Friday, September 23, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Billie Jean King at FIFA Women's Conference

Even if you've never been a tennis fan, you've probably heard of Billie Jean King. The 39-time Grand Slam champion became a potent symbol of the women's rights movement in the 1970s when she defeated self-proclaimed "chauvinist pig" Bobby Riggs in the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" match. (This throwback article from the New York Daily News gives some idea of how much of a cultural circus surrounded the match.) But King had been an advocate for equal rights in the workplace long before that celebrated match, helping to gain concrete reforms in the prize money and venues offered on the women's tennis tour.

Her plain language and her fearlessness in speaking out against discrimination led to her speech-filled career after tennis, and we've wanted to feature her on the blog for some time. Her recent speech at the FIFA Women's Football and Leadership Conference offers an excellent chance to hear what makes her such an eloquent woman and a dynamo for equal rights. And how can we not love a quote like this, from the March 2016 speech?
If FIFA wants to win, it is not enough for women to have a seat at the table. We can't just have a seat at the table. My generation worried about getting us a seat at the table. That's gone. That doesn't matter anymore. It's about having a voice at the table and being heard.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Acknowledge your inspirations and partners. Many of King's speeches talk about the people who have invited her to speak or who inspired her words, and this speech is an excellent demonstration of how she weaves these contributions into a talk. Listen to her recall her conversations with FIFA president Gianni Infantino, former U.S. football star Abby Wambach and her brother, former Major League pitcher Randy Moffitt, and you'll get a sense of how King's opinions and values grew organically with the help of their input. She even reads a little from the FIFA program book for the event, and acknowledges her livestream audience (very rare to see this, but increasingly important). It feels like an interesting reveal of how the speech was put together, and I think it gives a more inclusive and informal feel to the speech--making it more of a conversation and less of a proclamation.
  • Use the rhetorical rule of three. We've often talked about it on this blog, but if there is an opportunity to build a speech around three points, you can take advantage of the narrative and structural power this offers. In this case, King notes that FIFA is pursuing three major reforms: To bring more women into FIFA leadership; to develop a commercial strategy for women's football; and to appoint a secretary-general who supports gender equality in the sport. King thoughtfully builds her own "three observations" around these three elements.
  • Offer a historical perspective. One of the joys of listening to a speech by King is getting to hear her stories of how sport and women's rights have changed in her lifetime. As she notes in this speech, "history is slow when you're living it," but we benefit from her historical perspective. Her FIFA talk is full of illuminating stories of inequality in the tennis world; my personal favorite is her early realization at a country club match that "tennis whites" applied to more than just the togs. By offering a look at the earlier fight for equality in tennis, she delivers inspiration and hard-won bits of strategy to the women in her audience, now fighting for an equal place in the world's most popular sport.
Here's the full video of King's speech, starting at the 34:58 mark:

REPLAY: FIFA Women's Football and Leadership Conference 2016 - Morning Session

(Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this Famous Speech Friday post)

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, September 22, 2016

What does your more evolved, future speaker self look like?

Fight-or-flight syndrome (sometimes called fight-flight-freeze for the reactions it prompts) is normal and nearly universal in public speakers...and everyone else facing a stressful situation. It's evolutionary behavior, or, as I like to say, it's the sign that your caveman brain has taken over, shutting out the functioning of your higher-order brain, more recently evolved.

For public speakers, therein lies the problem: You need your higher-order brain to think and speak in front of an audience. So of course it shuts down just when you need it most.

You know that I and others recommend developing a regular mindfulness meditation practice to counteract fight-or-flight syndrome. When I was listening recently to a mindfulness lecture by Tara Brach on stress and everyday nirvana, she talked about one tactic for counteracting stress responses in everyday situations: imagining what your more evolved, future self looks like.

So speakers, let me ask you: if public speaking is stressful for you now, what does your more evolved, future speaker self look like?

To get you started on your thinking about this, let me share some of the words that my clients use to describe this in my 1:1 coaching sessions or in group workshops. Perhaps you'll find some inspiration here:
  • calm
  • eloquent
  • expert
  • smooth, well-planned delivery
  • awake and aware
  • confident that I can deal with what comes 
  • ready to answer questions
  • relaxed
  • commanding attention
  • able to deal with interruptions smoothly
  • enjoying being in front of the room
  • accepting of praise
  • in command of my content
  • knowing where I might trip up, and having a plan to work around that
  • appreciative of the other speakers and the audience
That's just to get you started. What would your list look like? 

This can be a powerful exercise for setting goals for yourself as a speaker. Sometimes in my workshops, I ask participants to do a similar exercise, in which they choose one word to describe themselves as a speaker today, and one word that, to them, defines "eloquent." Cate Huston said of this exercise and its results, "My talks were extremely well received, something which I attribute significantly to Denise’s help. In the workshop, I defined what eloquent meant to me as 'poised', which is exactly the word a conference organiser used to describe me on stage."

The point here is that your speaker self is an evolving self, or should be. Envisioning yourself as a more evolved speaker is part of the process of making that come true.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Sigurd Gartmann)

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.

Monday, September 19, 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, September 16, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Mary Ann Shadd Cary's 1858 "Break Every Yoke"

(Editor's note: Mary Ann Shadd Cary is one of a number of nineteenth-century American black women orators like Sojourner Truth who defied societal norms against women, and black women, speaking in public. You can read more about them and the conditions in which they spoke in Doers of the Word: African-American Women Speakers and Writers in the North (1810-1880) by Carla L. Peterson.)

Mary Ann Shadd Cary--abolitionist, feminist, teacher, newspaper editor, lawyer--gave one of her most popular speeches at the Philadelphia Colored Convention in 1855. A free black from the United States who had emigrated to Canada after the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act was passed, Shadd Cary nearly didn't speak at the convention at all. There was some discussion among the delegates about whether she should be admitted as a "corresponding member" of the meeting, since she lived in Canada. And many at the convention disapproved of her support of emigration for black families in the U.S. But eventually she was allowed to speak, and her speech on emigration was so well-received that she spoke longer than she was allotted originally.

This, however, is not a post about that famous speech. The text of that 1855 address was struck from the convention record, with later historical accounts suggesting that her speech was left out because she was a woman.

It wasn't the first time that Shadd Cary had encountered this kind of sexism. In the years before she returned to the U.S. to join the abolitionist speaking circuit, she had established her own newspaper, The Provincial Freeman, as the first black woman editor of a North American newspaper. (A trailblazer in more than one way, Shadd Cary was also one of the first black women in the U.S. to earn a law degree, from Howard University.) She kept her editorship under wraps until she received a letter in 1854 praising "Mr. M.A. Shadd" for his fine newspaper and "the ingenuity of the colored man who published it." She immediately placed her full name and title prominently on the masthead.

We do have a handwritten copy of another speech by Shadd Cary, an 1858 sermon delivered in Canada that touches on many of the themes that made her a popular antislavery speaker in the critical years leading up to the U.S. Civil War. Let's take a look at what we can learn from this famous and available speech:
  • Start with a strong statement, and carry that idea throughout the speech. In the sermon, Shadd Cary begins with the "great commandments" or what she calls "the 1st business of life," to love God and your neighbor as yourself. Not that controversial or original for the start of a sermon, maybe, but it's a strong, singular point of agreement with her audience that she then builds on throughout the rest of her speech. If her listeners accept these commandments, she reminds them, they must accept them fully on behalf of all races and all sexes.
  • Read your speech aloud to yourself as you practice. Shadd Cary's speech is not an easy one to read--as text. That's in part because the language has an old-fashioned, flowery sound to it that might seem melodramatic to modern ears. But it's also because it was never meant to be read, but meant to be heard. I think you'll enjoy this speech much more when you read it aloud, and begin to feel which parts might have been emphasized and how it may have been paced. Try it with this passage:
    Slavery American slavery will not bear moral tests. It is it Exists by striking down all the moral safeguards to society by--it is not then a moral institution. You are called upon as a man to deny and disobey the most noble impulses of manhood to aid a brother in distress--to refuse to strike from the limbs of those not bound for any crime the fetters by which his Escape is obstructed. The milk of human kindness must be transformed into the bitter waters of hatred--you must return to his master he that hath Escaped, no matter how Every principle of manly independence revolts at the same.
    If you do this with your own speeches as you're preparing them (or even after you deliver them), you may recognize places where a change of pace, a dramatic pause, or a shift in tone could be a benefit.
  • Consider the history of "angry" women speakers. If you read about Shadd Cary's career (Jane Rhodes' biography is a great place to start), you'll soon learn that she didn't pay much attention to her gentlemen colleagues in the antislavery movement who advised her to sweeten her words. Even the famous Frederick Douglass noted that her writing and speaking seemed to him too confrontational, complaining and shrill--while admitting that for some reason, audiences still seemed to like hearing from her. If this sounds familiar, well, let's just say that Shadd Cary has lots of contemporary company.
(Becky Ham contributed this Famous Speech Friday post)

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, September 15, 2016

My favorite fixes for public speaking: Don't wear all black

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 fourth 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 avoid wearing all black. Speakers are happy to stand alone on a stage in front of hundreds or people, or say provocative things in their speeches and presentations. But many of them do their hiding with their wardrobe, blending into the background in all-black or predominantly black outfits, for reasons that range from "It will make me look thinner" to "It will make me look more serious."

But what it makes you look is invisible. And is that why you bothered to get up on that stage or in front of the room? You might get lucky and have a pale background against which to stand, but why take a chance? Black also does little to complement your skin and face. And this one goes for men as well as women, no matter how often Steve Jobs wore it.

Really, almost any color will do instead, although you'll want to avoid lighter or pastel shades and pure white; the former wash out under the lights, and the latter is a lighting director's nightmare. Instead aim for jewel tones and other saturated colors like a French blue, navy, emerald, ruby.

This is a good fix for speakers who want to look more lively and energetic; speakers who want to stand out against the background, rather than blend in with it; and speakers who want the video of their talks to really shine.

(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 SpeechIt'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, September 12, 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: