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)