Monday, May 30, 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, May 27, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Hillary Clinton's 1969 commencement speech

Long before she became a Clinton, Hillary Rodham had an early and activist career as a speaker--so much so that Wellesley College broke with tradition and gave her a place on the commencement podium as its first student commencement speaker.

On that day in 1969, she followed the main speaker, Republican Senator Edward Brooke, and right at the start, signaled that she would rebut his remarks with all the impatience of her generation in a tumultuous time. Do her words sound like those of today's agitated electorate?
We've had lots of empathy; we've had lots of sympathy, but we feel that for too long our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible. 
After she contributed what she referred to at the start as "that indispensable element of criticizing and constructive protest," Rodham turned to her central theme, which focused on three qualities: Integrity, trust, and respect.
Those three words mean different things to all of us. Some of the things they can mean, for instance: Integrity, the courage to be whole, to try to mold an entire person in this particular context, living in relation to one another in the full poetry of existence. If the only tool we have ultimately to use is our lives, so we use it in the way we can by choosing a way to live that will demonstrate the way we feel and the way we know. Integrity—a man like Paul Santmire. Trust. This is one word that when I asked the class at our rehearsal what it was they wanted me to say for them, everyone came up to me and said "Talk about trust, talk about the lack of trust both for us and the way we feel about others. Talk about the trust bust." What can you say about it? What can you say about a feeling that permeates a generation and that perhaps is not even understood by those who are distrusted? All we can do is keep trying again and again and again. There's that wonderful line in "East Coker" by Eliot about there's only the trying, again and again and again; to win again what we've lost before.
Even in 1969, the speech was a sensation. Women were rare as public speakers unless they were protesting, and student speakers even more rare. At a time when many students were activists against the Vietnam War or for women's or LGBT or civil rights, inviting a student speaker presented the college with a certain amount of risk. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Give voice to others. It's one of the speaker's most powerful tools, and one that guarantees you are thinking about your audience. But few speakers take this strong opportunity to give voice to their listeners. "Talk about the trust bust" put that feeling in the words of her fellow students and through a microphone on a day when their thoughts might not have been represented at all. It strikes me that the lines that follow--"What can you say about it? What can you say about a feeling that permeates a generation and that perhaps is not even understood by those who are distrusted? All we can do is keep trying again and again and again."--could be said today by a younger generation.
  • Use the rule of three: On a day when big thoughts are called for, limiting her core speech to three--integrity, trust, and respect--helped give this speech structure and focus. Your audience (and you) can most easily remember three things, another advantage and part of what makes this speech truly memorable.
  • Don't be afraid to challenge authority: In this setting, using her remarks to challenge the remarks of a sitting senator would have been essentially unheard of, and considered an affront and a bold speaking move. It's here that she truly took charge of the event and helped her classmates to feel they had a real spokesperson on stage.
Below is an interview with one of her former classmates about the speech. Note her insights on the preparations made...

Dean Acheson's appraisal of young Hillary Clinton

(Wellesley College photo)

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, May 26, 2016

Guest post: Do you tic when you talk?

(Editor's note: I asked voice coach Kate Peters for permission to reprint this post, which gets at an annoying but involuntary vocal problem many speakers experience. She notes, "Non-verbal “language" speaks volumes to an audience about who the speaker is, their emotional state, and their confidence. In particular, nervous habits surface as body language, but they can also surface as repeated vocal sounds of which the speaker may not even be aware.")

When I was in high school, I had a French teacher who grunted between every few words; little pig-like grunts would come from her mouth even when she was not speaking. It was awkward for us, to say the least, and she was the brunt of many jokes. However, she was either completely unaware of this tic, or did not know how to stop it.

Most people have seen physical tics such as head jerks, or hands that pull at clothes over and over when speaking, but there are also phonic tics. Phonic tics are involuntary sounds produced by moving air through the nose, mouth, or throat. Some call them vocal tics, but they could be a sound made when you breathe or a click of the tongue or a throat clearing. The extreme of phonic tics is Tourette Syndrome, but most are not that severe. For most of us, tics appear when we least want them to– when we are in front of a group. Tics are associated with anxiety. (Naturally, I now have much more compassion for my French teacher because I realize that we must have scared her to death!)

