Friday, July 30, 2010

Why speakers should take a second look at the new Kindle

Ever since I first tested the Amazon Kindle as a speaking tool,  I knew it had great value in addition to its book-reading capabilities.  But price remained a barrier for many speakers.  This week, Amazon announced new features and far lower prices that make the device the least expensive e-reader out there--and worth a second look if you are a frequent speaker.  Here's how I see the Kindle's uses, through the eyes of a speaker. It's:
  • A note card replacer: Both the new Kindle with wi-fiand the new Kindle with free 3G and wi-fi (which works globally), are close to the size of large-format 5x7 inch index cards that many speakers use for notes, but easier to hold and manipulate.  No shuffling or dropping of pages and cards! You can hold it in one hand and use your thumb to press the tab that will advance pages. Previous battery life was more than enough for even the longest lecture; the new models hold a charge for one month if the wireless is off.  (Speakers, don't use that as an excuse to speak longer!)
  • A vision enhancer:  No need to ask your speechwriter to adjust the type size, or fiddle with your glasses so you can see the text.  Kindle's added more adjustable fonts for a total of eight, and promises 50 percent clearer, crisper text compared to other e-readers.
  • The device that will let you speak outdoors:  There's no backlighting (also great for your eyes), so unlike an iPad, you can read from text on the Kindle while standing out in the sun.  Commencement speakers, park ribbon-cutters and officiants at outdoor weddings all can use it as well as those of us in lecture halls.
  • A speech storage device:  You can email your text or PDF documents directly to the Kindle (you'll get a dedicated email for that purpose), so you can carry many speech texts with you in one 8.7 ounce, 1/3-inch-thick device. (That's 15 percent lighter than the previous versions.) If you're a traveling speaker, this alone is good reason to buy a Kindle. Kindle has doubled the storage space in these new versions, so you can store the equivalent of 3,500 books.
  • A reference/research storage device:  If you comb through books and texts for fodder for your speeches, just download them onto the Kindle and carry them with you--you can even dog-ear pages, highlight text to find it easily, or use the built-in dictionary to check meanings as you read.  You can download or subscribe to newspapers, magazines and blogs as well as books, store and play music and much more--right from the device--so if you need to find and check a text last-minute, it can be done on the spot.
  • A speech practice/review device:  Kindle features include a text-to-speech option for English language text, so your device can read your speech to you, letting you sit back and listen.  (No, it won't include your rhetorical flourishes and vocal stylings, but it's a great way to step back and hear your words in advance.)
You don't pay for the built-in wireless capability--the device price is all you pay, and it comes ready to use.  This time, there are two choices:  Wi-fi dependent Kindles, which will get free wi-fi at AT&T hotspots, at the lower price of $139, and 3G wireless with wi-fi at the $189 price, which also works globally and does not need a hotspot to connect to wireless. You can view a video that reviews all the new features and see the Kindle in use. 

Let me know if you're using a Kindle when you speak, and how it's working for you.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What are your speaker dreams and aspirations?

It's great to shape your progress as a speaker by imagining where you'd like to go, or to have an outsized goal in mind, something to inspire you to keep working on your skills (just as long as it doesn't tie you up in knots of nervousness).  And for some, it's the audience or event that motivates.  To get at some of those speaker dreams and aspirations, on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, I asked readers to "fill in the blank: "I've always dreamed of giving a speech before the [insert audience or event here]_______________."  Aspirations were running high, and these were some of the dreams speakers and would-be speakers shared:

Rachel Miller said she dreamed of giving a speech before the "Parker Seminar in Las Vegas." It's for chiropractic practitioners.

Nina Nehemiah Blessed wishes to speak at the "Grammy for songwriters, thanking them for my award!"

Christine Clark Geerts has her eye on the halls of power, wanting to address the "Congress or State House."

Christine Cowdrey Mulvin would like to speak before "NASA after returning from space."

Toni Rosati envisions laughter with a presentation for "a comedy club audience."

Marianne Glass Miller hopes to speak before the "parade passes by."

Erin Gearhart wants to commence with a talk before "a graduating class!"

Deborah Barber Adams aims for the diplomatic, with a speech at the "United Nations! :)"

Meg Mobley, a scientist, dreams of speaking before "my family."

Maura At Citi aspires to a message for "Presidents of every country to ask them to make peace with each other!"

Tilly Evan Jones imagines speaking before the "kids I went to High school with."

I suspect there's a longer story behind each of those wishes, and invite all of you to share more of what you aspire to as a speaker, here in the comments or on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook.  If you haven't already done so, hit the "like" button or look to the left on the page for an easy way to suggest it to your friends.

The top 10 public speaking tips and issues for July

July was a jam-packed month for me, and I'm not talking about berries. How about you? Let's take a break and look back on an active month on The Eloquent Woman.  Here's what caught your fancy, and that of other readers, in this month's most popular posts:
  1. What's the difference when scientists present to other scientists, and to the public? was this month's most-viewed post, which tells me both scientists and the rest of us are looking for ways to explain our differences. It's a reader question from another speaker coach who's also training scientists, and I was happy to share a useful diagram that shows just how different these two approaches are.
  2. Establishing credibility when your age and looks work against you -- in this case, for a reader who looks younger than she is -- struck a chord with many other speakers this month.  This goes beyond putting on a suit for an expert in her field who's often mistaken for the intern.  By the way, I'd welcome hearing from readers on the opposite end of the age scale who see similar problems from a different lens.
  3. Self-deprecating humor: Lots of speakers use it, figuring it's better than making fun of the audience (true). But does making fun of yourself really work for you? This guest post was so popular one reader said she wanted to put a bow around it.  A real gem.
  4. Can a man be a womanly speaker?  This conservative columnist wonders if President Obama is (rhetorically) our first woman president, and sociologists agree he is, in many ways.  Using what rhetoriticians refer to as an "effeminate" speaking style actually works extremely well on television (think Ronald Reagan), and connotes an ability to connect emotionally with an audience.
  5. If your speeches and presentations run over, they may need, well, the speech equivalent of Spanx. Here are five ways to rein your words in and stay on time, based on approaches that are admittedly forced, but are becoming popular with audiences worldwide.  Even on-time speakers should try these tactics.
  6. Reviving your speaking skills?  We started the month with a blog carnival full of advice from other public speaking experts on how to start up again in public speaking.  No need to feel rusty--it's a great time to reconsider your skills. We'll get you back into the swing of things with this post.
  7. Too casual with your approach?  A reader who no longer gets nervous when speaking now worries she may have become too complacent as a speaker.  Here's my advice for polishing her approach.
  8. Stutterers can overcome their disfluent speech by accepting it and even talking more about it--two things that help reduce the tendency to stutter. This post tells you more about this approach, a real relief to speakers who stutter.
  9. Women's voices on GPS systems are more pleasing...but why?  This post considers an article exploring the phenomenon. Worth knowing about, even if it's not for the reasons you expect.  I welcome your reactions to this one.
  10. I asked: Who are you? What are you looking for here? and I've been answering the questions posed by responding readers ever since. They include some of this month's most popular posts (see numbers 1, 2 and 7 in this roundup).  Feel free to add yourself and what you're looking for in the comments, and check out what others had to say.  This is my favorite post of the month, maybe even the year--I'm grateful for my thoughtful readers who are so willing to share their thoughts.
Want more? Sign up for the free monthly newsletter, Step Up Your Speaking, which focuses on one speaking skill or isse each month; the next issue comes out next week, so it's an ideal time to sign up. Then join The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, a vibrant community that gets to discuss these topics before they appear on the blog; or contact me about your public speaking training and coaching needs.  Thanks for reading and participating!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The all-in-one on using emotions (all kinds) when you speak

