Friday, June 24, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Berta Cáceres's 2015 Goldman Prize Speech

Sadly, it was a surprise to no one when Berta Cáceres was killed by gunmen in March this year. Death threats had been part of the Honduran environmental activist's life for more than two decades, and some of her closest colleagues had been similarly gunned down. According to a 2014 report by the international NGO Global Witness, Honduras was the most dangerous country per capita to work as an environmental activist, and Cáceres and her colleagues were nearly always in the crosshairs.

In 1993, Cáceres, a member of the Lenca indigenous community in Honduras, cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to organize the Lenca against illegal logging and dam building near their lands. COPINH and Cáceres are best known for leading a 10-year campaign, including a one-year physical blockade, against the building of the Agua Zarca dam. Violence erupted at several points during the standoff over the Río Gualcarque, a river sacred to the Lenca. Cáceres argued that the Honduran and Chinese companies behind the Agua Zarca had ignored international law protecting indigenous rights, and in 2013 the Chinese company Sinohydro and the World Bank's International Finance Corporation withdrew from the project.

Cáceres, a mother of four, drew some inspiration for her activism from her own mother's work with refugees from El Salvador in the 1970s. She was well aware of the dangers she faced. In 2013, Cáceres said in an interview with Al-Jazeera:
"I want to live. there are many things I still want to do in this world but I have never once considered giving up fighting for our territory, for a life with dignity, because our fight is legitimate. I take lots of care but in the end, in this country where there is total impunity I am vulnerable...When they want to kill me, they will do it."
Cáceres received the 2015 Goldman Prize for Central and South America, one of the world's most prestigious awards for grassroots environmental efforts. Her acceptance speech demonstrates many of the attributes that made her such a strong advocate for the Lenca people and such a dangerous foe for those who sought to silence her. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Start strong. Most award acceptance speeches sputter to a start, full of thank-yous and other preliminaries like acknowledging members of the audience. Cáceres begins instead with a strong statement about the Río Gualcarque and why it matters to the Lenca people. With only a short time to speak, she takes advantage of her audience's "sweet spot" of attention and doesn't waste time with less memorable words up front.
  • "Grow big."I love this insight from one of Cáceres' long-time friends, the Jesuit priest Padre Melo, who is quoted in a New Yorker article about the activist:
    "She could empathize and spar with humble people, he told me, telling jokes and stories 'with the same smile as always.' But when she was in front of the police or the military, he said, 'se engrandecía'--she grew big--'speaking firmly, elevating her voice with strength. She was like a machine gun. She would finish talking to the authorities who opposed the community, and then return to the people. She would go back to being Berta.'
    This speech features an excellent example of 'se engrandecía,' when Cáceres transitions from talking about the river to what COPINH has done to protect it. You can hear some steel creep into her voice, and even her posture becomes less relaxed and more animated. The change serves to highlight what she feels is the key message in the speech.
  • Speak as yourself. It's wonderful to have the Goldman translation for this speech, but I love that we get to hear it delivered in Spanish--without apology to her international audience. Combined with her lyrical descriptions of how the Lenca people tend the river in return for the guidance of the spirits of young girls, this speech showcases the power in telling a story rooted in your own experiences, and making a speech that only you can make.
You can watch the full video of Cáceres' acceptance speech here:





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

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Prachatal)

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, June 23, 2016

Coaching speakers in a "Shark Tank-style" pitch competition: Case study

2015 competitors in APLU's pitch competition
One of my more enjoyable assignments the last couple of years has been coaching higher education executives who were challenged to present new ideas in a Shark Tank-style pitch competition sponsored by the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. These pitches had strict parameters: Five minutes, with a buzzer going off if you weren't finished timely (which really did happen to at least one speaker). Performance in front of both a panel of judges and a live audience of peers from universities around the U.S. Only one artifact--slide, prop, or one-page handout--permitted. All that, plus making a compelling case.

APLU tried variations on this approach in 2014 and 2015. In 2014, three universities won $10,000 each for economic engagement programs pitched at the session. In 2015, the stakes were higher, with $165,000 available and $100,000 of that amount going to one university for innovations designed to enhance student success with advising initiatives.

The competition included a call for proposals; proposal review and acceptance; the initial coaching call or workshop; and 1:1 coaching during the weeks in which presentations were prepared. The actual pitch sessions took place at APLU's conference in front of an audience of its members and a panel of independent judges; the judges had five minutes to question each pitcher after each presentation, and deliberations were done in a separate room and announced in the same session. Funding for the first pitch was provided by Lumina Foundation. For the second, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation joined Lumina.

To prepare, participants had access to my coaching in a group call in the pilot program, and later a preparatory workshop for the second pitch competition, to discuss basic pitch approaches. This was followed by 1:1 coaching to develop their specific five-minute pitches. I asked my client Shari Garmise, Ph.D., vice president for APLU's Office of Urban Initiatives to share the thinking behind using this novel public speaking approach to spur innovation and enliven your organization's conferences.

What prompted this approach?

Shari Garmise
Garmise: I have an overall frustration with panels, and was searching for more dynamic ways to share what's going on at our campuses during our conferences. I'm always on the hunt for novel ways of thinking about presenting information so it engages people in new and different ways. So we experimented with it as a pilot first. A pitch format allowed us to show the information differently. It also gave people an incentive to try a pitch style by having money at the end of the process, and allowed me to offer them resources--I didn't want to put anybody on stage without training and coaching in how to deliver in this particular style.

Why Shark Tank-style pitches? Did you think this style would be more difficult for academics?

Garmise: I don't think the style is easy for anyone. Generally, people struggle to sum up what they need to say in five minutes, especially people with a teaching background. It just seemed like it was needed because, the way the world's working, people in higher education will need to pitch more, and to pitch in different formats: to foundations, donors, sponsors. Being able to talk differently to different audiences, and learning new techniques and strategies for doing so, would be useful to our members. The Shark Tank format is neat and clean. I wanted people to have a range of ways to communicate. And the higher the risk, the more I felt training was needed to pull that off.

What did you learn from pitchers?

Garmise: They had a wide range of experiences. A number of them thanked me for it, and thought it was good training. Many said it gave them a pitch they could use in different places. One or two said they wouldn't do this again--in the pitch with the higher stakes prizes, some were overwhelmed by the pressure, which of course affects how you do it. In the pilot, with a smaller prize, many participants liked the experience of practicing their pitch for a national audience and then taking it home. Another factor in their performance was the differing levels of support on each participant's campus. The individuals doing the pitches weren't always representing themselves or projects they directly oversee, and had to make the case about why the program is important to the university. We had provosts and high-level executives doing some pitches, and more junior executives doing others.

What were the benefits to the coalition and the association?

Garmise: The first pitch was broader in terms of topic, so it became a really unique and effective way to learn about multiple solutions to the same challenge. It got people really excited when we did the first one. The audience felt they could see themselves in the 11 people on the stage, and, after listening to them, could bring home ideas that were immediately usable. That's a big benefit to our members, and the format made it fun to watch.

Winner Sona Andrews in action
When the prizes got bigger and the topical scope narrowed, the impact was different: It was a bigger show, with more visibility. Both competitions were a significant opportunity for the association to drive home the importance of the topics being featured--that we, as an association, think advising matters a lot to student success, for example. That's a different message than simply saying, "We're looking for innovative approaches."

What did you like about the process?

Garmise: One of the things I really liked was bringing the six people in the wider competition for training on the same day and exposing them to each other's ideas. That could be an enriching approach for people working on the same topic. It created an interesting network: People who didn't know each other got to spend time going over each other's ideas in the same space. Most competition is done in silos: People write proposals in their offices and send them out. We had them work together, and even though only one or two win, it creates a cohort of resources that's different from a standard competitive process. That was especially true in the more focused competition, where the pitchers were all dealing with the same sticky, important set of issues. Thinking about how you would structure that over time is interesting. It opens up thought-provoking questions about using competition to drive things forward. Everyone needs to get better at this and some are going to get a little money from the process. I would absolutely do it again.

Monday, June 20, 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:
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.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox: "My heart has changed"

Every speaker has to, at some moment, contemplate saying their thoughts out loud, in front of a crowd, rather than keeping them to herself. So a translation occurs, much of the time: Your silent fuming gets toned down a bit, your doubts are shelved, and the words you say reflect other realities than your own, particularly if you are a public figure or elected official.

The result, often, are official speeches that lack personality and opinion, the qualities that make you stand out from the crowd. They lack, for lack of a better word, zing. They fail to resonate. There's the opposite problem, too, one with which we are all too familiar in the U.S. during this presidential election cycle: The ceaseless barbs, insults, charges, and sharp retorts that help differentiate one candidate from another. These remarks, the opposite of bland, also can descend into being just noise.

But you can throw both those approaches into the trash, as far as I'm concerned, if you have a speech like this one up your sleeve. This is everything you might wish for in a politician's speech after a tragedy, but rarely get.

Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, like so many public officials this week, gave remarks at a public vigil for the shooting victims of the massacre at an Orlando, Florida, gay bar. The vigil took place in Salt Lake City, 2,300 miles from Orlando and a cultural world away. Before his remarks, the nation had heard a hate-filled rant from a Christian pastor who said the deaths of so many gay people was "good news," denials that the club was a gay club, and statements from other public leaders who carefully failed to mention that the victims of the shooting were gay.

In that context, Cox's remarks were a breath of fresh air, coming from an unlikely direction. "I begin with an admission and an apology. First, I recognize fully that I am a balding, youngish, middle-aged straight, white, male, Republican, politician... with all of the expectations and privileges that come with those labels. I am probably not who you expected to hear from today," he began, doing that bit of speaking catnip in which you give voice to the thoughts of your audience. He describes growing up and making fun of gay kids at school, and apologized. And, early in the speech, he said:
Over the intervening years, my heart has changed. It has changed because of you. It has changed because I have gotten to know many of you. You have been patient with me. You helped me learn the right letters of the alphabet in the right order even though you keep adding new ones. You have been kind to me. Jim Dabakis even told me I dressed nice once, even though I know he was lying. You have treated me with the kindness, dignity, and respect — the love — that I very often did NOT deserve. And it has made me love you.
Then he tackles those who spoke with hate, or failed to speak about the core issue:
Usually when tragedy occurs, we see our nation come together. I was saddened, yesterday to see far too many retreating to their over-worn policy corners and demagoguery. Let me be clear, there are no simple policy answers to this tragedy. Beware of anyone who tells you that they have the easy solution. It doesn’t exist. And I can assure you this — that calling people idiots, communists, fascists or bigots on Facebook is not going to change any hearts or minds. Today we need fewer Republicans and fewer Democrats. Today we need more Americans.
This series features famous speeches by women, so when I make an exception for a man's speech, it's one that has particularly caught my ear and had a special impact. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Be the contrast to the prevailing tone: This speech has added heft and weight precisely because it's coming from "a balding, youngish, middle-aged straight, white, male, Republican, politician" at a time when others with that description were avoiding the topic, or unmoved because of their position on gay rights. There are more contrasts: It's a quiet speech, not a hate-filled rant. It took place in a conservative area of the United States. It's a bold move to speak in such opposition and contrast, but when you can pull it off, it works wonders for a speech.
  • Pose the questions: Letting your speech be the vehicle for questions that need to be posed is another effective rhetorical device. Here, Cox loads them into a potent paragraph: "I truly believe that this is the defining issue of our generation. Can we be brave? Can we be strong? Can we be kind and, perhaps, even happy, in the face of atrocious acts of hate and terrorism? Do we find a way to unite? Or do these atrocities further corrode and divide our torn nation? Can we, the citizens of the great state of Utah, lead the nation with love in the face of adversity? Can WE become a greatest generation? I promise that we can, but I also promise that it will never happen if we leave it to the politicians." Each question contained his hopeful vision, but turned it into a challenge and call to action, bringing the audience along for the ride.
  • Use that vertical pronoun: Politicians say "we" a lot, a cheap and easy way to assume that their audience is with them. Here, Cox makes particular use of the pronoun "I" in places where it really counts. It is clear, throughout, that this is as much a personal pledge for him as a political statement, something which stood him in good stead at a time when other leaders were sharing non-committal "thoughts and prayers" in their statements. The impact is telling.
This speech may have avoided all the doublespeak because Cox had little time to prepare. He was due to be more than 200 miles away at another event, but canceled that appearance when invited to speak at this vigil. He showed up in jeans and sneakers and a jacket, not his most formal attire. He wrote these remarks himself, in under an hour, even though he rarely writes down what he is going to say. Cox says he thinks the speech was heard nationwide might be due to the fact that it's not political and loaded with talking points. And you'll hear him choking up in all the right places. I'm not in his party, nor his state, but this is one politician I hope keeps speaking his mind and heart. We need more of this kind of public speaking just now.



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, June 16, 2016

Your signature talk: Create a talk or presentation that fits you like a glove

When I wrote recently about Michelle Obama's commencement speech at Tuskegee University, I noted how she made the speech specific to herself and personal. I urged speakers, as I often do when coaching, to make your speech one that only you could give, saying, "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."

Or, as I tell my clients, "This talk should fit you like a glove."

Sometimes, that's a tall order when you are facing the prospect of a corporate presentation, focused on the informational. Let me assure you that even an audience of executives--perhaps especially that audience--likes a personalized presentation, rather than one that's off the shelf. Here are some ways you can inject yourself and your personality into your next talk or presentation, so it fits you like a glove:
  • Approach this as creating your signature talk: What style of speaking works best for you as a speaker? Which topic is the one you turn to again and again, as a core topic? What are your unique insights? What's your mission in telling us about it? These questions can help you determine everything from the length and format of the talk to how you tell it--and they will make it distinctly yours.
  • Tell a personal story: Hands down, personal stories are the easiest way to make a speech or presentation your own. Think about how to work your story into the open *and* the close of your presentation, perhaps by not telling it all the way through at first, and completing it later to make your point.
  • Share something known only to you: This tactic automatically makes your audience feel as if something unique is happening, a rare quality in a business presentation. Some of the best examples I know come in eulogies like Maya Angelou's words for Coretta Scott King, or Caroline Kennedy's remembrance of her uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy. But yours might be a behind-the-scenes peek at your production process or the founder's original thinking, as yet unshared publicly. Consider this with care before you deploy it.
  • Use a metaphor meaningful to you: It's easiest, I find, for speakers to reach for metaphors that are personally meaningful to them, since you'll already have a store of knowledge on the topic that can help shape a speech. If you're a gardener, for example, and the point you're trying to make lends itself to a garden metaphor, play with that. Often, this boosts the speaker's enthusiasm for the talk, always a good thing.
  • Share some personal perspective: You don't need to tell a story to inject more of yourself in a presentation. If you're describing a project, tell us what frustrated you or excited you. Describe how that research echoed something you've been curious about since you were a kid. Tell us if you've never seen a trend like this over the course of your career, or how you handled something when you worked in a different sector. Your perspective and experience are your value-adds, and make the presentation more yours.
  • Choose and use words that are authentic for you:  U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson was reported by his own speechwriters to routinely cross out the names of the famous men whose quotes were inserted in his speeches, preferring to preface the quotes with, "As my dear old daddy used to say...." For him, that was more authentic and approachable. His speechwriter Liz Carpenter learned: "Leave Aristotle out of it." In the same way, don't choose $10 words or vocabulary that's awkward or uncomfortable for you. Your discomfort will show. Instead, make the language yours.
A word to the wise: All of the advice above is about personal details that are relevant to your talk or presentation topic. Leave out those gratuitous photos of your cute children or your hobbies or most recent trip, or funny cartoons, or language you would not normally use in the workplace...unless they are central to a subject in your presentation, and help you make a point. Every element in your presentation must have a job to do.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Guillermo Salinas)

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, June 13, 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. And since The Eloquent Woman on Facebook just passed 7,000 followers, perhaps you'll join us there?

  • About the quote: Take your cue from Peanuts's Lucy Van Pelt, eloquent women!
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.