Friday, April 21, 2017

For #marchforscience, 13 famous speeches by women scientists and engineers

Scientists will be speaking up tomorrow in Washington, DC, and in cities around the world for the March for Science, so it's a great time to inspire with this baker's dozen of speeches by women scientists and engineers. They not only cover issues related to being a woman in a technical field, but also innovate, in many cases, modes of public speaking. Each of these speeches is part of The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women, and at the links, you will find--where available--audio, video, text, and ways you can incorporate their lessons into your own public speaking. Keep speaking up, women scientists and engineers! We need to hear you:
  1. Amelia Earhart's "A Woman's Place in Science" was an important address that took advantage of radio's broadcast powers to reach women with the idea that they could work, consume, and enjoy the benefits of science.
  2. Danielle George's Royal Institution lectures, a Christmas tradition in England, were only the sixth since 1825 given by a woman, the first by a woman engineer, and the first by one who was eight months pregnant. 
  3. Diane Kelly on what we don't know about penis anatomy is a TEDMED talk that details what this woman scientist discovered after she was told not to bother pursuing a line of research that interested her.
  4. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty's Northwestern University commencement speech handled a slip of the tongue with ease and humor, and focused on just what graduates want to hear about: the future.
  5. Tech pioneer Grace Hopper explained nanoseconds so that anyone might understand them, using lengths of wire. It's a great demonstration, and evidence of her ample skills as a science communicator.
  6. Jane Goodall's "What separates us from the apes" takes a look at the lecture of a frequent speaker who believes strongly in getting in front of live audiences to explain her research.
  7. Jill Bolte Taylor's "stroke of insight" TED talk required her first to relearn how to speak after a major stroke. She wins, hands down, the race for most unusual prop, a real human brain.
  8. Katharine Hayhoe's climate change elevator speech takes a big, complex topic and boils it down briefly--and clearly. It's a great model for scientists seeking to discuss hot topics with clarity.
  9. Rachel Carson's "A new chapter to Silent Spring" was a big keynote for this nervous public speaker. Even so, she chose a key consumer audience for it, and used novel undersea audio recordings as part of this speech.
  10. Astronaut Sally Ride's "Shoot for the Stars" speech draws on this physicist's experience as the first American woman in space. Watch how she deftly uses Q&A to share more data.
  11. Sheena Iyengar's TED talk on the art of choosing shares this psycho-economist's research on how we make decisions. Iyengar, who is blind, also describes a fun story about her choosing nail polish colors.
  12. Sheila Widnall on women in engineering minced no words in talking about the discrimination women in the field face. But this speech includes both barriers to women's progress, and enablers that help them move ahead.
  13. Dame Stephanie Shirley on women in tech at TED details how this pioneer built a highly successful all-woman, at-home programming business at a time when most women didn't work outside the home. It's a great example.
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

How trauma kills our storytelling abilities

I've told you why it's important not to make all your personal stories 'happily ever after' stories, and to keep in the messy parts. And I've shared here a real-life story about a cancer patient who was dying, and asked to speak about her treatment, clearly a difficult task.

But it's also true that some stories are just too traumatic to tell. I've seen many speakers overcome by the experience of trying to speak in front of an audience about a deep personal trauma. In effect, speaking about it is the equivalent of reliving the traumatic experience, or can be. But storytelling--whether you do it in public or in private--can be a path toward coming to grips with your trauma.

