Monday, February 29, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking:

Friday, February 26, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Sarah Winnemucca's San Francisco lectures

The last time the Malheur region of Oregon made the national news, it was the 19th century, and it was yet another story of armed occupation and mistrust. The Paiute people living on the Malheur Reservation were caught in the middle of a 1878 war between the Bannock people and the U.S. military, during which a young Paiute woman called Sarah Winnemucca worked as a translator and diplomat.

The military commended Winnemucca for her skills and bravery during the Bannock War, and had promised her that the Paiute could soon return to Malheur Reservation. That promise was broken almost immediately. The Paiute and the defeated Bannock set off on a harrowing winter march to Yakima Reservation in Washington Territory, where Indian agents regularly abused and starved the new occupants.

Winnemucca did what she had done many times before, writing indignant letters to the newspapers, to U.S. Army generals, to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. But after Yakima, she decided to return to San Francisco, a place where she and her father and sisters had performed as "Indian princesses" on the stage.

Her new "performances" at Platte Hall in the fall of 1879 brought down the house. Without notes and with a theatrical, humorous and passionate flair, Winnemucca began the series of lectures on the horrifying conditions of Indian reservations and the depravity of reservation agents that made her one of the best known Native American women of the 19th century.

"Sarah's lecture was unlike anything ever before heard in the civilized world," the San Francisco Chronicle raved in its coverage. "Eloquent, pathetic, tragic at times; at others her quaint anecdotes, sarcasms and wonderful mimicry surprised the audience again and again into bursts of laughter and rounds of applause."

Winnemucca's career as an activist and orator soared from that point, and she went on to testify before Congress, speak before the Secretary of the Interior and President Rutherford B. Hayes. Boston sisters and social activists Elizabeth Peabody and Mary Peabody Mann (widow of educator Horace Mann) brought Winnemucca to the East Coast to lecture and to encourage her to write her autobiography. In the early 1880s, Winnemucca delivered over 300 speeches in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

The full texts of her lectures were not reprinted, although some the material in her autobiography came directly from the speeches. But newspapers like the Chronicle often would quote extensively from the speeches, giving us a taste of how these lectures must have sounded to the people who, as Winnemucca noted, "don't know what the Indians have got to stand sometimes."

This section quoted in 1879 by the Chronicle made it into some of the other renditions of her lectures and was included in her autobiography, Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims:
"Oh, for shame! You who are educated by a Christian government in the art of war…Yes, you, who call yourselves the great civilization; you who have knelt upon Plymouth Rock, covenanting with God to make this land the home of the free and the brave. Ah, then you rise from your bended knees and seizing the welcoming hands of those who are the owners of this land, which you are not, your carbines rise upon the bleak shore, and your so-called civilization sweeps inland from the ocean wave; but, oh, my God! Leaving its pathway marked by crimson lines of blood and strewed by the one of two races, the inheritor and the invader; and I am crying out to you for justice-yes, pleading for the far-off plains of the West, for the dusky mourner."
This section, also quoted in the Chronicle, gives an idea of how the lectures were received:
"You take all the nations of the earth to your bosom but the poor Indian…who has lived for generations on the land which the good God has given to them, and you say he must be exterminated [Thrice repeated, and deep passion, and received with tremendous applause.] The proverb says the big fish eat the little fishes, and we Indians are the little fish and you eat us all up and drive us from home [cheers]. Where can we poor Indians go if the government will not help us? If your people will help us, and you have good hearts, and can if you will, I will promise to educate my people and make them law-abiding citizens of the United States [loud applause]. It can be done-it can be done [cheers]. My father, Winnemucca, pleads with you that the guilty shall be punished, but that the innocent shall be permitted to live on their own lands in Nevada…We want you to try us for four years, and if at the end of that time we don't learn, or don't work, or don't become good citizens, then you can do what you please [cheers]."
What can you learn from Sarah Winnemucca's famous San Francisco speeches?:
  • Don't shy away from vivid words: There's a theatricality and a cadence to that first quoted section that probably wouldn't work as well in the 21st century as it did in the 19th century, when speakers connected with their audiences in a more intimate, physical ways . But I think alliterating words like "inheritor" and "invader," the idea of white settlers pushed ashore by the ocean wave, and the crimson pathway sound just as powerful today.
  • Try speaking without your notes: Several newspaper accounts marveled at Winnemucca's eloquence without notes. Not every speech should be extemporaneous, but there can be some good reasons for setting aside a written speech--including connecting with your audience and letting your passion come throughout in a personal story. TED speakers who memorize their talks report that they feel a greater energy in leaving their notes behind.
  • Know the history of silencing women speakers: "I will expose all the rascals. I will save nobody," said Winnemucca in San Francisco. "I will name the paths, the officer, the Agent, and not say I'm afraid to mention his name." Those agents fought back in a time-tested way, by smearing Winnemucca's character as a woman. Yakima agent William V. Rinehart, among others scalded in her lectures, pointed to Winnemucca's divorces as proof that she was "drunk and adulterous" and too scandalous a figure to be speaking to proper white audiences.
(Freelance writer and regular contributor Becky Ham reported and wrote this FSF post.)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Turning the tables on harrassment, with speaking

