Monday, December 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:
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Friday, December 12, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Sheena Iyengar's TED talk on the art of choosing

Psycho-economist Sheena Iyengar does her research at Columbia Business School, and has published the popular book The Art of Choosing to describe her findings on what happens when we have too many--or not enough--choices, and how we make decisions large and small, from which soda to drink to whether to pursue physician-assisted suicide. And when she spoke at TED Global in 2010, she joined the ranks of one of the very few TED speakers to use a lectern. But that was only because she happens to be blind.

Until an aide helped her walk across the stage to that lectern, no mention of her blindness had been made in the program. And then the audience got to hear a clear-as-a-bell description of the experiments she has conducted that let us see our own choices. The woman whose own choices don't include vision then used those findings to explain that Americans are a nation that believes in limitless choices:
The story Americans tell, the story upon which the American dream depends, is the story of limitless choice. This narrative promises so much:freedom, happiness, success. It lays the world at your feet and says, "You can have anything, everything." It's a great story, and it's understandable why they would be reluctant to revise it. But when you take a close look, you start to see the holes, and you start to see that the story can be told in many other ways.

Americans have so often tried to disseminate their ideas of choice, believing that they will be, or ought to be, welcomed with open hearts and minds. But the history books and the daily news tell us it doesn't always work out that way. The phantasmagoria, the actual experience that we try to understand and organize through narrative, varies from place to place. No single narrative serves the needs of everyone everywhere. Moreover, Americans themselves could benefit from incorporating new perspectives into their own narrative, which has been driving their choices for so long.
At the end of her talk, the host comes out on the stage with her and says, "Sheena, there is a detail about your biography that we have not written in the program book. But by now it's evident to everyone in this room. You're blind. And I guess one of the questions on everybody's mind is: How does that influence your study of choosing because that's an activity that for most people is associated with visual inputs like aesthetics and color and so on?" Her answer involves a personal story about trying to choose between two similar shades of nail polish, based on the recommendations of others--and how that prompted yet another piece of research.

What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Your limitations don't have to prevent you from speaking: Having help to walk on and offstage and a lectern are all the "extras" Iyengar needed to deliver this talk. Otherwise, it's a classic TED talk, mixing intriguing research that makes us think about ourselves in a new way with personal stories from the speaker. Think about that the next time you're considering what limits you from speaking. 
  • If you're speaking about research, aim for clarity: Iyengar's work looks at complex decision-making processes, most of which we experience but take for granted and don't examine closely. Yet her descriptions of the research are brief and clear, able to be understood by all because they're described in simple, approachable ways. Many researchers fret about having to "dumb down" their explanation of their work, which insults the audience. Iyengar makes it clear so we can follow her complex thinking. It makes a big difference. 
  • How will you describe yourself? Every speaker needs to anticipate speaking about herself, whether she's introducing herself, telling a personal story or explaining in answer to the host's question how her blindness affects her work. Iyengar handles this smoothly, noting "one of the things that's interesting about being blind is you actually get a different vantage point when you observe the way sighted people make choices," then tells her nail polish story. Turns out that sighted people aren't terribly good at descriptions. Iyengar is comfortable describing herself. Can you be? 
You can read the transcript of her talk here and watch the video below. I thank reader Cate Huston for pointing me to this speech. Watch and learn from it.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Talk About the Talk: Caroline Goyder on confident speaking at @TEDxBrixton

(Editor's note: I'm launching a new series, Talk About the Talk, in which I'll ask speakers I've worked with to share their perspectives about giving big or important talks. First up is Caroline Goyder, who spoke this autumn at TEDxBrixton on "the surprising secret to speaking with confidence." It's a fit topic for speaker coach Goyder, who worked for 10 years at Central School of Speech and Drama in London and has an MA in voice studies from there. She's also the author of Gravitas: Communicate with Confidence, Influence and Authority

Some observers dismiss TEDx conferences. But in my experience, most organizers and speakers take TEDx seriously, investing many hours in preparation, talk reviews, and coaching. It's always an honor when a TEDx speaker seeks out my coaching to make sure she hits the mark. After all, some of the most-watched TED talks are, in fact, TEDx talks.

It's an even bigger honor for me to coach a coach, especially for a creative talk about our business. You'll find much to learn here, from her observations about preparation to the talk itself, which will teach you about using your voice. Goyder "walks the talk" with a smooth, well-paced, and confident delivery you'd be wise to emulate. Here's what she had to say about the experience.)

“So, you mean you’re doing a TEDx talk about talking ?” said my client with a wry grin, “No pressure then..?”.

Crafting a TED worthy talk seemed a daunting mountain to climb, as I embarked into its foothills.  How do you distil the content into 18 minutes? How do you make it work for a live audience and for Youtube? How do you take an idea and cook it right down to the essence, so that after all of that work it sounds conversational?

Three months work later, and a TEDx talk completed, I find that climbing the TED mountain has given me a new perspective.

In a world where we crave ever shorter, faster more distilled ideas a TED style definitely talks in pitches, presentations and conference speeches.

These are the lessons I learned for going from page to stage when it comes to the big talk, presentation or pitch:

Factor in Dream Time: If you’re asked to speak on any platform I’d advise creating a loose structure as soon as the invitation goes into the diary – a frame into which you can hang the ideas. Once you have that frame your unconscious will get to work and the idea will grow, even while you’re doing other things. Diarising space for this dream time is key to honing a talk that feels like you.

Find an Editor: It’s essential with a TED talk, key presentation or conference speech, or big pitch to have an editor to bounce ideas off. In my case this was the very eloquent and wise Denise Graveline. Working with her on Skype week each week allowed me to really get to the heart of the message and then shape it. I felt like I had a wise mentor and confidante on my lonely TEDx path. Expertise can make us myopic – an outside eye can help you step back from your knowledge to create content with impact. It can feel less than comfortable to share your stories, nuggets and key ideas in the raw and you need to find someone who will build confidence and give tough love when required.

Find the Fun: Once the core ideas are there, go further - bring them to visual life. Find the spark, the fun, the aspect that elevates it for you to an aesthetic plane you can enjoy, enthuse about, be elevated by. George McCallum in my case provided an amazing chest of drawers that looked like a human chest, not to mention the props within it. Finding someone who gets your vision is key. It will inspire me, made it visual and made it fun.

Talk Your Talk: Now, with the structure clear and the visuals on track, you have to get into training. Your talk will only be any good if you have said it enough that it can drop out of working memory and into the unconscious, so the lines will arrive for you one by one as you speak them. By speaking your talk aloud, and recording it, you start to learn what works and what doesn't. As the veteran US speech coach Peggy Noonan puts it, where you falter. alter. Make it smooth and fluent. You can then riff conversationally on the day, with the confidence that knowing your structure deeply gives you. This made all the difference on the day, right at the start of my talk when the mic played up, and air con gave me an unexpected wind tunnel effect  – because even as panic hit, I could keep going.

Let it Go: In the words of the legendary Hollywood film director Mike Nichols, then it’s about letting go. "Preparation is everything…now when I walk onto a movie set I don’t have a care in the world: I’ve made sure of everything. For me it’s just pleasure.”

If you’ve done the work climbing the mountain, when you get to the top relax, enjoy the view. Make the day of the talk easy, clear. Do what you need to do to feel at your most relaxed so you can walk out on stage and make relaxed easy conversation with the audience.

And for those who are curious – here’s the talk….

(George McCallum photo of Goyder speaking at TEDxBrixton with the chest of drawers he made.)

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Monday, December 8, 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:
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. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

