Monday, August 21, 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, August 18, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Elizabeth I's 1563 speech on her singlehood

It wasn't enough that she was the queen, the ruler of the British Empire. Parliament wanted Elizabeth I to marry and produce an heir. In 1563, five years into her eventual 45-year reign, the House of Lords presented her with a petition asking her to do just that. The British Library has the manuscript of this speech, and it shared these insights:
This manuscript, in Elizabeth I’s own hand, is a draft version of a speech given to Parliament on 10 April 1563. The speech is a response to a petition from the House of Lords urging the Queen to marry and produce an heir. It is one of a number of speeches she wrote between 1559 and 1567 in response to continued pressure from Parliament to marry. Throughout these debates, Elizabeth reserved the right to choose who she would marry, and indeed whether or not she would marry at all. From the early 1580s she began to be represented as a perpetual Virgin Queen. 
The Lord Keeper Nicolas Bacon delivered the speech in Parliament on the Queen's behalf, and she was present for that delivery. In the transcript, you can see, as the British Library analysis notes, "This speech is tentative and ambiguous compared to some of her other speeches on the subject of marriage, which were often angry and insistent that subjects should not rule a monarch. In the insertion written sideways along the left of the page, Elizabeth seeks to pacify the Lords by admitting that, while celibacy is best for a private woman, ‘so do I strive with my selfe to thinke it not mete [appropriate] for a prinse’." (The "prince" in question being Elizabeth.)

What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Don't paint yourself into a corner in negotiations with your speeches: She might appease the petitioners this time and rail at them the next, but Elizabeth "reserved the right to choose who she would marry, and indeed whether or not she would marry at all." In 1583, that was astonishing, but her speeches didn't give any of her rights away.
  • Speeches come and go, but actions speak louder than words: Elizabeth, sometimes called "The Virgin Queen" (because if she wasn't going to get married, she *had* to be a virgin, right?), never did marry or give birth to an heir--despite her many speeches on the topic. At the end of the day--or the end of your life--it's your actions that will speak for you, ultimately.
  • Good cop, bad cop is an ancient strategy: While this speech tempered her arguments against marriage, her temper came through in others. Using a diplomatic touch here, an angry tone there, probably helped Elizabeth extend this conversation rather than bring it to a conclusion. It might be one of the longest games of chicken ever played between a monarch and a parliament.
I love that we can see the draft in her own handwriting, don't you? 

(Portrait of Elizabeth from Wikimedia Commons, The Sieve Portrait, 1583, about 20 years after she gave this speech. Image of the text of her speech via the British Library.)

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, August 17, 2017

6 public speaking tips for your next protest rally speech

With protests rising in number worldwide, public speakers need to dust off--or just learn for the first time--the skill of addressing a public protest rally. It's a particular form of public speech, and one we are apparently rusty at doing, based on some of the recent rallies I've seen.

Protest rally speeches are loaded with declarations, with audience response, and with interruptions for said responses, applause, chants, and cheers. It takes a stable and thoughtful speaker to make the most of this opportunity in person. And because today's rallies are often recorded and put on YouTube, it's worth giving a thought to how this will look and sound online as well as in the heat of the moment. Here are six more tips for today's protest speaker:
  1. Manage your time: If we learned no other lesson from When a man hogs the mic at the Women's March, it's that protest speakers should err on the side of being briefly powerful rather than holding forth. Even 20 minutes feels like an eternity to the audience standing in front of you at a rally, and your five minutes is just a fraction in a four-hour rally. Edit with that in mind.
  2. Lean in, part one: Sound systems vary at outdoor protest rallies, from bullhorns to platforms with mics and concert-level sound systems. But when the audience is large and outdoors, nearly every sound system will fall short at some point. Do your part by leaning into the microphone, keeping it so close to your mouth you could take a bite out of it. I can't count the number of rally speakers I've seen, but not heard, because they paid no attention to where the mic was.
  3. Lean in, part two: Don't forget that the audience, as in any public speaking situation, will take its cues from you. Are you energized? Angry? Ready to lead the charge? Better let us see that in your tone of voice, your gestures, and your facial expression. Don't make us wonder whether you really care.
  4. Use your outdoor voice: Even with a mic and sound system, or a bullhorn, you'll need your outdoor voice to be heard by the furthest reaches of a big crowd. Yes, it may sound as if you're yelling, but this isn't the time for the nuanced whisper. Protest rally speeches more closely emulate the public speaking of yore, from the days before amplified sound. Go for being heard over being subtle.
  5. Go for the wide gesture: This is the moment for the broad gesture, the wide expanse of arms and hands. Make your gestures above the height of any lectern you may be using so they're in camera range--and in view of the spread-out audience.
  6. Find a hook: Maybe it rhymes. Maybe it's sung. Maybe it's just chant-able. Maybe it's good old-fashioned call-and-response. If there's a hook to exploit in your speech--something the group can repeat and chant--use it, and use it again. Giving the crowd a chance to vent is part of the purpose of a protest rally. Don't think you're the only one who wants to speak.
For more inspiration, check out my list of 12 famous protest speeches by women.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Fibonacci Blue)

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, August 14, 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, August 11, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Sally Yates on your moral compass

Fired from her transitional post as Acting U.S. Attorney General by the White House after she refused to defend or enforce President Donald Trump's travel ban on Muslims coming into the United States, Sally Yates went from relatively unknown to famous in a short span. She had instructed Justice Department lawyers not to defend the administration's executive order on immigration and refugees, a move that the White House dubbed "a betrayal," and fired her for speaking her mind and giving her considered legal opinion.

In May, Yates addressed the graduating class at Harvard Law School, and looked back on her own legal career--much of it spent as a career civil servant prosecutor at the Department of Justice--to share four lessons with the graduates. Lesson two? "You never know when a situation will present itself in which you will have to decide who you are and what you stand for." She reviewed what happened in her decision-making on the travel ban, noting that it didn't just take place in the 72 hours between the ban's announcement and her directive to the department, but in all the years that preceded that moment in her career. Here's the advice she distilled for the graduates:
The compass that is inside all of us, that compass that guides us in times of challenge, is being built every day with every experience. I was fortunate to have learned from some inspiring people in my life who not only served as role models, but who challenged my thinking on issues and molded my core. 
Over the course of your life and career, you, too, will face weighty decisions where law and conscience intertwine. And while it may not play out in such a public way, the conflict you will feel will be no less real, and the consequences of your decisions also significant. The time for introspection is all along the way, to develop a sense of who you are and what you stand for. Because you never know when you will be called upon to answer that question.
Leaders in all sorts of organizations might read this speech while keeping in mind the recent survey data that show that employees are happiest when leaders have a moral compass and the employees feel they will "do the right thing." What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Get your listeners thinking about their own experience: "The time for introspection is all along the way," she said, taking what was, on its face, a very public dilemma and turning it into a mental exercise anyone in the audience could do--a fantastic way to engage your listeners.
  • Pay your respects: As with any formal commencement, Yates's insights did not begin until she had worked through the formal thanks, congratulations, and inclusion of the variety of listeners at graduation events, from faculty to parents. Every speech has jobs to do, and that's a big one for a commencement speech.
  • If you can, let us behind the scenes: Part of what's irresistible about this speech is that it shares Yates's thinking and her side--the inside--of a very public and controversial story. She does it justice with an even-handed, straightforward delivery. There's no need to dramatize the events further.
You can read the full text of her speech here, and watch the video here or 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, 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, August 10, 2017

When "improve presentation skills" comes up in your performance review

If you like this blog, you may thank the client who called me about a bad performance review, in which she--a top performer on every objective criterion--was told by her all-male board, "Your presentations aren't sexy enough."

That didn't surprise me. In fact, it felt like things I'd heard before, and it started me on the path to explore gendered issues in public speaking more than 10 years ago. I've heard from both sides, the person being reviewed and the employer seeking correction in presenting skills, many times now. And I've dealt with it myself, as an employee and as a manager. Here are some observations from the coach that may be useful to both sides:
  1. Seek clarification: One problem with saying "you need to improve your presentation skills" is that you can drive a truck through that wide-ranging list of topics. And many times, that's why it is chosen for your review, particularly if you are a woman: Something vague that you can't fix may be an easy way to damage your record. In the example above, my client drew herself up, and said, "Help me understand specifically what you mean," a nice, neutral comeback. The answer was still vague. She decided, in that circumstance, to demonstrate a willingness to improve by seeking coaching and paying for it out of her own budget.
  2. Remember this may not actually be about you and your presentation skills: One sign: Vague prescriptions for improvement, like being "sexy enough," "more lively," or "better." I told the client with the "sexy enough" feedback that I didn't know how to do that, but I could help her change enough about her presenting that a change would be noted. As we worked together, she shared that the feedback was likely more about her informal relationship with the board, which differed from her male predecessor. 
  3. Ask for help and get them to pay for it: I can't tell you how many times I have been approached by an employee who's been told to improve her presenting--and thinks she has to pay for it out of her own pocket. If it comes up in your performance review, that meeting is precisely the time to ask, "What's available to support my further professional development in this area? I'd like to improve." Suggest coaching from an independent coach. Let them have input into the coaching goals, wince-making though the feedback may be. 
  4. Is it about a particular, high-stakes presentation? If your boss is specific enough to say, "I'd like you to be able to present to the board/sales/external meeting," ask for coaching to prep and practice such a presentation and to give your boss a preview of the improved presentation before the big day.
  5. If you are seeking help, consider what *you* want to improve: It's not just about what your employer wants, and any good coach will want to know what you want to be able to do and how you'd like to change. Don't leave your wish list out of it.
  6. Are you willing to try? That's one of my top factors in predicting your success in speaker coaching and the same thing applies here. If you're surprised by the feedback, are you willing to try something new? That will at least buy you time in this negotiation, and you may learn a few things.
  7. Do they want you to fix something that's actually normal? This is where a seasoned coach can really help. If your feedback is about ums and uhs, vocal fry and uptalk, gesturing, and resting face, you may be getting feedback about perfectly normal things that we like to torment speakers about. Or perhaps you're introverted and the boss is an extrovert. A good coach can discern when and whether these things are actually getting in the way of your good presentation, arm you with data to answer queries, and give you practical ways to make them less noticeable.
  8. Is the feedback about the boss's pet peeves? The boss can trump all, so if she insists there be "no storytelling" in your presentations, or prefers slides, she can have that be the case. But it's important for you to understand which feedback is based on many use cases and norms, and which are just personal preference. Don't forget: Sometimes the boss forbids the very thing that makes him most uncomfortable as a speaker, so he won't be shown up. Not fair, but something worth understanding. 
  9. Ask how improvement will be evaluated: Despite seeking out a great coach, you need to understand what your employer wants as proof of improvement. Does that mean giving an improved presentation to the team in a lower-risk situation? Actually speaking successfully at the board meeting? Some written assessment from the coach? A video? Don't be surprised if your employer has not thought this far ahead, but do ask and listen to what is wanted.
Sometimes, as you may suspect, the boss just doesn't like the employee, or really wants a lot of mini-me presenters who act and look like him. I can tell that's the case when I am asked to "change the leopard's spots," rather than find an authentic way for the speaker to speak and contribute. I usually decline those coaching opportunities.

Finally, do let any coach you call know that this is a performance issue--it creates a very different tone for the coaching from the outset, and it's only fair to let your coach know the stakes involved.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Sheila Dee)

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.