Emotion's an important part of your public speaking arsenal of skills--no matter which emotion you're conveying.  It'd be a dry world for the audience, indeed, if speakers conveyed no emotion.  To help you consider all the possibilities, here's a roundup of posts on all kinds of emotions speakers can use (or may encounter) in presentations, speeches and more:
How to pull it all together and add emotion to your presentation?  Try these tips that work across the full range of emotions:
Where's fear? you ask. Fear and public speaking deserves its own roundup, but if you're impatient to get started, you can find all my posts on that prevalent emotion here.  Feel free to share your own tips for using emotion in the comments.

Check out the community on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, and sign up for Step Up Your Speaking, my free monthly newsletter, here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Is @TEDWomen a good idea or a ghetto? I think it's a good thing



I was excited when TEDWomen was announced--a special two-day conference of TED talks about women and girls, across disciplines and topics and countries, set for early December here in Washington, DC.  Part of the TEDx program which has covered in-depth topics as varied as the BP oil spill or topics focused  on one city or neighborhood, it struck me as another way of slicing the vast array of potential topics with a special perspective.

Actually, that was the part I could assume, as it's how TED operates. What really excited me was the chance to see a program built around and focused on women and topics related to their concerns and perspectives, one powered by TED's incredible reach. 

Then came the backlash.  Women and men complained that this would segregate or ghetto-ize women, suggest that they're not capable of participating in a mixed-gender event, and should not occur. A sample: This writer says: "Making special allowances is the equivalent of saying one group isn’t as able, isn’t as driven, isn’t as intelligent, and therefore needs a hand up."

Now TEDWomen has restated that both men and women will speak at the conference on the topic of women and girls and how they are powering "ideas worth spreading:" 
...the intent behind the conference is to seek out talks about women and girls (not just by them). As with every TED, the speaker program will include men and women, and also a few women & men presenting together. The program we're envisioning is varied, surprising, diverse. Focused on ideas and innovations. Now, I understand (after reading some insightful comments) that the launch of TEDWomen raises the question: Are we segregating women? The answer is "No." We're not launching TEDWomen instead of balancing out our speaker line-up. This is a "Yes, and" rather than an "either/or." We generally have 30-40% women speakers at all TED events.
I understand the umbrage. Who wants to think they need extra help? And in fact, those who pay attention to the attitudes and practices that keep many women from speaking in public, or just speaking up, work hard to say that "this isn't because there's something wrong with the women."  Great--something (I hope) we can all agree on.

But there is something wrong (and has been for centuries) in how we speak about and carry out public speaking when women are doing it. So no matter how able, driven and intelligent the women speakers are, they're often talked over, omitted from programs, or otherwise discouraged from speaking, sometimes by laws and more often by subtle forms of discrimination. I wish that at least one talk at TEDWomen would emphasize this, because it underscores just how extraordinary the conference is--and how unfortunate it is that it's extraordinary.

Consider these gender issues in speaking, culled from this blog:
  • Men and women routinely repeat four myths about women and speaking:  that women talk more than men do, that the organizers couldn't find any women competent enough to speak at professional conferences in a wide range of professions (even those dominated by women), that women aren't good at speaking up, and that women's "too emotional" style of speaking holds them back. Research disproves the myths (see details at the link)--for example, studies of women and men speaking in meetings finds that women are no less capable at speaking up, but are viewed negatively when they do. The myths are effective ways to keep women from speaking up in public, a subtle form of discrimination so ingrained we barely recognize it.
  • Keeping women off the program as speakers has a long history that, in the U.S., includes Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe and the leaders of the movement to get women a vote.  Today, it's still a hot topic of discussion in professions that range from high technology and social media to medicine, psychiatry and library science.  Set against this backdrop, TED's record of programs with 30-40 percent women speakers is what's unusual, and helping to reshape a longtime   standard that works against women speakers.  Even in ordinary meetings where women are present, they often find themselves talked over, or others take credit for points women made earlier--subtle, smaller ways to "keep them off the program." (It happens to powerful women like Ruth Bader Ginsberg, as well as in your meetings.)
  • Women who speak in public, or just speak up, often face being dismissed as sexual objects. Sojourner Truth was told she must be a man because no women could speak so well, and men suggested she show her breasts to a group of women to prove her gender (she bared them in front of the questioning, mixed crowd instead). More recently, Internet researcher Danah Boyd gave a talk in front of a live Twitter feed in which men in the audience wondered publicly what it would be like to "do" her. 
I'm hoping women will see the conference as long-overdue rather than an attempt to hold them back. What do you think? TEDWomen is eager to get your feedback, and I am, too.

(TED talk on the art of choosing by Sheena Iyengar.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

A reader asks "How do I speak clearly but with excitement when I'm presenting?"


This month, I'm asking readers "Who are you? What are you looking for here?"  Follow the link to share your reasons, questions and  speaking challenges. Cate, an intern in a major multinational corporation's intern program, writes that she wants help with:

....Speaking clearly with excitement. I've been told over and over that I need to speak more slowly because I have a British accent. Now, apparently I don't sound enthusiastic enough - even when I think I'm being enthusiastic my Canadian friend tells me that I am all British and dry. I have no idea how to manage this feedback, what is possible to fix, and how I would go about it (I currently live in Canada).
Conveying enthusiasm can be an infectious and persuasive tool for presenters, helping to put your point across or win the support you're seeking.  While this could be a cultural issue, I'd suggest you try these do's and don'ts for expressing enthusiasm to be sure you're using all the tools in the toolbox first. 

  1. Do consider how your audience feels about your topic.  Is it one they can easily become excited about? If so, take advantage of that by asking them to share their thoughts to build a sense of excitement in the room.  If not, figure out which aspects they can get behind, and emphasize those.
  2. Don't forget to share your own enthusiasm.  If you're presenting about the most challenging analysis you've done to date, or the most frustrating, or the one that answers a question you've always had, confide that to your audience. Sharing your personal enthusiasm is a great way to connect with your audience.
  3. Do check your vocal variety and inflections.  Be sure you're varying your pitch, tone and pace appropriately.  Are you  using strategic pauses? Emphasizing important words? Avoiding a sing-song or monotone quality to your voice?  Try these vocalizing tips to add variety and a more enthusiastic sound.  Don't forget projection, either:  If they can't hear you, the audience might well assume you're not excited.
  4. Don't stand your ground.  Standing in one spot is a sure-fire way to drain your energy and that of your audience. The more you move, the more you can use your stance, pace and position to convey your points strongly and with excitement and energy that's visible to all.
  5. Do check your gestures. No need to leap into the air, but be sure you've thought through places in the presentation where a strategic gesture can add some excitement or drive your point home.
  6. Don't forget to smile.  Most mouths naturally turn downward or are flat-lined when at rest, making you look neutral at best and sad at worst.  Smiling not only helps you by creating chemical reactions that make you feel better, it also corrects that natural tendency and helps counteract the impression that you just don't care.
When you're preparing a presentation, do one pass-through looking for places where you can use one or more of these approaches.  Just as you rehearse with an eye to timing and pace, or vocal issues, doing at least one review for how persuasive and enthused you sound may be the solution you're seeking.

Readers, please share your ideas for presenting enthusiastically in the comments.

Are you a member of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook?  Hit "like" when you get there to join the discussion, see things before they appear here, share your slides or questions.  Subscribe to the Step Up Your Speaking newsletter--it's free and monthly--by entering your email in the box at right.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The networked speaker: 10 ways to make the most of your next gig

(Editor's note: This appeared earlier this week on my don't get caught blog, but it has obvious utility for Eloquent Woman readers.)

As a networked communicator, you're more likely to be asked to speak--but are you making the most of those visible networking opportunities?  Here's how to become a networked speaker who makes the most of each presentation gig:

  1. Business cards are a must--but your regular cards may not be just right. Consider special cards for your speaking gigs that point audiences to your blog, resources online about this talk (see below) or how to engage you for another speech.  Add your photo to help audience members remember you, or make mini-cards so they're easy to keep separate from your regular business cards.
  2. QR (quick response) codes are easy-to-make graphic codes in which you can embed links to your online profiles, discounts on your book, or your contact information. You can print them on business cards, stickers or your name badge; audience members need only point their smartphone barcode readers, take a picture and later download the information. Fast and easy for everyone.
  3. A special website for advance information can include your full bio, a summary of your talk, your slides, options for audience members and others to post questions in advance, and links to your Twitter feed, Facebook page and more.  Check out Flavors.me, which lets you pull together all your social networking and web presences, or Posterous.com, where you can grab a custom URL, and even add to your blog posts via email.
  4. Followup on the web after your talk by posting video, photos, answers to questions, your slides and more. Share those QR codes here, and add links to related content.  One tactic I like:  Get video of your audience's questions, then post them online with written answers and links, to make your followup presence on the web useful and interactive.
  5. Work your social networks.  On Twitter, share a hashtag so others outside the room can follow along, and troll for advance questions.  On Facebook, post an event notice, encourage advance questions, and post your slides and photos. Use all your social networks to share links to coverage of your talk.
  6. Work the room before you speak, introducing yourself to audience members, asking what their questions are, finding out more about them. Greet them at the door or move around the room; this will keep you energized and connected, and the more you know about them, the more pertinent your remarks. Hand out those cards and QR codes--it's much easier to circulate cards before you speak, rather than after.
  7. Work the halls after and make yourself available. Remember that many audience members will not want to stand up and pose a question in front of the crowd. Today, "working the halls" also may mean answering followup questions on those other hallways, Twitter and Facebook. Don't forget those outside the room.
  8. Keep better track of those you meet in person. Need to remember someone you've connected with after your talk? Use the Evernote app on your phone to take a picture of them with their name badge on; once you've loaded that into an Evernote notebook, you can search for it using the words on the badge.
  9. Learn about co-presenters and panelists in advance and share a few pertinent links and profiles with them so they know something about you.  Can you research and reference one of their online articles or talks in your remarks?  Connect with them on social networks, now that you're getting to know one another.
  10. Work with your organizers.  What can they tell you about the audience? Are they making a special website for the panel on which you can share advance information? If not, let them know about yours. Ask them to share links to your blog, your online profiles and any advance information you're posting with the members of the group before you speak.  Are you offering a discount for the group or looking for advance questions?  The organizers can include that in their emails, newsletters and web postings.
Enter your email address in the box at right to get Step Up Your Speaking, my free monthly newsletter that focuses in-depth on a different speaker issue each month, then head over to The Eloquent Woman on Facebook to continue the discussion.

How do we balance technical v. non technical for a mixed audience?

This month, I'm asking readers "Who are you? What are you looking for here?"  Follow the link to share your reasons, questions and  speaking challenges. Cate, who's in a special training program at a multinational corporation, is learning lots of presentation skills and riding a see-saw on some issues like this one, succinctly put:
Technical people want details that execs don't. How do we balance this?
Cate's got a lot of company here: Scientists and non-scientists tell me they have trouble presenting when there will be both scientists and non-scientists in the group.  My clients tell me they want to show what they know, and they anticipate the technical experts in the audience will criticize them for leaving out details. At the same time, they know the decision-makers' eyes will glaze over if too much detail is presented. It's a special dilemma for the presenter who's a scientist or technical expert.

This happens a lot in corporate cultures, but not exclusively: Government officials and even nonprofits will find occasions when a technical expert's knowledge is needed to help a group of important decision-makers get informed on key issues.  At some point, technical folks need to work with fundraisers, marketers, policymakers, decision-makers of all kinds. 

My recommendations?
  • Know the purpose of the presentation.  If it's to help non-technical executives make a decision, that should guide your path. If it's to show your technical expertise and eye for detail, that's another thing entirely.
  • Even an audience of experts appreciates a clear, compelling presentation. Secretly, technical folks admire short and sweet presentations--despite the flow of questions that may follow--and the non-technical folks will thank you, again and again.
  • Define your territory.  State at the outset--and throughout your presentation--how far you will and will not be diving into detail. Both groups will appreciate that, and you'll head off some questions as well as subtly demonstrate that you do have the data, even if you're not showing it. 
  • Structure your presentation with a 3-point message:  Developing a three-point message helps you add focus and boil down the technical details into three themes, results or decision-making points. A message also can help you stick to simple, clear terms that any listener can follow, a must in this type of presentation. You can also work to make it more memorable by dressing it up with analogies, alliteration and other rhetorical tools.  In this type of presentation, use the three points strategically: to summarize findings (the three most surprising points), what will appeal to key audiences (the points you think donors or venture capitalists will appreciate), or decision opportunities (the points that suggest a change of course).
  • Head off some questions with advance information.  Can you post more detailed charts, data sets and analyses on an intranet or website sent to participants in advance? Then do it, and refer to that summary in the presentation.  "The data sets are all available at this URL, but for this morning, I want to focus on this..."
  • Leave something for the Q&A.  Don't underestimate the value of leaving some detail for the question-and-answer session.  You can even allude to your willingness to present it later: "We can go into this in more depth later if you like, but the main takeaway from our research is...." will go a long way to signaling to both groups your ability to ride that see-saw: You've got the details, but are passing over them to get to the results.
  • Speak to both groups when answering questions:  When you do get a high-tech question, be sure to answer in a way that both groups can appreciate. ("You're quite right, Fred--that does look like an anomaly. But the bottom line is....")
Chemist Carolyn Bertozzi does a great job with that approach in this public lecture on "why sugars are good for you," below.  Note that she mentions a few items that her technically savvy colleagues will want to know, but keeps her general message at a level anyone can follow:



Share your additional questions, tips or challenges in the comments. What kinds of presentations are you making to audiences of technical and non-technical experts?

Related post:  What's the difference between when scientists present to other scientists, and to the public?

This post and the "what's the difference?" post noted above were included in the weekly roundup of the best public speaking articles in the blogosphere on Andrew Dlugan's great Six Minutes blog. Thanks, Andrew!

Enter your email address in the box at right to get Step Up Your Speaking, my free monthly newsletter that focuses in-depth on a different speaker issue each month, then head over to The Eloquent Woman on Facebook to continue the discussion.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Engaging a difficult audience: The Kenneth Feinberg lessons

Do you really know how to engage an audience? That means not just speaking to them on your topic, trying to teach them your views or even change their minds. Engaging an audience allows for back-and-forth, differences of opinion and outright disagreement that can't be neatly resolved.  Can you do it with an audience that doesn't trust you or accept your authority?  Can you hold your ground without defending it like a fort? Can you acknowledge views that don't fit with yours?

That's what attorney Kenneth Feinberg, special master of the compensation fund for those affected by the BP oil spill, is doing as he begins outreach to affected communities. And while you may think he's got $20 billion worth of appeal for his audiences, these public appearances are drawing skepticism, anger and hurt feelings from the oil spill, feelings he needs to account for in engaging his listeners. Start watching him, speakers.  In this New York Times article, this Diane Rehm Show interview, and his other numerous public appearances to start outreach for the BP compensation fund, Feinberg demonstrates these lessons you'd do well to follow if you're facing an audience that's angry, uncertain or just on the other side of your viewpoint:
  1. Acknowledge the realities of your audience members:  Many would-be claimants run all-cash businesses, so Feinberg offers them options for proving their cases. From the Times article: “Do you have a profit and loss statement? Do you have a checkbook? Check stubs?” he said. “No? Well, then, tell the captain of the boat, or your priest, to vouch for you.”  Instead of leaving that question open to speculation, he addresses it up front, taking some of the tension off the table, and suggesting real-life options that let the audience know he gets their situations.
  2. At the same time, keep to your boundaries:  Feinberg uses "I" statements to maintain his boundaries, instead of arguing back with "you think this" or "you think that." Angry Gulf residents who want to make the point that there'll be damage for years to come sometimes ask Feinberg whether he'll eat the local shrimp or crab. He's careful to say "I don't know," then answer the underlying question of how claims in the future will be handled when the consequences can't be determined today.  When he talks about needing documentation, he often says, "I have to have something to back up what you're saying," couching it in terms of his responsibility.
  3. Don't be afraid to have an opinion--but show that you understand not everyone shares it.  Feinberg tells audiences he thinks they'd be crazy not to apply--but tells them not to do so if they think they can get a better deal.  When that comes up, he usually underscores his determination to make the fund fair and the best deal available, without attempting to change the naysayers' minds.
  4. Don't underestimate how humor can level out tension:  Even when posing for a photo with audience members, Feinberg says, "Everybody file a claim?" instead of "cheese."  And he shows a gentle humor, poking fund at the process where he can without deprecating its credibility.
What successful tactics do you use to engage audiences on difficult topics? Leave your tips in the comments. (Photo from BP's photostream on Flickr)

Are you a member of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook?  Hit "like" when you get there to join the discussion, see things before they appear here, share your slides or questions.  Subscribe to the Step Up Your Speaking newsletter--it's free and monthly--by entering your email in the box at right.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Taking the #7links challenge: 7 special posts

Darren Rowse's Problogger just issued a 7 link challenge to bloggers, and I'm taking it with this post, organized by the challenge's format.  I hope it gives you some insight into how I view these posts:

  1. Your first post:  My first post for this blog was on Lady Bird: From Shy to Shining, about Lady Bird Johnson, whose extensive speaking career happened despite her terrible anxiety about speaking in public.  When I stumbled upon the story of how she willed herself to come in third in her high school class to avoid speaking at her graduation (she was the top student), I knew I'd found an inspiring story.
  2. A post you enjoyed writing the most:  Say it in your own voice, girlfriend! was actually a guest post I wrote for Kate's Voice, the blog of vocal coach Kate Peters, who asked me to riff on "finding your voice," a topic I'd been mulling for some time. Nothing like having someone  give you an assignment to make it happen. I liked the result so much I posted it here on my blog.
  3. A post which had a great discussion:  I think the best discussions happen on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, but on the actual blog, there are two that stand out. First, The object in danah boyd's Web 2.0 talk, about an expert speaker whose talk included a Twitter stream projected behind her, with tweets from men in the audience wondering what it would be like to "do" her, while she was talking. That post showed the full range of views on the topic, a controversial one.  The second is a more recent post asking readers "Who are you? What are you looking for here?"  The responses--which are still coming in--demonstrate the willingness of this blog's readers to share their motivations, challenges and questions with us all.
  4. A post on someone else’s blog that you wish you’d written:  Olivia Mitchell's How to simplify your presentation without dumbing it down gets at a question I get all the time from scientists and technical experts I'm training--in her usual straightforward and authoritative style.
  5. A post with a title that you are proud of:  On this blog, my best headlines come out of real reader questions, and Graceful ways with Q&A came right out of one reader's request for "Graceful ways to bring off-topic questions (sometimes relative, sometimes absolute) back to the body of the talk when Q&A veers off-course."
  6. A post that you wish more people had read:  Our society's assumptions about women speakers, and women who speak up, are so ingrained that I've made a point of highlighting research that busts those myths.  4 myths to stop about women and public speaking busts a hole in the most-repeated ones I've heard.
  7. Your most-visited post ever: It's 5 stealth ways to find time to practice, which tells me my readers don't feel they have enough prep time.  A basic but useful post, based on reader traffic.
Are you a member of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook?  Hit "like" when you get there to join the discussion, see things before they appear here, share your slides or questions.  Subscribe to the Step Up Your Speaking newsletter--it's free and monthly--using the box at right to enter your email.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"What's the difference when scientists present to other scientists, and to the public?"

This month, I'm asking readers "Who are you? What are you looking for here?"  Follow the link to share your reasons, questions and  speaking challenges. New Zealand presentation and speaking trainer Olivia Mitchell writes:

I know that you specialize in helping scientists and medical professionals. I'd like to know what you see as the differences between scientific presentations to scientists and other "normal" presentations. I sometimes get push-back from such clients along the lines "You just can't do that" or "that's not the way it's done." I did a biology degree many, many years ago, but haven't been to any scientific conferences and so I would find your views really valuable.
I've pointed many a scientist to Olivia's excellent post on how to simplify a presentation without dumbing it down -- and "dumbing it down" is one of the push-back terms scientists use when they're talking about explaining complexities to public audiences. They often say that the skills I'm teaching them are "completely counterintuitive" to the way they normally present--their comfort zone is the reverse of what you and I would teach as good presentation skills. And the dirty little secret: Despite all their training, it's rare that they actually receive good training in presentation skills. In effect, it's an intellectual area of vulnerability for many of them.

Once you get past all the derisive put-downs about presenting, it turns out that many scientists are very keen to learn good presentation skills, but it helps to make the counterintuitive parts transparent to them.

Opposing presentation styles

In the Communicating Science workshops I've been facilitating, Tiffany Lohwater, the public engagement manager for the American Association for the Advancement of Science--the program's creator--shows this slide to make clear to the scientist participants just how different the two approaches are:


Slide courtesy of AAAS

Where the scientist normally presents all the background material first, followed by supporting material and leaving the results and conclusions till the end, public or non-scientist audiences want the bottom line early. They expect the results first, the "what's in it for me?" or "so what?" connection to their real lives, and then (maybe) the supporting details. 

What's behind scientists' presentation styles
In a sense, the scientist's presentation style is a traditional narrative: Start at the beginning with the research question, assemble the background, share the supporting details, then come to a conclusion.  The narrative moves in chronological order, from "we wanted to find out" to "this is what we concluded."  (The format mimics the standard form for a journal article, which no doubt saves time later.) Showing this slide has helped many of our scientist audiences to understand the difference between the two styles, and therefore, why it feels so awkward to present in a different (to them) way.

At scientific conferences, researchers present their data so that their peers may poke holes in it, question methodologies and suggest other options, all with an eye to making the research better.  It is a specific phase of the scientific process, considered to be the first phase of needed peer review that makes research more reliable.  In other words, you present your research at meetings first, and only after revising it appropriately do you submit it for formal peer review and publication in a journal. 

Perhaps because they know they're likely to be grilled, and certainly because the alternative's way out of their comfort zone, the idea of presenting in a different way can be easily dismissed, as it has with you, as wrong, granstanding or (horrors) just too novel.  Only the most senior scientists generally deviate from this norm--another factor that makes it seem pushy for junior scientists to attempt "Presentation Zen" or unusual techniques.

Should scientists try better presentation skills, anyway?

I say yes. Every scientist I know can attest to sitting through horrific presentations with too many slides and acronyms, monotone delivery, and other poor presentation methods.  When they sit through a dynamic, skilled, thoughtful and focused presentation, they're as delighted as anyone else would be.

Witness how they make fun of their own presentations, charts and citations in this video, from a humor session at the AAAS meeting. It is not a bad example of what passes for a "good" meeting presentation, including the, er, buzz word that's overused:




Another issue: Scientists are used to assuming that their audience understands them when they speak to a group of colleagues within their discipline.  As a result, they're not used to taking the audience into account--there are lots of assumptions made--and it allows them to use acronyms and shorthand rather than work for clarity.  That doesn't work, however, when they are presenting to scientists from many disciplines.  While other specialists can usually follow along well, there are many overlapping terms, theories and methods that just don't translate from one branch of science to the next.  For a non-scientist, there's a nice feeling to be had when you hear one scientist say to another, "I'm a Ph.D. physicist, and I didn't understand a word you just said."

For all those reasons, I still encourage scientists to learn good presentation skills--and have had many companies, universities, professional societies and labs hire me to help them advance in this area.  Every audience, even the most technical, deserves clarity, engagement and a well-planned presentation.

Related post: How do we balance technical and non-technical in a presentation for a mixed audience?

This post and the "balance" post noted above were included in the weekly roundup of the best public speaking articles in the blogosphere on Andrew Dlugan's great Six Minutes blog. Thanks, Andrew!

Are you a member of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook?  Hit "like" when you get there to join the discussion, see things before they appear here, share your slides or questions.  Subscribe to the Step Up Your Speaking newsletter--it's free and monthly--using the box at right.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Speaking science: The sounds of sadness

Human speech and music seem to share an “acoustic code” when it comes to conveying sadness, according to an intriguing new study by Tufts University psychologists. It turns out that the pattern of pitch that brings the melancholy to a melody like “Greensleeves” is the same pattern in a voice filled with sorrow.

Composers have long used the relationship between pitches—called an interval—to convey emotion. “Greensleeves,” “Brahm’s Lullabye,” or even the opening bits of “Hey Jude” rely on the interval called the minor third for their sweet sad sound. (Listen to the samples to see if you can hear the similarity)

Now listen to these speech samples from the study by Meagan Curtis and Jamshed J. Bharucha, where Tufts acting students were asked to read two-syllable lines with different emotions. The interval in a sad “Let go,” or “Come here”, it turns out, is also the minor third.

The researchers were able to connect other emotions and musical intervals, although none showed the same sort of strong correlation as the link between the minor third and sad speech. Some angry speech, for instance, shares the same interval—an ascending minor second--with the iconic “Jaws” theme. (That shark did seem a little peeved…)

Curtis says intervals are only one part of the “enormous range of acoustic cues” that speakers can use to communicate emotion, including loudness, pitch, and the “texture” or timbre of a voice. In her study, speakers also lowered the sound of their voices and used low pitch as part of their strategy to sound sad. Gestures and facial expressions can also affect the emotional content of speech, she notes. “You can hear a smile in someone’s voice, because smiling changes one’s vocal timbre.”

Speakers can “certainly learn to control the acoustic features of their voice, even the pitch patterns,” says Curtis. “It may take a little practice to produce it consciously, as it’s something that happens so automatically that it might become harder if you actually think about it.”

And if you’re looking for a gloomy role model? Curtis suggests listening to Eeyore from the classic Winnie-the-Pooh cartoons. “Eeyore constantly uses a sad vocal pattern, with a low pitch range, low sound intensity, slow articulation, and a pitch pattern that tends to have a downward minor third,” she says. “His vocalizations are really exaggerations of sad speech, but they’re incredibly effective at communicating sadness.”



So far, the acoustic code has only been tested in English speech, but Curtis’s next study will examine how emotion is communicated in Hindi speech and in Indian music. What do you think—will the code hold up across cultures?

(Editor's note:  This post was contributed by freelance writer Becky Ham, who reports and writes for The Eloquent Woman on the science behind public speaking.)

Are you a member of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook?  Hit "like" when you get there to join the discussion, see things before they appear here, share your slides or questions.  Subscribe to the Step Up Your Speaking newsletter--it's free and monthly--using the box at right.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Polishing your public speaking: "I may be too casual about my approach"

This month, I'm asking readers "Who are you? What are you looking for here?"  Follow the link to share your reasons, questions and  speaking challenges. Dalene, an academic advisor for pre-med, dental and veterinary students, writes:
I speak multiple times throughout the year, mostly workshops for students (5-50 students), but also larger (100+ in the audience) special events like university Open Houses & Freshmen Orientations (students & their parents).  I've also given teachings at my church several times.

I have gotten so used to speaking in front of groups that I no longer get nervous. My problem is that I think the reverse has happened: I may be too casual about my approach. Perhaps it is because my audience is typically 17-22 year-olds, who sometimes show up in their pjs or torn-up jeans? I guess I am looking for ways in which I can be sure to stay professional - no matter my audience.
It's wonderful to be at that point where speaking doesn't make you nervous, and even better that you can put your finger on this more subtle issue, Dalene--many speakers fall into this mode and never come out of it. Whether you've had some subtle feedback from your audiences or just have a good gut sense that something's amiss with your speaker presence, it sounds like it's time to rethink your approach.  Here are some ideas for rethinking what you're doing and refreshing your presentation style to make sure you stay professional:
  • Take the time to assess the presence you want to have as a speaker:  Here are a half-dozen questions to ask yourself about how you want to be seen by your audiences.  Advisors do need to be approachable, for example, but do you also want to look authoritative, reliable, trustworthy?  Figure out the qualities you want to convey, then assess whether you're doing that now.
  • Don't underestimate your audience.  Sure, the students show up in pajamas. But these are our future doctors, dentists, veterinarians--and as one who trains scientists and medical professionals in presentation skills, I can tell you they can't start learning too early.  Give them a good example of what it means to be professional at presenting, and tell them that's what you're doing. When I get feedback from my workshops that says "I really enjoyed Denise’s confidence when she was walking around the tables and answering to some “tough” questions and comments. Hope at some point I’ll get that level of self-confidence!" or "Denise is a great role model for how to implement these techniques effectively," I'm reminded how important it is for presenters to take the time to model the best methods when speaking.
  • Get video of your current approach and analyze it.  Then use my list of 8 things to look for when your speech is recorded to figure out what needs a change, correction or complete overhaul.  In this case, let me also suggest that you consider whether you are surprised by anything you see. Does the visual match with what you think you were putting across?  Ask a friend to record you or set up a camera and tripod yourself; friends also can help you assess the video and share what they see that you may want to change.
  • Use feedback forms.  Students, usually the target of critique themselves, are not shy about sharing feedback.  Craft a simple feedback form for them to fill out--it tells them you're paying attention to their needs and may give you clues you hadn't considered about what can be improved.
  • Switch it up.  Experiment with small changes that may help to bring your presenting style into clearer focus--and make you less complacent or bored with what you're doing. Try a more dynamic beginning and make sure you're not losing your advantages right at the start.  Do something that requires audience participation. If you normally dress casually, make sure you wear a suit on days you're presenting. Use a prop as the focus for your talk.  Take the time to craft a three-point message and work on carrying it through the entire presentation. Switch one thing at a time and assess the results, then try more until you've hit on a new formula that works for you.
Has this happened to you as a speaker? How did you go about refreshing your approach?  It's an ideal time to seek out a focused one-on-one training to assess what you're doing now and offer you specific fixes.  If that's what you're seeking, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz for more information.

Are you a member of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook?  Hit "like" when you get there to join the discussion, see things before they appear here, share your slides or questions.  Subscribe to the Step Up Your Speaking newsletter--it's free and monthly--using the box at right, and explore the related posts below.


Related posts:  What's your speaker presence? Questions to determine how you want to be seen

8 things to look for when your speech is recorded

How to lose your starting advantage as a speaker

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Overcoming stuttering by accepting it

Their ranks are small: A tiny percentage of childhood stutterers stay that way as adults, but little is known about the condition.  But for adults who speak with a stutter, the stigma--and anxiety associated with it--may be the biggest barrier to progess. So says this thoughtful article on "Syllables and Self-Esteem" in Bostonia magazine, describing a program at Boston University that works with stutterers to get them to practice their stuttering, talk about it and even announce it to their audiences. One law professor, a longtime stutter said of the therapy: 
The effect has been amazing....The number of times I’ve had a speech block has decreased almost entirely. I’m not trying to hide, not ashamed. I’m not as fluent as other people, but it doesn’t mean I’m not fit for my job.
Check out the article, a useful resource if you stutter or know someone who does.

"How should I present in my second language?"

This month, I want to know "Who are you? What are you looking for here?"  Follow the link to share your reasons, questions and  speaking challenges. Here's one from Cate, who wrote that one of her challenges is:
...presenting in your second language. I hate presenting in French because I feel like I don't express myself as well as in English and I'm much less comfortable with back and forth. I'm getting pushed into it anyway, so I need to find a way of getting more comfortable in it.
French is my second language, too -- I'm lucky to have a village in the north of France, Gravelines, with my family name (the picture above is a Georges Seurat painting of the canal there).  But I comprehend and hear French faster than I can speak, until I get warmed up--and I'd be nervous about presenting in French.  In the same way, many of my trainees come to English as their second language, and I've even trained an American who was giving a speech in Chinese.

One great perspective for speakers and for speechwriters who pen talks for non-native speakers of any language is this essay by William Zinsser on "Writing English in a Second Language." (Speakers, just substitute "speaking" for "writing" and it'll work.) In it, he says:
I have four principles of writing good English. They are Clarity, Simplicity, Brevity, and Humanity.
The thing is, Zinsser might say (and has said) that about any other type of wordsmithing, and I say you should apply those rules to public speaking in any language, even your own.  An audience of any culture can appreciate a non-native speaker who can keep to those guideposts, and heaven knows we've all heard speaker in our own languages who couldn't keep to these rules. 