When you get trolled or harassed online, do you tend to shake your head, hit "delete" and hope to forget that it ever happened? That's been my strategy up to this point. So when I read about Mia Matsumiya's project to catalog and publish all the horrifying, harassing messages she's received for over a decade, my first thought was "why would she bother?"

Matsumiya, a violinist, has posted all these comments to her blogs and social media accounts at her perv_magnet Instagram account and it's a fascinating if stomach-turning read. At first, she said in a recent interview, she collected the comments out curiosity about their emotional content. Finally, it was the sheer number of them--along with a few death threats and the arrest of one of her online harassers--that made her angry and determined to share the whole lot.

By speaking out about her harassment, Matsumiya said she hopes to help men especially "learn what women can experience online." Women won't be surprised by what they read on the Perv Magnet, she said, because "personally I don't know any woman who hasn't been the recipient of creep behavior. It's unacceptable and depressingly rampant."

If not awareness, then, what will women get out of the Perv Magnet? Matsumiya has opened up the account to similar submissions from other women, hoping to create "a place where women can commiserate" and "feel a little more sane and less helpless about their own experience."

I think the decade-long chronicle that Matsumiya has put together also offers another idea for women to consider: ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away. Even after hitting delete, after ignoring these messages for years, they kept coming.

Feminist blogger Clementine Ford endured the trolls for a while--until she wrote a Facebook post about one of her trollers that pointed out his behavior to his employer, who fired him. Her actions didn't make the online abuse stop; in fact, it brought about a whole new wave of filth directed at her, including death and rape threats. But she wrote in Australia's Daily Life that it was important for her to bring consequences to the men who harass: "I'm sick and tired of women being held responsible for the actions men choose to take."

After London barrister Charlotte Proudman called out a colleague over an inappropriate LinkedIn comment, she found herself branded as a "feminazi." She saw the smear as an attempt to silence her and other women who would speak out against sexist behavior.

"Many women fear the social consequences of speaking out against sexism, and may even wonder what the impact of this might be," Proudman said in an interview with The Eloquent Woman. "In my view, speaking out against it is imperative to changing behavior that demeans women, behavior that has become normalized and acceptable. If enough women take a stand, then these attitudes and behaviors will change."

Writer Lindy West found this to be true in a very unexpected way. In this article from The Guardian, she describes how confronting one particularly cruel troll made him apologize--and explore his reasons for harassing her. West was shocked at the apology, she writes. "I returned to my regular routine of daily hate mail, scrolling through the same options over and over--Ignore? Block? Report? Engage?--but every time I faced that choice, I thought briefly of my remorseful troll."

If these examples don't convince you that online harassment shouldn't keep women quiet, we've got plenty of other stories here. We've got Caroline Criado-Perez facing down her cyber bullies, we have Anita Sarkeesian explaining why her harassment has become a teachable moment for the tech community, we have Monica Lewinsky about the harrassing power of online shaming, and we have Cate Huston explaining why harassment hasn't kept her off the public speaking stage.

To help you counter online harrassment and speak up about it, Sarkeesian, along with Jaclyn Friedman and Renee Bracey Sherman, created Speak Up & Stay Safe(r): A Guide to Protecting Yourself From Online Harassment. The guide is currently available in English, Spanish, and Arabic, and I encourage you to share this safety resource with all your networks. We're excited that among the resources she shares are videos of some of these important talks that turn the tables on harrassment.

It would be great to never feature another story like this again on The Eloquent Woman, but until the harassment stops, we won't be silent either.