Here's a good example in a Chronicle of Higher Education article about a woman who survived the shootings at Virginia Tech a decade ago. Today, Kristina Anderson speaks to groups about her experiences. Here's what happened at one of them:
Ms. Anderson, a sincere 29-year-old with crystal-blue eyes, takes the hallway to the resort’s convention center. Two hundred law-enforcement officials, mental-health experts, and campus-safety officers have come for the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals’ spring conference. She takes a seat toward the back of a room and listens as the keynote speaker, Sheriff Jerry L. Demings of Orange County, describes the police response to the fatal shooting of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub last year. 
Soon, Ms. Anderson notices her heart pounding. She puts two fingers to her neck and checks her pulse. Fast. She breathes deeply, trying to slow the sudden creep of anxiety. She’s nervous about tomorrow’s presentation, but she feels something else, too. It’s the weight of an approaching anniversary. 
On April 16, 2007, a troubled student armed with semi-automatic pistols killed 32 people and wounded 17 others at Virginia Tech. Ms. Anderson was one of them. 
These days she describes her experience, in city after city, giving presentations about school and workplace safety. She did 86 last year. It’s a job, a way of reshaping the meaning of that terrible day again and again. Survival, she’s still learning, isn’t a one-time thing, a seam stitched and then forgotten.
That reshaping of her story is a key part of recovering from trauma. But first, the trauma kills off our ability to tell stories, as you'll learn in this interview by Krista Tippett with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, an expert in how the body processes memory and trauma. From the interview:
MS. TIPPETT: Something that’s very interesting to me in how you talk about trauma, the experience of trauma, what it is, is how the nature of memory is distorted, that memories are never precise recollections, but that in general, as we move through the world, memories become integrated and transformed into stories that help us make sense. But in the case of traumatic memories, they’re not integrated, and they’re not even really remembered as much as they’re relived. 
DR. VAN DER KOLK: That’s correct. There’s actually a very old observation, and it was made extensively in the 1890s already by various people, including Freud. That’s really what you see when you see traumatized people. Now, these days, the trauma is a popular subject. People say, “Tell me about your trauma.” But the nature of our trauma is that you actually have no recollection for it as a story in a way. 
Many victims, over time, get to tell a story to explain why they are so messed up. But the nature of a traumatic experience is that the brain doesn’t allow a story to be created. And here, you have an interesting paradox that it’s normal to distort your memories. Like, I’m one out of five kids. When we have a family reunion, we all tell stories about our own childhood, and everybody always listens to everybody else’s stories — says, “Did you grow up in the same family as I did?” 
MS. TIPPETT: Right. There are five versions of every story. 
DR. VAN DER KOLK: Yeah. There’s all these very, very different versions, and they barely ever overlap. So, people create their own realities in a way. What is so extraordinary about trauma, is that these images or sounds or physical sensations don’t change over time. So people who have been molested as kids continue to see the wallpaper of the room in which they were molested. Or when they examine all these priest-abuse victims, they keep seeing the silhouette of the priest standing in the door of the bathroom and stuff like that. So it’s these images, these sounds that don’t get changed. So it’s normal to change. 
My old teacher, George Vaillant, did a study that you may have heard about. It’s called the Grant Study. And from 1939 to 1942, they followed the classes at Harvard every five years, and it’s going on to this day. Most of them went off to war in 1942, and almost all of them came back in 1945, and they were interviewed. And then they have interviews in 1989, 1990, 1991. It turns out that the people who did not develop PTSD, which was the vast majority, tell very different stories, let’s say, in 1990 than back in 1945. So now it was a glorious experience, it was a growth experience, and how good it was, how close they were to people, and how patriotic they felt. And it’s all sort of cleaned up. 
MS. TIPPETT: Right. But it’s become a coherent narrative. 
DR. VAN DER KOLK: But it’s very coherent, and it’s a nice story, and it’s good to listen to it, and relatives have all heard it a million times, but — because we make happy stories in our mind. People who got traumatized continue to have the same story in 1990 as they told back in 1945, so they cannot transform it. When we treat people, you see the narrative change, and people start introducing new elements.
Later in the interview, Tippett asks about Broca's area, a part of the brain responsible for processing language, and we learn a bit about what's going on in your brain when trauma interferes with your storytelling skills:
DR. VAN DER KOLK: Well, in our study and some others, I mean, for me that was really the great finding early on, is that when people are into their trauma, Broca’s area shuts down. That is something that almost everybody has experienced. You get really upset with your partner or your kid, suddenly you take leave of your senses and you say horrible things to that person. And afterwards, you say, “Oh, I didn’t mean to say that.” 
The reason why you said it is because Broca’s area, which is sort of the part of your brain that helps you to say reasonable things and to understand things and articulate them, shuts down. So when people really become very upset, that whole capacity to put things into words in an articulate way disappears. And for me, that is a very important finding because it helped me to realize that, if people need to overcome the trauma, we need to also find methods to bypass what they call the tyranny of language.
That says a lot about the power of speaking something out loud, doesn't it? It's useful information to keep in mind when you are evaluating whether to speak on a topic that causes or caused you great distress.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Zervas)
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Savvy speakers keep up with my wide-ranging reading list on women and public speaking by following The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, where these links and articles appear first. I always collect them here for you on Mondays as well. It's a great way to expand your public speaking knowledge:
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Amal Clooney at the UN on Nadia Murad

(Editor's note: Leonoor Russell, speechwriter in the Senate of the Dutch Parliament, recommended this Amal Clooney speech, saying, "this speech might be a good addition to The Eloquent Woman. Not only because of the language (ISIS is described as "a bureaucracy of evil on an industrial scale") but also because it is a great example of using emotion in a speech. I remember you talking about that once: "Write from the head, speak from the heart." My favorite quote from the speech is this: "She has defied all the labels life has given her." Let's take a look at this stirring speech. Thanks, Leonoor! And a personal point of pride: This is the 250th speech in The Eloquent Woman's Index of Famous Speeches by Women.)

Human rights attorney Amal Clooney may be more famous in some circles due to her actor husband George Clooney, but she has long held her own as a public speaker--in court, and in world forums about human rights. In September 2016, the United Nations was appointing one of her clients, Nadia Murad, as its first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist from Iraq, was kidnapped when she was 19 by the so-called Islamic State, beaten, tortured, and raped. After her escape, Clooney decided to represent her in legal action against the Islamic State.

Here's how Clooney described Murad's experiences:
Two summers ago, her life as a 21-year-old student was shattered when ISIS took over her village. She was forced to watch her mother and brothers be marched off to their death. She saw an ISIS militant take her niece Rajan, a 16-year-old girl so slight that you could circle her waist with your hand. 
Nadia herself was traded from one ISIS fighter to another. She was forced to pray, forced to dress up and put makeup on in preparation for rape, and one night, brutally abused by a group of men two at a time, until she was unconscious. She has shown us scars from cigarette burns and beatings. And she has told us that throughout her ordeal, ISIS soldiers would call her a dirty unbeliever and brag about conquering the Yazidi women and wiping their religion from the face of the earth. 
Nadia was one of 6,700 Yazidi taken by ISIS 2 summers ago, to be sold in markets and on Facebook, sometimes for as little as 20 dollars. Nadia’s mother was one of 80 older women who were executed and buried in an unmarked grave. Her brothers, part of a group of 600 who were murdered in a single day. 
Clooney also used her remarks to call on the UN security council to set up a legal mechanism for bringing the Islamic State to justice for the genocide being committed. She framed that request in personal terms in her role as a speaker:
Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen, this is the first time I have spoken in this chamber and the first time I have had a chance to address a crowd in front of the UN secretary-general. I wish I could say I was proud to be here, but I’m not. I am ashamed, as a supporter of the UN, that states are failing to prevent or even punish genocide, because they find their own interests get in the way. I am ashamed as a lawyer that there is no justice being done and barely a complaint being made about it. I am ashamed as a woman that girls like Nadia can have their bodies sold and used as battlefields. I’m ashamed as a human being that we ignore their cries for help.
Clooney, pregnant with twins now, spoke more recently at the UN about ISIS, and most of the coverage was about her "baby bump," not her subject matter. But in both speeches, her substantive command of the issues was on display. What can you learn from this speech?
  • Put some of yourself into your recommendation for another: Clooney's role was to speak in support of her client and friend. But couching her request in terms of her own personal perspective added value to her remarks--not only because of her expertise, but her emotional perspective. She underscored it by highlighting her many perspectives--supporter of the UN, lawyer, woman.
  • Do the same for the person you're endorsing: Following Leonoor's favorite line--"She has defied all the labels life has given her"--Clooney enumerates those labels: "She has defied all the labels life has given her: rape victim, slave, refugee. She has instead created new ones: survivor, leader, women’s advocate, Nobel peace nominee, and now, as of today, UN goodwill ambassador." We often limit the ways we describe women's roles in the world. Not so this speech.
  • Even when seated for delivery, have presence: There's little room in this setting for movement to accentuate remarks. Nonetheless, it is a gripping piece of testimony. Clooney uses varied vocal tones, her gaze, and vocal emphasis to put across the urgency of her words. And this is a well-written speech, which aids in the delivery. We don't miss having her move across a stage here.
Watch the video of this speech below.


 

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

What linguists think about "um:" Guess who gets punished for using it?

The New York Times recently published So, Um, How Do You, Like, Stop Using Filler Words? It was a disappointing rehash of the tired suggestion that ums and other fillers are to be avoided at all costs. No linguists were quoted.  And this is how I reacted:
Michael Erard's book, Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean, reshaped my perception of the dreaded filler word. Ums, he notes, are 10 percent of everyone's speech, the world around. And until we started recording sound, no one took much notice of them in literature. But after recorded sound, the reaction to ums was stark. Toastmasters, which came into being around the same time, made a point of having ums counted whenever club members speak, a shaming way to eradicate them. Transcription services agreed to omit ums from transcripts; even today, you have to pay to re-insert them. And millions of speakers labor under the misimpression that ums are evil, as a result.

So I was delighted when Michael sent along this response, including the perspective of linguists, to the Times article. Let's stop demonizing filler words made its objections to the Times article clear early:
1. It doesn’t address the many valuable functions these words play.
2. It perpetuates a sneaky type of bias against women and young people.
It's worth reading the article if only for the discussion of the many ways we use ums and filler words--"discourse markers," in the linguist's words. You'll start thinking of them as a more versatile tool, and one you may choose to use. But of course, I was drawn to the bias against women who make use of um. From the article:
The NYT article is purportedly addressed to everyone, but it’s largely women and young people who are judged negatively for talking this way. 
The article does make this point, or at least a related one. Mele writes: “Speakers who are well known in their professions but overuse verbal pauses are still perceived as credible because they have built a reputation. Audience members will chalk up those habits to just the way they talk, Ms. Marshall said. … But newcomers who use as many interjections as seasoned professionals will be seen as less credible because they do not have the years of experience.” 
Yet he stops short of the obvious conclusion: there’s nothing wrong with using these words. The only people who are critiqued for using them are already low-status, and this critique helps maintain the low status of certain people and groups.
Separately, I found Jessica Bennett's What A Speech Coach Told Me About “Speaking Like A Woman” (And Why It’s BS), a spot-on take about "filler words" from a woman speaker's point of view. She says:
When it comes to women and speech, though, there’s an important caveat—that what’s been deemed the ideal doesn’t necessarily match the way women actually, well, talk. And so we are told that we sound unconfident when we raise our pitch. That we should remove our “likes” and “justs” (and there are apps to help us do it), defry our chords, and that we should practice, and learn to find our “best speaking voices.” 
But what if we’ve already found them?
That's the viewpoint I take here on The Eloquent Woman, and in my own coaching of speakers. There's more right with you than wrong with you, most of the time, and as Mary Beard reminds us, the real problem is that we haven't learned to listen to women's voices as conveying power...so people keep trying to make women sound like men. Sigh.

Let's say it again: There's nothing wrong with using these words. Help me spread that around, willya? My special thanks to Michael Erard for pointing me to this very good article, which ends with excellent resources for those who wish to dive deeper into filler words and how they can be a versatile tool in your speaking.

(Altered Creative Commons licensed photo by Steve Rotman)

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Savvy speakers keep up with my wide-ranging reading list on women and public speaking by following The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, where these links and articles appear first. I always collect them here for you on Mondays as well. It's a great way to expand your public speaking knowledge:
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.