Thursday, May 28, 2015

Public speaking pet peeves from frequent speakers & speechwriters

Inside Voice is the interview series in which we ask speakers and speechwriters to share their public speaking insights, lessons learned, and best practices. We asked each frequent speaker and speechwriter in the series to share a speaking pet peeve, in their speaking or writing roles, and as audience members themselves. Steer clear of these bad habits, tactics and ideas:
  1. "Overreliance on PowerPoint." That's his pet peeve as a speechwriter. But TEDMED chief storytelling officer Marcus Webb says, as an audience member "my pet peeve is speakers who give you a handout, then read it to you...word for word. This is particularly deadly in an office meeting where the audience can’t leave." 
  2. "Listener questions that veer into detailed and extensive individual questions for me." Conscious of the need for Q&A to help many in the room, psychiatrist and author Candida Fink has this pet peeve as both speaker and audience member. She also dislikes "questions that are more about the questioner showing off their knowledge or expertise rather than genuinely asking a question or creating a dialogue of value to the larger group."
  3. "I absolutely loathe the type of speech that demands audience interaction." Deloitte's top speechwriter Caroline Johns says speakers can take this tactic too far. "I don’t mind putting my hand up or being asked to vote on something, but when a speaker starts asking for vocal contributions and, worse, follows it up with 'come on you can do better than that...' or some such exhortation, I switch off completely. In fact, I don’t switch off completely, but the little bit that’s left of me that is still switched on will be smouldering with hostility. Not good... I think it’s lazy," she says.
  4. "As a member of the audience, I would throw rotten vegetables at people who go over their time. However good their presentation is." Speechwriter Brian Jenner, who heads two international networks in his profession, also dislikes "clients who rewrite large chunks."
  5. "Apologizing." Author and public relations executive Liz O'Donnell adds, "I try not to do it."
  6. "Not paying attention to gender, either on panels or speaking rosters. It’s not that hard to find women speakers." Speechwriter Amélie Crosson-Gooderham has a long list of pet peeves you should check out, but I couldn't resist highlighting this one.
  7. "The misconception that they can’t speak." Author and management consultant Gillian Davis adds, "It’s unfortunate that those with really great messages and content don’t have the confidence to speak, and those who have the confidence but lack content do it anyway."

Monday, May 25, 2015

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:
Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Melissa Rivers's Tribute to Joan Rivers

It was three months after comedian Joan Rivers' death before her daughter Melissa Rivers made her first public speech about her mother. By then, the accolades and remembrances had reached flood stage, with celebrities and cultural critics weighing in on the legacy of Joan Rivers as a feminist, a trailblazing comic, an entertainer and a celebrity phenomenon.

What was left to say? Melissa Rivers found a way to deliver a sweet and funny tribute that managed to tie all the remembrances together in a defining package.  It was a speech that her mother probably would have loved for all its takedowns, since Joan worried about being canonized in some way after her death. In a room full of success--the venue was The Hollywood Reporter's Women in Entertainment breakfast--Melissa Rivers reminded the audience that her mother was known most for baring her life of imperfection and striving.

Watching the video of this speech, it's clear that Melissa Rivers doesn't sound exactly comfortable in this talk--or is as polished a performer as her mother was when it comes to delivering the laugh lines. For me, it's not her delivery but her theme that makes this speech a strong one. By focusing on her mother's bravery, she provided a context that could embrace both Joan's personal characters and professional achievements.  Nothing says that better than one of Melissa's closing lines: "If my mother were here sitting this morning, she'd not only be grateful and proud, she would be beyond herself. She'd be sitting at the table beaming, while very discreetly shoving croissants and silverware into her purse."

What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • It's OK to quote, but be sure that their words lend something to your own. A tribute to Joan Rivers naturally tempts a speaker to steal some of her best lines for her own. And there may be too many zingers from Joan in this speech by Melissa, especially since Melissa doesn't seem as adept at the timing needed to pull them off. But she did choose her Joan anecdotes and jokes wisely, since they all the support the theme of bravery and fearlessness in the talk.
  • A tribute is different from an eulogy. This speech is a remembrance, offered not in the first weeks of grief or at a focused event like a funeral, so it doesn't have the weighty, emotional qualities of an eulogy. Appropriately, Melissa's tone and style is lighter but still reflective. This brief and focused speech benefits from the three months' wait that preceded it, I think, especially given that Joan's death was unexpected. The time probably gave Melissa Rivers--and her audience--a chance to consider what still needed to be said about her mother, and how the strands of her mother's life made sense as a whole.
  • Share your speech with the rest of us. We've talked often here about how women should make an effort to publish their speeches and move away from inadvertently silencing themselves. Melissa's tribute at the breakfast appeared first at her own website, which is something we'd like to see others do more often. The more we can see you as a role model and an inspiration, the better.
Here's the video:



Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Talk About the Talk: Lisa Lamkins at the Align health quality summit

(Editor's note: In this new series, Talk About the Talk, I'm asking speakers I've worked with to share their perspectives about giving big or important talks. Lisa K. Lamkins was one of 16 health executives I coached last year for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Aligning Forces for Quality national program. All 16 prepared and delivered 5-minute talks in the style of TED for the Align summit on health care quality in Washington, DC, last autumn. Lisa shares here her perspective on our work together and how the big talk felt. For speakers who worry that they're not "the" expert, that they lack credentials, or that they might freeze on stage, this post is a goldmine of good advice from someone who's been through it. Personally, I think she really did rock this speech.)

What was your motivation for doing this talk?

