Monday, January 26, 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:
Come to my pre-conference workshop at the Spring Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference in Cambridge, UK, this April. What goes into a TED-quality talk will help speakers, speechwriters and conference organizers understand how to craft and deliver a talk in the style of TED, whether you're getting ready for a TEDx conference or just a presentation in this popular style. Go to this link  for more details on what's included, as well as a significant discount for readers of The Eloquent Woman. The workshop is on 15 April, and the conference is 16-17 April. Please join me!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Viola Davis: "Everything should be spoken"

Viola Davis is among my favorite speakers here at The Eloquent Woman and she's in the very small club of women with three speeches in our Index of famous speeches by women. This speech, in which she accepted an award at Variety's Power of Women luncheon in 2014, got immediate and widespread attention and is a great, short example of why I admire her so.

Davis was being honored for her work with Hunger Is, which seeks to eradicate childhood hunger. And in this short acceptance speech, at a luncheon where the menu was no doubt fine, Davis managed to grab the audience's attention by taking them to the dumpster--and in doing so, gave everyone a short lesson on the power of public speaking:
You know they say that you're never too old to have a happy childhood. And although my childhood was filled with many happy memories, it was also spent in abject poverty. I was one of the 17 million kids in this country who didn't know where the next meal was coming from. And I did everything to get food. I've stolen for food. I've jumped in huge garbage bins with maggots for food. I have befriended people in the neighborhood who I knew had mothers who cooked three meals a day for food. And I sacrificed a childhood for food and grew up in immense shame.
And the word that I would like to eradicate today is unspeakable. Because I think everything should be spoken. I think everybody's testimony should be spoken. I think everybody's shame should be spoken. And the stain that is on this country is that one out of every five children in this country are living in households that are food poor. And of all the elementary school teachers out there they say that three out of five of the kids in their class, come to school hungry in the richest country in the world.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Say it plain: Davis's words have so much more impact because she did not strive to make them smooth, rounded, elegant or complex. It's hard to have more impact than "I've stolen for food," or "I've jumped in hug garbage bins with maggots for food."
  • Use data wisely: This is Hollywood, so it's important that the speech not sound all about her. Davis weaves just a few key data points into her speech, noting she was one of the 17 million kids with hunger, or that three out of five elementary schoolchildren come to school hungry. The data keep this from being an ego trip, but by using them judiciously, she makes sure they, too, have plenty of punch.
  • Look what you can do without a script: Davis has said she never prepares written remarks, claiming it would scare her more. So you'll hear ums and pauses aplenty, and yet she's among the most eloquent extemporaneous speakers I've heard. Why does this work? It's a personal set of stories and perspectives, spoken from the heart.
Watch the video below and think about how you can have more impact when you accept an award.




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

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Do you have clinician's distance when telling stories? How to recover

"Tell me more about that student," I said to the physician I was coaching. We were working on a story she could tell as part of a talk she'd be giving to donors. "What does she look like?"

"You mean her physical data?"

"Yes, but let's call it hair color, height, weight, freckles, whatever." And that's when I diagnosed my client with the only thing I'm licensed to identify: Clinician's distance when speaking to a public audience.

You don't have to be an actual clinician to have this public speaking problem, though it happens more frequently among medical professionals, scientists, engineers, and technology experts. If you're in an academic or research or clinical setting, it's expected that you'll strip out the emotion and personal details, or hold them at arm's length to examine them. Anyone pursuing graduate-level education will be taught not to put themselves into presentations, over and over again, until it becomes habitual to distance yourself from the personal. And don't get me started on specialists who invent multi-syllabic terms for the simplest words we'd all recognize.

Sometimes, that's a matter of professional shorthand--you want one term, not several specific ones, to signal to a colleague what you're talking about. Sometimes, on the other hand, you may be doing what Sam Leith, author of Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama, noted at the UK Speechwriters Guild conference last year: Hiding behind an obfuscating term because, if you were to be understood, you might be found banal. That fear of being too obvious and boring, of not adding to the intrigue, is a common one among experts and specialists. But in my mind, it's the wrong way to go about intriguing your audience.
Now that we've diagnosed you, what's the prescription? Here are some tactics that have worked for my clients:
  • Turn that clinical eye to your personal stories: You'll be at ease describing data in your talk, but when it comes to describing yourself, your family members, stressful personal moments and the like, watch out for words and phrases that will distance you from your subject, just when we want to see some passion and emotion. If you're speaking about your recently deceased father but don't show some emotion, we'll see you and that story differently than you're hoping. Identifying your trouble spots in a talk is the first step to changing your approach.
  • Think about your motivation for using the $10 words: If you're choosing more complicated terms, or dispassionate ones, because you feel you'll sound better, more important, or well-educated, think again. As Einstein said, "If you can't explain it to your grandmother, you don't understand it well enough." The ability to communicate with anyone, not just people in your specialty, requires language we can all follow--and it is the more difficult skill to master.
  • Don't forget that with techspeak, you're speaking to a truly narrow audience: When you use the language of your specialized training, you may not just be missing the public audience you want to reach. You're probably just as confusing to other researchers and clinicians with different specialties, since they all use their own jargon and technical terms--often, with one term meaning very different things across specialties. Find those universally understood words instead to reach both technical and non-technical listeners, and expand your audience.
  • Think back before your training: You learn an entirely different vocabulary in your training as a researcher or clinician. But how would you describe this scene/person/moment before all that knowledge? How would you describe it to your children? Your younger self? Your smart teenage niece? Reaching back for everyday terms from your past may help you put the point across in the present.
  • Know that sometimes, emotion is appropriate: Sometimes it's the occasion that permits emotion--as in speeches at weddings or funerals--and sometimes, it's the moment you're describing that demands it. Speakers' visible and audible emotions help the audience interpret what you are saying. So if you're describing something joyous, I'm going to want to see a smile on your face. Likewise, choking up with emotion when you are describing a difficult personal moment is not only entirely understandable, but appropriate. No one in the audience will fail to understand and accept it. If you instead give a wedding speech or TED talk that sounds as if you're delivering an academic paper, on the other hand, you're not fitting the speech to the occasion.
  • Emotion can be a handle that lets us grasp your complex topic: The audience may not understand entirely or at all your work in nanotubes, immunology, or engineering new mechanical devices that will save lives in surgery. But your emotions and some personal details can give your listeners a path to getting there with you. If you inject some personality by telling us what inspired you to pursue this research, how you felt when a particular patient was helped by your work, or what's most frustrating to you about the search for answers, we'll be able to relate to that...and we'll be more likely to listen further.
I've worked for two major scientific societies and national health and environment organizations, so training technical experts is one of my areas of expertise. Let me know if you need a workshop or coaching around closing that clinician's distance from your audience. Just email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com to get started.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by John Twohig)

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

Monday, January 19, 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:
Come to my pre-conference workshop at the Spring Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference in Cambridge, UK, this April. What goes into a TED-quality talk will help speakers, speechwriters and conference organizers understand how to craft and deliver a talk in the style of TED, whether you're getting ready for a TEDx conference or just a presentation in this popular style. Go to this link  for more details on what's included, as well as a significant discount for readers of The Eloquent Woman. The workshop is on 15 April, and the conference is 16-17 April. Please join me!

Friday, January 16, 2015

12 famous speeches by women on disability

In The Eloquent Woman Index of famous speeches by women, disability is a recurring theme. Talking about mental and physical limits--and possibilities--is one important role these speakers have in common. Demonstrating what speakers with disabilities can do is another, for many in this collection. Click the link on any speaker's name below to learn more about her and her speech, with video, audio or text of these famous speeches, where available:
  1. Helen Keller's 1916 speech, "Strike Against War," was the most famous of her 50-year career as a public speaker--an achievement for the deaf and blind activist for whom speaking was at one time thought to be an impossibility.
  2. Elizabeth Glaser spoke on AIDS at the 1992 Democratic national convention in the U.S., humanizing the epidemic even as she called for leadership action. She died two years later, in 1994.
  3. Mary Fisher took her turn to speak about AIDS in the same year, but at the Republican national convention. She used the theme of "whispers" about AIDS in a speech that is widely considered one of the best of the 20th century.
  4. Princess Diana spoke about the need for a ban on landmines in terms of the disabling costs to civilians in countries torn apart by war, detailing surgery and prosthetic device costs and describing her meetings with survivors of landmine accidents.
  5. Elyn Saks spoke about mental disability by describing her own experiences with schizophrenia, giving voice to a disability that is rarely spoken about. She urged her listeners to "please do send flowers" as they would to someone with a physical illness or disability.
  6. Jill Bolte Taylor's "stroke of insight" TED talk took eight years of preparation, because she first had to recover her ability to move and speak after a disabling stroke. A neurologist, she knew just what was happening as it happened to her: "And in that moment, I knew I was no longer the choreographer of my life."
  7. War correspondent Marie Colvin, herself blind in one eye from a war injury, gave a eulogy for fallen fellow journalists, describing the price they pay in physical and mental disabilities. She died in an attack two years later, on the day she was due to return home.
  8. Jane Fonda tackles disability as among the challenges we'll all face in "life's third act." She talks about aging as "the staircase, which may seem like an odd metaphor for seniors given the fact that many seniors are challenged by stairs. Myself included." The movie icon shows her frank and funny style of discussing her own disabilities in this TEDWomen talk.
  9. Tanni Grey-Thompson's urging to "shout a bit louder" on disability used the occasion of a speech honoring the first disabled member of the British Parliament, and shared her own experience as a wheelchair-bound MP and athlete.
  10. Golfer Sophie Gustafson gave a rare speech describing her stuttering is "part of who I am." The six-and-a-half minute speech took eight hours to record on video, demonstrating the extraordinary lengths she went to in making her voice heard.
  11. Most members of the audience watching Sheena Iyengar's TED talk on the art of choosing didn't know she was blind until she was led on stage. Although her disability wasn't mentioned in the program, it was discussed in a Q&A with a host after her talk--not for its own sake, but in the context of how it impacts her research.
  12. Sue Austin's "I am the most mobile person in the room" talk at TEDMED introduced the audience to her performance art--daring deep-water dives in a wheelchair--but prompted the audience to consider the "cages" that are holding them back. 
Come to my pre-conference workshop at the Spring Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference in Cambridge, UK, this April. What goes into a TED-quality talk will help speakers, speechwriters and conference organizers understand how to craft and deliver a talk in the style of TED, whether you're getting ready for a TEDx conference or just a presentation in this popular style. Go to this link  for more details on what's included, as well as a significant discount for readers of The Eloquent Woman. The workshop is on 15 April, and the conference is 16-17 April. Please join me!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Coaching a cadre of conference speakers to give TED-quality talks

"Amazing." "Most interesting thing I've ever seen at a conference." "These made me remember why I got into health care."

Conference organizers and program directors are increasingly in search of ways to enliven programs and get away from panels and keynotes. Many are using  TED-style talks to do so. There are plenty of benefits from the organizers' point of view, from variety in the program and baked-in brevity to being part of a hip yet established trend in public speaking.

But there are many more benefits to trying this approach, like these audience reactions at the recent Align conference on health care quality. A cadre of 16 speakers from Aligning Forces for Quality, a national demonstration program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, were featured giving five-minute TED-quality talks about challenges faced by their projects, successes, and lessons learned. By the time each of the 16 "spotlight speakers," one from each project, had done their talks, they'd become the hit of the program.

That's an ambitious assignment, and I was fortunate to be the coach for these spotlight speakers. Here's how we pulled off this successful session:
  1. Selecting non-traditional speakers: The program's 16 coalitions--which include health professionals, business leaders, patients and more--nominated one speaker each. I quickly came to appreciate that those selected were not the usual suspects. They represented a range of roles: Nurses, physicians, business developers, patients, and only a few project directors. Many of the 16 speakers selected are introverted or infrequent speakers, or just plain nervous about speaking.  But all were highly committed to making this assignment work, a huge advantage in our coaching and eventual success.
  2. Speaker's choice on subject matter: While talks needed to focus on some aspect of the program, we gave speakers their choice of topics, ruled out yawn-inducing overviews and lots of slides, and urged them to resist lobbying by others for inclusion of off-topic items. Instead, in the spirit of TED, we asked them to use personal storytelling to shed light on the progress they were describing and make it understandable to all. Having the latitude to come up with their own topics was both challenging and an incentive for these speakers.
  3. The gift of time limits: I can't lie. The five-minute time limit was a big concern for these speakers, but it also served as a useful tool in structuring and organizing the talks. I advised them to aim for 120 words per minute as a guide to writing a script that had a prayer of coming in under the time limit. I'm pretty sure none of the speakers had had to limit their talks to five minutes before, and that's where practice came in handy. On performance day, we reassured the speakers that no ills would befall those who came in over time, since we had plenty of speakers whose talks were shorter than the limit, and overall, the session came in slightly under its allotted time.
  4. A two-pronged approach to coaching: We used a combination of group and 1:1 coaching for these 16 speakers. Group training works well and efficiently when you want a group of individual speakers to reach a particular norm--in this case, the five-minute talk in the style of TED--and when you need to ensure that all the individual speakers hear the same instructions. During our one-day workshop, we looked at how much you can fit into a five-minute talk and what distinguishes TED-style talks from other formats. Then each participant came up with a plan for his or her talk, including the personal story as well as any rhetorical devices--analogies or metaphors, for example--they wanted to use. Each speaker described his or her plan in a short video recording so we could provide on-the-spot feedback about their delivery. The group training was followed by two one-hour coaching sessions by phone or Skype, as well as interim reviews of scripts and practice videos, so I could coach them on their talk structure, language choices, and delivery. 
  5. Practice: Every speaker put in hours of practice, sending me their results for input along the way. At one point, we had nearly every speaker practicing in their cars on the way to work, and many, many colleagues and families were turned into practice audiences. Without the speakers' efforts, these talks would not have been the polished jewels that resulted from all that practice. And I want to note that these speakers carried on with the practice despite a host of deadlines, busy schedules, family emergencies and more--real troupers.
  6. On-site support: We encouraged all speakers to arrive the day before for an orientation to see the stage, green room, hair and makeup location, and other backstage details, and did a walk-through so they'd know exactly what would happen the next day. This step is often overlooked and makes a world of difference in preparing the speakers. Rooms were set aside so I could do on-the-spot 1:1 coaching or run-throughs with speakers during the day as needed, or so that introverted speakers could get some alone time to replenish their energy. And I was backstage with each and every speaker for last-minute help and encouragement, until the last one came off the stage.
I have to say that the entire group exceeded expectations--theirs and mine. After three months of preparation, it was lovely to hear the audience laugh or gasp or go silent at the points we'd anticipated, as jokes and revelations and serious moments hit their marks. There were nerves a-plenty backstage, but none of them showed onstage, as I'd reassured the speakers would be the case. A couple of speakers had interruptions and moved so smoothly through them they were soon forgotten.

Speakers used a variety of rhetorical approaches to the talks: Some acted out conversations or thought about what life would look like if something had or hadn't happened. Others related the program's challenges to a personal challenge. And we had some colorful metaphors going, from comparing the fits and starts of a new project to teaching a teenager to drive, to how a successful consumer engagement campaign should really be like a well-crafted breakfast. The juice that powered these talks, however, were the personal stories. We heard about near-death experiences and everyday happenings, emotional moments and amusing episodes. Talks were grouped into related themes that made sense for the program.

"Intensive training and coaching--as well as commitment and bravery on the part of the speakers--was instrumental in the success of the Aligning Forces Spotlight speeches," says Katherine Browne, deputy director and chief operating officer of AF4Q's national program office. "The presenters have become great messengers for the project's impact."

Sixteen talks are too many to summarize here, but I encourage you to look at the posted videos and see for yourself how well these speakers did. I've asked some of them to write about their experience for my "Talk About the Talk" series, in which speakers I've worked with share their preparation and delivery experiences for high-stakes talks, so you'll be hearing more from them in the coming weeks and months.

If you're considering a similar project for your program, conference or company, let me share what I see as some of the benefits:
  • It's a novel way to provide what several of the AF4Q speakers called "the best professional development I have ever had." If you want to invest in your executives--be they nonprofiteers, government leaders, or company managers--public speaking and presentation coaching and help preparing for a high-stakes event are investments your executives will truly appreciate. Even the seasoned speakers in the group cycled back to say, "I wasn't sure I'd learn anything from this, but I did."
  • The talks can be used again and again if you structure them well. This national program will be concluding in 2015, after many years as a flagship initiative. The local projects need to focus now on sustaining their efforts without the foundation's anchor support, which will require lots of outreach and fundraising. I urged speakers not to make their talks specific to the event, but to their projects, so that they could re-use the talks in these forthcoming pitches--and some speakers practiced by doing their talk at small-group meetings with donors before the conference.
  • You can shape and hone messages and speakers to create a cadre of messengers for your nonprofit, agency, company or product, as Browne points out. Just imagine if your entire team each had a unique, effective, on-message talk they could give in five minutes to customers, investors, donors, volunteers, supporters, suppliers or any other audience you need to work with. Your client services agency could field a team of people when pitching clients for new work and make them see beyond the numbers and the PowerPoint slides to the heart of what you really do. For this national program, one potential legacy is the creation of these messengers, 16 people who can now go on to more confidently and cogently share the lessons learned and spread them around. It's a benefit that will last long after the program closes its doors.
I'd love to hear about a team or cadre of speakers you'd like to field for your business, nonprofit or government agency. Email me at eloquentwoman at gmail.com and let's get started! 
Come to my pre-conference workshop at the Spring Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference in Cambridge, UK, this April. What goes into a TED-quality talk will help speakers, speechwriters and conference organizers understand how to craft and deliver a talk in the style of TED, whether you're getting ready for a TEDx conference or just a presentation in this popular style. Go to this link  for more details on what's included, as well as a significant discount for readers of The Eloquent Woman. The workshop is on 15 April, and the conference is 16-17 April. Please join me!