Tuesday, October 17, 2017

10 lessons,10 years into blogging The Eloquent Woman

You weren't looking, and apparently neither was I, but Monday last week was the 10th anniversary of this blog, The Eloquent Woman. I often miss my blogs' anniversaries, but managed to catch this one before it was quite past. And it prompted me to think about some lessons I've learned blogging about women and public speaking over the last (gulp) decade:
  1. Readers start things: It was a client's experience ("your presentations aren't sexy enough") that got me curious about gender issues in public speaking--and sure enough, I found there was plenty to sustain a blog, from research to daily issues. Readers suggested our Famous Speech Friday series and scores of posts on public speaking. I'm forever grateful for these core contributions.
  2. Readers help me find things: I can't thank enough the readers worldwide who send me pointers to speeches that catch their attention; offer to translate non-English speeches; share their experiences; or send me reference materials I wouldn't otherwise find. You've expanded the range and depth of the blog in this way.
  3. Keeping one focus is key: Speeches are incendiary things, and so are speakers. But on this blog, I don't choose speakers or speeches for political or other issues, even though I'm often accused of doing so. If I get political about anything on this blog, it's about how women are silenced. 
  4. That whole 'be the change you want to see' thing works. I was having trouble finding speeches by women to use as examples with my coaching clients. That started me on a path to learn that women have, over the course of history, been more banned from speaking than encouraged to do it...and that, even today, we do a poor job of preserving their talks. Big lists of "top speeches of the century" had so few women's speeches, they were easy to miss. That's why I created the weekly Famous Speech Friday posts, which look at all sorts of speeches by women, and began to collect them in The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women, now nearing 300 speeches by women past and present. 
  5. It's great to share my approach to coaching with you, which has evolved over the years. When I hear from a prospective client who's done a deep dive on the blog, I can tell. Often, when I ask, "What do you need to know about me?" they say, "I already know all I need to know," and that's great for a speaker coach to hear.
  6. We can't have enough examples of women speaking. Once I started the blog, I heard from many speechwriters and speaker coaches also looking for examples of women speakers, as one put it, "more recent than Eleanor Roosevelt." I'm so pleased that speeches from the Index have been distributed by the Girl Scouts of America, professors, teachers, coaches ,and speechwriters, with their troops, classes, and clients.
  7. Putting women speakers forward means getting pushback from time to time. I've had male speechwriters tell me "but these speeches just aren't very good" or "I don't see any really great speeches there," and I've been accused of doing all sorts of subversive things with the speeches I choose. That just tells me how uncomfortable and unused we are to hearing and featuring women's voices. The cure for all this? Persistence.
  8. The variety matters to me. From the start, I wanted to feature not just stentorian keynote speeches in the male speaking style, but all sorts of public speech by women: testimony, PowerPoint presentations, interviews, short remarks, extemporaneous wonders, and more. I wanted women featured from all periods of history possible, all over the globe, all types of professions, all ages, all races. We're not quite there yet, but making strides. That variety of voices and types of speech matters, not just to me, but to readers looking for examples.
  9. Regrets? The missing speeches. There are famous speeches by women that I know about, but can't find, because they weren't preserved, or the preserved copies just aren't accessible for legal, technological, or other reasons. And that's not just true of speeches from distant history, but from some transitional periods like the 1960s and 70s, when broadcast recordings weren't archival. Other speeches, like Rosa Parks's speeches, were tied up by legal disputes for decades (they're now in the Library of Congress). It's a sometimes inadvertent silencer of women that has me wishing I could find and share them all.
  10. No, it doesn't feel like 10 years. This blog's a big part of every day for me, but often, I feel like I'm just getting started. And I learn as much from putting this together as you may from reading it. A decade also has shaped my perspective on women and speaking into something far more complex and, I hope, sophisticated--something that can't happen, except over time.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Fortune Brainstorm Tech)

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

I read a lot about women and public speaking, and post my finds first on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. But I always collect them here for you on Mondays as well. Here's what I've been reading lately:
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Theresa May's interrupted speech

We've had a cascade of prominent women speakers being interrupted this year--and that's not a mistake--but UK Prime Minister Theresa May's speech at the Conservative Party conference seems to have been a big, juicy target for a grand interruption.

This was the kind of interruption planned well in advance, and carried out early in her remarks. Why? I can think of a few reasons:

  • for optimal visual treatment, so that it would play well on video and television
  • to start silencing her message early
  • for maximum disruption during the speech, enabling a mass media and social media frenzy, and
  • to force a discussion about whether her supposed poor performance during a high-profile speech indicated that she should step down as Prime Minister. 
Call it interruption as coup attempt, if you will. That's certainly what it looked like to me.

The grand interruption was done by a known "prankster," an innocent-sounding  moniker for something with such dire consequences. That became part of the spin on this incident picked up by the media. Why not heckler or interrupter? He attempted to hand May a large-format (aka suitable for cameras) British version of a "pink slip," indicating termination of employment, with the comment, "Boris [Johnson, her foreign secretary and sometime rival for the top job] asked me to give you this."

The interruption took advantage of the fact that May was already nearly hoarse with a bad cold, not helped by having had given dozens of media interviews, as you do when you're the prime minister at a party conference. The speech itself, seen as a chance to stabilize a shaky hold on power, was long--it runs to 23 pages as prepared for delivery, which makes it about an hour in length. That's ambitious for any speaker, let alone one with a bad cold going on. But the combination meant the rest of her speech was marked by sniffles, people handing her cough drops, and sometimes starting applause to give her time to recover her voice. When the lettering on the stage set behind her started to fall apart, it was just part of the larger failure metaphor that had already begun.

We've looked at other May speeches here on the blog, and there's no question that she can be a forceful and effective speaker, despite efforts to dub her "Maybot" as a mocking of her speaking style. And you may recall our analysis, done when she and Hillary Clinton were both cabinet secretaries, that we seem to spend more time talking about distractions and drowning out their messages when they are asking for something like higher public office, or here, renewed support in a current top role. So the interruption laying the groundwork for a possible coup attempt didn't surprise me in the least.

Nor did the ridiculous sexist piling on that began almost instantaneously, another sign of the very planned nature of this grand interruption. She was mocked. Words in the speech echoed those in a speech from the television show The West Wing, which speechwriters are perhaps too prone to watch on repeat. It was reported that she left the stage and went to weep in the arms of her husband, and her husband was named on the pink slip in a reference to asking him about their taxes, both sexist tropes. "Poor Theresa May" was a frequent characterization, often from those who oppose her political views. Her supposed imminent resignation had to be denied throughout the day as coup-planners and rivals emerged with biting comments. And the hyperbolic Piers Morgan dubbed it the biggest speech fiasco in political history; I challenge readers to send me real examples of that, but don't think this qualifies for anything but nastiest coup attempt.

Because of course, what this interruption did was to take her message away and silence her. It's about the coup and about silencing, not about her.

Laying aside politics and the fact that you are not, perhaps, a prime minister yourself yet, what can you learn from this famous speech?

  • It never hurts to anticipate a heckler and how to handle it: You don't need to be famous to be trolled as a woman speaker, and when in doubt, you can always use my all-time favorite debate line from Ronald Reagan: "there you go again." In this case, as the comedian who pulled off the interruption is famous for doing them to others, it would have been apt and dismissive. I'll add it's also nigh unto impossible to pull such a thing off without having thought about it in advance, so allow some prep time for just this unfortunate purpose. You'll feel and look stronger in response if it does come up.
  • Barrelling through to the end is an unfortunate measure of the speaker: This is especially true when you're the prime minister, but in general, we put a lot of unfair pressure on speakers with these unwritten rules along the lines of "the show must go on." The best you can do is know that in advance, and again, plan around it, even down to having something to say to indicate that you'll keep going if they'll settle down and listen.
  • If you're facing even a small coup attempt, some back-pocket lines and humor may help. A famous option is writer Mark Twain's "reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."
By the end of the new cycle, coup attempters were proudly outing themselves and reports began to signal admiration for May's ability to get through the experience, despite the difficulties. But the damage may have been done. 

In full: Theresa May's speech to conference

Changes to the housing and energy markets were among the key announcements in a conference speech which was interrupted by a prankster and the PM struggling not to lose her voice.

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Getting your audience physically involved in a speech or presentation

Back when the U.S. launched its war with Iraq, I was working for a nonprofit whose conference was coming up. Our board president needed to address a huge group of members, and wanted--without being too political--to somehow acknowledge the conflict, which had just begun and was much on people's minds. So I suggested a simple exercise: She could ask audience members to rise if they had different connections to the conflict: If they had served in the armed forces...had a relative who had served, or one serving now...worked for a company supplying the armed services...and so on.

It was a quiet and effective way to reflect what was already in the room and to acknowledge a contribution members were making in their personal lives, and really hit the mark. Because she asked them to stand and remain standing, by the end of the series, a majority of the room was on its feet, showing everyone the scope of how the war affected the group. And standing was a more visible acknowledgement than asking for a show of hands, and more involving.

I wish more speakers would do things to involve the audience physically in their talks. For starters, it keeps their attention focused. But there's another secret advantage to this tactic: Human brains are wired for synchronicity, and for imitating others' movements. So your audience is pre-disposed to cooperate when you ask them to participate as a group in this way.

Here are some performances and a commercial that might give you some ideas for what you can do to get an audience physically involved. Remember, these are *group* actions. You don't want to single people out, but get the whole room participating.
  1. Play the audience like an instrument: Musician Bobby McFerrin, at the World Science Festival, demonstrates how to make music using just the voices in the crowd, managing to conduct them and singing the topline melody himself. As he points out in the panel discussion following, it works all over the world, with every kind of audience. There's a link at the end to a longer discussion of what this has to do with science.
  2. Conduct the audience in singing and dancing--in their seats:  Tutu's "public waltz" gets the audience started with swaying, then arm movements that get larger and larger, then singing. It's a fantastic mix of movement and music that gets the whole audience involved (and here, you get the stage view, which includes some people moving asynchronously, but hey). A fun exercise that must have energized this crowd.
  3. Use the movement to show the crowd what it has in common: Just as my board president did, you can use physical movement to bring the crowd together in surprising ways. A great example is a commercial from TV2 Denmark on "All that we share," in which people are asked to group themselves by how they most commonly describe themselves, then asked to move into new groups based on different criteria, qualities they have in common. This wouldn't be too difficult to recreate, particularly if you are addressing a membership group or your entire organization.


Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

I read a lot about women and public speaking, and post my finds first on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. But I always collect them here for you on Mondays as well. Here's what I've been reading lately:
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz: "We Are Dying Here"

After wading through floodwaters when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz ended up knee-deep in a tweet storm by U.S. President Donald Trump. The president accused Cruz of "poor leadership" and acting "nasty" after she delivered a blunt assessment of the hurricane recovery efforts led by his administration.

"We are dying here," she said simply in her short speech to the media, delivered in a t-shirt and boots in front of a pallet of privately-donated supplies, "and I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles. So, mayday, we are in trouble."

Cruz made a direct plea to the president in her speech, asking him to "take charge" of the federal assistance plans for the island, after Cruz had listened to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke describe the federal response as "a good news story." The situation on the ground was dire, Cruz insisted, and not under control.

In her speech, she says that she is "begging" for help. What Cruz got instead was a rebuke by the U.S. commander in chief for not being as "complimentary" toward him as she was at the start of the crisis. And while that particular take on the speech was not entirely unexpected from the president, the response to Cruz illustrates a common obstacle that women speakers face: women who express anger are seen as less credible than men who do the same.

Unfortunately, Cruz's speech illustrates a few other challenges as well:
  • "Sometimes you can't play nice." In a 2014 interview, Cruz said that "politics is a rough game, and sometimes as females we are taught that you have to play nice. Sometimes you can't play nice." Her speech was blunt and forceful and deliberate, in an attempt to rouse the federal government from what she perceived as bureaucratic sluggishness. By being straightforward and "mad as hell," as she put it, she knows she is breaking a taboo about how women are allowed to act as politicians. ("So I am done being polite. I am done being politically correct," she notes.) President Trump also attempted to shame Cruz for not conforming to the niceness expected of women in public by calling her "nasty," as he did to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential debates.
  • If your speech is emotional, its content may be dismissed. It's fair to say that this is an emotional speech, in both content and delivery. There's nothing wrong with that, and Cruz's words are consistent with being a first-hand witness to literal life-and-death crises unfolding in Puerto Rico. But the coverage of Cruz's speech has leaned heavily on describing it as "emotional" or "passionate" without engaging with the content of it. It makes it all too easy for people like political consultant Alex Castellanos to describe Cruz as "desperate" and a "panicky swimmer" rather than address whether her facts about the relief effort are correct. It also makes it easier for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to characterize the speech as "an attack" on the president, rather than a call for leadership and support.
  • You may need to put the focus back on the speech, and not the speaker. It would have been simple for Cruz to fall into a back-and-forth with the president after his tweets, making the story more about his outburst than conditions in Puerto Rico. But Cruz has maintained a remarkable single-mindedness about why she gave the speech. In nearly every interview and on her very active Twitter feed, Cruz repeats the same refrain: we have one goal here, saving lives. By keeping her focus on her constituents, Cruz has managed to wrest back her speech from a political scorekeeping narrative.
You can read a transcript of the speech here, and the video below contains most of the speech as well:



(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, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Stop interrupting women speakers: Another episode

Kathryn Presner of Get Speaking! encourages women to get started in public speaking, particularly in tech, with web resources and workshops. And back in July, she reported on an episode at WordCamp Ottawa that sounds awfully familiar over here at The Eloquent Woman: A woman speaker being interrupted repeatedly during her talk, and an audience intervention to get it to stop.

That's similar to what was described in our post When the male moderator won't let the lone woman panelist speak. Here's what Presner saw--and stopped:
That afternoon, a woman was giving a lightning talk, with a short amount of time to present. Smack dab in the middle of her presentation, a man piped up to voice disagreement with one of the examples she was showing. Audience conversation started rolling from there, and I could see the speaker – who’d never presented at a WordCamp before – start to look a little flustered, as her talk became completely derailed. 
I was filled with rage. I’ve never done this before, but I had to say something. 
“Let’s let her finish her talk. She only has seven minutes left, and she can take Q&A after.” 
There was a small shocked silence. I’m not sure if I imagined it, but I might have heard a few murmurs of agreement. 
The speaker finished the rest of her talk without interruption, and then took questions after. 
Afterwards, a few people – including the speaker – thanked me for calling out the interrupter.
Presner offers good tips on setting expectations about interruption at the start of your presentation, something that many speakers don't think they need to do. But if there is no moderator or chair present and you are on your own, it's not only fine but helpful to say at the start, "I'm going to take all questions at the end of the presentation, so please hold your insights and questions until then." Then when someone interrupts, anyway, you can say, "Thanks, ask that again at the end, please," and keep going. You've got the floor and the mic. 

Keep in mind, too, as you can see in this video, that women are interrupted far more than men when they are speaking, and that mansplaining often begins with an interruption. All the more reason to announce to the whole audience your set of question rules first--so the audience can help you enforce them. And you can control the gender aspects of Q&A by announcing that you will call on a woman, then a man, then a woman, in turn. It's not only a good way to make sure women get a question in, but to balance a potential onslaught of mansplainers. Yes, you need to be speaking at a gender-balanced conference but try this...it really helps.

And you bold audience members who actually want to hear the speaker who's speaking? Speak up yourselves and insist on it, and put that in your feedback forms to let the conference organizers know they may need moderators or other rules on Q&A.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Capital Ideas Edmonton)

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

I read a lot about women and public speaking, and post my finds first on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. But I always collect them here for you on Mondays as well. Here's what I've been reading lately:
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: HBO's Sheila Nevins's interview with Alec Baldwin

If you've watched any of HBO's award-winning documentaries, you've seen the work of Sheila Nevins. She's won more prime time Emmy Awards than anyone else for her work. But a recent interview with actor Alec Baldwin took an inappropriate and way-too-personal and sexual tone for what was to be a professional interview on his podcast, Here's the Thing, produced by public radio station WNYC. It is difficult if not impossible to imagine a similar line of questioning with a male interviewee.

What's a media interview doing on Famous Speech Friday? Close readers of the blog know that I consider your answers to questions--whether in a media interview or a Q&A session--to be short speeches in and of themselves. Each one represents a choice to express yourself. In a media interview, there's the added pressure of formulating that little speech on the spot, with little to no clue about the question coming up. So it's extra challenging for any speaker.

Nevins was doing the interview to promote her new book, co-authored with Lena Dunham, You Don't Look Your Age...and Other Fairy Tales. The inappropriate question came at the end of the 34-minute interview. Here's the transcript. Before you read, let's note that Nevins is 78 years old and married:
Baldwin: There’s something about you, there’s this woman thing about you, you go and make this effort, and the beautification and kind of corrections and all this other stuff—you look phenomenal, by the way. There’s this thing about you: You bathe in this world of the stark and the real, but there is a part of me that [thinks] you want to be in love again. I see you in a bathrobe on a terrace in Paris, and you’re just having the longest kiss in the world. Is that what you want?  
Nevins: I think that’s what you want.
Baldwin: I already have that, actually.
Nevins: I don’t really wanna be in a bathrobe on a terrace. It’s a good thing you’re not my psychiatrist. 
Baldwin:  You don’t want to be in love again? Passion? Romance? 
Nevins:  No. I wanna make the best documentary in the world. 
Baldwin: That’s it? 
Nevins: That’s it! That’s all I want! I want people to buy my book! 
Baldwin: I just offered you love, romance, bath robe, Paris, and you’d rather... 
Nevins: I don’t want it. I don’t believe it. I want to make a documentary that wins a prize.
Baldwin: That’s why you’re the greatest.
They manage to turn it around that, amazingly, her focus on her work is laudatory, but why did this interview even have to make that detour? If you listen to the entire interview, this portion sticks out like a sore thumb--and otherwise, Nevins gets to eloquently describe the mastermind thinking that goes into her approach to documentaries. This section of the interview? Not so much.

Media attention was swift, and not complimentary. With no shame, the producers labeled this interview "Sheila Nevins Makes Docs Hot," Full disclosure: I donate money to another WNYC podcast, but that stops now, and I am no longer listening to this podcast. I can't support this kind of misogyny.

Nevins actually handled this well, and it's ironic that, in including the inappropriate passage, the producers managed to out their own bad behavior. What can you learn from this?

  • Stay on your message: If an interview, as here, is trying to push you to express his viewpoint, not yours, just keep repeating yours. In many ways, this is not unlike Taylor Swift's courtroom testimony on harassment, when she needed to refute, refute, refute assertions, over and over again. She is laying down a boundary verbally, one that says, "Don't go there."
  • Use some psychology: Nevins does what a good psychologist would advise you to do in any situation like this: She puts the anxiety back where it belongs, on the questioner asking the inappropriate question. "I think that's what you want" indicates to the listener that Baldwin is projecting his own fantasy on her, but she wants no part of it. And in a public interview or a speech, extending that insight out loud, so the audience can hear it, is a game-changer. Nevins here is enlisting the audience to understand that this exchange, from the start, is out of bounds.
  • If it's not about you, and it makes you uncomfortable, it's usually a narcissist: That's another good rule of thumb I've learned from therapist friends. This clearly isn't about Nevins or what she wants, and she knows it and acknowledges that. It's obviously uncomfortable: Why are we talking about kissing and bathrobes in a book tour interview that is about neither? So that makes it all about Baldwin, a talented actor and comic who apparently also has a massive ego to match. Realizing that this isn't about you is a powerful moment you should come to as soon as you can in this type of situation. It gives you room to refute, deny, and argue back without feeling shame or embarrassment. Nevins has given us a great model for handling this type of exchange by maintaining excellent verbal boundaries, whether in an interview, a conversation, or a workplace meeting.
No video of this, but audio is at the link above.


(Wikimedia Commons 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, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on how debate class motivated her

Today, we think of Senator Elizabeth Warren as a fierce public speaker, one well able to take part in the debates her job requires. But, as we've noted before, she also has been a nervous public speaker, and sometimes silenced publicly. And it turns out that her public speaking today has its roots in her high school days.

That's what she shared with David Axelrod in an interview on his podcast The Axe Files. Public speaking started out as her high school skill of last resort, and maybe a ticket to college, but it turned into a passion. From the interview:
Senator Warren: When I started high school was when I really started seeing the kids, how many of them were college-bound, how many smart kids there were in school and that’s when, that’s when I got my chance.  And my chance was debate.  I, I didn’t belong anywhere in high school.  I guess I’m like a lot of kids.  You know, I was always tall.  I was as tall then as I am now.  I was even skinnier, and awkward and knew my parents didn’t have much, not as much as most of the other kids in that high school.  And I had no place where I belonged.  I couldn’t, I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t join the chorus, I couldn’t play a musical instrument, I couldn’t, couldn’t join the band.  I tried softball and got hit in the face like every time. And I…  
David Axelrod: Good preparation for politics. 
Senator Warren: Exactly, No kiddin’, man.  The ball just, bang!.  Right in the face, right in the face.  And so I ended up in speech class, I, because I… it always kinda seemed like to me, speech, and, and  I don’t say this…all the speech majors can stop listening for one sec…it like seemed I didn’t need like, any talent.  All I really need, which is some grit.  And it was always scary to stand up in front of a bunch of people but you just stand up and do it.  And I really didn’t have to stay on key or catch the ball before it hit me in the face.  And from there I got exposed to, to debate.  And again, I just felt like OK, the one thing I got goin’ for me is man, I can sink my teeth in and hang on to an argument.  I learned that I could even think on my feet.  And debate was my chance.  It was my chance to get in there with the smart kids and the kids whose parents were getting them ready for college, and, and to compete, to be part of it.  And for that, I’ll always be grateful.  
David Axelrod: And you, on your own initiative, because your, your mom was skeptical about the notion of you going to college.  She didn’t think that was worth thinking about or attainable.    
Senator Warren: Very.  Well look, she was skeptical even about debate.  I mean, she pointed out to me on a pretty regular basis that boys don’t like girls who argue.  And my mother thought, and, and God bless her, she thought my best chance was to marry a good provider.  That that would be what would keep me safe for the rest of my life. And every time I didn’t move in that direction, every time I talked about how I wanted to be a schoolteacher, every time I talked about, you know, I’m going to this debate tournament this weekend, every time I pushed back, my mother would remind me.   
That continued even when Warren, on her own, decided to apply for colleges with debate programs. Her mother fought back, hard, until her father urged that they let Elizabeth try.

It turned out there was a long delay in Warren's eventual college career, thanks to marriage and childbirth. But that interest in debate has certainly paid off. You'll find more about Warren's pursuit of public speaking in her memoir, This Fight is Our Fight.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Tim Pierce)

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

I read a lot about women and public speaking, and post my finds first on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. But I always collect them here for you on Mondays as well. Here's what I've been reading lately:
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Janet Yellen on holding women back

In America, the chair of our central banking Federal Reserve System (known familiarly as "The Fed") speaks frequently, but with care. Pronouncements by the Fed chair--currently economist Janet Yellen, the first woman to hold the post--are read like tea leaves for signals of change in the economy, and hold great weight. The Fed chair's speeches are transcribed and published routinely to aid in that tea-leaf-reading. And like tea leaves, boy, are they dry, the result of all the anxiety around these formal speeches. I like to imagine the Fed's offices with the motto "Neutral language a specialty" carved above the door. Forget your storytelling and personal anecdotes. Good, solid, plainspoken economics are the thing.

In a speech the New York Times called "unusually narrative and unusually personal," Yellen broke with that pattern at her alma mater, Brown University, for a conference marking the 125th anniversary of women's admission to the university. Also unusual was the coverage it drew, from the likes of the New York Times, Bloomberg, Fortune, and other financial press

While her premise--that the economy could grow more if working women had better support--was fiscal in nature, the speech was peppered with examples of real women who had studied at Brown, and experienced setbacks in their efforts to pursue learning and careers. One of them, a mathematician who graduated in 1923, was Yellen's husband's aunt, Elizabeth Stafford Hirschfelder.

It was the mix of the two styles--personal and plainspoken--that made this speech a success. Noting estimates that the U.S. could boost its yearly economic output by 5 percent if women could participate at the same level as men in the workforce, Yellen said:
Evidence suggests that many women remain unable to achieve their goals. If these obstacles persist, we will squander the potential of many of our citizens and incur a substantial loss to the productive capacity of our economy at a time when the aging of the population and weak productivity growth are already weighing on economic growth.
Let's reflect for a moment on what "participate at the same level as men in the workforce means." Not having to endure and fight harrassment, nor having to quit a good job because of it. Getting hired at the same rate as men, and having as many opportunities to move and find opportunity. Getting the same rate of pay and advancement and benefits. Not having to leave the workday or meetings or business trips early to handle childcare or home chores. Not having to secure childcare. Not having to use personal vacation time for any of the above. Having equitable parental leave. And that's just the short list.

"We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back," Yellen said, quoting Malala Yousafzai, who served as her inspiration for the speech. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • It does make a difference when women speak on women's issues: I'll let Bloomberg say it: "It really does make a difference when the chair of the Federal Reserve is a woman. On Friday, Janet Yellen gave a detailed, 18-page speech at her alma mater, Brown University, making clear just how important the topic of women and work is to her. Without taking anything away from her predecessors at the Fed, it’s hard to imagine Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan, or Paul Volcker giving such a talk." And I'll add: Those men could have tackled this economic issue at any time, of course. But they didn't. So here again, women pick up the slack to highlight their issues.
  • Enliven data with real people: In addition to her own relative, Yellen drew on examples of real women graduates of Brown University from the points in history she wanted to illustrate, taking their stories from oral histories collected by the university. And from time to time, she used herself as a reference, noting that in her own profession of economics, she's an anomaly as well, since just one-third of the Ph.D. degrees issued in the field go to women. Even today.
  • Finish the thought: It's been said many times that once women decide to have children, their advancement is limited, particularly in high-powered professions that require long hours and overtime, or excessive travel. Often, the conversation ends there, a fait accompli. But Yellen completes the thought with what could be, if we just tried a little harder: "Advances in technology have facilitated greater work-sharing and flexibility in scheduling, and there are further opportunities in this direction. Economic models also suggest that while it can be difficult for any one employer to move to a model with shorter hours, if many firms were to change their model, they and their workers could all be better off." Hint, hint.
The Fed published the speech here, and you can watch it in the video below. Yellen's remarks begin at the 11:42 mark, but don't miss the sparkling introduction given by Brown University President Christina Paxson that precedes it.




Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

When a great speech comes back to haunt you: Speaker credibility

Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi has become a beloved figure, thanks to all the trouble she has endured in pressing for human rights. But today, the activist-turned-leader of her country is under fire for failing to condemn publicly the systematic persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Rohinga, a Muslim minority in Myanmar.

The persecution includes burning entire villages, raping women, and shooting adults and children for no reason; some 300,000 have been forced to leave the country for Bangladesh. And her words in two famous speeches are now being used to measure her non-response, because they are so different in content and tone from what she is not saying today. The speeches, once so well-received, have put the lie to her action/inaction--and her failure to act has negated the credibility of the speeches in the eyes of many.

Silence and speaking have marked the public career of Daw Suu, as she is known. After a military takeover in her country, she was imprisoned under house arrest for 15 years, effectively silencing her voice of protest. We've covered here her 1990 Freedom from Fear speech as part of Famous Speech Friday, given before her arrest, and in that speech--a great psychological study of oppressors--she said:
It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.
As I noted in that post, these words were not held back for the stirring end of the speech, but were thrown down early in the speech, a direct and bold challenge. There is nothing reserved about this speech, which had credibility because it not only spoke truth to power in defiance, but because it went beneath the surface and analyzed the real motivations of her country's oppressors in a way that speeches rarely do. It is worth reading again.

Freed in 2012, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and her acceptance lecture at the awards ceremony also has become a touchstone speech about human rights. Here's a passage that is coming back to haunt her today:
Are we not still guilty, if to a less violent degree, of recklessness, of improvidence with regard to our future and our humanity? War is not the only arena where peace is done to death. Wherever suffering is ignored, there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages.
And yet here we are in 2017 with the speaker appearing to do just the thing she decried: Ignoring suffering. New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof has an excellent analysis; Kristof has covered issues about human rights, women and girls, and international violence for decades and really captures the dilemma and the gap between Daw Suu's words and her failure to act in this important case. Like many observers calling her out now, it's the speeches he comes back to, again and again.

Kristof does have some direct clues, despite her silence, and shared the criticism from human rights leaders:
Based on a conversation with Daw Suu once about the Rohingya, I think she genuinely believes that they are outsiders and troublemakers. But in addition, the moral giant has become a pragmatic politician — and she knows that any sympathy for the Rohingya would be disastrous politically for her party in a country deeply hostile to its Muslim minority....Another Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, wrote a pained letter to his friend: “My dear sister: If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”
The Reverend Tutu nailed it with that comment, something that all women who strive to have their voices heard should heed: If the price of your power is your silence, the price is surely too steep.

Just yesterday, Daw Suu finally addressed the issue in a speech that appeared to nod to both sides, not a satisfying answer to her questioners. She avoided the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York this week, and this speech came nearly a month after her last public statement, an unusual period of self-determined silence. But worst of all, reports said, "[h]er speech was remarkably similar in language to that of the generals who had locked her up for the better part of two decades."

What can an ordinary speaker learn from this extraordinary circumstance?

First, I think it highlights something we choose to forget or ignore many times when we give a speech. A speech is a statement of belief. We assert things in speeches, and defend or decry them. We share opinions. We put our marker down: This is what I think, believe, hope, expect. We ask others to share our views, vote our way, act in our behalf or that of our cause. Not in every speech, but in many of them. We push ideas, and ask you to accept them, even applaud them.

But sometimes, perhaps, speakers forget or choose to ignore the speeches they've given. Not so the outside observers, who can use your speeches as a measure of what you said then versus what you are saying now. This happens, of course, more with public figures like Daw Suu, or U.S. presidents, or members of Congress or parliaments, and it should. Speeches are a public statement, and yes, they can serve as a measure of your credibility--a truth no matter how famous or ordinary you may be.

I've learned from working around the world that in many countries, the idea of formal speechwriting and even rhetoric--just a system for organizing thoughts into language--are considered dirty words, thanks to their misuse by politicians and despots intent on saying one thing and doing another. The misuse of speeches in this way undercuts entirely the credibility of speechmaking. In some countries around the world, one does not identify oneself as a speechwriter, or talk about having prepared a speech, or having someone else prepare a speech for you--all for fear of looking like you are just manufacturing propaganda. And that's a shame, although a realistic reaction to the misuse of speeches.

In a democracy, however, we still look to speeches as an important part of the process--and scrutinize them as well, using words to hold the leaders the account. The widespread criticism of Daw Suu is a part of that process, the outside world holding her to account for her words. It's a great reminder to speakers that your words can indeed come back to haunt you and your credibility, so choose with care.

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Amber Tamblyn: "The more we open our mouths, the more we become a choir"

Film and television actor Amber Tamblyn has been on our screens since she was 12 years old, and this week, the now-34-year-old actor took the time to write in the New York Times about the issue of women who've been harassed and how difficult the backlash they face makes it to speak up. I'm Done with Not Being Believed is an important read about one of the most common ways women are silenced, both in the workplace and their private lives, when they try to speak up about sexual harassment.

This isn't a speech, though it certainly could be one. But it's importance lies not just in raising the issue, but in offering other women a picture of how other women like them suffer, and how this woman is going to change her behavior to stop tolerating the backlash and silencing. So I recommend you share it widely, after you read it for yourself.

Because she made bold to complain about harassment on the set and was not believed, Tamblyn writes, "I have been afraid of speaking out or asking things of men in positions of power for years." Calling the demands that women who've been harassed show some proof "the credentials game," she says she and other women are done with that. 

The stirring conclusion of the article should give encouragement to any woman who cares about speaking up, and speaking in public: "We are learning that the more we open our mouths, the more we become a choir. And the more we are a choir, the more the tune is forced to change."

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Red Carpet Report)

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

I read a lot about women and public speaking, and post my finds first on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. But I always collect them here for you on Mondays as well. Here's what I've been reading lately:
  • Wait a minute: This video takes a look at the prevalence of women being talked over. It's at the link, and below. On our Facebook page, this was far and away the most popular post last week.

ATTN:

It's time to stop talking over women. 
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Susan Bro:"They tried to kill my child to shut her up"

On August 13, Susan Bro lost her child in an unimaginable fashion, after her daughter Heather Heyer was struck by a car as she participated in a counter-protest rally against white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heyer's death was the coda for a weekend of anger and outrage that spilled over to the rest of the nation.

Eulogies are notoriously difficult for speakers, especially if they involve the death of a loved one. It is remarkable that Bro was up to the challenge just days after her daughter's shocking death, in the middle of a very public debate over violence and blame in Charlottesville. Her seven-minute speech for Heyer's memorial service was both a tender remembrance and a stunning call to action.

It also was a tribute to how outspoken Heyer herself was about her beliefs, and a sharp rebuke to those who tried to silence her. One of the most memorable lines from Bro's speech, which led to a standing ovation, was this: "They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her."

There's a lot to unpack and to admire in this simple speech. What can you learn from Bro's eulogy for Heyer?
  • Think about what a personal story can do within a eulogy. It's not surprising to include personal details in a speech like this, but Bro also used her remembrance to create a theme for the eulogy. She talked about the dinner table debates launched by her daughter, and how they were sometimes so uncomfortable that they drove Heyer's father out to the car to seek peace in a video game. This story does a remarkable job of tying the personal aspects of Heyer's life to the larger political issues that dominated Charlottesville on the weekend that she was killed.
  • Bring eloquence to a eulogy with plain speaking. Throughout the speech, Bro urges her listeners to continue Heyer's work for justice, telling the audience that "you need to find in your heart that small spark of accountability." Eulogies for famous people--as Heyer unfortunately became--often ask for action from their audiences, but the language here is particularly blunt and therefore striking. Some of my favorite admonitions from Bro include, "You poke that finger at yourself, like Heather would have done, and you make it happen." and of course the final line of the speech, "I'd rather have my child, but by golly if I got to give her up, we're going to make it count."
  • Encourage women speakers--before they become women. It's both heartbreaking and inspiring to hear Bro share how much listening she did in the short time she had with her daughter, and how often she encouraged her to speak, by engaging in those dinner table discussions, hanging in there when the topics got tough or voices were raised. It sounds like such a simple thing to do, but the mere act of listening to girls when they speak, and allowing them to express their opinions, can create a woman who isn't afraid to raise her voice--and who can never be silenced.
The full video of Bro’s eulogy is here and below:



(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, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Want to boost conference attendance? Add women speakers

There's a little-observed phenomenon going on in conferences today: Many "mainstream" conferences in all industries feature few women speakers, and women speakers experience serious hurdles to get on their programs. But at the same time,  "women's conferences" pack their houses, make huge profits, see big attendance, get lots of sponsors, and generally thrive.

I know this because I watch when anyone mentions the paucity of women speakers at conferences on Twitter. The only exceptions are the women's conferences. And while I see the joy of the participants, I also see that these conferences are big business.

I get why women might well choose self-segregation--much as people of color did over a century ago when they were shut out of white conferences--in tweets like this one, suggesting that gender balance should be ignored:
Despite that patriarchal view, and the well-worn trope that we don't want "just anyone" presenting, adding women speakers greatly impacts conferences...in a good way for the bottom line. Take this tweet as just one example:
Why might that be? As women know, when you scan a conference program and see few or no women speakers, you understand immediately that you'll be an anomaly, standing out in a bad way. You'll be the "other." And, as we've reported on the blog, a paucity of women speakers and attendees often leads the men-in-majority to make misogynistic decisions about conference entertainment, or even the presence of prostitutes. You'll find a recent example in Above the Law's post, Conference lacks women speakers, but makes up for it with showgirls. For more, read The prostitute factor: Why we're not serious about women at conferences, which focuses on some top conferences, like the World Economic Forum and a Microsoft conference. It's one of the most-read posts on thus blog.

Think about the reverse. Conferences where women feel not only safe, but included, and celebrated, are an easy "yes" for both participants and speakers. That might be a women's conference, but it need not be. Any conference can be one where women can see themselves participating at all levels...if it wishes. Build a smart code of conduct, offer fees and travel reimbursement to your speakers, and make it easier for women speakers to say "yes" when you call. After all, women do *not* just want to speak and participate in conferences for women.

I think "mainstream" conferences should get smart and take your cue from conferences like the Massachusetts Conference for Women, which can brag about a sold-out attendance of more than 10,000. If those 10,000 women attend all of the sessions at a total of $285, that's more than $2.8 million from just the registrations. That doesn't include fees for the 250 exhibitors, and dozens of sponsors. So advertisers and sponsors want to reach women, a demographic they can target specifically at these conferences. Hmm.

Just a reminder to conference organizers: The attendees missing from your meeting, and the profits missing from your wallet, may belong to the same group that's missing from your program. Above the Law blog put it this way: "[I]f you are an attendee, stop attending conferences that continue to perpetuate exclusion. Spend your $750 on a conference that’s doing more to embrace diversity and inclusion than simply putting pictures of women or POC on its website or on its PowerPoint presentation. Undoubtedly, your own client base will become more diverse with time, so why would you want to attend a conference that’s an echo chamber?"

Indeed. That's just what I did when a longtime conference I attended ignored my harrassment complaints, then required attendees to tick a box saying they would not sue the organization. My $750 plus spent on that meeting goes to much more satisfying uses these days.

McKinsey calculated that Canada alone could boost its gross domestic product by $150 billion by 2026 if gender equity were promoted across the board. I can't think of a better place to start than with women speakers at conferences that aren't targeted to women alone.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by UN Women)

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

I read a lot about women and public speaking, and post my finds first on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. But I always collect them here for you on Mondays as well. Here's what I've been reading lately:
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Taylor Swift's harassment testimony

It was courtroom testimony by a harassed woman the likes of which is rarely seen, and that's really the pity here. But when singer-songwriter Taylor Swift took the stand in a Denver, Colorado, federal courtroom, her words resonated around the world. Why? Because she would not allow any blaming and shaming of herself as the victim...a boundary she set with forceful words. As the New York Times put it, "She’s sold millions of albums and heard stadiums full of fans chant her lyrics at sold-out concerts around the world. But the Taylor Swift line that might resonate the loudest now is 'He grabbed my bare ass'."

A radio host who posed with her in 2013 for a photograph had groped her. She accused him of doing so to his radio station, and he was fired. He sued Swift for loss of his job, and she countersued for assault and battery, asking damages of just one dollar to make her point. In August 2017, she was in the courtroom answering questions from the radio host's attorney. Here's a sampling of her responses, a primer in holding your own without shame:
  • "I'm not going to let you or your client to make me feel like this is my fault, because it isn't."
  • "I'm being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions. Not mine."
  • When asked why the hem of her skirt in the front was not pushed up, perhaps indicating there was no groping, she replied, "Because my ass is located on the back of my body."
  • "He did not touch my ribs. He did not touch my arm. He did not touch my hand. He grabbed my bare ass."
  • Asked what she could have done differently, she replied, "Your client could have taken a normal photo with me."
The responses, so unlike what we're used to hearing, were dubbed assertivesharp, gutsy, and satisfying. And so was the result. The jury found that she had been groped and awarded her the requested damages of one dollar. In a statement, Swift showed that she understood precisely what was really at stake: The ability of women and girls to speak up and be heard when they are sexually assaulted or harassed: “I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this. My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard.”
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Don't react, respond: Too often, when a woman brings an accusation of harassment, the lines of questioning are similar to those Swift faced: They're designed to make you uncomfortable, to doubt your standing or your memory, and to suggest subtly or not that you yourself may have been a cause of the action. Resist the urge to get angry or sad, or react in any way, and simply respond. Swift's almost clinical answers do the trick here, setting verbal boundaries again and again and again. This is exhausting, and worth practicing beforehand if you find yourself in such a circumstance, be it in the office or a courtroom. But if you can keep your emotion out of it, your responses will be stronger.
  • Refute, refute, refute: Count all the "nots" in the above statements. Swift pairs every positive statement with a not-statement, to play up the contrast between what is alleged and what really happened, and she does it over and over and over to underscore the point. The more you repeat it the more solid your testimony becomes.
  • Say it plain: One of the insidious factors in this type of questioning is the avoidance of direct words to describe the action. Not so with Swift. There are no euphemisms for ass here. The language is simple and clear, and thus cannot be construed in any way but one. There aren't any flowery adjectives and adverbs to hide what happened, just a simple, clear explanation.
Say it plain also applies to the moment when harassment occurs, although even Swift didn't do this (and was questioned about that in court, too). But if you can, jump away, yell "What do you think you're doing?" or "Stop grabbing my breast!" or whatever it is. Loudness helps. The perpetrators of physical sexual harassment count on you being too ashamed to say what is going on or to tell anyone. There's no more important public speaking you can do than to stand up for yourself and say what is happening, clearly and loudly, in such a situation. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

No video here, but the words carry the day today.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Paolo Villanueva)

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.