I was asked to do this talk as a Consumer Representative representing the Wisconsin project for Aligning Forces for Quality. Although my role in the project wasn’t huge, I felt honored to be asked to share my observations with other project participants from around the country.  Plus, I felt like, as a consumer representative, rather than a medical professional, that I could bring a different perspective than that of many of the other speakers.

How did you prepare? Who helped you and how?

I give lots and lots of presentations every year – some for crowds as big as 600 and others for small groups of 5 people. I generally use the dreaded PowerPoint presentation as a guide and then talk somewhat around my key points.

Giving a “TED-like” talk was so different and a little daunting.  Fortunately, we were provided with the services of a speech coach – we were lucky enough to have Denise Graveline.  This turned out to be a lifesaver. I really wanted to shine so I did all the prep Denise suggested – wrote out my speech word for word which is a struggle because I NEVER do that. After I got the written version edited to where I wanted it, I recorded myself reading it.  Then I started practicing it out loud.  I read it tons of times and then practiced giving it.  I stood in my office with the door closed  - feeling only slightly foolish when my coworkers walked by to see me ostensibly talking to myself.  I practiced speaking out loud at home and in the car, and practiced in my head standing in line at the grocery store, while exercising, and in the shower.   I videotaped myself and shared it with Denise for valuable feedback.

What challenges did you face in preparing, and how did you handle them?

I felt like the biggest challenge was lack of time.  I was prepping for this speech as an extra to my very busy job.  I also felt like my speech wasn’t substantial enough.  I’m not an “expert” in health care quality and  it took me awhile (and with much reassurance from Denise) that sharing my thoughts and experiences were OK.  I didn’t need to be the world’s foremost expert on health care quality because I was sharing what I knew best – my own experience.

What was it like to actually give the talk? Tell us about your experience that day.

I was a little, but not overly, nervous on the morning of the presentation. I feel like I was well prepared and I’m not generally nervous about public speaking.  I think the special attention given to the spotlight speakers made me more nervous than thoughts of actually giving the presentation. I was late in the line-up so my nerves did grow a bit as time went on.

It was finally my turn and on to the stage I went. I found my spot, took a deep breath, and began speaking. My introduction started smoothly and as I was talking I started searching the audience for a “face” I could connect with.  But I couldn’t see anyone.  The room was dark and my eyes got caught in the spotlight.  My mind went totally blank and I couldn’t remember a single word of my speech.  I froze.  I knew exactly what a “deer in the headlights” felt like. Lost. Panicked.  For a split second, I considered turning around and running off the stage.

Somehow I remembered Denise’s advice to pause and collect myself.  The pause felt like 5 minutes to me. It was long and uncomfortable. Then autopilot kicked in and I started speaking again. I barely remember the rest of my speech.  The words came out, albeit not with the same smoothness and easy delivery that I had practiced a thousand times. But they came.  I knew this speech in my sleep; good thing because I was giving it in a stage fright coma.

I finished to polite applause and fled the stage. In my eyes, the speech was a total disaster. I felt like I had failed the conference organizers, my fellow speakers, my organization, and most importantly, the AF4Q project I was representing. I couldn’t wait to get out of that ballroom and cry my eyes out.
It wasn’t until weeks later, when I finally watched the video that I realized it wasn’t quite as horrible as I thought.  No, it wasn’t flawless and easy. It certainly wasn’t my best shining moment.  But I was able to finish my speech and get across my main points without running off the stage.

What else should we know that we haven't asked about?

If there was ever an example of “preparation is key” then this is it!  I had practiced my speech what felt like a zillion times and then I practiced it some more.  That served me well when I froze and it just came out of my memory banks to rescue me.

One tip I would give in all that practice:  Give a few practices speeches in front of real live people – you coworkers, your kids, your yoga group, whatever.  Getting a feel for audience reactions might have helped me with timing and with conjuring up the vision of a friendly face when I couldn’t see the audience.

I could say I’m grateful for going through this nerve-wracking  experience, but I’d be LYING.  I would have much rather rocked this speech.  But I did learn that it really, really, really wasn’t as bad as I thought. The audience learned from my presentation, and more importantly, I learned to believe in myself and see even a rough road through to the end.

Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Monday, May 18, 2015

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:

Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Women's diverse perspectives on LGBT issues: 6 famous speeches

They speak about existence, identity, personhood. They talk about parenting, marriage, and relationships. Rights, wrongs, discrimination, hatred and love pepper their speeches. And in this collection of famous speeches by women about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, the women speakers include actresses, parents, a student and a legislator. Click through to see text, audio or video (where available) for each of these speeches from The Eloquent Woman Index, as well as what you can learn as a speaker from their efforts:
  1. Laverne Cox on transgender activism: The star of Orange Is The New Black keynoted a conference on social change and LGBT issues, recalling her own struggles as well as giving shout-outs to local activists.
  2. Sally Field at the 2012 Human Rights Campaign dinner: Honoring her gay son as she accepted an award for her support for LGBT issues, Field had a message for parents in her speech.
  3. Rep. Maureen Walsh's speech on gay marriage:  During a Washington State legislative debate on a gay marriage bill, this representative surprised herself and her audience by talking about her lesbian daughter and urging passage of the bill.
  4. Lady Gaga's speech at Rome Europride: Both formal and flamboyant, this speech reached for traditional rhetoric on a nontraditional topic, before a rock-star-sized crowd outdoors--something with which the speaker is certainly comfortable.
  5. Debi Jackson on her transgender child: In describing her child's transition from boy to girl at age 4, Jackson delivered a short but powerful retort to the stinging comments her family has endured about having a transgender child.
  6. Kayla Kearney comes out to her high school assembly: This speaker may be young, but she's also brave, using the typical boring high school gathering to share something essential about herself with her peers.