But I know Cate's looking for more help than that, so here are some additional ideas to try:
  • Seek out and understand the qualities of your second language.  Zinsser and his students describe different languages as full of adjectives, or loaded with proverbs. How do the people of your second language express themselves? Then focus on those words, idioms and expressions. Know the role those words play and use them accordingly.  Being able to toss out a "tant pis" (never mind) or another colloquialism can win over a skeptical crowd and establish your credibility.  In French, your gestures and facial expression may be half the engine for powering your words--learn some basic gestures that go with the words you are using.
  • Practice with a friend whose first language is your second language.  Ideally, find a friendly critic who won't grill you over small points, but who can advise you on a few shortcuts, grace notes and niceties to add that will win over your audience--and who can identify any truly embarrassing errors.
  • Practice with a friend who doesn't understand that language at all.  I don't speak Chinese, though I know some words and more about the culture. But in coaching my client who does speak Chinese, I could identify word patterns that were repeated too often, or areas where she seemed to get uncomfortable and trip up--prompting a rewording or change in approach.
  • Recruit a partner for the Q&A:  The "back and forth" of questions and answers--extemporaneous speaking at its most challenging--is tough enough in your own language.  Find a colleague or even an audience member who can help you translate, and let the audience know that's what you're doing.  They'll appreciate the effort.
Also know that the usual rules--for example, that the audience can't see your anxiousness, allowing you to fake your confidence--apply in any language. Check the links below for more helps that work across borders, and share your tips for speaking in a second language in the comments.

Are you a member of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook?  Hit "like" when you get there to join the discussion, see things before they appear here, share your slides or questions.  Subscribe to the Step Up Your Speaking newsletter--it's free and monthly--and explore the related posts below.

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Related posts:  Finding words in a new language

What's credible about you as a speaker? The answer may not be on your resume

Graceful ways with Q&A

Confidence: Fake it until you make it

When you have to introduce yourself

Take charge of your introduction

When self-deprecating humor doesn't work for you

Monday, July 12, 2010

"How do I establish credibility as a speaker when my age and looks work against me?"

This month, I'm asking you to tell me your answers to the questions "Who are you? What are you looking for here?"  Follow the link to share your reasons, questions and challenges, and to add to the list, which includes some compelling challenges for speakers.  Here's one from Annie:
I am a 30 year-old executive at a life science company. The blessings of my Asian genes is that I look about 10 years younger, but professionally it is my number one curse. I teach seminars around the globe, speak at universities and give regular presentations before the senior management of companies. Usually the audience is in shock when I begin speaking because they thought I was the intern or assistant. How do I establish credibility in as a public speaker when my looks work so dramatically against me?
Just being different may make you feel--or prompt others to act--as if you don't have enough credibility to be speaking or speaking up. That can happen when there are big discrepanies between the audience and the speaker in terms of age, gender, race, even modes of dress.  If you are the youngest person in the room, the only woman or person of color, or the casually dressed intern amidst the sea of suits (or the reverse of any of those situations), it's easy to feel like the "other," out of place and out of sync.

I'm not going to advise fighting fire with fire.  Some public speaking coaches will tell you to wear glasses to look more serious, or, if you're a woman, to pull your hair back to look more serious, or to put on a suit like a suit of armor.  But if those are not things you'd normally do, they may distract you even more. 

I'm assuming, by the way, that your content is not the problem here.  Most of my public speaking trainees who face this appearance issue have already nailed their content, and find that's not enough.  So here are seven ways to boost your credibility with the audience and turn that tension into a dynamic presentation:
  1. Make sure the credibility problem isn't in your head.  If you're also doubting your credibility, it's time to work on your confidence level again.  Try these 12 tips on Confidence: Fake it until you make it.
  2. Check your voice.  In addition to appearance, some young women find their vocal image gets in the way of credibility. Check out this guest post from vocal coach Kate Peters on figuring out your vocal image, and note that we tend to hear sentences that end with a downward tone as more decisive, and those that end with an upward tone as indecisive. 
  3. Take charge of your introduction.  In addition to these tips for making sure you've written (or are delivering) a worthy intro, in this case, I'd advise using your introduction and bio, if one is printed in advance materials, to prepare the audience. Make sure your photo is included, and if your bio can accurately say something that emphasizes your youthful accomplishment, do it:  "Annie Smith is the youngest scientist at LifeMarkBio to be published in all three major journals in the field," for example. Put it right out there.  Check these tips on introducing yourself to be sure you aren't over-promoting yourself in an effort to boost your cred. 
  4. Make it more personal:  If the group is small enough (a presentation to senior managers, for example), walk around the room before the meeting gets started to shake hands and introduce yourself one-on-one, or greet people at the door: "Good morning, I'm Annie Smith. I'll be sharing the new marketing data with you this morning. Looking forward to your questions."  That gets it out of the way on an individual level, and you'll look composed and confident to boot.
  5. Clue the audience in before the talk. This may be a time to also consider building an online presence, a special web page for your presentation that includes advance materials, including your bio and photo, your slides, handouts, even a welcome video from you. Add links to your online profiles to show your credentials in more detail and encourage networking. Make sure your audience gets the link ahead of the event.
  6. Develop a relaxed, non-anxious sense of humor about the surprised reaction.  You know it's coming, so have a couple of gently humorous--but not self-deprecating--comebacks ready if people gasp or otherwise react visibly and audibly to your appearance. (Make sure you're criticizing neither the audience nor yourself here.)  "In addition to discovering the fountain of youth, I've been working on...." or "I was worried about that, too, but then I realized we're all aging at the same rate" might be two to try.  The trick is to appear confident, not to recoil from a mention of your young years.  Laugh if you want to, in a bemused "there you go again" kind of way. Then transition to your real content.
  7. Find something you have in common with your audience--that may not be on your resume.  It might be location, an event going on nearby, or some other topic that will take people out of the frame of "us versus her" and create a bond.  Work that into your remarks early on to build rapport.  Or take a poll of the audience to find out what you all have in common.
Andrew Dlugan's Six Minutes blog selected this post as among the best public speaking blog posts in the week of August 14, 2010.  Thanks, Andrew!

Related posts:  What's credible about you as a speaker? The answer may not be on your resume

Confidence: Fake it until you make it

When you have to introduce yourself

Take charge of your introduction

When self-deprecating humor doesn't work for you

Friday, July 9, 2010

Behind every great speaker is a ____________________.

On The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, I asked readers to finish the sentence, "Behind every great speaker is a...."  Here's what they came up with.  Add your contribution in the comments!
  • Kelli Stevens Levey said "nice backdrop," then added "a good tape recorder."
  • Professor Waterman said a "great communication course taught by a dedicated professor." Wonder who? 
  • Mishell Alberts went with "passion for the topic they are speaking on, good notes and the ability to connect with the audience." 
  • Carolyn Bledsoe said, "person who has worked hard to make sure that they are understood." 
  • Gwen Haynes chose "Person committed to engaging their audience with a little humor and some intellect."
  • Suzi Wackerbarth said "lot of research."
  • Michael Greisman got hopeful with "PPT-free screen."
  • Erika Seaborn chose "the confidence in knowing their subject and their voice."
This month, I'm asking readers to tell me their answers to the questions "Who are you? What are you looking for here?"  Follow the link to share your reasons, questions and challenges.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Does your speech need Spanx? 5 ways to rein it in

You've tried and tried, but it just won't fit. You can envision it in a smaller size, one that would make you look good, but it keeps spilling over the edges, bulging at the seams. It feels awkward and uncomfortable, but you don't know what to do.

I'm talking about your speech, not your jeans--but the solution may be essentially the same.  You've got to rein it in if you want a good fit.  Here are 5 ways to put some limits on your loquaciousness:
  1. Work with a text.  For the chronically overtime talker, written remarks are the time-honored way to focus and contain your speaking. Just be sure to honor the text (that is, don't stray from it) and time it before you deliver it.
  2. Plan a message.  A good message focuses on three key points--a nimble outline that you can use to organize your remarks briefly or at length.  Go here to see all my posts on developing a message.
  3. Limit your slides.   There are lots of models to follow here. Seth Godin suggests 200 slides in 40 minutes, or 12 seconds per slide.  Business Insider tells startups seeking financing to keep their pitch decks to six killer slides.  Caveat:  Limiting your slides does not mean you can add a five-minute video, 4,000 bullet points or a very small type version of the U.S. Constitution.
  4. Limit your time--severely.  This week saw an online event with 60 speakers using just 60 seconds each, something to try if you really want to test yourself!  See what you can do by cutting your remarks in half, then in half again.  Your audience will be grateful.
  5. Hand over the controls to automate the pace.  Ignite! competitions allow five minutes and 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds.  This takes practice, but there's a reason these approaches are popular with audiences: They keep the pace moving forward, and proscribe the slides and the talking.  You don't need to announce this tactic to your audience, as long as you keep to it.
Related posts:  Speakers: 7 reasons I want you to talk less

This month, I'm asking readers to tell me their answers to the questions "Who are you? What are you looking for here?"  Follow the link to share your reasons, questions and challenges.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Who are you? What are you looking for here?

When I started this blog, it was to fill a niche I kept stumbling over, in which women in search of good public speaking advice also could find research and information about why, sometimes, their public speaking challenges were different than those that men face.

The blog was still in the think stage when a longtime friend said to me, "I hope you make it a blog for anyone who might have to get up and talk--at a local club or committee, at a funeral or a wedding--and not just in a huge-audience formal speech, although that will be useful, too."

What's happened since is that men tell me, "That's just great advice for everyone," and "I am dealing differently with men and women and presentations at the office now that I've read about those issues on your blog." And women say, "I shared that video with my husband" or "I'm so glad I found this--I thought it was just me." People have been more forthcoming than I could hope about the speaking problems they are encountering. I knew we were all in the right place when a reader wrote in to ask how she should handle speaking at her mother's funeral--and was able to share readers' advice as well as my own.  All that is more than I expected.

Now, I want to know more about you.  I'm guessing that, too, will be more than I expected.

I'm inviting you to share in the comments your answers to two questions:  Who are you? and What are you looking for here? One of my favorite bloggers about science, Ed Yong, just revived this idea on his blog and it's turned up hundreds of interesting comments. 

I'd like to know whether you're already a frequent speaker, or haven't yet walked up to a microphone; what motivates you to learn about speaking; whether you're like a friend of mine whose public speaking mostly consists of talking into a speakerphone on hours-long conference calls on which no one can see her.  Don't forget to add what you're looking for, please. Asking what you need to know is what has kept this blog on track for a long time now. 

Knowing some of the readers, I will guess that the most valuable part of this exercise will be learning--all of us, together--what's out there in terms of people's hopes and aspirations about speaking.

Now it's your turn:  Who are you?  Share who you are and why you're here in the comments. And thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Does Obama's speaking style make him our first woman president?

That's what Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker thinks. In this piece published last week (you'll need to sign up to see it), she suggests that the U.S. president "may be suffering a rhetorical-testosterone deficit when it comes to dealing with crises."  She goes on to say: 
We've come a long way gender-wise. Not so long ago, women would be censured for speaking or writing in public. But cultural expectations are stickier and sludgier than oil....Women, inarguably, still are punished for failing to adhere to gender norms by acting "too masculine" or "not feminine enough"....Could it be that Obama is suffering from the inverse?
Parker cites women's studies professor Karlyn Kohrs Campbell for the insight that "men are safe assuming female styles as long as they meet rhetorical norms for effective advocacy -- clarity and cogency of argument, appropriate and compelling evidence, and preempting opposing positions."  But there's one component on which all this turns: Credibility.

Campbell's one-time co-author, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, got at this point in Eloquence in an Electronic Age: The Transformation of Political Speechmaking.  She looked at reasons why Geraldine Ferraro fared so poorly in the vice-presidential debates against George H.W. Bush, during a campaign in which Ronald Reagan employed "effeminate" speaking techniques to advantage, while Ferraro took a more traditionally masculine tone. She writes: 
Ferraro's style manifests the double bind in which television traps a female politician. The style traditionally considered credible is no longer suitable to television. But only a person whose credibility is firm can risk adopting a style traditionally considered weak. So a male candidate whose credibility is in part a function of presumptions made about those of his sex is more likely to succeed in the "womanly" style than is an equally competent but stereotypically disadvantaged female candidate.
Many of us have been putting Presidents Obama, Clinton and Reagan in that group of top speakers who emply what are considered traditional female approaches to speaking -- "rapport-talk" or speech that builds relationships, rather than just "report-talk," as linguist Deborah Tannen calls it.  It's ironic that much of the beginning of Parker's column is full of apologies and self-deprecating humor about having the gall to call the president feminine in any way.  If you want a thoughtful read on men, women, leadership and how both use the "effeminate" speaking style--as well as a great short history of how women have been silenced throughout history--get your hands on chapter four of Jamieson's book.  It's thought-provoking, and has prompted me to encourage women to take back their own speaking style while working to build the credibility they need to do so effectively. 

What do you  think about this article?  I'm indebted to reader Dana Vickers Shelley, who brought this to my attention.


(White House photo)

Related posts: Who talks more: Men or women?

4 myths to stop about women and public speaking