5 famous speeches by women candidates for U.S. president or vice president

The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women doesn't come close to including every woman who's been a candidate for president or vice-president of the United States. But we do have a representative sample of the women who wanted to represent us through the ages, from the first to the most recent. These women, all candidates for either the top job or the one right behind it in the succession, defy easy description and certainly didn't make easy choices, something their speeches reflect:
  1. Victoria Woodhull's "Principles of Social Freedom," an 1871 speech, is out there on many fronts. She was not only the first woman to run for U.S. president in the year following this speech, but advocated for free love--the ability for women as well as men to choose and discard their sexual partners. And this speech, in the stem-winding traditions of its day, is long...but worth the read.
  2. Shirley Chisholm's 1969 introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment preceded her run for U.S. president in 1972, not the first woman but the first black woman to aim for the job in a major party. She didn't get the convention nod, but in the mold of this speech, used her candidacy to mince no words about the conditions of women and people of color. Her blunt language is a marvel to behold in today's careful world.
  3. Geraldine Ferraro's 1984 Democratic National Convention speech reads like a traditional politician's acceptance speech, but marked a major milestone: With it, she became the first woman to be a major party's candidate for the vice presidential post.
  4. Hillary Clinton's 2008 concession speech is one of four speeches representing her in the Index. In this speech, however, she brought her presidential candidacy to an end--and brought an emotional audience around to support for the eventual president and party candidate Barack Obama.
  5. Sarah Palin's 2008 Republican National Convention speech was already half-written by speechwriters who didn't know the identity of the vice presidential candidate, so close to the convention was her name announced. In a year famous for Clinton's run for the presidency, this woman made it onto a major-party ticket--and made her first major speech a high-impact moment for the campaign.
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Thursday, December 4, 2014

.@andreaskluth on the best thing an introvert can do 15 minutes before a talk

I'm always shooing introverted speakers out of the room--the green room, the reception, the lunch gathering, the crowded hallway--about 15 minutes (and sometimes more) before their talks begin. That's because if you're at all introverted, you need to be by yourself before you start a speech, talk, or presentation. It's a way to build the energy you'll certainly need to share yourself on stage, since introverts gain energy when alone, but see it drain in crowds of people.

At TEDMED, I shooed introverts up to the terrace level of the Kennedy Center, where they could walk around the rooftop terrace and take in the view mostly by themselves. At networking receptions or conferences, a walk around the block or in a nearby park is what I recommend. If all else fails or time is short, the restroom or the nearest stairwell can offer a space in which to be alone. If you're around me in a speaking situation, and you admit to being introverted, I know you won't be offended when I tell you to get lost. But I rarely hear back about the impact of those quiet moments of prep.

Last week, Andreas Kluth, Berlin bureau chief for the Economist, wrote about hearing this from me right before his talk at the European Speechwriter Network conference in Amsterdam. I'd found a lone empty place to perch my lunch in a corner of the crowd and we wound up having a nice talk about public speaking, since he was due to go on right after lunch. We were talking about political speakers and introverts in general, and he told me he was an introvert. So I'm afraid I did a little freelance coaching.

Turns out my usual advice was both unusual in his experience, and welcome on that day. In his post Advice to introverted public speakers (and their hosts), he wisely warns conference organizers to avoid dragging their introverted speakers around to meet everyone right before or after their talks. At this speechwriters' conference, however, there were plenty who understand introversion. He wrote of our encounter:
I was standing at lunch with one of them, when she noticed all by herself that my speaking time was coming up. 
“Honestly,” she said, “if I were you I would now walk away from me and go outside, to the toilet or wherever, and get focussed.” Those may not have been her exact words. But the sentiment was modest, pertinent and beautiful. So I went to the men’s room, did a few power poses in a stall, and read through my index cards (but then put them away).
I'm always glad to be outed on advice like this, particularly when it strikes the speaker as "modest, pertinent and beautiful."

If you're the conference organizer or panel moderator, a nice way to introduce this option is to say to every speaker, "And if you're at all introverted, you may want some time by yourself before and after your talk," then point them to that roof terrace, empty nearby meeting room, stairwell, or park. The last thing most introverts want to do is initiate a discussion of their introversion, see, or be called out for it in front of others. But if you take responsibility for introducing the topic, they'll love you for it. (Please don't try guessing who's introverted and who's not. You'll be wrong, mostly.)

You may think you have that space available, but that speaker-ready room so many conferences have, crowded with folks rehearsing or fixing slides, would be better organized as a few quiet spaces. It's also helpful to know that stressed-out extroverts sometimes revert to their introverted sides, and so will need the same option but be less aware of that need--another reason to offer quiet space to every speaker. At a recent conference where I coached nearly 20 of the speakers, many of them introverted, my client arranged an empty room set aside just in case any of my speakers needed time alone. Let's just say we made use of it.

Please share Kluth's post with your conference organizers and moderators to spread this tip around. Introverted speakers, see my checklist for the whole speaker, annotated for introverts, and I'll see you in the stairwell....

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Daniel Hoherd)

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