(This post was contributed by freelance writer Becky Ham)

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking. I was unplugged last week, so this week catches you up with posts from just before the hiatus:

Monday, February 15, 2016

Unplugged for the week


This and all my blogs are on hiatus this week while I unplug. Normal service will resume next week!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Craig Sunter)

Friday, February 12, 2016

For #BlackHistoryMonth, 38 famous speeches by black women

Black women speakers from all over the world are often featured in The Eloquent Woman Index of famous speeches by women. Whether African, American or from elsewhere in the world, they make up close to 20 percent of the speeches we've collected and featured so far. Check out the 38 famous speeches from the Index given by black women speakers, arranged in chronological order from 1851 to the present.
  1. Sojourner Truth's 1851 speech "Ain't I a Woman?" is oft-quoted, but has a disputed source, illustrating why it's often tough to find famous women's speeches. In this case, that happened because Truth could neither read nor write. That doesn't detract at all from her message about equality for all women of all races. Read Soujourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman" Speech: A Primary Source Investigation for more about the many versions of this speech, only one of which contains the most-quoted phrase.
  2. Ida B. Wells's 1909 "This Awful Slaughter" busted the myth that women's safety was the reason lynchings were carried out, and used a mix of data and defiance to fight against the practice of mob killings of black men. Read the book To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells to learn more about her campaign.
  3. Josephine Baker at the March on Washington shares the brief remarks of the lone woman to share the program with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and scores of other male speakers. Those who thought of her as a notorious showgirl learned more about her self-enforced exile to France as a way of seeking racial equality.
  4. Fannie Lou Hamer's 1964 convention committee testimony failed to gain her a seat at that convention, but succeeded in raising the visibility of violence against blacks attempting to register to vote. Four years later, she became an historic convention delegate. You can read more about her public speaking in The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer: To Tell It Like It Is.
  5. Coretta Scott King's 1968 "10 Commandments on Vietnam" -- a speech she gave in her husband's place, just weeks after his assassination -- took scribbled notes found in his pockets and made them into a powerful call to action. Desert Rose: The Life and Legacy of Coretta Scott King is a recent biography. This post was our very first Famous Speech Friday entry!
  6. Shirley Chisholm introducing the Equal Rights Amendment wasn't a first. This member of Congress was re-introducing the legislation, 40 years after it was first proposed--and did so in her usual fiery and forthright style.
  7. Barbara Jordan's 1976 Democratic convention keynote broke barriers for women and for blacks in one speech, suggesting that "the American Dream need not be deferred." It's loaded with elegant rhetoric and is a wonderful listen, thanks to Jordan's vocalizing skills. A Private Woman in Public Spaces: Barbara Jordan's Speeches on Ethics, Public Religion, and Law takes a focused look at the speeches of one of America's most eloquent women.
  8. Anita Hill's 1981 Senate testimony about Clarence Thomas disrupted the Senate confirmation hearings of the then-nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, leveling sexual harrassment allegations against him that ultimately did not prevent his appointment to the court. "It would have been more comfortable to remain silent," she said in this televised testimony that stunned viewers and brought harrassment into the open as an issue. In Speaking Truth to Power, she tells her story.
  9. Maya Angelou's 1995 poem, "Phenomenal Woman," often delivered by her and others as a speech, summed up for me and many others what made this frequent speaker so special. Listen closely to her charming delivery.
  10. Angelou's 2006 eulogy for Coretta Scott King might be any eulogy from one close friend for another, as Angelou tells stories about the civil rights icon that only a girlfriend would know. This is a lovely, simple and moving tribute.
  11. Edwidge Danticat's 2007 testimony on death in detention gave the novelist a gripping real-life story to tell, about her uncle's treatment at the hands of U.S. immigration and customs officials when he was held in detention. It's moving, direct and powerful, just like her fictional writings. You can read more about this dramatic story in her book Brother, I'm Dying.
  12. Rep. Gwen Moore's 2011 floor speech on abortion rights and family planning came during a debate about federal funding for family planning. She chose to use her status as a member of Congress to share a personal perspective as a former teenage mother.
  13. Michelle Obama's 2011 speech to young African women leaders took place in a powerful setting, and used that visual reminder to call these young women to action. Michelle Obama: Speeches on Life, Love, and American Values collects speeches of our current First Lady, preserving the legacy of a frequent speaker.
  14. Viola Davis's 2011 awards acceptance speech, "What keeps me in the business is hope," went far beyond the usual platitudes and confronted what it's like to be a black actress in the movie industry. An eloquent extemporaneous speech.
  15. Chimamanda Adichie's "we should all be feminists," a 2012 TEDxEuston talk, has inspired pop icons and women and men around the world with its frank, funny, and fierce viewpoint.
  16. Michelle Obama's 2012 Democratic National Convention speech follows a formula for memorable speeches recommended by President John F. Kennedy's speechwriter, Ted Sorensen. And it worked with today's audiences, garnering more than 28,000 tweets per second from those who watched it.
  17. Viola Davis's 2012 commencement speech is titled "Go out and live!" It's a stunning example of what you can do with a tired speaking format, and is like no college commencement speech you've ever endured. Perhaps my favorite line: "The two most important days in your life are the day you were born, and the day you discover why you were born."
  18. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's 2013 Harvard commencement speech shared the dreams and roadblocks in the Liberian president's stellar career. She says, "If your dreams do not scare you, they're not big enough."
  19. Essie Washington-Williams's 2013 "I feel completely free" told the world a secret she'd kept most of her life: She was the daughter of a black woman and Senator Strom Thurmond, a white segregationist who campaigned against civil rights.
  20. Joyce Banda's tribute to Nelson Mandela at his memorial service in 2013 wasn't a remarkable text--until the Malawi president went off-script and put in the color and creativity she got in part from her mentor.
  21. Myrlie Evers-Williams's invocation at President Obama's second inaugural in 2013 marked the first time the invocation at the ceremony was given by a woman, and by someone other than a member of the clergy. The widow of assassinated civil rights activist Medgar Evers summoned the spirits of the leaders of that movement to witness the day's proceedings. Read more about her story in her memoir Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be.
  22. Leymah Gbowee's 2013 Barnard commencement speech had the Liberian Nobel laureate urging women to "step out of the shadows" and get more credit for their work.
  23. Gabourey Sidibe's speech at the 2014 Gloria Awards used an iconic photo of her aunt and Gloria Steinem to honor Steinem, and to talk about being confident despite how she's taunted because of her weight.
  24. Michelle Obama's eulogy for Maya Angelou in 2014 echoed words from "Phenomenal Woman" and told how the poet inspired her as a child.
  25. Kerry Washington spoke in 2014 on the risks of public speaking for women and women of color, admitting she'd turned down the chance to give a TED talk in an award acceptance speech.
  26. Rashema Melson's 2014 high school valedictory speech made headlines because the speaker overcame homelessness to graduate at the top of her class and get into Georgetown. A short, fierce, fantastic speech.
  27. Laverne Cox gave a 2014 keynote on transgender activism for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force meeting, offering inspiration and encouragement to local activists.
  28. Lupita Nyong'o used a 2014 acceptance speech at a Hollywood luncheon to talk about the conflicting views we have about black women and beauty in a revealing, resonant talk.
  29. Viola Davis's 2014 acceptance speech focused on hunger, taking a Hollywood audience to the dumpsters where she dived for food as a child, and speaking abou the importance of public speaking to shed light on so-called "unspeakable" issues. A riveting short speech.
  30. Shonda Rhimes's "You are not alone" speech at the Human Rights Campaign Fund awards in 2015 expanded on one of her favorite themes: It's not "diversity," it's reflecting what is normal that makes her work inclusive.
  31. Keila Banks's "Undefinable Me" was the 13-year-old's keynote at a major tech conference, where she put the lie to common perceptions of who is and is not technically adept.
  32. Viola Davis brought the house down at the 2015 Emmy Awards, where she captured the first best actress in a drama award for a black woman, with an acceptance speech that left no doubt about the importance and weight of that moment.
  33. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche calls likability a barrier to authentic storytelling, a message she gave to young girls in 2015 that should resonate with every eloquent woman.
  34. Linda Cliatt-Wayman closed the 2015 TEDWomen conference with this powerful message about education in troubled schools, prompted by a moment when she was interrupted mid-speech by a student.
  35. Rep. Terri Sewell's remarks at the 2015 anniversary of the civil rights march on Selma, Alabama, in 1965, shared her perspective as a living marker of progress--she grew up there, and now represents the city in the U.S. Congress. And she made President Obama laugh during her remarks, always a plus.
  36. Lupita Nyong'o keynoted a 2015 women's conference and talked about following her fears--including a fear of giving that very keynote. The speech demonstrates just what you can accomplish when you follow her lead.
  37. Viola Davis's "Everything should be spoken," another 2015 awards acceptance speech, advocated that we should be speaking about "the unspeakable" and normalizing it.
  38. Queen Latifah used her 2016 Screen Actors Guild award acceptance to encourage others who don't fit society's lens to define themselves and "keep fighting for it" in a short, strong speech which also saw her use her award statuette as a barbell, briefly.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Instead of wincing, 10 things to look for on the video of your talk

(Editor's note: The first talk videos are emerging from TEDMED 2015 and I promised many speakers I coached there that I'd republish this post, which originally appeared in 2010 and has been updated annually ever since. You can use this list to spot problems, see what you did right, and make improvements, based on your own video. If you've just spoken at a TED conference, you also may find useful my list of 9 things to do with the video of your TED talk. Can't wait for you to see the videos of these wonderful speakers!)

A longtime friend and colleague just completed a special speaking event, giving a sermon at his church. But when I was telling him how well he'd done on the video, he admitted he hadn't looked at it and didn't want to--so much so, he hadn't even listened to the audio.

He has that in common with the best in the business: Any professional newscaster, actor or performer will tell you that they hate how they look and sound when recorded, so it's no surprise we ordinary mortals do, too. New research suggests that if you hate the sound of your own voice, there may be a physiological reason for that.

As a coach, I see it differently: If you're lucky enough to be recorded when you speak--whether you do the recording or someone else does--you've got a golden opportunity to learn things you might never otherwise know about how you speak.  If a video is made available to you, take the opportunity. Or rig your own ultralight camcorder or a pal with a smartphone, and take charge of your own recording.

Rather than torture yourself with how bad you think you look, focus instead on these cues and clues that would be hard to discern without help from a camera. This list is what I coach my clients to look for when viewing video of their speaking, whether it's in practice or the real deal:
  1. Visual "ums:"  Instead of saying "um" when you're pausing to think, you may look to one side or up or down; make a repetitive gesture over and over; or move in a pattern, if you're on your feet and away from the lectern. It might be putting a hand to your face, a wink, a grimace. Watch for those patterns--freeze-frame if you need to catch them--and work on buying yourself time to think with new phrases, or work more on your message in advance and practice. If you're doing a gesture repeatedly, like putting a hand to your face, put your clicker or your note cards in that hand to interrupt the pattern. It helps to watch the video sooner rather than later after your talk to catch this slip-up, since you'll be better able to remember what you were thinking at the time your visual "um" occurred--and that may help you avoid repeating it next time. Often, the visual "um" happens when you haven't quite got your message down, or forgot something you wanted to include, just like a verbal "um."
  2. Invisible gestures:  You may be gesturing like a windmill, but if it's below the height of the lectern or out of camera range, all the audience will see is your body moving slightly. That's great if you're gesturing to keep your speech fluid, since gestures help you avoid "ums" and stumbles. But if you wanted your gestures to help get your point across and hold the audience's interest, make sure we can see them. Typically, that will mean gesturing at shoulder or chest height. Practice will make that more comfortable for you. Also watch for the reverse problem: Gesturing right in front of your own face. If that's happening, gesture a bit lower. We want to see you!
  3. A body with a mind of its own:  Some speakers planted in one place will sway from side to side, and some who like to move around wind up drilling a path into the floor as they pace back and forth, back and forth, in an unrelieved line. Either one calls for a change:  You may need to focus on keeping your core body stable, or move in different directions if you like to roam the audience. If you are going to move your body, vary the pattern--think triangle, rather than straight line--and plan places in the talk where you pause verbally and stop physically, to break up repetitive moves. TED conferences have a reputation for speakers who move around, but in reality, it's not encouraged, and sometimes a simple shift of your weight from one foot to the other is enough to convey motion.
  4. How you react to interruptions:  Listen for those unexpected noises--door slams, crying babies, audience laughter, applause, sneezes--during your talk. How do you react?  It's a great chance to catch your immediate reaction, and to think through how you might handle that next time.  While you're at it, pay attention to how you react when you're asked a question; your face may give a different answer than your mouth does, showing apprehension, for example, when you don't need to do so. And when you get applause, you have two choices: Talking right through it, a forceful tactic called "surfing the applause," or pausing to let it happen. My preference? Don't step on your applause. Let it happen! Knowing your unforced reactions helps you plan better for the next time the interruptions happen.
  5. Expressions that match your words:  Your face is part of your connection with the audience, but it gets confusing, at best, if you look like you're grimacing when giving praise or sad when talking about something exciting.  Since it's not at all unusual for speakers to feel disconnected from their facial expressions, video helps you focus and fix that. Most people's mouths, when at rest, are either flat-lined or slightly downturned, making you look bored or sad. Smiling, even a little, corrects that natural downward turn.  You get to decide how much to smile, but smile at least somewhat. Bonus: It also helps reduce stress and makes you feel better.
  6. Gesturing. Yes, it's a good thing: Gestures are good for both speaker and audience, helping your brain form language fluently and helping the audience understand you, even if the gesture is random and doesn't match your word. But a little gesturing goes a long way. Think of gestures as a condiment: If you gesture for every word, or every syllable, you're weakening the impact. Don't over-salt or over-pepper your talk with gestures. Try counting your gestures on the video, watching for the repetitive single gesture that could be a visual "um." If you're not gesturing, or if you are immobilizing your hands in your pockets or by clasping them tightly, you may observe on the video that your speech is less fluent. And when your talk is being recorded on video, remember to keep those gestures small and less theatrical. Don't play to the back of the theater. Play to the YouTube viewer.
  7. Your posture and body language:  Are your shoulders up around your ears, or slumped? Can we see your stress in your expression or your body? Are you leaning in one direction? Are your arms crossed in a defensive posture? Is your head down when you should be looking up at the audience? Turn off the sound for this review, and see what your body language says.
  8. Do you really look nervous? Do you look at ease? You may be surprised:  Most speakers find they feel nervous, but don't look as if they are. If you're not sure, ask a friend to watch and tell you what she thinks, but most of the time, the audience can't tell that you're nervous. Many TEDMED speakers told me this was the tip that helped them "nerve up" the most before going on stage, so keep it in mind for next time.
  9. Can you hear your message clearly throughout?  To find out, you may need to just listen to the audio once, then watch the video.  Do you find it hard to follow your progression? Did you forget to include a key point? Did your gestures, movement, facial expressions and props help get that across? What can you notice that will help you next time in terms of clarity and focus?
  10. What did you do that was wonderful? You may need some outside perspective on this, but try looking for your successes in the video. Did you nail a great laugh line, pause with effect, gesture with aplomb? Did you feel and look poised and in command of your subject? What did the audience like and react to positively? Did you stay on time? Take the time to note what went well, so you can make a point of doing it again--and so you know you can focus on another skill the next time you practice.
There's an even better reason to embrace that video: More and more, conference organizers tell me they want to see that video of you speaking to an audience before they extend an invitation to join the program. Once you've reviewed your video, don't hide it! Share it on social networks, repost to your blog or website, and share it when you are seeking a speaking gig in the future.

(Photo of Barbara Natterson-Horowitz speaking at TEDMED 2014 via TEDMED)

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking:

Friday, February 5, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Queen Latifah's "Keep fighting for it"

The Screen Actors Guild statuette has no doubt graced many a fireplace mantel or awards shelf, but this week, Queen Latifah used it briefly as a barbell, pumping a few rounds with the famously heavy statue, as the audience applauded her 2016 SAG award for playing the lead in HBO's film Bessie, about the life of blues singer Bessie Smith. That was just the opening salvo in a powerful and brief acceptance speech that followed a simple formula: Clear and ample thanks to the voters, fellow nominees, HBO, and her family, with words of inspiration that sum up the perspective of one who has traveled a long way to get to this place. Queen Latifah ended with this dose of encouragement:
And I hope that anyone out there who does not come in the package that people say you should, keep fighting for it. Flip those rocks over. Keep pushing. Keep turning. You can do it. You build your own boxes. Not people. So knock that thing away and do you.
The speech was an immediate hit, and a refreshing, rousing example of what you can do with an acceptance speech. What can you learn from it?
  • Accept with strength: Pumping iron with the statuette was an inside joke about the heavy award, and a comic turn that created a visual during the applause. But it also conveyed power and strength, a great alternative for women in lieu of self-disparaging comments or sounding as if you're not sure you deserve the award. The silent gesture said it without looking or sounding boastful.
  • Don't curb your enthusiasm: Awards banquets can be deadly for audiences in the hall and viewing on television, so a lively acceptance like this one--with big gestures and a big smile--tells us we're watching a special moment. Remember, your audience will take its cues from you. If you're delighted, overcome with emotion, or ready to shout from the rooftops, show us how you feel so we know how to react. Don't overdo your emphasis. Just be genuine.
  • Keep it simple: Leading in with a sweeping phrase--"anyone out there who does not come in the package that people say you should"--and following with a series of staccato, short phrases of encouragement helped to build emphasis and energy at the close, just where you want it when you're giving a speech this short and powerful. Queen Latifah makes a great cheering section, all by herself.
You can read a partial transcript of her remarks here, and watch the video here and below. Thanks to Rune Kier Nielsen for sending it to me!

(SAG Awards photo)

 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The 'women can't be funny' myth, and the power of making people laugh

A male speechwriter I know believes he can't put jokes in speeches he's writing for women because "women can't be funny." In 2016.

He should be ashamed of himself for believing and perpetuating this durable myth: As this "totally incomplete" Brief History of "Women Aren't Funny" notes, the concept goes back centuries, and stretches into the present day, not unlike slut-shaming and other methods of getting women to be silent. After all, if someone tells you that you can't be funny, you won't try, then, will you?

This myth is so ingrained that both men and women have trouble recognizing it as the silencer that it certainly is. Consider what comic Joan Rivers said of her fellow comedian, Phyllis Diller: "The only tragedy is that Phyllis Diller was the last from an era that insisted a woman had to look funny in order to be funny."

Gloria Steinem shares perspective on women and humor in her memoir, My Life on the Road, as she writes about her stint as the only "girl writer" on That Was The Week That Was, a political satire show on British, and later American, television in the 1960s. She writes:
...the power to make people laugh is also a power, so women have been kept out of comedy. Polls show that what women fear most from men is violence, and what men fear most from women is ridicule. Later, when Tina Fey was star and head writer of Saturday Night Live, she could still say, "Only in comedy does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity."
So it's a double-edged sword for women to be funny, in the eyes of men. They fear women might ridicule them. Steinem adds more reasons why humor holds power:
...laughter is the only free emotion--the only one that can't be compelled....laughter explodes like an aha! It comes when the punch line changes everything that has gone before, when two opposites collide and create a third, when we suddenly see a new reality....Laughter is an orgasm of the mind.
No wonder they want to keep it to themselves. In Speechwriters, don't write differently for women. Write differently for men, I asked speechwriters to stop including suggestive or misogynistic content in the speeches they write for men--much of which takes the supposedly harmless form of suggestive or sex-focused humor. I can see why a male speechwriter might think he can't write off-color jokes for a woman speaker, but that's no reason to blame her and say it's because she "can't be funny."

The idea that women can't be funny limits women's speaking in insidious psychological ways. Its variant, that pretty or hot women can't be funny, sounds a lot like what both men and women report in surveys: We think women can be competent, or likable, but not both. After all, the ability to use humor well is part of what we consider "likability." But as has been said before on this blog, if you're worried about your likability, you can't tell your story.

The humor myth limits women's speaking in practical ways as well. Many speechwriters and speaking experts advise that speakers make use of humor, particularly self-deprecating humor, both to relax the speaker and help her connect with the audience. But for women, putting yourself down when you're not starting from a position of strength and credibility can be risky, even if it's done with humor. If women don't use humor, or are diverted or discouraged from using it, they may miss out on invitations to emcee or chair an event at which that quality is desired, as it so often is. If speechwriters won't write jokes for women, women won't get to tell them--and may not notice the omission, perpetuating the myth. And when decisions about women being funny are made by people who don't believe they can be funny, we in the audience are losing out, as well as the women speakers.

What can you do about this, eloquent women? Recognize that men fear your ridicule and are uncomfortable with your use of humor--and use humor, anyway. Seize that power to make the audience laugh, so you can better connect. Talk about this double-edged sword and call out those who say women can't be funny, so we may all learn how prevalent is this view. Exercise your funny bone by listening to, reading, and watching humor of all kinds. Practice your humorous turns and try them out on a variety of listeners to see what works. Make a study of comic timing, and using pauses for comedic effect. Just don't doubt your ability.

We've got some great resources right here on The Eloquent Woman for you:
I've got a Famous Speech Friday in the works on famous humorous speeches by women, and I'm up to nearly 20 speeches you will be able to use as examples. Don't let this myth stop you from trying a comic turn in your next speech. Start using your humor, eloquent women!

(Creative Commons licensed photo of panelists at "The Smoking Bra: Women and Comedy at 92YTribeca)

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking: