Monday, September 22, 2014

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:
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Friday, September 19, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Indra Nooyi's "middle finger" speech

Commencement speakers get a thumbs-up or thumbs-down depending on how well they can make a hidebound ceremony seem fresh and memorable. Indra Nooyi got a definite thumbs-down from some quarters when she offered up a 2005 commencement speech that included a starring role for, ahem, the middle finger.

Nooyi, president and CFO of PepsiCo at the time, spoke at the Columbia University Business School graduation on the topic of global business. She was an inspired choice: born in India, in charge of PepsiCo's international strategy for nearly a decade, and consistently ranked among Forbes' most powerful women in business. And she employed an inspired analogy in her talk, using the hand and its fingers to talk about perceptions of the United States in the world marketplace.

Each major continent was represented by a finger in this analogy, which emphasized how the "hand" (the world) did its best when all its fingers worked together. Nooyi dubbed the U.S. as the middle finger of the hand--an anchor of strength and purpose, but apt to send the wrong signal if extended on its own. The thrust of the speech was a cautionary tale to young Americans ready to launch their careers on the global stage. But parts of the blogosphere in particular were incensed by the speech, seeing it as an attack on American values. Nooyi later released a statement saying she "had come to realize that my words and examples about America unintentionally depicted our country negatively."

So was it a speech full of wise advice or insulting asides? You can read the full text here, and check out the notes below on what we think worked in this speech:
  • If you use an analogy, be sure that it has its roots in real life. America-as-middle-finger could have been little more than a gimmick, but Nooyi knows just how important this perception is on the global stage. Her talk is built around real examples, like the boorish businessmen in a Beijing bar, that support her analogy and give it credibility and urgency.
  • It doesn't hurt to repeat yourself. In this case, the analogy gave Nooyi the perfect tag line to repeat during the speech. There are several places where she encourages the graduates to "extend the hand, not the finger." Repetition is one of the classic skills of rhetoric that you might want to explore for your next speech.
  • Talk about yourself if it's relevant. Who better to speak about perception in global business than Nooyi? As PepsiCo CFO and an immigrant, she had both the professional and personal experience to know how misperceptions can hurt:
Graduates, it pains me greatly that this view of America persists. Although I'm a daughter of India, I'm an American businesswoman. My family and I are citizens of this great country. This land we call home is a most loving and ever-giving nation--a Promised Land that we love dearly in return. And it represents a true force that, if used for good, can steady the hand--along with global economies and cultures. Yet to see us frequently stub our fingers on the international business and political stage is deeply troubling."
Today, Nooyi serves as the chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo, and yes, she's given several other commencement speeches since 2005. At BlogHer 2011, she emphasized that women leaders should "overinvest in written and oral communication" with an eye to how speaking can motivate others. She admits to flunking the first communications course she had at Yale, and in this video talks about how she's learned to speak slower over the years.



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

(Creative Commons licensed photo from the World Economic Forum)

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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

(Editor's note: I've just finished coaching the speakers at TEDMED 2014, and promised many speakers that I'd republish this post, which originally appeared in 2010 and has been updated annually ever since. They'll be seeing video of their talks in the coming months, and wanted to know what to look for. Use this list to spot problems, see what you did right, and make improvements, based on your own video. If you've just spoken at a TED conference, you also may find useful my list of 9 things to do with the video of your TED talk. It was a special treat for me to coach alongside Peter Botting at this TEDMED. Can't wait for you to see the videos of these wonderful speakers!)

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

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

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

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

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

If you found this post useful, please subscribe or make a one-time donation to help support the thousands of hours that go into researching and curating this content for you. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

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:
I'll be leading Be The Eloquent Woman, my day-long workshop on women and public speaking, as a pre-conference session at the European Speechwriter Network's autumn speechwriters and business communicators conference in Amsterdam. The workshop is 23 October and the conference is 24 October. You'll learn how to speak with confidence, content and credibility to subvert the common expectations of women speakers. Please join me!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Sue Austin's "most mobile person" at TEDMED

This morning, I'll be wrapping up a week of backstage speaker coaching at the TEDMED conference here in Washington. Last year at TEDMED 2013, British artist Sue Austin managed to bring the audience to silence before she ever got on stage. That's because a short film was shown the day before she spoke at the conference, featuring Austin's performance art: An underwater dive she took in a wheelchair off the coast of Egypt.

The video of that dive is mesmerizing. Only later do you learn that Austin, who lost her mobility after an extended illness, is using a National Health Service standard-issue wheelchair for the dive--with some souped-up technology attached.

Powerful as the film was, Austin's speech at TEDMED was one of the most talked-about at the conference. I was fortunate enough to work with her backstage, where we agreed that a speaker in a wheelchair has no more limits than one seated for a panel. She also has a few advantages, and you can see her take those advantages in the video below, where she spins around in her motorized wheelchair to evoke the movement she gets to make underwater as she describes what that feels like:
When I'm moving through the underwater spaces off the coast of Egypt it makes me feel free. Look what I'm doing: I'm not swimming, I'm flying. I can bank and roll, somersault, turn loop-the-loops if I want to. It's the ultimate freedom, it's the ultimate joy and exhilaration. So as both a scientist and an artist, I am brought here by a portal, by an underwater wheelchair that has become that portal. A vehicle for transformation, a fun-mobile, an electric wheelbarrow, a sub-aquatic machine. An object to paint and play with, leave traces of my joy and freedom, a facilitator of endless experimentation, a research tool that facilitates an ongoing journey, a thinking space that enables me to create new theory from that practice...enables me to ask unexpected questions and gives me the freedom to realize a previously unexpected dream.
What can you learn from this speech, which left many in the audience of 1,500 people saying, "I'll never think about disability in the same way again?"
  • Connect your experience to the audience: It would be easy, too easy, to dismiss Austin as unusual in her accomplishments or to see her as limited by the "cage" of a wheelchair. So she redraws the picture for the audience: "Sometimes the frameworks designed to free us become cages...cages that constrict our thinking, disabling us where there are no physical impairments, limiting our ability to see. What intellectual constructs are you strapped into? Maybe your restraints aren't physical, but I can guarantee you they are there. Maybe you want to get out of them. Maybe you want to turn them into a vehicle. Maybe you might dream of creating a space to fly free." It's a powerful moment in her speech, and a connecting one. Who's caged now?
  • Use all your advantages if they are relevant to your content: That well-chosen spin comes at a relevant moment in which she's describing underwater movement--otherwise, it might just be a gratuitous use of equipment. But since she could spin, and it fit her words, she did, adding visual interest.
  • Jump in with a strong start: Austin got an immediate round of applause for her opening line, "I am the most mobile person in this room." She used that to get the audience thinking differently about disability and mobility, saying that "to get this mobility in the physical world, first I had to get mobile in my thinking." 
You can watch Sue's TEDMED talk in the video below, and go here to see her underwater in the wheelchair. Read more about how she came to underwater dives here. As she says, just by reading about it and viewing it, now you're a part of this work of art. What do you think of it?



I'll be leading Be The Eloquent Woman, my day-long workshop on women and public speaking, as a pre-conference session at the European Speechwriter Network's autumn speechwriters and business communicators conference in Amsterdam. The workshop is 23 October and the conference is 24 October. You'll learn how to speak with confidence, content and credibility to subvert the common expectations of women speakers. Please join me!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

From the vault: 7 paths to success for panelists

(Editor's note: Since this post appeared in 2009, my own views on panels have shifted quite a bit. I now advocate for panels without slides and technology, so the panel discussion can be a real discussion--and my own preference is to attend conferences with few or no panels. But into each speaker's life some panels will fall, so you may as well be prepared.) 

Speaking as part of a panel is a great opportunity to speak without the full responsibility for holding an audience's attention...a great way to break into speaking...and a real headache if you don't plan it right. To be a sought-after panelist, try these tips to enhance your success:
  1. Stand down if you're one panelist too many: What? Turn down a speaking gig? Absolutely...if you feel the organizers have asked too many panelists. I'm most comfortable on a panel of three, but have been asked to sit on panels of as many as eight, a situation in which I was told each speaker would have precisely 2.5 minutes to make remarks! Do the math: When you add in all the introductions, moderator comments and questions, will you have enough time to make an impact?
  2. Interview the organizer or moderator: What presentation technology is available? How many panelists? How much time will each of us have? Do I need to prepare a presentation or remarks, or is this more of a roundtable with the moderator asking questions? If so, what are the questions? What's the panel setup--table with microphones or each of us taking a turn at the lectern? How many people do you expect in the audience? Can I bring handouts or takeaway materials?
  3. Provide your introduction and a bio for the program: I'm a big fan of taking charge of your introduction, but never more so than when you're on a panel. Check out this suite of introductions, and choose a shorter one for the verbal intro, and a medium-sized one for the panel--keeping in mind that more than one speaker will be featured.
  4. Keep it simple: Don't bring your video, a load of slides or your full-on I'm-the-only-speaker game. Instead, good panelists contribute as part of a group, responding to the other speakers and to the audience. Choose a handful of key points and take it from there.
  5. Find your niche: Take the time to figure out (with the organizer, moderator or the other speakers) the unique role you can play in this panel. Are you the naysayer? The surprise element? An outside observer? Once you know your role, you can focus your remarks.
  6. Don't pile on during Q&A: Some panelists seem to feel as if they must comment on every question (even if it's to say, "What she said..."). Don't be that panelist. Instead, hold your own on the questions where you can contribute strongly, and let the others handle the questions on which you're not the authority.
  7. Think how you look when you're not speaking: On a panel of three, you're not speaking two-thirds of the time...but still visible to the audience. Are you doodling? Checking your smartphone? Looking out the window? Something worse? Remember that you're on stage all the time as a panelist, and cultivate a thoughtful, listening look while your colleagues are speaking.
Related posts: 4 stepping stones to get speaking practice (including panels)

Everything in moderation (for panel moderators)

5 ways to renew your speaking skills

Speakers: 7 reasons I want you to talk more

(Creative Commons licensed photo by rosarodoe with words added)

I'll be leading Be The Eloquent Woman, my day-long workshop on women and public speaking, as a pre-conference session at the European Speechwriter Network's autumn speechwriters and business communicators conference in Amsterdam. The workshop is 23 October and the conference is 24 October. You'll learn how to speak with confidence, content and credibility to subvert the common expectations of women speakers. Please join me!