Friday, October 20, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Anita Sarkeesian tackles trolls at VidCon

You've read--here and elsewhere--about women  getting harassed on panels at conferences, particularly in the tech space. But if you haven't experienced what that looks and feels like at a real conference panel, it can be hard to imagine.

So let's use this VidCon panel from June that featured media and gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian, one of the most trolled women speakers on the planet. Sarkeesian spoke graphically about her harassment in a TED talk in 2013, but this panel offers a real example, captured in this article. And in this case, Sarkeesian called out her trolls:
The panel's first question drops. It’s about why feminism — online and in games — is an issue worthy of discussion. 
Sarkeesian notes Benjamin's presence and begins speaking. 
"If you Google my name on YouTube you get shitheads like this dude who are making these dumb-assed videos," she says. "They just say the same shit over and over again. I hate to give you attention because you're a garbage human. These dudes just making endless videos that go after every feminist over and over again is a part of the issue of why we have to have these conversations."
And to help you picture what Sarkeesian was seeing, here's what one of the harassers said in the article about how they set up their intimidation effort:
 "We carefully organized this so that on one side of the audience we would all make up the top three rows,” he says. “We would all be sitting there filming it," he adds, before naming several allies....It was such an adrenaline high to be there in the situation, to shit-post, in this trolling kind of way." He goes on to claim there was "no malice" in their actions and that it was “playful.”
Later, asked about the panel and calling out the harassers, Sarkeesian said, "As women, we're always told not to engage, not to 'stoke the fire,' and that forces us into silence, it forces us to be quiet in the face of harassment. That silence helps perpetuate a culture in which harassment is permissible or even accepted as 'normal.' And so I think that for some women who understand what I’ve been through or who have been through it themselves, it was cathartic to see me not stay silent, to see me call him out directly like that, to acknowledge in front of all those people what he’s done."

What can you learn from this panel from hell?
  • It's important to show up and speak, anyway: I know a lot of women who just avoid speaking gigs due to this phenomenon of trolls in the audience. Sarkeesian gets trolled more than most, but she continues to show up and call out the bad behavior. It's a good model for you to follow to take back control of your speaking opportunities.
  • Call them out directly: That wording is so important psychologically. Instead of responding with general complaints about harassment, get specific and direct. Don't use euphemisms. Call a troll a troll, and use your microphone and platform. Yes, that takes up time from your planned message, but it's important. As Sarkeesian said, "it was cathartic to see me not stay silent, to see me call him out directly like that, to acknowledge in front of all those people what he’s done." If it's the same guy or guys every time, borrow one of my all-time-favorite lines from Ronald Reagan: "there you go again." 
  • Know and work the conference code of conduct, and security: If you expect this to happen, ask for a conference organizer and security to be present for your session to witness any infraction of the code. Be sure you know the code of conduct, and whom to call. And refusing to speak at conferences without codes also is a good start, though a code is no guarantee of good behavior. Also consider having your colleagues help out by making their own video documentation if need be, and let them know what to watch for.
RealBeal made this video with her own commentary after witnessing the panel from the front row. It's a good reminder that these practices are bad for the audience as well as the speakers:


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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Let it go: How to tell when your public speaking script should be frozen

When I'm coaching speakers who are preparing and then memorizing a script for a talk--often a talk in the style of TED--we invest a lot of time on the script early in the process. We discuss concepts, go through drafts, reorganize, restate, revise. And then we do it again, as much as is needed to make the talk work for both speaker and audience. By the time we're done, that talk is like a polished jewel. So how do I keep the speaker from revising it into oblivion, right up until the last minute?

I declare the script "frozen."

By that I mean no more major revisions, a key part of the process for the speaker who wants to have a prayer of knowing her talk when the time comes to deliver it. It's the opposite of the speaker who makes lots of tweaks and changes, right up until the moment of delivery. That keeps moving the goal posts on your goal of memorizing the talk, and even makes delivery with notes difficult.

Declaring your script frozen, and keeping it that way, takes a lot of self-control. But neither freezing the script, nor memorization, are perfect processes. So we allow for a couple of types of changes:
  • Where you repeatedly stumble, make a change in the script, either omitting or replacing the word or words that are giving you trouble; and
  • Where you repeatedly forget a word, group of words, or sentence, do the same: omit or replace.
Other than that, however, work on memorizing what you have so carefully crafted.

Engineer Lucy Rogers shared with this blog her experience experimenting a bit too much with when she froze her speech: "I froze [my script] on the Tuesday, before giving it on the Thursday...I wasn’t word perfect. I changed the first line and I missed out some of the jokes...Note to self: freeze the speech longer in advance to give yourself chance to learn it."

If you're still tempted to make change after change, it's a good opportunity to pull back and ask yourself why you're anxious about this speech. Too many changes can be a signal that you're in over-prepare mode. Take the time to work on your anxiety before the speech, rather than take it out on your script.

(Disney press kit image from the movie Frozen)

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, 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.