Monday, August 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, August 26, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Toni Morrison's Nobel lecture on language

Never underestimate a spinner of tales like the great novelist Toni Morrison, even though you might be tempted to do so by the beginning of her Nobel Prize lecture, delivered after she won the prize for literature in 1993.

That's because she begins with a simple fable about an old blind woman who is a clairvoyant: Two young people tell her they have a bird in their hands and demand that she tell them whether the bird is alive or dead, intent on proving her a fraud. She tells them, after a long wait, that she doesn't know whether the bird is dead or alive, but that she knows "it is in your hands."

Morrison then explains what the fable, heard in many cultures around the world in various versions, means to her:
I choose to read the bird as language and the woman as a practiced writer. She is worried about how the language she dreams in, given to her at birth, is handled, put into service, even withheld from her for certain nefarious purposes. Being a writer she thinks of language partly as a system, partly as a living thing over which one has control, but mostly as agency - as an act with consequences. So the question the children put to her: "Is it living or dead?" is not unreal because she thinks of language as susceptible to death, erasure; certainly imperiled and salvageable only by an effort of the will. She believes that if the bird in the hands of her visitors is dead the custodians are responsible for the corpse.
Then she lets her speech soar further, to share the deeper meaning she sees. Morrison's concern, befitting a global award and speech, is how language is misused around the world:
The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek - it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language - all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Use a fable to make your point: A master storyteller, Morrison reached for a fable to carry this speech from beginning to end. It's a tactic I wish more speakers would try. After all, fables are durable, time-tested ways to convey information, suspense, and all the elements of the dramatic arc. In this speech, Morrison is describing a complex, detailed, and intellectual view of language and the impact of abuses of language, so a simple fable gives all listeners something with which to connect. At the same time, the fable is easy to remember, making it easier for listeners to repeat.
  • Active verbs enliven your speech: This line is loaded with active verbs that bring it (and language) alive: "It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind." It's all the more powerful as a result.
  • Speak truth to power: If you are lucky enough to have this kind of platform, use it for all it is worth. Morrison does not mince words here, and addresses important and weighty issues. A speech this important gets saved and recorded and will outlast the speaker, all the more reason to make it count.
If you're a writer or storyteller or just a language nerd, this is a masterpiece of a speech. We don't have video of this speech, but you will find the text and audio here. Be sure to listen to the audio recording--it includes a short introduction that is missing in the text version.

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

My favorite fixes for public speaking: Write and learn a script

As a speaker coach, it's my job to keep a lot of tools in my toolbox to help my clients improve their public speaking. But just like any craftsman, I have a few go-to tools, well-worn from frequent use. This is the third in a series of five favorite fixes I turn to all the time. Each one sounds simple, but confers a complex array of benefits to public speakers...if only you will do them. I'm sharing each favorite fix along with the types of speakers who might benefit most from them. You'll get the best results if you try them not once, but over a period of time.

This week's favorite fix is to write and learn a script. I can hear you saying now, "But I don't want to sound scripted," or, "I'm only at my best when I can speak extemporaneously." But it's a myth that working with a text means you'll sound unnatural or forced, and often, speakers have learned to cite their need for extemporaneous speaking as a way to avoid having someone tell them what they need to say. Yet these are the same speakers who find that they go over time by wasting time on asides, tell jokes that misfire, or otherwise fill the time allotted with fluff. And many of them are avoiding having to decide what it is they really want to say.

When you focus on writing and editing your remarks first, well ahead of the speaking gig, you will be able to omit all those asides, jokes, and stammers that are taking up your time, and include far more focused content. You'll also have time to practice--something that speakers who wait till the last minute omit at their peril.

My favorite bonus of this favorite fix: If you write to 120 words per minute, you will always be precisely on time, or nearly so, and you'll have a way of learning whether you are speaking too fast. Memorizing the script in whole or in part also means you can avoid many of the forgetful moments that plague many speakers. Nerve-wracked speakers also tell me that memorizing is their anchor and insurance plan. They go into the talk knowing that they know their talk. Why should they be the only ones? I've got great tips here for how to practice and memorize your next speech.

This is a good fix for speakers who um a lot or otherwise can't remember what they want to say; speakers who tend to wander well past their allotted time; speakers who end without having included their main point or several key points they wished to include; and, because the irony of public speaking is that more preparation makes you sound less rehearsed, anyone who wants to speak naturally and with good flow. And if you normally skip practice--the most vital step in public speaking--the process of memorizing pretty much will cure you of that.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Florian Richter)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Monday, August 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:

Friday, August 19, 2016

#CanYouHearUsNow? 8 famous speeches by Muslim women

When Donald Trump went after Ghazala Khan for standing silently beside her husband as he spoke about their son who was killed in the Iraq war, suggesting she was somehow forbidden to speak as a Muslim woman, other Muslim women around the world began posting on Twitter, sharing their speeches and outspoken moments with the hashtag #CanYouHearUsNow. That prompted me to dig into the rich resource of The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women, where we have eight great examples of stirring speeches by Muslim activists, mothers, educators, a queen, and a prime minister. They range from TED talks to United Nations addresses, and keynotes at feminist and human rights conferences. But none of these are silenced women.

I hope you'll dive into this collection and enjoy its great variety. At each link you will find not only an analysis of the speech, but video and text where available, and what you can learn to use in your own public speaking. Yes, I think we can hear them:
  1. Aicha el-Wafi, mother of one of the 9/11 attackers, spoke about forgiveness in a joint, powerful TEDWomen talk with the mother of one of her son's victims.
  2. Queen Noor's 1996 speech at the Kennedy Center noted what she's doing to support women's voices, and lamented that her hair and her wardrobe often get more coverage than her own message.
  3. Shot in the head for speaking out, Malala Yousafzai spoke after her shooting for the first time, to make it clear she intended to continue. A short, but moving and difficult, speaking challenge.
  4. Shabana Rasij-Basikh's TED talk on educating Afghan girls shared how she had to go to school disguised as a boy--and what she's doing to make sure that doesn't have to happen anymore.
  5. Benazir Bhutto's speech at the UN Conference on Women in 1995 made clear that sexism results not from Islam, but people who misinterpret its teachings. "Muslim women have a special responsibility to help distinguish between Islamic teachings and social taboos spun by the traditions of a patriarchal society," she said. She would've loved the hashtag.
  6. Malala Yousafzai's UN speech on youth education, given after she recovered from her shooting, was a landmark moment. "I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard," she said. She wore a shawl of Bhutto's for this important speech
  7. Huda Shaarawi spoke at the 1944 Arab feminist conference, in a short opening set of remarks that honored her place as an early fighter for women's votes and voices in the Arab world.
  8. Activist Manal al-Sharif spoke about her illegal driving in Saudi Arabia, after defying a driving ban and posting video of herself doing it on YouTube. But she gave this speech outside the country, becoming an important voice for Saudi women in the process.
Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The prostitute factor: Why we're not serious about women at conferences

We've made a lot of progress from the days when women were forbidden to attend, or to speak at, conferences. We have conferences setting quotas for women speakers and conferees reporting about how many women they see in the program or on the stage. We're advising women and conferences to avoid window-dressing the program with high-profile female moderators, but no female speakers. There are people keeping tallies of women speakers, making lists of women speakers who are available, and doing research on the most effective ways to get more women on the program. Women in the audience use Q&A to ask why the panel is all male, and men are pledging not to participate in such panels.

But even with all that, I can tell we're not serious about including women at conferences. Not until major conferences put a stop to prostitution and escort services at their meetings, and the more frequent use of highly sexualized entertainers and "booth babes."

I'm not just talking about those episodes where male speakers make sexual jokes or show sexual imagery and refer to women as bitches from the stage, although those occurrences are troubling and do happen more than we like to admit. I'm talking about conferences that seem to attract--and ignore--attendees who are in the world's oldest profession, prostitution.

And before you shake your head and say, well, that just doesn't happen at a proper conference, I give you two important international conferences where it has been observed in abundance: The Noah conference in Berlin, a tech gathering, and the high-profile World Economic Forum, sometimes called "Davos" for the city in Switzerland where it takes place. In addition, a recent third conference for gamers in San Francisco featured a Microsoft-sponsored party with sexualized female entertainers.

In the escort scandal at the Noah conference in Berlin, a hundred or more female escorts flooded the conference reception. Noah is no fly-by-night startup conference. Axel Springer and Credit Suisse were sponsors, and Uber's CEO and Daimler's chairman were among the speakers. Yet this happened:
According to multiple reports of the event, male attendees found themselves approached by attractive, glamorously dressed women who were not part of the conference and who began flirting with them, touching them and handing them their cards. Many people at the party concluded that these women were escorts. According to accounts heard by Fortune, some male attendees then mistook female entrepreneurs for escorts, and asked them if they could offer them any favors....However, attendees of the party—who wish to remain anonymous—did not buy this version of events. They noted that there were around a hundred of these women, and the party had strict entry requirements involving tickets and wristbands.
At Noah, a prostitution app was blamed for the influx of "visitors." But it also is commonplace at the World Economic Forum to see escorts and prostitutes mingling with the conferees at social events. One of the only accounts I've seen, what it's like to be a woman at the old boys Economic Forum, sums it up this way:
It’s the kind of place where if a woman turns away to exit a conversation and looks back just quickly enough, she’ll find her posterior aesthetic being carefully dissected by the man who just asked her for her business card — even if he is the CEO of a major bank. When we weren’t being asked how we got here, we were constantly being stared up and down by CEOs, hedge fund managers, finance ministers and embassy heads. 
“You see how men sometimes look at women,” said one television reporter from the Middle East. “They say how pretty a woman is, or, what is she doing here? Does she deserve to be here or not? Who pushed her to come in?”
Why are women ogled so openly at an economic forum? Women attendees make up less than 15% of the conferees at the Forum, which has set and failed to meet its own gender quotas, even after offering free tickets for women included in delegations. But more than that, it's very likely that women attendees and speakers are outnumbered by female prostitutes. The prostitution at Davos is so widespread that it's covered as its own annual event, part of the so-called "horizontal trade."

Both conferences take place in countries where prostitution is legal and regulated, and both conference's organizers denied responsibility for their presence. But they didn't seem to do much to encourage their absence, either.

In countries where prostitution is illegal, you can still see conferences featuring "booth babes," scantily dressed models showing off cars and technology, free for the ogling. Microsoft recently came under fire for hiring women to dance in tiny Catholic school outfits at a party for developers at a gaming conference, as you can see in the video tweeted from the event, below:
As game developer Brianna Wu noted, Microsoft--considered one of the "good guys" on gender due to its policies and trainings--wiped out that good record with one party. From the article:
“Microsoft is doing so many things right on this issue,” she says. “They instituted mandatory unconscious bias training this year. Their Hololens team has a ton of extremely skilled women engineers. They are working hard to be part of the solution. This undermines all that great work. I’d like to see accountability from the Xbox marketing team.”
In those settings as well as those where female prostitutes are not discouraged, how are women speakers and attendees ever to feel comfortable, let alone treated with parity, respect, and equality? It's the clearest sign I can think of that women are unwelcome, unless they are present to serve for men's pleasure.

You may be wondering by now whether these conferences have codes of conduct, a tool increasingly used to set and enforce behavior at conferences that forbids sexual harrassment and harrassing speech. (Check out my post Does your conference have a code of conduct? I wish mine did for more on codes.) To my amazement, the World Economic Forum's code of conduct is a scant one-page document that includes not one word about sexual harrassment nor creating a safe environment for attendees, nor any related issue. Participants are asked not to invite others to the meeting, but there's nothing about preventing attendance by outsiders. Thus, anyone wishing to complain would find no ground on which to stand here, and there's nothing to enforce, either. In the same vein, neither the Game Developers Conference nor the Noah Conference had codes of conduct of any kind.

Recently, a global summit for women was announced. Dubbed a "Davos for women," it is to be held next year in Tokyo. The nickname infuriates me. Why can't women simply be included in the real meeting at Davos in a way that does not demean them nor put them at risk of harassment or unwanted sexual attention? Why don't the conferences take responsibility for enforcing who attends, rather than blame apps or others? Why don't sponsors insist on appropriate behavior? Where are the codes of conduct and, right behind them, actual enforcement? All these episodes demonstrate male privilege, in case you didn't have any other clear examples before you. They say to us, "We want to have women here who represent our vision of women as sexual creatures here for our pleasure, not colleagues we have to listen to or take seriously as peers."

The simple fact is that we can make all the lists of women speakers we want, and propose all the codes of conduct possible. We can call out conferences publicly for these events and episodes. But until conferences take responsibility for what actually happens to women at their meetings, you'll see fewer women attending and speaking--both because they will be less likely to attend or accept a speaking slot, and because they're less likely to be invited. With conference conditions like these, we can all tell you're not serious about having women at your conference in roles that matter.

(Creative Commons licensed photo of booth babes by Miss Nixie)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Monday, August 15, 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, August 12, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Theresa May's 1st prime minister's questions

In the United Kingdom Parliament, there's no greater show than Prime Minister's Questions, commonly referred to as PMQs. The country's constitution calls for it, and currently, it happens every Wednesday at noon for about a half hour. And it's simple, really: The sitting prime minister stands before the House of Commons and answers the questions of its members.

Put another way, it looks like this: A chamber with soaring ceilings, jammed with 650 Members of Parliament, both houses present, both main parties (and a few others) present. The government party on one side, the opposition facing them. Really, people seated on all sides.

If you don't like taking questions from an audience, think about this one, loaded with politics, causes, gotcha moments, objections, counter-arguments, surprises, and the specialty of the house, the unanswerable questions, all lying in wait. This audience of parliamentarians does not merely sit and listen. It participates in full cry, with disorderly behavior that's now well-known--so much so that the sessions are watched on livestream around the world and tickets for the public gallery in high demand. Questions are allotted to the leader of the opposition party, and other members also may sign up to be randomly selected to ask their questions. And of course, the sessions are recorded and transcribed. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

For the prime minister, of course, it's both a speaking challenge and a speaking opportunity. There was no easy entry for the new Prime Minister, and none of the topics were easy ones: economic austerity, housing, poverty, Brexit, immigration, and more. But the session offers her a frequent and focused opportunity to defend her policies and counter accusations, answering challengers in the moment. BBC Woman's Hour, the morning of May's first PMQs, had a discussion about issues women might face being heard in such a forum.

To the surprise of many who see the new prime minister as a hard-working public official lacking flair, she more than held her own in this forum, sometimes referred to as a "bear pit." May made jokes and humorous asides, put down arguments, and answered most of the questions posed, avoiding one about her appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary and his racist and sexist comments about U.S. President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Among her most-quoted statements in this first outing was this description of the opposition leader, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn, as a bad boss:

I suspect there are many members on the Opposition benches who might be familiar with an unscrupulous boss; a boss who doesn't listen to his workers; a boss who requires some of his workers to double their workload; and maybe even a boss who exploits the rules to further his own career.
Then, as the BBC noted, "Leaning forward and fixing Mr. Corbyn with a direct stare, she added: "Remind him of anybody?" The workload reference comes from the mass resignations of Labour leaders following the failed Remain campaign supported by Corbyn, which means a greater workload for the shadow ministers who remained loyal to him. It's a clever comparison, and in its simplicity, one that might resonate with the viewing audience better than a long, boring explanation of the actual politics.

After Corbyn's first question to her, she noted, "I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the welcome he has given me. He referred to me as the second woman Prime Minister. In my years in the House, I have long heard the Labour party asking what the Conservative party does for women. Well—it just keeps making us Prime Minister."

Prime Minister May ended this day with another high-stakes appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany for a get-to-know-you meeting in advance of Brexit discussions. The New York Times shared this tidbit from their public appearance before the press, another example of the new leader's public-speaking style that hit the mark:
Initially, the two leaders appeared tense, and, as Ms. Merkel opened with her remarks, she occasionally glanced at Mrs. May, who kept her eyes ahead, listening intently to the translation. 
But, when asked about their first impressions of one another, Mrs. May broke into a wide smile and responded that, "We have two women here who, if I may say so, want to get on with the job and want to deliver the best possible results for the people of the UK and of Germany." 
The chancellor, after pausing for a moment to hear the final words of the simultaneous translation, turned to Mrs. May with an equally broad smile and said, "Genau," German for "exactly."
One thing is certain: With weekly question time on her schedule--just think about that, will you?--the new prime minister will have plenty of time to gain even more expertise with live Q&A, but she appears to be off to a strong start. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Plan on a strong start: Rather than ease your way in edgewise, or hope to demonstrate strength eventually, it's essential for a woman leader to demonstrate strength right out of the box, particularly in a form like this one. Begin as you mean to go on.
  • Observe the format and the niceties: There are rules of engagement for this formal question time so you'll see in the transcript of the video use of formal titles, questions that begin with "May I…", and thanks for the questions before the answer is put forth--all good rules in general for Q&A. The niceties are more than a flourish: They provide boundaries within which all hell may break loose, but beyond which it won't go. That provides reassurance to the audience as much as the participants. And if you are the person who's being put on the spot, the niceties allow you a few more seconds to think while you thank, a vital advantage in this kind of back-and-forth.
  • Get comfortable in your own shoes: Prime Minister May has had many years of public service in which to get comfortable with her positions, how she is viewed, and what her opposition has in store for her. And it shows. It's a good reminder for the rest of us that, before you step on stage to speak, it's well to get comfortable in your own shoes so you're ready for whatever comes.
Here's the transcript of the full session, and the video is here and below:
Theresa May Faces Parliamentary Colleagues in First Prime Minister's Questions

(Creative Commons licensed photo by UK Parliament)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

My favorite fixes for public speaking: Take care of the speaker's body

As a speaker coach, it's my job to keep a lot of tools in my toolbox to help my clients improve their public speaking. But just like any craftsman, I have a few go-to tools, well-worn from frequent use. This is the second in a series of five favorite fixes I turn to all the time. Each one sounds simple, but confers a complex array of benefits to public speakers...if only you will do them. I'm sharing each favorite fix along with the types of speakers who might benefit most from them. You'll get the best results if you try them not once, but over a period of time.

This week's favorite fix is to take care of the speaker's body. Speaking and presenting pose a physical challenge as much as a mental one, but I see many speakers who neglect their physical care and then wonder why they have a rocky speaking experience. They skip meals, don't hydrate, don't exercise or stretch, and fail to get a good night's sleep. I've seen this result in fainting on stage in extreme cases, and more agitation and nervousness--along with bad last-minute decisions--in less extreme cases.

Of course, you should be taking care of your body all the time, speakers, but especially so in the run-up to your big talk. The day of your presentation should include that excellent night of sleep, meals at regular intervals and well before your talk, stretching, and drinking lots of water (and no caffeine) a few hours ahead of your gig. Keep in mind that theatres and hotels are notoriously dry environments and double up on your usual water intake. If you run or walk or lift weights or do yoga, do them the night before or the morning of your talk, and burn off some of that stress. Exercise also will keep you from over-preparing and getting too nervous. If you've been memorizing your talk by using audio recordings while you run or walk--a favorite tactic of mine--leave that recording at home or in your hotel for this last exercise session. Got extra time to prep? Get a massage, take a nap, meditate (the latter is another of my favorite fixes).

This is a good fix for speakers who forget their content frequently; who have dry mouth or feel light-headed; who have too much nervous energy; who have felt weak or light-headed during a talk; or who have trouble focusing. 

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Florian Richter)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Monday, August 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:
Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Hillary Clinton accepts nomination for president

When I was growing up, child star Johnny Whitaker had a brief earworm-y hit with a 1968 song whose title says it all: "Every little boy can be president." (You can hear it here at the 27-minute mark if you don't believe me.) The song isn't remarkable except for the breathtaking concept in the title. I was 10, that last age (until you hit what feminists call the f***-you fifties) when girls feel pretty darned invincible and unpummeled by society. But that song showed me a limit.

After that, the coded and not-so-coded messages boil down to what Alice learned in the Red Queen's race: "...it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place." You start out saying, as so many young women do, "Oh, that doesn't affect me." But it does. Over time, you learn that to get over, around, or through all the misogyny and missed opportunities takes persistence, grit, and working harder. At the end of all that, you're often called unlikable, because research shows that we see women leaders as being either competent or likable, but not both. That disparity comes into play particularly when women leaders try to talk about their accomplishments, as Hillary Clinton did in accepting the Democratic party nomination for president.

Putting it another way, this tweet said it best:
Much is familiar for women in Clinton's race for the presidency. It's her second try, for starters. Every time she speaks, critics, mostly male and Republican, line up to say what a lousy orator she is, despite her well-developed speaking skills; even President Obama wincingly says she's no orator, though we have plenty of examples on this blog and in real life to the contrary. She is said to be "shouting," "cackling," and "shrill," with a voice that is unattractive, and she really needs to smile more. Her outfits, her hairstyles, and her flat shoes are dissected and mocked in ways that mute her messages. Suggestions that women are shrill or shouting when they speak go back centuries, a public effort to get women to shut up that is so ingrained, it's almost reflexive.  You may find interesting this psychoanalyst's explanation for why she is so vilified, as well as the reminder that, until she decided to run for President, Americans again and again rated her the most admired woman in the world. She has crossed a line, in more ways than one.

But she keeps showing up, anyway, as she did for this most public of job interviews. This time, she took a non-anxious, non-defensive approach to answering the fair and unfair criticisms leveled at her, with a speech that kept overturning them. Consider this passage in which she was answering Donald Trump's claim that, when it comes to America's woes, "I alone can fix it." Clinton, referring to a book of hers that was mocked, said:
Twenty years ago I wrote a book called "It Takes a Village." A lot of people looked at the title and asked, what the heck do you mean by that? This is what I mean. None of us can raise a family, build a business, heal a community or lift a country totally alone. America needs every one of us to lend our energy, our talents, our ambition to making our nation better and stronger. I believe that with all my heart. That's why "Stronger Together" is not just a lesson from our history. It's not just a slogan for our campaign. It's a guiding principle for the country we've always been and the future we're going to build.
And in answer to the complaints that she is old news, part of the establishment, and at once too familiar and too mysterious (such a hard combo to pull off):
Now, sometimes the people at this podium are new to the national stage. As you know, I'm not one of those people....But my job titles only tell you what I've done. They don't tell you why. The truth is, through all these years of public service, the "service" part has always come easier to me than the "public" part. I get it that some people just don't know what to make of me. So let me tell you.
Using this speech as a "let me speak for myself" moment created a connection and an emotional resonance with her listeners, particularly women and anyone who's even a little bit introverted or uncomfortable talking about themselves. She signaled this right at the start, saying of her famously extroverted husband and their decades-long conversation, "I've even gotten a few words in along the way." In this, I think Clinton--whom I see as far more introverted than we realize--found the quiet emotional core of her speech.  Revealing herself on this very public stage was a major effort, but she made it feel intimate and a little wry, all at the same time. In effect, she modeled how to do this very difficult thing, in the most difficult of settings.

At the same time, Clinton certainly didn't pull any punches in countering her opponent. A core of the speech contrasted Trump's statements with her policy platform, and whether she was sharing details about herself or her policies, this speech had the right level of needed detail, a stark contrast to her opponent's speech.

"Needed detail" was the key here. Convention speeches by candidates can often be like Christmas trees, loaded down with a million different items. And while this one had several jobs to tackle, it flowed well from section to section. Study that transcript for transitions, smoothly done. The pace was measured, and she came in under one hour, compared to Trump's record-breaking one hour and 15 minutes, the longest acceptance speech in 40 years. So much for women talking more than men.

I served in Bill Clinton's administration and have seen many speeches by Hillary Clinton. But midway through this one, I looked up at the television and saw a president speaking to me. A kind of president I hadn't seen before. That kind of aha moment happened to many women watching, women of all political persuasions, and if it moved women in particular, therein may lie a key to the election for Clinton. If women do not vote for Trump, the electoral college map of the United States turns all blue, giving her a decided win. Coming out of the convention, this speech contributed to a bounce in Clinton's results in the polls, where some have her at a double-digit lead over Trump nationally as well as in key battleground states.

The English classics scholar Mary Beard, in her brilliant talk on the public voice of women, considered whether it matters that women's public speaking is called shrill and shouting and other derisive names:
Do those words matter? Of course they do, because they underpin an idiom that acts to remove the authority, the force, even the humour from what women have to say. It’s an idiom that effectively repositions women back into the domestic sphere (people ‘whinge’ over things like the washing up); it trivialises their words, or it ‘re-privatises’ them. Contrast the ‘deep-voiced’ man with all the connotations of profundity that the simple word ‘deep’ brings. It is still the case that when listeners hear a female voice, they don’t hear a voice that connotes authority; or rather they have not learned how to hear authority in it...
Beard was not speaking of Clinton per se, but this speech sought to put back the authority, the force, and the humor that are Clinton's strongest qualities. Perhaps it will be a step toward teaching us how to hear authority in women's voices. Linguistics professor Robin Lakoff says, "We ought not to be instructing women to be better speakers. We should rather be teaching ourselves to be better listeners." What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Tell the part of the story we don't recall: "You know this story, but you don't know this part of it," or words to that effect, is like catnip for those who remember the past and those who never knew its details. This is how you create emotional resonance with an audience. Too many speakers don't want to go over the past, feeling that their listeners *should* know about them. In demonstrating that she makes no such assumption, Clinton demonstrated an appropriate humility for a candidate for the nation's highest office--and took the opportunity to explain herself instead of letting the critics do it for her.
  • Have fun with it: This is the highest of high-stakes speeches, with an estimated 33 million people watching and 50,000 in the hall. I was delighted to see Clinton appear to enjoy every last minute of it, something you can't do if you're angry, nervous, or otherwise not in the present moment. She also let her humor show, something that close colleagues see but the public sometimes misses. Yes, it's an important speech, but that's no reason you can't relax and enjoy, and your delivery will benefit from the subtle psychological distance from your detractors that a mentally playful approach affords you.
  • Obliterate the fashion commentary so we can hear you: The white suit Clinton wore was brilliant in more ways than one. A masterstroke, really, and one which left no room for dishing about color or interesting details. This blank slate did not distract from her message. Many women wear black for just this reason, but black generally makes you disappear on stage. This warm-toned white better suits her coloring and stood out on the stage. Searching for meaning, many commentators remarked that the suffragettes wore white, and that this might be a nod to the women's movements of yore. And that's about all that any woman wants to hear about her outfit when she's running for president.
You can find a transcript of the speech here, and the video is below.
(Photo from Hillary Clinton on Instagram)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both. The early registration discount has been extended to August 15.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ghazala Khan and the power of not speaking: #CanYouHearUsNow

One woman on the podium at the Democratic National Convention this year connected with the audience and caused a stir, not by speaking, but by remaining silent.