People with tics report that they first feel an irresistible urge to clear the throat, or grunt, or whatever the tic is followed by the tic. Even though it feels like you can’t stop yourself, it is possible to get rid of most tics as you do other habits, through awareness and practice; if you are aware of it you can stop it. Some tics, of course, are more deeply ingrained, more about the anxiety of being in front of others, and may take longer to conquer. Either way, if you have a vocal tic, eliminating it will increase your credibility, your comfort, and the audience’s comfort as well. Here’s how to work on it:
  • Observe yourself, either through video, or through feedback from others. You need to know exactly when the tic appears and what it is (grunt? click? sigh?) Sometimes this is all it takes to begin to break the habit.
  • Answer the tic urge with distraction.Tics are pent up energy. If you notice when the urge comes upon you to make the tic sound, say something before you can tic, or energize your voice consciously and you may dissolve the urge, and even replace it with a positive habit.
  • Before going on stage, calm yourself down with several deep low breaths, and repeat.
  • Focus on what you can do for others rather than what they are thinking about you. This is the key to conquering almost any kind of stage fright!
  • Prepare well. The more prepared you are the less likely it is that the nerves will get to you.
About Kate Peters
Kate Peters has taught voice and communication impact for over 30 years, and is the author of the book, Can You Hear Me Now? She has coached many executives and leadership teams at companies such as Cisco, Intel, Ernst and Young, Disney, Boeing, CA, British Petroleum, Invensys, First American, and Nissan. She helps translate geek speak into influential everyday speech for speakers at TEDMED and TEDx events, and is a featured speaker herself with organizations such as Women in Business, NAFE, E-Women, Rotary, The UCLA Alumni Association, CASE, and IABC. As a guest on talk radio spots she has taught vocal skills to thousands, and thoroughly enjoyed coaching callers into the Canadian based “Wayne and Jane Show" to sound sexy for Valentine’s Day.  Her blog, Kate’s Voice, has been named one of the top 100 online public speaking resources by Prezi

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Daniel Oines)

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, May 23, 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, May 20, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Michelle Obama at Tuskegee University

"Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating?"

You might find it difficult to imagine yourself saying those words in front of a crowd of thousands. But that's just what U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama did in her commencement address this year at Tuskegee University, in a speech that considered how we view and treat race in our society from an historic and more contemporary perspective. And in doing so, she took back some of the power of being a woman speaker, by naming the criticisms that aimed to silence her.

First, she spent considerable time talking about the Tuskegee Airmen, America's first black military airmen. These African-American fighter pilots and bomber pilots fought in World War II in the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. Despite their service, they faced discrimination and segregation on the ground. Here's how Mrs. Obama made this historic group come alive for the graduates. From the transcript: 

Just think about what that must have been like for those young men.  Here they were, trained to operate some of the most complicated, high-tech machines of their day -- flying at hundreds of miles an hour, with the tips of their wings just six inches apart.  Yet when they hit the ground, folks treated them like they were nobody -- as if their very existence meant nothing. 
Now, those Airmen could easily have let that experience clip their wings.  But as you all know, instead of being defined by the discrimination and the doubts of those around them, they became one of the most successful pursuit squadrons in our military.  (Applause.)  They went on to show the world that if black folks and white folks could fight together, and fly together, then surely -- surely -- they could eat at a lunch counter together.  Surely their kids could go to school together. (Applause.)
Later, she turned to the discrimination and silencing questions she herself faced:
Back when my husband first started campaigning for President, folks had all sorts of questions of me: What kind of First Lady would I be?  What kinds of issues would I take on?  Would I be more like Laura Bush, or Hillary Clinton, or Nancy Reagan?  And the truth is, those same questions would have been posed to any candidate’s spouse.  That’s just the way the process works.  But, as potentially the first African American First Lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others. Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating?  (Applause.) Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?
She details more of those specific jabs and criticisms, then says:
So throughout this journey, I have learned to block everything out and focus on my truth.  I had to answer some basic questions for myself:  Who am I?  No, really, who am I?  What do I care about?  
And the answers to those questions have resulted in the woman who stands before you today. 
For her efforts, this speech was dubbed racist or "reverse racist" by conservative critics. She was told to "quit whining," and worse--all reactions using a long-standing tactic of branding the speaker as doing the very thing she's speaking against, and a true double standard.

What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Name your silencers: The easiest way to take the power away from harsh criticisms--the kind that aim to silence your voice--is to name them in your speeches. Shed light on these negative tropes and take your voice back. In doing so, you'll be a great example to others.
  • Show us those places where history echoes: With a deft hand, this speech shares parallels between the history of discrimination against the airmen, and the first black president and his family a generation later. The discrimination takes a different form, but remains in the form of "fears and misperceptions," despite progress, and the speech does a great job sharing that perspective from the individuals' points of view.
  • Make your speech one that only you could give: This commencement speech could have been formulaic, so familiar is this spring speaking ritual. But by adding her own perspective, Mrs. Obama made this speech very much her own. The next time you are preparing a presentation or speech, ask yourself: Could anyone else give this? If the answer is yes, put more of yourself into it.
You can watch video of the speech here and below, and read the speech here.



(White House photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The quantified speaker: 6 kinds of speaker data to know about yourself

A practical way to advance your speaker skills also is often overlooked: Quantifying your performances as a speaker over time. Put another way, if you keep track of certain measures after each talk, you can compare your data over time and make changes as needed. Most speakers don't do this, and never learn how to adjust. Here are 6 kinds of data that are easy to track and useful in advancing your skills:
  1. How fast or slow do you really speak? Most speakers have no real idea of their speaking speed, but all public speakers need to speaker slower than they do in conversation if the audience is to hear and understand them. Use a formula of 120 words per minute as your guide, and divide that into the total words in the transcript or script of your speech. Then look at the recording time to calculate how fast or slow you really speak. Comparing the ideal to the real is the key here. Then you can probe why you're speaking fast or slow. If you work with a speechwriter, ask what speed she's writing to, and get yourself and your script in alignment. But if you are speaking faster than the speed the writer's writing to, don't make her speed up. You should slow down, instead.
  2. Do you stay within the time allotted? End too soon? Go overtime too often? Again, a recording can help you figure out how long you spoke, compared to what was on the schedule. Tracking this data over time lets you see your pattern and whether it needs correcting. The 120 words per minute rule of thumb virtually guarantees that you will stay precisely on time. 
  3. How much time do you generally allow for questions, as a proportion of the total time? I advise the speakers I coach to aim for 50 percent time for speaking, and 50 percent for questions, a balance that's most satisfying to the audience (and likely to give you great reviews). Again, tracking this over time will let you see where you need to adjust.
  4. If you use slides, how do you use them, and how much time do you spend on them? I had a client who could never get off his title slide--two hours later, he'd still be talking with that in the background. Calculate how many slides you use per presentation first. Then calculate the high, low, and average time spent on each slide. Make note of whether you spend too much time on a particular slide; this often happens right at the start, on the title slide, or at the very end. Too much time on one slide might also mean that you have too much content on it. Consider the rule of "one thought per slide, but not one slide per thought" to adjust, and learn how to declutter your slides.
  5. Are your ums within average? Ums are not the big problem everyone makes them out to be, and a few ums here or there are nothing to worry about, despite what you've been told. In fact, they represent about 10 percent of everyone's speech, in every language in the world--that's how common they are, and why we often don't notice them. But if your ums are, say, 40 percent of your talk, we'll certainly notice. They also signal that you aren't remembering what you have to say, which likely means you felt rushed, didn't have or take enough time to prepare, or were thinking about something else. If you are having a service transcribe your talk video, be sure to direct them to include ums, uhs, and ers. Otherwise it's standard practice for transcribers to omit them, and you won't learn a thing. (Yes, that's right: A time-honored way to erase your ums is to have the transcriber leave them out.)
  6. Your most frequently used words: Every speaker has favorite phrases, used over and over for all sorts of reasons: You like the sound or the cleverness or the ease of them. Put the text (or better yet, the transcript) of each speech you give into a word cloud generator like this one, and the words you use the most will appear largest in the visual word cloud. Then all you need to do is decide whether you need to vary your vocabulary, or stick to your favorites. And for another kind of data, ask your team members to list your stock phrases. If they work on your presentations or listen to you enough, they'll be able to make a top 10 list easily.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Gavin Tapp)