Friday, December 9, 2016

FSF update: Lady Bird Johnson's 1964 whistlestop tour

(Editor's note: The very first post on The Eloquent Woman blog was about this speaking tour, and I later updated that post to make it part of our Famous Speech Friday series. Now two new online resources about Lady Bird Johnson's whistlestop tour prompt me to update the piece again--including new photos from these online exhibits. Enjoy!) 

Lady Bird Johnson died just a few months before The Eloquent Woman blog launched, and it was during her funeral services that I realized there are few people today who recall her shy start as a public speaker. Robert Caro, prolific biographer of the late U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson, her husband, describes in Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 2)  just how she sabotaged her own speaking early on:
So deep was her shyness that, as a high school senior, she prayed that if she finished first or second in her class, she would get smallpox so that she wouldn't have to be valedictorian or salutatorian and have to make a speech at graduation.
Eventually, circumstances forced her to face -- and speak to -- the public. When her husband was John F. Kennedy's running mate in the 1960 election, she was pressed into service to give dozens of speeches when Jacqueline Kennedy's troubled pregnancy made it impossible for her to travel. After her husband become president, Lady Bird was the first of the First Ladies with her own press secretary, made hundreds of public appearances and wound up giving as many as 16 commencement speeches, if only to accept her own honorary degrees.

Read the eulogy to her written by PBS journalist Bill Moyers, a former special assistant to President Johnson. He divulges a tip she gave him about speaking early in his career:
She was shy, and in the presence of powerful men, she usually kept her counsel. Sensing that I was shy, too, and aware I had no experience to enforce any opinions, she said: “Don't worry. If you are unsure of what to say, just ask questions, and I promise you that when they leave, they will think you were the smartest one in the room, just for listening to them. Word will get around,” she said.
Despite all that shyness, Lady Bird Johnson demonstrated courage as a public speaker during a 1964 campaign whistle-stop tour of Southern states. It took place just after her husband had signed the Civil Rights Act--a time when political advisers decided he could not himself risk personal appearances in the South, so unpopular was the new legislation. So they sent the First Lady on a four-day, 1,600-mile, eight-state train trip, stopping in small towns and giving her speech off the back of the "Lady Bird Special" train, as shown in the photo.

In all, she made 47 speeches in as many towns in four days, reaching about a half-million people in person. And she liked the idea of a whistlestop, in part because it would reach local people who didn't usually get to see or meet national leaders. But her fears were still there. She alluded to her speaking fears right at the start, according to a PBS documentary:
"For me this trip has been a source of anxiety and anticipation," Lady Bird said at the start of the whistlestop. "Anxiety because I am not used to whistle-stopping without my husband; anticipation because I am returning to familiar territory and heading into a region I call home."
On this tour, she listened to catcalls that said her husband--and her daughters--were "nigger lovers," and more. Moyers' eulogy noted that in the face of jeers, protests and name-calling on the tour:
She never flinches. Up to forty times a day from the platform of the caboose she will speak, sometimes raising a single white-gloved hand to punctuate her words — always the lady. When the insults grew so raucous in South Carolina, she tells the crowd the ugly words were coming "not from the good people of South Carolina but from the state of confusion." In Columbia she answers hecklers with what one observer called "a maternal bark." And she says, "This is a country of many viewpoints. I respect your right to express your own. Now is my turn to express mine."
That's something any speaker can use today with a heckler. Here's an audio clip from her whistle-stop in Tallahasse, Florida, October 8, 1964. As the PBS documentary notes, her speaking was an astonishment in 1964: "Lady Bird had embarked on her political tour at a time when only 30 percent of married women had jobs, and only 20 percent of women with children were employed."

So she was asked not once, but twice, to pinch-hit for other speakers in presidential campaigns. I'm guessing that those who asked her had little idea of how much she dreaded speaking. Now the whistlestop tour she did in 1964 is getting its due online with two new resources, and they are extensive enough to warrant this update of my previous posts:
What can you learn from this unusual speaking tour? In the two anecdotes in his eulogy, Moyers captures several smart tactics employed by this eloquent woman:
  • Ask questions. More than a stall tactic for the shy speaker, asking questions of your audience--whether it's one person or 500--will help you to better understand your hearers. You'll be less likely to make a misstep with the help of this "market research." It builds your confidence, and theirs in you. And it's a great attention-getter.
  • Word will get around. Whether you're quiet or loquacious, people are watching. Your reputation rests on moments when you're resting, as well as when you're actively speaking.
  • Speak calmly and for yourself. Lady Bird Johnson was spit on, yelled at, had things thrown at her, heard her children insulted, and still remained calm in front of the angriest of audiences. In some cases, she confused and silenced the protesters who were seeking to embarrass her, simply by acting as she planned, rather than reacting. And she spoke for herself: In disagreeing with the protesters, she used "I" statements, saying, "I respect your right" to disagree, but insisting on her own right to express her views.
The National First Ladies Library offers this extensive biography of Lady Bird Johnson and I wish there were more of her speeches available for you in text and video. The two new online collections do much to remedy that problem. You also can read and listen to quotations from her speeches, interviews and conversations with her husband. Here's video of Bill Moyers's eulogy for her, loaded with great stories that bring her alive:

Bill Moyers eulogy for Lady Bird Johnson

(Photos courtesy LBJ Presidential Library)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Personal story practice: What's your dining-out story?

If you're struggling with how to incorporate a personal story into your speeches, talks, or presentations, there's an easy way to practice: Use a story on which you've been dining out for years to practice shaping and delivering a personal story.

You know the one I mean. You've told that story over and over, to many different groups of friends, or every year at the family reunion, or when you want a sure-fire tale that will entertain, shock, or surprise your closest friends. It may be funny, self-revealing, or somber, but it's one you know backwards and forwards. You've added to it or eliminated lines here and there over the years, so it's familiar and well-worn and comfortable.

Such a story is the perfect practice tool. Take that story of yours and write it out fully. Use the 120-words-per-minute test to see how long it is. Then edit and polish it. Can you make it into a talk of five minutes or less? That's usually easy to do with a dining-out story, since no one wants to bore their nearest and dearest. A five-minute talk is a useful tool to have in your back pocket.

Then work on memorizing the polished version of your story, which also shouldn't be too tough, since you know it so well. Use my memorization tactics so you can see how they work. Now you have a talk you can give at any time in your back pocket, a real advantage should someone call on you to give an impromptu speech--that's just what I did for a high-stakes, last-minute speech. The fact that you know it and are comfortable with it will work in your favor, and let you apply yourself to the grace notes of the talk: laugh lines, pauses, dramatic effects.

You may find, at the end of this practice, that your dining-out story has some relevance to a work situation or lets you make a personal or larger point in a talk for a public audience. That's the goal. My impromptu speech linked above would not have worked for a different audience--it was precisely relevant to the event and the group. And not all of your dining-out stories will be appropriate for work settings, but if they are and can help you get your point across, so much the better. If your story involves big emotion or something personally significant to you, do practice it in front of people other than your dining-out gang first, so you can see whether emotion overtakes you in a different speaking situation. Then put this polished personal story into your repertoire as a speaker.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by _SiD_)

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking:

Friday, December 2, 2016

8 famous speeches by women before the U.S. Congress

Some would say there's no more high-stakes talk you can give than testimony or an address before the U.S. Congress...and that's true whether you're a senator or representative, a witness, an executive branch official, an expert witness, a citizen, or a foreign head of state. We've got them all in this collection, and each of these speeches brought controversy and frank talk to the Congress. Each of these speeches also is part of The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women, and at the links, you will find, where available, video or audio or text of the speeches, along with an analysis and at least three tips you can use based on these speeches for your next speech. Testify along with these bold speakers:

  1. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's 2009 address to both houses of Congress shared a personal memory of growing up in postwar Germany, as well as a rebuke to the Americans about support for climate change measures.
  2. Anita Hill's Senate testimony against Clarence Thomas's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court set the nation afire with public speaking about sexual harassment, and prompted thousands of women to speak up about their own harassment in the workplace.
  3. Clara Barton's Andersonville testimony to Congress was a graphic description of what she saw in an infamous prisoner-of-war camp during the Civil War, delivered at a time when women rarely spoke in public, let alone before the Congress.
  4. Hillary Clinton answered a tough question before a congressional committee during her tenure as Secretary of State, demonstrating how to disagree with a leading question calmly and with control. 
  5. Margaret Chase Smith's 1950 Declaration of Conscience was a rare rebuke to fellow senator Joe McCarthy about his witch-hunt tactics against rumored Communists in America. So strong and singular was this statement that it was later said if a man had given it, he'd be elected president.
  6. Shirley Chisholm introduces the Equal Rights Amendment--not the first time, but again, during the women's movement of the 1970s. Perhaps based on her own experience, she said, "If women are already equal, why is it such an event whenever one happens to be elected to Congress?"
  7. and 8. Representatives Gwen Moore and Jacke Speier on abortion rights and family planning were floor speeches these members of Congress used to share their own personal experiences with unplanned pregnancies in moving, impromptu remarks.

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Our 9 most popular posts on using slides (or not)

I write about all aspects of public speaking on this blog, but it's the posts about slides that get the most traffic...which suggests to me that many of you are struggling. Here are the most popular posts we've published on slides in the last few years, nine gems that should help you reform your bad habits and use slides (or not) to your advantage. In general, there's nothing wrong with slides...if you use them thoughtfully and have real reason to use them. See if my reasons differ from yours:
  1. Myth-busting: Learn the 6 myths about slides that are holding you back as a speaker. Are these what you're telling yourself?
  2. Space exploration: Crowded slides? You need these 3 smart ways to space out--not cram in--your slide content
  3. Data nerd? How many slides you use, and how long you spend on each one, are among the 6 kinds of speaker data to know about yourself
  4. Come out where we can see you: Slides also are among the 6 things you might be hiding behind as a speaker
  5. The life preserver: Are you hanging on to one slide for dear life? I had one client who used to spend 2 hours on his title slide...before we worked together. Here are 7 fixes for that.
  6. Lose them now: Prepping a TED-style talk? Slides might be among those things that should be missing from your TED talk.
  7. Not every picture tells a story: "But all my slides are pictures" isn't a smart public speaking strategy.
  8. First to go: From NASCAR slides to "any questions?" here are 8 kinds of slides to delete right now.
  9. Fly free: Want to fly without slides? Here are 4 good tactics.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Devon Christopher Adams)

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Monday, November 28, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking: