

The bonus: This is a smart tactic for organizing a talk or presentation when you feel as if you have too many facts for the time allotted. Make sure you leave half your time for questions, and decide what to hold in reserve. I start with the information I'm sure that people will ask about, which ensures engagement and participation. Try this for your next presentation.

Related posts:  How to listen to audience questions

Graceful ways with Q&A

(Creative Commons licensed photo by rosarodoe with words added)

Monday, April 13, 2015

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:
Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Katharine Hayhoe's climate change elevator pitch

Katharine Hayhoe is exceptional in more ways than one. She's an evangelical Christian, and a climate scientist. And while the one thing science and religion may have in common is the propensity for lengthy public speaking, Hayhoe has just given an "elevator speech" about her complex topic, climate change, that anyone can understand--in just 1 minute, 21 seconds.

You've heard about the "elevator speech" before, haven't you? The idea is that you only have a short time--a journey of two or three floors in a moving elevator--to make your point. I've never actually heard a real speech in an elevator, but the idea is to force the speaker to be brief, simple, clear, and memorable. And since the idea came out of the business world, on the premise that you might be in an elevator with a rich venture capitalist, add persuasive to that list. That's a tall order for anyone, but when you add in a highly politicized topic that's complex in nature, is disaster ahead?

Not for Hayhoe, a professor at Texas Tech University who travels widely speaking to all sorts of audiences, including faith-based communities, about her science. This elevator speech took place in an interview setting. Here's the entire exchange, and in less than a minute and half, she explains her approach, then demonstrates it:
Interviewer: What would be your elevator pitch to explain climate change? You step in an elevator and someone asks, "Are you a climate scientist? What's going on with climate change?" 
Hayhoe: I wouldn't start with the science. So, often we're told to say, with the science, it's real, it's us, it's bad, but there are solutions. So, that's the science message, but I don't think we can start right away with the science. I think we have to start with the values. So I would start by saying, I care about x, whatever I have in common with the person I'm talking to. Even if, you know, say it's somebody from west Texas. 
I care about Texas, and I care about our future. We don't have a future without water. Climate change will make that water more scarce. We know climate is changing here and around the world, we know humans are responsible, we know it's going to affect our water resources, but here are all the great things we're already doing and that we can do even more of in Texas to benefit ourselves and to give ourselves a more secure future.
Hayhoe is a great example of what's meant by public engagement in science: She respects your right to your views, will listen to them, and can share her knowledge with those she knows disagree. In an article about the attacks she has faced for speaking out on climate change, she says she gave a talk to a group of petroleum engineers in Texas. "I got an email in the past week from one of them who said ‘I still disagree, but I just wanted to tell you that you don’t deserve anything that they are saying about you because you were courteous, respectful towards me and I felt we had a good interaction’,'and I thought — that was the best email." That's grace under pressure, eloquent women! I share that because I keep encountering questions from young women speakers fearful of expressing strong opinions, lest the audience disagree. Here's a good role model for you.

What can you learn from this very short speech?
  • Focus on your audience first: As Hayhoe notes, finding common ground between you and your listener(s) is a critical part of being persuasive. Many scientists, trained to show all their work or to be informational, miss that they need to think about the audience as well as about what the speaker wants to say. Hayhoe instead leads her pitch with shared values, to good effect.
  • Yes, you can talk about complex topics clearly and briefly: There's not a word in this elevator speech that is difficult to understand due to its complexity--and yet Hayhoe strikes universal themes, draws a mental picture of what matters in the debate, and achieves a conversational starting point that doesn't shut the listener down. Not bad for a one-minute, 21-second pitch. 
  • Flip non-working approaches: "I wouldn't start with the science" are her first words to the interviewer here, then sums up the typical approach climate scientists have been taking. Trying a new approach may be just the thing you need to turn a non-starter of a speech into a hit.
I've worked with many scientists and engineers, training thousands of them to communicate with public audiences, and I'll be sharing this elevator speech as another good example. Check out the very short video below:

(Texas Tech University photo)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Tuning yourself mindfully: What meditation can do for public speakers

Jon Kabat-Zinn has a suggestion for meetings: Open the meeting with a few minutes of...nothing. No sound, no talking, no action, just mindfulness. The idea is to use those moments to bring the meeting participants into focus, if they were not focused before arriving, and to create a break with what came before and what will come after.

Kabat-Zinn, author of many books and recordings about mindfulness meditation, including Wherever You Go, There You Are, is an emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts medical school. He shared the idea of a silent start to meetings in a 2007 lecture at Google.

Using a musical metaphor, he notes that, before a symphony plays for the audience, its members first tune their instruments, on their own and then against one another. So it should be before meetings, says Kabat-Zinn. In his recording of Guided Mindfulness Meditation Series 3, he quotes Buddha as saying that mindfulness is like tuning a stringed instrument: "Too loose, and there's no true sound. Too tight, and the string can break."

You can follow this link to start the lecture at the 46-minute mark, where Kabat-Zinn begins talking about meetings, or watch the full video of Kabat-Zinn's lecture at Google here, and below--it's an hour and 12 minutes, and includes a meditation. You also can listen to a longer program and interview about mindfulness with him on On Being.

Mindfulness meditation can do much more for speakers than just open a meeting. I recommend developing a meditation practice if you're a speaker who is:
  • Nervous before speaking or flooded with anxiety after speaking: Meditation, or present-moment awareness, works on keeping you focused on what's happening right now, rather than catastrophizing about what's about to happen or what happened in the past. Kabat-Zinn's research suggests that if you meditate every day for 8 weeks, you'll have a real practice established--and with that tool in your toolkit, you should be better able to keep yourself focused on your now rather than the past or the future. The deep relaxation you can get in even three minutes of meditation is a real boon to the speaker about to go on stage.
  • Anxious about answering questions: The Google lecture and the On Being interview are wonderful long-form demonstrations of how someone who meditates can excel at a non-anxious stance when receiving audience questions. Kabat-Zinn gives each questioner full attention. You can see he is not thinking ahead to what he's going to say, and that makes for a much better exchange. He reinforces with enthusiasm and when he needs to disagree, it's not a stressful moment for him or the audience. That kind of balance and focus is something every speaker should develop for the Q&A portion of talks.
  • Needing to find a quiet moment in a noisy, busy backstage environment: In his Guided Mindfulness Meditation 3 recording linked above, Kabat-Zinn includes a meditation that has you focus on the sounds that come to your ears. This is one of my favorites for noisy environments (and anyone who's been in a green room can tell you they are not quiet places). Introverts who need an escape but can't leave the room will find this useful, too.
  • Likely to view speaking as an out-of-body experience: Many speakers describe their speaking experience this way, and it's a bad sign. You need to be focused and aware when you speak, as so many variables are in play. Meditation will help you learn how to hold it all in awarenesss, without stress--or blocking things out.
If you want to start a meditation practice, get Kabat-Zinn's classic book, Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. It also includes one of the best explanations of fight-or-flight syndrome, that panicky feeling you get when you walk out on stage or face some other threat, real or imagined. The book walks you through what meditation is, how to do it effectively, and the research that shows why it works. 

Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn

Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Monday, April 6, 2015

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:
Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Monica Lewinsky at TED 2015

"You're looking at a woman who was publicly silent for a decade. Obviously, that's changed, but only recently."

Monica Lewinsky opened her 2015 TED talk by talking about silencing herself as a speaker. It was an electric example of those speaking gigs when who you are matters as much as what you say. The former White House intern whose affair with President Bill Clinton exploded in a scandal in 1998 was at one point so notorious that there was almost no escaping her.

The attention on this speech was high,because many view it as an attempt to whitewash her involvement in the affair or as an attempt to derail a Hillary Clinton candidacy. And in truth, this is just a new version of Lewinsky "breaking her silence" since the 1998 scandal broke: In 1999, she did a three-hour interview with Barbara Walters. In 2002, she appeared in an HBO documentary with a 90-minute interview. In 2004, she spoke out on Bill Clinton's memoir.  In 2009, she commented again in the book The Death of American Virtue. And in 2014, she wrote an article for Vanity Fair that led to the TED talk. Not exactly silent.

At the same time, this talk's focus on the shame to which she was subjected moved even observers whose first reaction was to say she deserved what she got. It also moved many to comment with hate and vitriol once the speech was posted online. Is there a better indicator for our ambivalence about women and the commonplace slut-shaming that they are subjected to? Full disclosure: I was a senior official in the first term of the Clinton Administration, and served on the White House Council on Women. I know the havoc this affair wreaked in the government. I also know how we use shame to silence women, and Lewinsky is certainly an example of that.

Lewinsky's initial focus was about the scandal's impact on her, with her picture was splashed on newspapers and magazine covers and television programs, tape recordings of her phone calls played in the national and world media, and her name used in the lyrics of many rap songs. Her words and image, as she put it, were made "Public without consent, public without context, and public without compassion." She withdrew from the public eye, silencing herself in part to get some peace. This talk's intrigue lay in showing us what her life was like, during that maelstrom and subsequently--not the stuff of tabloids, but behind the scenes.

Today, Lewinsky has found her voice in representing people publicly humiliated and shamed online. She uses the case of Tyler Clementi, a college student who committed suicide after he was surreptitiously recorded kissing another man. The video was put online and the harrassment took its toll.

For my money, the most powerful part of this speech--and there are many powerful moments--lies in the turning point, in which Lewinsky realizes why Tyler's story resonated all too well in her own family:
My mom was beside herself about what happened to Tyler and his family, and she was gutted with pain in a way I just couldn't quite understand. And then, eventually, I realized she was reliving 1998. Reliving a time when she sat by my bed every night. Reliving a time when she made me shower with the bathroom door open. And reliving a time when both of my parents feared I would be humiliated to death. Literally. 
Today, too many parents haven't had the chance to step in and rescue their loved ones. Too many have learned of their child's suffering and humiliation after it was too late. Tyler's tragic, senseless death was a turning point for me. It served to recontextualize my experiences, and I then began to look at the world of bullying and humiliation around me, and see something different.
"Recontextualize" is regrettable--just say "put my experiences in context"--but otherwise, this is a moving, one-of-a-kind pair of paragraphs.

The speech was released as the conference was happening, gained a quarter-million views in less than 24 hours, and 1.5 million a week later. Those numbers will continue to climb. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • There's power in vulnerability: Making yourself vulnerable in public isn't easy, but it's far from a display of weakness. This speech took great courage and humility to do. As a result, the connection with the audience is high. Few people are willing to talk about their failings, the transformation and redemption that resulted, and the lessons learned...but when it's done well, there's incredible power in the experience. 
  • Use someone else's lens to make sense of your story: Sharing her insights about her mother's reaction to Clementi's suicide added a different dimension to Lewinsky's talk, giving us a subtle reminder that harrassment doesn't only affect its target. Using others' relevant reactions in your own personal story lends perspective to your own views and adds credibility. And while you might say her revelations about her own suicidal thoughts were outsourced to her mother in this paragraph, the tactic gave her a way to talk about that without being accused of histrionics.
  • Waiting to speak can have advantages. As she notes early in the talk, today, many of her audiences today were too young in 1998 to remember the scandal firsthand. Lewinsky's "cooling-off" period also allows her to face audiences old enough to remember, but whose anger has tempered over time. Using her own story to explain just how far we've come in a couple of decades, she's also able to put cyberbullying in perspective, making it less distant and more real. This talk wouldn't have been possible back then. Today, it's loaded with the insight that only time can add.
If you want to contemplate what goes into a TED talk, this one has many of the classic components. A personal story of failure and redemption, with a vivid turning point moment and a path to an issue bigger than the individual speaking. (The effort to redeem herself, using cyberbullying as a cause, is what makes this different from earlier efforts to break her silence.) Vulnerability and courage. Data, used wisely and sparingly. Revelation and observation. A little humor, for catharsis and sly insight. There's a clear dramatic arc here, moving from the conflict of the scandal, to the ideals she describes in terms of how we share private things publicly, to her call to action for what individuals can do on a day-to-day basis.

Do I wish she hadn't run long (at 22 minutes, versus TED's usual 18-minute top limit)? No kidding--the lack of a good edit made this talk feel overly long. Do I wish she'd ditched the paper text and music stand, neither of which she really needed--unless to offer some place to hide from the audience? You bet. That would have been an even more compelling talk, and that's saying something.

You can read more about Lewinsky's prep for this talk here, which in part explains the music stand,  and watch the video below. A transcript isn't yet available.



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Thursday, April 2, 2015

When should speakers choose Q&A format versus a speech?

It's commonplace now for speakers to be presented in an interview format--no formal remarks, just questions and answers with a moderator or interviewer. But is it an advantage? How do you weigh whether to agree to Q&A versus a formal speech?

Let me be the first to point out that the format for your speaking may not be your choice. Organizers may need to use one setup for many speakers, or may prefer a less or more formal atmosphere, and they're calling the shots. But savvy speakers can add format to their negotiations with organizers. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Why are they offering an interview format? This is a great question for you to ask the organizers. You may learn that it's the only format available, that they want a more spontaneous presentation, or some other factor with which you can negotiate. But ask first.
  • How much preparation do you want to do? Preparing a formal speech or talk is a lot of work. That's why you so often see celebrities doing Q&A format on stage--the organizers can then make the invitation easier to accept, because the famous person need not prepare as much. I'd recommend preparation for an interview format as well as a formal speech, but it's a different level of prep.
  • Do you want to look in control or able to take the heat? To be honest, most interviews of this type throw softball questions--easy ones that let you shine. But if you get a fair questioner with at least some tough questions, it's an opportunity for you to demonstrate that you're able to take the heat. A formal speech, no interviewer involved, lets you have a bit more control of the presentation.
  • How much audience interaction do you want? Oddly enough, it's the formal speech that gives you more options for audience interaction. You can speak to the audience, ask questions of them, open yourself up to their questions. In an interview, the interviewer is, in fact, a barrier between you and the audience, most of the time.
  • How will sitting affect your performance? Most people lose energy when they sit, and you have more options for movement if you stand, even if you're working with a lectern. Read my 6 reasons to stand when you speak for more points to ponder. You may be able to negotiate standing during an on-stage interview if sitting would drain your energy or otherwise affect your performance.
  • Will this format show you to best advantage? If you're no good on your feet or in interviews, or the reverse, no good at formal talks, you need to consider how you'll be seen in this format. On the other hand, with practice, you might be able to expand your range by trying a new format.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by TEDxYouth@SanDiego)

Come to my pre-conference workshop at the Spring Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference in Cambridge, UK, this April. What goes into a TED-quality talk will help speakers, speechwriters and conference organizers understand how to craft and deliver a talk in the style of TED, whether you're getting ready for a TEDx conference or just a presentation in this popular style. Go to this link  for more details on what's included, as well as a significant discount for readers of The Eloquent Woman. The workshop is on 15 April, and the conference is 16-17 April. Please join me!