Thursday, May 25, 2017

Why did you say yes to this speaking gig? Why the coach needs to know

I had just one hour by phone to coach this speaker, an academic professor, for a five-minute pitch to be delivered in a public competition for extra grant funding. We could have started anywhere: With my notes on her slides, questions about delivery and timing, the actual content.

Instead, she spent 15 minutes telling me why the coaching and this speaking task were far, far beneath her. Her department chair had ridiculed the competition and forbidden its name to be spoken or written in emails. Her colleagues pitied her. She had no idea who the audience was, nor why they would care. She herself didn't see why she was wasting her time on it. After 15 minutes of that, I wondered that for myself. So I asked what I always ask:

"Why'd you say yes?"

I've used that question over and over with speakers, backstage at TEDMED, on the phone for coaching calls, in person when we're alone for a training session. It's a question I use most often for the speaker who objects to being the speaker. And I don't accept pat answers like, "Well, it's an honor to be asked" or "My boss told me I had to." I really want to get at the speaker's own motivation for having taken on this apparently abhorrent-to-them task. After all, public speaking is a choice you make, even in work situations where you are required to speak. You chose the job that came with public speaking tasks. More often, though, this comes up with speakers for whom the talk actually is optional.

With a nice, nervous speaker, the answer becomes a helpful prompt to bring them back to the reason they are going through with it: To get investors, build a reputation, share a story, finally have the chance to get on stage. But with a speaker who's a bad cocktail of nerves and narcissism, I sometimes don't get a chance to get that question in. The worst example was a top executive who used 2 hours and 45 minutes of our 3-hour half-day session to explain to me why he did not now need, had never needed, and would never need speaker coaching. Sometimes, like the professor, it's 15 minutes out of an hour. And, while I hate to point this out, I get paid either way. Your choice to spend that money in complaint is your choice.

With the professor, at the 15-minute mark, I asked my motivation question, which silenced her--she didn't have a ready answer. So I jumped in and pointed out that she'd just spent one-quarter of our time telling me that she didn't want to do this, and did she want to spend any of the remaining time finding out what she could do to make the presentation a winning one? To her credit, she stopped whining and got focused, but who knows how much further we might have gone in the wasted 15 minutes?

These examples are why I spend considerable time vetting clients in advance of signing a contract to coach them for speaking. If the client is hiring me to coach others, I urge them to screen participants so that the group is willing to be coached, rather than showing up for reasons that have nothing to do with wanting to be there. That makes all the difference in the world to the success of a coaching project in public speaking.

You may not be hiring a coach anytime soon, but you can borrow my question and ask it of yourself in those moments when you doubt your ability to get up and speak, or your practice is going badly, or you're just not sure whether this is worth the trouble. Ask yourself why you said yes to this, and be honest. Sometimes, the answer will be, "You don't have to like it, you just have to do it." But other times, you'll find a deeper motivation that's meaningful to you. Often, keeping that motivation in mind will carry you through even the most difficult of speaking tasks. And next time, say yes with that firmly in mind.

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, May 22, 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, May 19, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Patty Duke's 1970 Emmy Awards Acceptance Speech

When Patty Duke won an Oscar in 1962 for her portrayal of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, the 16-year old gave one of the shortest acceptance speeches ever: "Thank you." Seven years later, she won an Emmy for her work in the television movie My Sweet Charlie. Her acceptance speech for that award was also memorable--for all the wrong reasons. 

Watch the video--only a few minutes long--and you'll see why the audience and presenters were taken aback. The speech is really just one long pause, punctuated by some spacey half-sentences, as she surveys the theater with wary eyes as if she is afraid of someone pulling her offstage. It's uncomfortable and embarrassing to watch. News stories speculated that she was drunk or on drugs when she took the stage that night.

"The truth of the matter is that my condition had nothing to do with drugs or alcohol," Duke said in an interview 20 years later. "I was having a serious emotional breakdown. Unlike most people in trouble who fall apart in the privacy of their bedrooms, I fell apart on network television."

Duke had been ill for years at that point, but her disease went unnamed. She recalled weeks where she couldn't stop crying and never left her bed, followed by weeks where she went on outrageous spending sprees and acted like "queen of the world." She had not slept for three weeks before the Emmy broadcast. Finally, in 1982 she saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with bipolar disorder (then called manic depression) and began the lithium treatments that probably saved her life.

The 1970 Emmy speech was a disaster, so why feature it here? There's not much in the speech itself for a speaker to learn from or emulate, that's for sure. But it does remind us of a few things:
  • A famous speech isn't always a good speech. We've featured speeches in this space that aren't well-written or delivered, or positively received. But like those speeches, Duke's few words certainly meet our standards for a speech that garnered a wide audience and made a strong public impact.
  • A bad speech isn't the end of the world. Duke said that the 1970 Emmys were the first time that the public might have noticed "a chink in the armor," and she was frightened that she would lose work as a result of the bizarre performance. But she continued to act, receiving two more Emmy awards and two Golden Globe awards later in her career. After she was finally treated for her disease, she went on to become a vocal advocate for mental health and was even elected president of the Screen Actors Guild.
  • Some speeches serve as the opening salvo of a longer conversation. I think it's possible to view Duke's halting, stumbling, painful words at the Emmys as the first lines of a much longer speech she gave for the rest of her life, after her diagnosis. She was one of the first celebrities to go public with her own struggles with mental illness. She was candid in discussing how the disease made her behave, how she attempted to cope with it, and what the fallout had been for her personal and professional life. In the second half of her career, she spoke out often about efforts to diagnose mental illness and to remove the stigma from mental illness so that people would seek treatment. She spoke on behalf of the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, discussed bipolar disorder in countless interviews and even testified before Congress on the topic. Her Emmy acceptance might have been a disastrous start, but it led to a lifetime of speaking that has made a difference in the lives of many.
Duke died in 2016 at age 69. Watch the short video of this famous speech here or below:

Patty Duke Wins Oustanding Single Performance Emmy for MY SWEET CHARLIE | Emmys Archive (1970)

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

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, May 18, 2017

Instead of shutting down controversial women speakers

In doing research for this blog, I've been reading Deborah Kops's fine book, Alice Paul and the Fight for Women's Rights: From the Vote to the Equal Rights Amendment. The book relates that, around 1908, Paul went to Birmingham, England, to study. She decided to see suffragist Christabel Pankhurst give a speech at the university. Here's how Kops describes the scene:
...as soon as Christabel Pankhurst began her speech that day, unsympathetic students shouted, blew horns, sang, and generally made so much noise that no one could hear a word she was saying....When the head of the university learned, to his horror, what had happened, he invited Pankhurst back and made sure the audience stayed in line.
That had a real impact on Paul, who went on to help American women win the vote. And so many decades later, it impressed me with the thought, "What if that had been done for Ann Coulter at Berkeley?", thinking of the recent silencing of the conservative speaker, who withdrew from speaking at the University of California at Berkeley under threat of violent protests. I also thought of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who recently gave the commencement speech at a historically black university, facing a crowd of students, many of whom jeered or turned their backs to her. And of Linda Sarsour, the Women's March co-founder, who faces a campaign from the conservative right that's trying to unseat her as the City College of New York commencement speaker before she ever takes the stage.

You don't have to agree with these women or their views to understand that these are ways of silencing women speakers. And silencing women speakers seems to be a theme of 2017, whether it's shutting Senator Elizabeth Warren down on the floor of the Senate or Michael Moore chewing up women speakers' time at the Women's March on Washington. It's nothing new, but it's a persistent tactic.

A couple of readers demanded tips for what to do when facing down an angry crowd. But I don't think this calls for tips, nor for things women speakers must fix about themselves. This is a problem of our society. You certainly may not agree with what I have to say, but you also are free to ignore it, as opposed to trying to change me, or the writing, or my ability to publish. Public speaking, too, is a series of choices. The speaker chooses what she wants to say, and you choose whether to listen. But that doesn't mean you also must silence her, and it doesn't mean she needs to fix anything about herself or her speech. Let's let her speak. Speakers aren't forcing their views upon you, just airing them. You can choose whether to listen or leave.

Today, most of us look back at Pankhurst and Paul and think of their speeches as heroic efforts to gain equality for women. That equality surely demands that we give women of many viewpoints their platforms and let them have their say. I am sure that those who fought for suffrage--a movement that felt that a vote is part of your voice--did not fight for it only on behalf of women with whom they agreed.

I find instructive the early 20th century solution that Alice Paul saw in action. Motivated to hear Pankhurst, she went to both speeches: The one she could not hear, and the one she could. When we silence speakers, we're also silencing the audience members who want to hear them. As for Pankhurst, so important was it to get her message out, she gave the same speech twice. She knew to expect resistance, and spoke, anyway.

You need not agree, and your results may vary. But if we want women speakers--including ourselves--to have platforms, consistently and with equality, we need to let them speak.

For more on the current struggle to let controversial speakers speak, read my post on the Moderating Panels blog, When the moderator meets the mob: @AKStanger speaks out. It's by a woman moderator who attempted to help a conservative male speaker continue his presentation on a campus, and got herself injured in the process. Despite that, she writes movingly of the need to avoid silencing the speakers we don't agree with.

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, May 15, 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, May 12, 2017

15 famous commencement speeches by women speakers

(Editor's note: It's commencement time again, so we've updated this 2013 post since it first appeared with new additions to The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women. If you're a woman commencement speaker, or the speechwriter for one, here's your inspiration.)

Cue the Pomp and Circumstance, it's that time of year again. Commencement is the start of something new, yes, but we're often stuck listening to the same old tired speeches in celebration. Can you remember your commencement speakers, or any memorable speakers at the graduations you've attended?

Admittedly, the commencement speech is a tough gig. Speakers want to be inspiring, and to avoid  cliches. They want to be broadly appealing to a diverse-age audience, but not so broadly appealing that every line they deliver has lost its bite. And they want to be memorable, but they're speaking at an event that rarely changes from year to year.

With all that in mind, we've compiled a list of commencement speakers from The Eloquent Woman Index who managed to meet these challenges, in ways that pleased the people who heard them live and that echoed long after the graduates shuffled off the stage.

1. Carol Bartz's 2012 commencement speech at the University of Wisconsin, Madison was full of plain speaking from the ex-CEO of Yahoo!, including jokes to bridge the gap between parents and students. She also decided to talk about the importance of failure--an unusual and memorable topic at an event held to celebrate success.

2. Viola Davis' 2012 speech at Providence College was full of the deep emotion and dramatic flair that you might expect from the Tony Award-winning actress. But a speech that included a scene from The Exorcist as a way to encourage graduates to find their authentic selves? Maybe not so expected.

3. Also in 2012, teacher and author Margaret Edson spoke beautifully at Smith College. Her speech, along with several other commencement speeches in the Index, used gentle humor to take the pomp out of the day's events. She also spoke without notes, allowing her to look out at her audience and establish a strong and instant rapport with them.

4. Nora Ephron's 1996 commencement address at Wellesley College is a terrific example of how humor and deft language can give new life to a standard speech. The journalist and screenwriter spoke directly about the year's top stories, from O.J. Simpson to Hillary Clinton. That's somewhat daring in a commencement speech, to be so topical when the occasion itself is so timeless. But I bet the graduates appreciated hearing where they fit into a moment in time.

5. and 6. Ursula K. Le Guin's commencement speeches at Mills College in 1983 and at Bryn Mawr in 1986 are some of the most poetic calls to action for women that you'll ever hear. The Bryn Mawr speech, in particular, has been considered among the 10 most memorable commencement speeches.

7. Before "lean in" became a buzzword and a best-selling book, Sheryl Sandberg was exploring the idea in a 2011 commencement speech at Barnard CollegeThe Facebook COO was especially good at reaching out to today's mixed audience of graduates, speaking not just to the obstacles facing women in their 20s, but also those facing women earning their mid-life degrees.

8. When Maria Shriver spoke at the 2012 University of California Annenberg School graduation, she urged students to consider "the power of the pause." Like Carol Bartz, she chose a topic that was memorable because it strayed away from the usual gung-ho, march-to-the-future rhetoric that graduates are accustomed to hearing.

9. Public speaking, including an earlier commencement speech, created lots of trouble for Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who shared her experiences at Harvard's commencement. She stirred all that trouble into inspiring lines like, "If you dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough."

10. Also from Liberia, Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee told Barnard graduates in 2013 that, before they could lean in, they needed to "step out of the shadows" instead of following the self-effacing, supporting role so many women adopt.

11. Arianna Huffington's "Thrive" speech, given in 2013 at Smith College, shared the story of how sleep deprivation caused her to have a serious accident. It's a moment that has shaped her latest business venture.

12. Former New York Times editor Jill Abramson's "to anyone who's been dumped" commencement speech in 2014 drew on her experience--right before the speech--of getting fired from a high-profile post.

13. IBM chair, president, and CEO Ginni Rometty's 2015 Northwestern University commencement speech was what every commencement speaker should aim for: structured, relevant, and able to move calmly past a verbal flub.

14. First Lady Michelle Obama's 2016 commencement address at Tuskegee University looked at racism in history and today, from a personal perspective--and was slammed by accusations of "reverse racism."

15. Hillary Clinton's 1969 commencement speech was delivered as a rare student speaker. She used the opportunity to criticize the distinguished guest speaker, and then to rally her fellow graduates in a speech that made national waves, even then.

(Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this post.)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Should women speakers include--or avoid--topics about women?

The radio producer had found this blog and wanted to use it as a muse for a program on women and public speaking. Great news! Could I suggest some famous speeches by women to feature on the program? Why, I have nearly 250 of them in The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women. All good, right?

There was just one hitch: Could I please avoid suggesting speeches by women that dealt with women's issues, because, well, that's so tiresome. Overdone. Not "real issues."

So, um, what?

I was truly blindsided by the request, but probably should not have been surprised. After all, I've heard this from clients, as I reported in How are you referred to in speeches--your own, and those of others? and Do all your references to women in speeches refer to us as mothers, wives, and daughters? I hope it's clear that I believe in a woman's right to choose how she is described, particularly in her own speeches, and that gratuitous references to womanhood, just because the speaker is a woman, should be avoided.

But that's a far cry from eliminating all reference to women's issues in speeches made by women. In the weeks leading up to and following the Women's March on Washington this year, I heard many people--men and women--say, "but what is the march for?" or "about?" Senator Kamala Harris, speaking at the march, addressed that head-on:
We know that it is right in this nation to prioritize women’s issues. Now, here’s what I’m talking about in terms of women’s issues. 
So, when I was first elected District Attorney in San Francisco or Attorney General of California or  United States Senator from the state of California, in each of those positions, I was elected as the first woman or the first woman of color. And folks would come up to me and they’d say, "Kamala talk to us about women’s issues," and I’d look at them and I’d say, I’m so glad you want to talk about the economy. I’d say great. Let’s talk about the economy, because that’s a woman’s issue.  I’d say you wanna talk about women’s issues, let’s talk about national security. You want to talk about women’s issues? That’s fantastic. Let’s talk about healthcare. Let’s talk about education. Let’s talk about criminal justice reform. Let’s talk about climate change, ‘cause we all know the truth.

If you are a woman, trying to raise a family, you know that a good paying job is a woman’s issue. If you’re a woman who is an immigrant, who does not want her family torn apart, you know that immigration reform is a woman’s issue. If you are a woman working off student loans, you know the crushing burden of student debt is a woman’s issue. If you are a black mother trying to raise a son, you know Black Lives Matter is a woman’s issue. And if you are a woman, period, you know we deserve a country with equal pay and access to healthcare including a safe and legal abortion protected as a fundamental and constitutional right. 
So all of this to say, my sisters and brothers, that we are tired as women of being relegated to simply being thought of as a particular constituency or demographic. We together are powerful and we are a force that cannot be dismissed or written off onto the sidelines. 
And that means that asking anyone to avoid women's issues means women's speeches would be relegated to, well, zero content, wouldn't it?

Later on, I came across Sallie Krawchek's article, It's 2017. Why are we still telling women to act like men at work? In it, she says:  "I’ve worked at companies at which I felt like I couldn’t be myself, and I’ve worked at ones at which I could; and boy what a difference it made." I realized that one way to look at the idea that women's speeches shouldn't talk about women's issues is this: It's just another patriarchal way of silencing women. Yes, women can have absorbed such patriarchal ideas and pass them on to other women as received wisdom, as this woman producer did with me. We tell most speakers to be authentic and speak from personal experience, at least in part; that their individual perspective is what "makes the talk." But if women can't talk about a women's issue, what then? The request in effect robs them of the chance to be what we consider today to be a good speaker.

I come down on the side of giving women the option, for sure. Women speakers have so often been silenced in our world history that they deserve the right of self-determination for the topics of their speeches. And more than that, there is every reason for women to speak about women's issues. Women's issues are so often passed over that they, like the women speakers themselves, deserve a hearing...if that's what the woman speaker in question wishes to do. In any case, I will continue to highlight women's speeches about women's issues right here on the blog. Take a look at Senator Kamala Harris's talk in the video below:

Kamala Harris

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Quinn Dombrowski)

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, May 8, 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, May 5, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Hawaii Rep. Fukumoto at the Women's March

We've seen some prominent silencing of women speakers lately, and women legislators in particular. But here's a recent example of one state legislator who took a silencing move--her removal as minority leader in the Hawaii house of representatives--and turned it into a speech that let her have the last word.

That's what happened to Hawaii State Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang, a Republican who first expressed her disagreement with the policies of Donald Trump at her state's Republican party convention, getting boos and catcalls in that forum. Republicans, who hold just a handful of seats in the Hawaii legislature, soon voted her out of her role as their minority leader. She had been the youngest person to serve in that role in the state and the United States as a whole. Fukumoto Chang, 33 years old, had been celebrated at one time as the face of the "new right:" female, Asian-American, and young. But now, she was persona non grata for speaking her mind.

As Daily Kos reported, it was actually a case of Fukumoto Chang being asked to stay silent about her views. Here's her reaction in the House: "They told me they would keep me in this position if I would commit to not disagreeing with our president for the remainder of his term. Mr. Speaker, I'm being removed because I refused to make that commitment, because I believe it's our job as Americans and as leaders in this body to criticize power when power is wrong."

And she didn't stop speaking out. On January 21, during Hawaii's Women's March, she gave this short but powerful speech:
Today I'd like to talk to you about my niece. She's eight years old, and she's campaigned with me since she was two. She's come with me to all sorts of events. And, last summer when I stood up at my party's convention she watched as a ballroom full of a men and women tossed insults and booed me because instead of pledging to support my party's nominee I said I thought his remarks were racist and sexist and that they had no place in the Republican Party. 
Now, to that room full of people, I was a traitor, or a fake, or one of the many derogatory words I was called on social media afterward. To my niece, I had told the truth. Because little kids know right and wrong. 
We teach them that they're supposed to be nice and kind to everyone even when they're different. So, she didn't understand why people would be so mean to her aunt who stood on stage and said Donald Trump shouldn't say the things he says. 
We had to explain to her later, that sometimes people are angry and they don't know how to express it so they treat other people badly. We explained that sometimes people are bullies, but that you should insist that they treat people with respect. We told her that you always stand up to bullies no matter who they are. 
Then she watched a bully win the presidency of the United States. 
It doesn't matter to me who you voted for. People cast their votes for a lot of different reasons. But, no matter who your choice was, the fact remains the same. A man won the White House with anger and hate, and our kids watched it happen. Now, it's our jobs to make sure they watch us fight back. 
So what I'm going to ask you to do today is get involved. Testify at the Legislature, run for office, help on a campaign, but do it with kindness. Show our kids that everyone's voice matters, even when they believe the opposite thing you do. Teach them that everyone deserves respect. In the end, LOVE will always win!
In addition to being removed from her leadership post in the Republican party, she formally left the party after surveying her constituents. She has received enormous positive reaction to her speech from around the United States. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Don't give up your right to speak your mind: Free speech is guaranteed to all U.S. citizens, but in many jobs, you're asked not to speak out about certain issues. You've got to decide for yourself when that becomes too much of a burden to bear, of course. But be wary of offers like this one: "You can keep the leadership slot if you don't disagree publicly." Don't let yourself be silenced in advance.
  • Do take your views public: The state's women's march was the perfect forum for Fukumoto Chang, who also announced she wanted to hear from her constituents about her thoughts on leaving the party, since they'd elected her as a Republican. A public forum made her views clear to a wider audience, and established a record of her own making. There's great agency in taking the microphone to speak. No wonder they wanted to silence her.
  • Make it about something bigger than yourself: It's not just that she disagreed with the candidate, and then President. That's why her speech signaled what any citizen could do in the call to action, which included this ringing sentence, "Show our kids that everyone's voice matters, even when they believe the opposite thing you do." That line makes her just one example of a larger, more pervasive problem--and made it understandable and real to a wider audience.
Watch this short and principled speech in the video 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, May 4, 2017

Samantha Bee on presenting in a comfortable outfit

If you've ever found yourself on stage for a speaking gig, teetering in your uncomfortable high heels and an outfit you wouldn't normally wear, you'll find refreshing the advice of America's female late-night comedy host Samantha Bee.

In this interview on NPR's Fresh Air with Samantha Bee and her show runner, Jo Miller, host Terry Gross asked her about her signature look for her show outfits:
GROSS: The men on the late night shows wear suits so, you know, the suits might vary, but, you know, in some ways, a suit is a suit, whereas you've developed like a look that you have on the show. How did you develop that look? 
BEE: Well, it's very similar to - it's actually a funny story. It's very similar to the uniform that I wear in daily life. I wear blazers in my life. I have - I just - I love them. I feel very protected in a blazer (laughter). It's like it's my uniform. And when we were in the early days of doing test shows, I had it in my head that I had to wear a dress and high heels. I really did. I thought, OK, when you're a woman, and you're on television, you have to wear a dress, and you have to wear high heels. 
And then we did another test show, and I was wearing high heels. And the heels were so (laughter) - they were such stilettos that the heels were poking through the (laughter) - they were poking through the floor of the set, and it was terrible. 
And we were like, what is she going to do about the high heels? Can you wear a block heel? And I was like, no. They have to be stilettos. 
And then (laughter) - and, actually, a couple of executives from TBS were there. And they pulled me aside after, and they were like, you were so comfortable - seemed to be having so much fun in rehearsal when you were wearing sneakers and a blazer, and then you put on your outfit for the show, and you seem like you're having a terrible time. And they were right. I was having a terrible time because I was so physically uncomfortable. And they were like, why don't you just do the show in the clothes that you want to wear? And I was like, you can do that? I think I will. Thank you. So it was actually a really great - it was a really excellent network... 
MILLER: That was a good network note. 
BEE: Yeah, it really was.
So how about it women speakers? Can you do your next speech in the clothes you want to wear?

(Full Frontal with Samantha Bee photo)

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, May 1, 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 28, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Judge Phyllis Randolph Frye's "My Son"

Before Phyllis Frye became known as the grandmother of the transgender movement, she was a parent--to a son who she chose not see for 16 years. They reunited in 1991, and Frye shared the story at the 1992 International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy.

Frye is the first openly transgender judge in Texas and one of the first openly transgender judges in the United States. Along with her private legal practice, she serves as an associate municipal judge in Houston, presiding over the same courtroom she had dreaded entering decades before, fearful that she would be swept up by the city's anti-cross-dressing laws.

Before that, she had spent the late 1970s and 1980s enduring neighborhood threats to her and her partner, and job discrimination that made it impossible for her to continue her work as an engineer. She was disowned by her family after she told them she was Phyllis, and no longer the Phillip Frye who had been an Eagle Scout and an Army lieutenant.

She went to law school in part to maintain her GI Bill stipend, but she quickly realized that a law degree would give her "the tools to defend myself against all the crap that was dished my way," she later told The New York Times. In the earliest years of her new career, Frye said she struggled with self-doubt about her abilities as a lawyer and advocate. But she was persistent in her efforts to build an active transgender community, and in arguing for her right to live with the same privileges she enjoyed when she was called Phillip.

Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said that she and Phyllis had benefited from being white, middle class and male before their transitions, when "suddenly I found myself marginalized. But I had always had the privilege to speak up. A lot of civil rights movements start from voiceless people. Our movement had a lot of voice-y people."

Frye rarely lost her voice. She charmed her fellow law students and lawyers with her big hats and unfailing courtesy, and she became an indefatigable organizer that convened some of the earliest nationwide conferences on transgender law, employment and health care. But during those years she was also speaking out in a more private way to her son, in an attempt to slowly rebuild that relationship. It is through the lens of this speech, preserved at the Digital Transgender Archive, that we learn what it cost her and other transgender individuals to "merely be true as to who we are."

What can you learn from this deeply personal speech?
  • Choose a strong, simple start. "My son is named Randy, and I love him very much." It's hard to get more direct than Frye is at the beginning of this speech, and the words couldn't be more powerful. Most of the talk proceeds like this, using plain language and a straightforward retelling of events. But in the spare few sentences with which she begins, she manages to show that a simple thing like sharing her son's birthday is not something that she and those in her audience can take for granted.
  • Remember that personal examples have their limitations. One of the interesting themes that Frye comes back to several times in the speech is that her decisions regarding her son are hers alone, and not meant to serve as the "correct" example for anyone in the audience. Her speech at the 1992 conference was part of a larger discussion about transgender parent rights, and she is quick to note that times have changed since she made the choice in 1976 to leave her son behind with his mother. By adding these caveats, Frye takes a respectful approach, acknowledging that even if she is a movement icon, many in her audience face significantly different challenges than she did.
  • Don't forget to look for ways to use the invisible visual. There are so many great examples in this speech of the invisible visual that creates a strong, memorable and persuasive image in a listener's mind. Many of the details of Frye's physical transition work as these visuals, but the image that sticks with me the most is her description of the missing "Y" in her PH_L signatures in the letters to her son, holding it back until he was willing to fill in the blank himself.
(Photo courtesy of Frye, Oaks, Benavidez and O'Neil)

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

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 27, 2017

39 lies, myths, and mistaken notions speakers tell themselves

As a professional speaker coach, I hear a lot of lies, myths, and mistaken notions from speakers--mostly things they tell themselves about their speaking and presenting. Really, the 39 items on this list are assumptions, but often, they're not backed up by data or evidence.

Yes, they may be your experience, or what you think is your experience. Or they may be, as the meditation masters like to say, thoughts that are "real, but not true." In many cases, the things you tell yourself about your speaking are the biggest barrier between you and successful speaking.

Take a look at the list of the myths I hear speakers repeat most often, and see if you recognize any that you're telling yourself:
  1. If I use slides, no one will look at me.
  2. If I use slides with pictures, no one will know I'm using them as cue cards.
  3. It's important to read my slides to be sure all the information is conveyed.
  4. Everyone always uses slides.
  5. I'm telling that joke at the beginning for the benefit of my audience. It doesn't have to connect with my topic.
  6. More jokes are better.
  7. It would be impolite if I don't spend time right at the beginning thanking everyone.
  8. I need to use slides to have a record of the presentation, for investors or absent interested people.
  9. My slides make a good takeaway or handout.
  10. I need to summarize my presentation right at the start to "tell 'em what I'm going to tell 'em." Otherwise, no one will pay attention.
  11. I also need to "tell 'em what I told 'em" at the end, so the audience can remember what I just said.
  12. Everyone can tell that I'm nervous.
  13. Everyone can tell that I didn't prepare.
  14. If I prepare, I will seem too forced and unnatural.
  15. Everyone here knows more than I do about my topic.
  16. I will get questions.
  17. I won't get questions.
  18. If I prepare a lot, my presentation will go better.
  19. If I don't prepare, no one will notice.
  20. I don't need to prepare.
  21. If I memorize my talk, I will sound like a robot, or an 8-year-old child who's memorized a poem.
  22. I need a lectern.
  23. I use my hands too much.
  24. My voice sounds awful.
  25. I have to have my notes in my hand on stage, and I won't look at them.
  26. I look better in black.
  27. I look like Steve Jobs in black.
  28. No one will hear my dangling jewelry, even if it's near the mic.
  29. I look fat on stage.
  30. I can't look at the audience or I'll faint.
  31. I have to look at the audience or I'll faint.
  32. I need to change things right up to the last minute.
  33. They're really listening to me.
  34. They're really not listening to me.
  35. I need to speed up so I don't bore anyone. Keep it moving.
  36. I can't slow down. I'm from New York (or wherever you are from).
  37. I can't speak with a script.
  38. I can't speak without a script.
  39. I know everything I need to know about public speaking and presenting.
If you do recognize these as your own thoughts, it might be time to investigate why you keep telling yourself these things, and whether there's data or evidence to the contrary. And if the lack of data is because you didn't practice and try something new, try that approach first. Your coach recommends it.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by scaty1)

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 24, 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 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.