Ghazala Kahn, mother of slain soldier Capt. Humayan Khan, stood silently at the side of her husband Khizr Kahn, as he delivered a blistering attack on Donald Trump and his promise to bar Muslims from entering the United States. The Khans immigrated from Pakistan and raised their children in the United States. Their son died serving in the U.S. armed forces in Iraq.

While the speech didn't fall during the late prime-time hour, it quickly caused a sensation. The contrast of the silent wife--clearly fighting to hold back tears--and the husband's forceful words and delivery stirred the crowd in the hall and beyond it, with many calling it the best speech of the convention. I've shared the photo, above, of the Khans on the podium so you can see the setting, intimidating for any speaker. The audience was estimated at 50,000 just in the arena.

As many women speakers do, Mrs. Kahn accurately gauged what would happen if she spoke and took decisive action: She would be on stage, but would not speak, since just seeing her son's photo can make her cry. In an interview after the speech, her husband said, “Emotionally and physically — she just couldn’t even stand there, and when we left, as soon as we got off camera, she just broke down. And the people inside, the staff, were holding her, consoling her. She was just totally emotionally spent. Only those parents that have lost their son or daughter could imagine the pain that such a memory causes. Especially when a tribute is being paid. I was holding myself together, because one of us had to be strong. Normally, she is the stronger one. But in the matter of Humayun, she just breaks down any time anyone mentions it.”

And then the silence of Ghazala Khan became an issue. In an interview with ABC, Donald Trump said, "If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. You tell me." The remarks reflected surmise on Twitter from conservative sources.

This was a step too far, however. The backlash against Trump's remarks gave the speech even more play, and the Khans spent the next few days giving interviews together.

Far from being forbidden to speak, voiceless, or lacking something to say, Mrs. Khan shared her trepidation about maintaining composure on the convention stage in this interview with her husband on MSNBC (the video also is posted below, and a warning: you'll want tissues handy) and in this opinion article in the Washington Post. In the article, she said, "without saying a thing, all the world, all America, felt my pain. I am a Gold Star mother. Whoever saw me felt me in their heart."

She also addressed the mistaken idea that being a Muslim woman meant she was not allowed to speak--something readers of this blog know from the many Muslim women we've featured. "Donald Trump said that maybe I wasn’t allowed to say anything. That is not true. My husband asked me if I wanted to speak, but I told him I could not. My religion teaches me that all human beings are equal in God’s eyes. Husband and wife are part of each other; you should love and respect each other so you can take care of the family."

So much of this speaking situation is understandable, and that, I think, is what powered the backlash against Trump's criticism of Mrs. Khan. Anyone can guess the difficulty in speaking before such a large crowd at such a high-stakes event. And most people can imagine that grief or strong emotion might keep a person from being able to speak. It's the most-often mentioned concern I hear from speakers at weddings, funerals, and other emotional-laden events where we ask others to preside so we can avoid crying while we speak, so why not here?

At the same time, one might well say that her silence spoke volumes. We didn't need words to comprehend her loss. As we've said here before, when your story is compelling, there's no need to overcompensate. Women and men use silence all the time to "speak," conveying disapproval, a desire to avoid participation, an understanding that anything they say might well be used against them, or simply strong emotions, ranging from grief to happiness. Introverts hold back. But silence doesn't mean you have nothing to say. It seems instead that Trump was making a clumsy attempt to criticize Khizr Khan and suggest he was silencing his wife, when nothing could be further from the truth.

The backlash has a great benefit for women and public speaking: a new Twitter hashtag, #CanYouHearUsNow, which Muslim women are using to describe how they are speaking and speaking up. It's a great collection.

Here's the full speech at the convention, so you can see the crowd's reaction and the Khans on stage:




Here's the MSNBC interview with the Khans, in which Khizr Khan describes how his wife contributed to his speech, calling her "my coach." You also will hear her speak for herself about what happened:



Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Monday, August 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:
Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both,