Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November's top 10 public speaking tips and issues

Eleven months into the year, readership of The Eloquent Woman is at an all-time-high and The Eloquent Woman on Facebook is the most popular public-speaking page on that site--two things I'm very grateful for in this month of Thanksgiving in the U.S.  These are the posts that caught your eye most often this month:
  1. Using language with power:  This post on taking charge of your conversations and speaking focused on a new book that includes language as one tool women can use to be more powerful. It grabbed the top spot as the most-read post this month.
  2. "I'm not nervous when I speak, but..." pulled apart the mental and physical reactions in fear of public speaking and why some women say they're not nervous but have all the physical symptoms, anyway.
  3. Speaking with credibility:  When speakers say things your audience won't believe covered some high-profile and everyday ways that public speakers give away their intentions. Audiences aren't fooled for a moment, typically.  This is a what-not-to-do list.
  4. Speaking with credibility, for politicians:  A tiny twist of grammar might affect how audiences regard politicians' actions. This post was the latest in our "speaking science" series on research about public speaking.
  5. Presentations: Go big, go small, go collaborative served up 4 new resources, from pocket projectors to slides that let you collaborate.  Another popular tools post.
  6. Do you get talked over in meetings? So does Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz, who brought the topic up at last month's Women's Conference hosted by California First Lady Maria Shriver. Read the details in this popular post.
  7. "A bad hair day is a virtual mute button" for women speakers, said former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers when I heard her speak last month--so I used the opportunity to write about women and their appearance, and how it affects speaking.
  8. Can you do a better job moderating panels? I think so, and offered you three concrete tactics panel moderators can use to improve their experience--and that of the audience.
  9. Great gifts for speakers: We launched a new page for great speeches on audio, places you can download free and inexpensive audio recordings of famous speeches, plus some discounts for subscribing to Audible.com just for readers of The Eloquent Woman.  It's a great gift idea, along with the new option to buy and email a Kindle book on public speaking to your favorite presenter. (She doesn't need a Kindle to read it, either.)
  10. If I were speaking at TED Women, I'd ask the audience to improve the future of women and girls by helping me stop 4 persistent myths about women and public speaking.  Many of you called this an inspiring read and shared it with your colleagues--thanks!
Go here to subscribe to Step Up Your Speaking, my free email newsletter that looks at a different speaking topic in depth each month. The newsletter comes out shortly, so now's a great time to subscribe. Then become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook and join the conversation with thousands of other women (and men) about public speaking skills and confidence.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Why you move your eyes when you speak: the visual "um"

You'll have to see yourself on a video recording to figure out whether you use what I call "visual ums" -- a sidelong glance or looking up and down while you're trying to recall a point you want to make. I've observed that visual ums serve the same purpose as verbal ums, creating a pause that lets you think and recall. Now researchers have done some tests to confirm that's what you might be doing.

In "Moving the eyes but not looking: Why do we do it?", you can read about a series of research tests suggesting that non-visual eye movements are triggered when you try to retrieve a long-term memory--even though moving your eyes doesn't play a useful role in remembering the fact you're trying to retrieve. It's a leftover reflex, researchers surmise, from the ancient days when you needed to scan the landscape to recall something. Today, you're still scanning even though the landscape's in your mind. 

The downside: Visual ums interrupt your eye contact with your audience, and the research shows that when you fix your gaze rather than look away, you won't find remembering any more difficult. So look right at the audience while you're finding your place...it won't affect your ability to remember. Need more help? Try some time-buying phrases to give yourself time to find that forgotten item.

Go here to subscribe to Step Up Your Speaking, my free email newsletter that looks at a different speaking topic in depth each month...then become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook and join the conversation with thousands of other women (and men) about public speaking skills and confidence.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I'm grateful for the readers of The Eloquent Woman

In the U.S. today, it's Thanksgiving--our harvest feast, a time to be with friends and family to reflect on the year and give thanks.  I'm hosting and serving as the chef this year for celebrations with longtime friends and neighbors...so no blogging for me today. But let me use the occasion to say how grateful I am for your attention, your readership, your questions and your participation in The Eloquent Woman blog and our community on Facebook.  So many of you have posed thoughtful and useful questions and shared your experiences and advice that I know this blog would not have succeeded without you. If you are celebrating today, I know your toasts and speeches will be eloquent and heartfelt. Many, many thanks to you all!

Go here to subscribe to Step Up Your Speaking, my free email newsletter that looks at a different speaking topic in depth each month...then become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook and join the conversation with thousands of other women (and men) about public speaking skills and confidence.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The speaker's stocking: Earlier Kindle is $89 Friday only

There are Black Friday deals in all categories of Amazon products, but I know readers of The Eloquent Women will especially like this one:  Amazon will sell the previous generation of Kindle e-readers for just $89 this Friday only, November 26.  Follow links from the main Kindle page to the previous generation Kindles.

I've done lots of reviews of how Kindles can help speakers prepare for and deliver their talks.  Read all my posts on Kindles for public speaking here(Affiliate links)

Go here to subscribe to Step Up Your Speaking, my free email newsletter that looks at a different speaking topic in depth each month...then become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook and join the conversation with thousands of other women (and men) about public speaking skills and confidence.

Speaking science: Watch your grammar, win an election?

More than most people, politicians are acutely aware that what they say and how they say it can affect their future success. But a recent study suggests that a tiny twist of grammar—one that they’re probably not aware of—could influence their electability.

The twist is the difference between the imperfective and perfective grammatical aspect. The imperfective aspect sounds like this: “Politician Mark Johnson was taking hush money.” It’s a fine-grained grammatical detail that emphasizes that an action is ongoing. You can compare that to the perfective, which would sound like: “Politician Mark Johnson took hush money.” The perfective emphasizes that an action is finished.

Psychologists Teenie Matlock of the University of California, Merced, and Caitlin Fausey of Indiana University, Bloomington, tested out the imperfective and perfective phrases about hypothetical Senator Mark Johnson on a group of UC Merced undergrads, to see if the twist made any difference in the students’ impressions of the senator. They found that in sentences containing negative information about the politician, the imperfective aspect made the students much more likely to believe that the politician would not be reelected.

It seems that the imperfective aspect subtly convinced the students that the senator’s bad behavior was ongoing, the researchers say. Undergraduates who read the imperfective phrases also thought that the senator’s sins were larger than those who read the perfective phrases; for instance, the imperfective readers thought that the senator had made off with a much bigger bribe.

Matlock and Causey only saw this effect when the news about the politicians was bad. Imperfective, perfective—it doesn’t seem to matter as much for potential voters when the politician’s past is a positive one.

But the researchers did note that grammatical cues could play up a negative action over a positive action when the two were described together. More than half of the students said a candidate who “removed homes and was extending roads” was electable, compared to less than half who heard about a candidate who “was removing homes and extended roads.” In this case, the imperfective drew attention to the negative (removing homes) in the second phrase.

Fausey says researchers aren’t sure whether speakers actively choose their grammar in this way. “It is possible that in prepared speeches and ads, writers would carefully choose the grammar that they use,” she suggested. “But we don't know yet if writers are consciously aware of this particular grammatical distinction when crafting messages.”

So far, Fausey and Matlock haven’t been approached by any political campaigns for grammar coaching. But Fausey thinks the grammatical distinction they studied could play an important role in journalism, advertising and a wide range of other fields.

What do you think? Do you see ways to use the imperfective and perfective to your advantage in your own speaking?

(Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this post to our regular series on the scientific research behind public speaking.)

Go here to subscribe to Step Up Your Speaking, my free email newsletter that looks at a different speaking topic in depth each month...then become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook and join the conversation with thousands of other women (and men) about public speaking skills and confidence.

Monday, November 22, 2010

If I were speaking @TEDWomen, here's what I'd say about the future of women and girls

I'm not speaking at TEDWomen, the conference on how women and girls are reshaping the future. But if I were, here's what I'd say:

Let's reshape the future of women and girls by making it easier for them to speak up.

A lot of people have reacted to this conference by saying "we shouldn't need TEDWomen" and that they find it offensive, a way to put women speakers in a ghetto, or help we should reject.  But I think we do need TEDWomen, as long as we're still repeating four ancient and durable myths about women and public speaking--and keeping them off programs.  I'm here to ask you to stop spreading those myths, which have been hanging around for centuries. I'm here to change how we operate when it comes to women and public speaking. But first, a little his-tory lesson.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson has spent much of her career looking at eloquence and public speech. She sums it up this way:  "History has many themes. One of them is that women should be quiet."  From the days of ancient Greece and Rome right into this century, women who attempt public speaking have had a steep uphill climb. Aristotle thought women should not exert their minds, lest they risk their childbearing abilities.  Some effective woman speakers in that day were considered androgynous--they couldn't possibly be women if they spoke well.  Centuries later, men would accuse Sojourner Truth of being a man--it was impossible for her to speak so movingly as a women, they said.

The women who launched America's effort to get the vote for women did so in part because they could not speak at conferences to which they'd been invited as delegates. Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the best-seller of her time, went on a book tour and in some places, watched her husband read her speech while she had to sit in a gallery.

Throughout our history and around the world, women who were silent and refrained from speaking in public were praised as chaste, womanly, holy, sober and appropriate. Women who spoke or spoke up, in contrast, were whores, witches, bitches, shrill, scolds, hysterics and nags. Those are slurs we still use today about talkative women, but they are centuries old.  All that name-calling had one goal: To get women to be quiet.  But if you think the examples I just shared are outdated--that's so 1673--let me share their modern counterparts:
  • Social media researcher Danah Boyd was presenting a keynote speech to a major technology conference with the Twitter stream of audience comments behind her as she spoke. That's how we know what men in the audience were thinking, because some of them posted tweets speculating what it would be like to "do" her -- that's the polite version -- with their comments in full view of everyone but the speaker. The organizers took the projection down, then put it back up when audience members objected.  Later, the men removed their comments, but the damage was done. 
  • We're not doing any better when it comes to visible role models of women as respected speakers. While there are female news anchors and reporters, the sources and pundits that they interview are primarily male.  That's true on news outlets like Politico, NPR, the Sunday morning television public affairs shows and most op-ed pages in newspapers around the United States, according to studies done as recently as this year.
  • We're ignoring women when they do speak up--and taking credit for their ideas a few minutes later.  Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz -- two of the most powerful women in the U.S. -- both have said publicly in recent months that this happens to them all the time. 
It was no surprise to me when linguist Deborah Tannen started describing how men prefer "report-talk" -- presenting results publicly to a group -- and women prefer "rapport-talk," or intimate one-on-one conversations. When we have such a strong history of resisting women speakers in public, what other choice would women have but specializing in one-on-one conversations?

Then there's public speaking, always daunting. Let's face it: Public speaking is an act of boldness and audacity, wrapped in three dimensions, with all the volume, movement, eye contact and physicality that's lacking when we restrict ourselves to written, rather than spoken words. Trust me, it takes a lot of nerve to get on a big stage like this one.

But it's more than bravado. A speaker can reach out and touch you, physically as well as emotionally. You can ask her questions, and hear her answers, something no book can do. And it's almost impossible to do anonymously, which makes it more dangerous than writing...one reason, I believe, that we have far more women writers we can point to with pride than women speakers.  Just as learning to read has been the ticket to advancement for millions around the world, learning to speak, and speak effectively--and getting the chance to do so--is an even more powerful path to advancement.

Maybe that's why, even today, we continue to spread four myths about women and public speaking.  These durable myths are repeated by men and women.  I'll bet, once you hear them, that you'll recognize them--not just because you've heard them, but because you've repeated them. 

And that's why I'm here today: To bust these myths, and to ask you to share that new knowledge with others once you leave here today.  You're about to see dozens of women and men speaking with heart and inspiration and insight.  We don't use these myths to silence men, so let's all agree to stop using them to silence women. Here they are:
  1. Women talk more than men do. This one has been used for years to embarrass women into silence. Researchers say that men and women describe the gap in detail, and everyone thinks the gap is huge--some estimates in popular culture say that women speak 20,000 words a day, but men speak just 7,000. Here's reality: Research shows that women and men speak about the same number of words every day, on average: 16,000.
  2. We can't find any women qualified to be speakers. This is one way women are challenged and put on the defensive in program committee meetings or when they seek speaking gigs. It's not a numbers issue: Even in professions where women dominate, they often are still in the minority as speakers on professional society conference programs, research shows. Historically, efforts to keep women from speaking in public were blatant and noticeable; today, it may have gone underground, but it's still a formidable barrier. If you need to find some great women speakers, start right here and network all around you.
  3. Women get ignored in meetings because they aren't as good at men at speaking up. In fact, women can be just as effective as men in communicating, yet their points are more frequently ignored--or claimed by others as their own.  A string of studies has shown that women are responded to more negatively than men when they speak up. This myth belies an underlying attitude that's especially tough to shake.
  4. It's women's speaking style that sets them back--they're too emotional and not tough enough. This myth has pushed many women in public life into mimicking a traditional male style of speaking that's louder, more forceful and strident, and less emotional--even though that strong preference for one-on-one connections makes women especially well-suited to connect with an audience  Observers note that this is a double-edge sword for women speakers. Ironically, women who are discredited in other ways can't afford to adopt what may be seen as a weak speaking style--which takes a natural advantage away from them. 
That's my list--just four myths, easy for you to remember, difficult for women who want to speak to overcome. If each of you will stop repeating them...correct your colleagues when they repeat these myths...and better yet, set about making it easier for women and girls to speak and speak up, we may not need TEDWomen in the years to come.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

The speaker's stocking: Email your friends a Kindle book on speaking

Want to inspire, encourage or mentor another speaker during the holidays--and save time and money? Here's an easy, inexpensive and useful option to make anyone a "gifted" speaker:  An emailed gift of a Kindle book on speaking or presenting.

If you're a longtime reader of this blog, you know I recommend the Kindle e-book reader for speakers. Kindle books are easy to purchase right from the device, but this year, you can select a particular book and email it to your recipient.

Your friend might like a Kindle to go with that book--after all, it can hold her books on quotations, speeches and speaking techniques, and even her notes or speech itself (you can email documents to the device, and read from it even in direct sunlight). But she doesn't need a Kindle to read Kindle e-books: Amazon has free apps for mobile devices and computers. Best of all, there are plenty of Kindle books about speeches and public speaking.  Here are a few that demonstrate the range of options you'll find:
Kindle books range from no-cost volumes to much more for textbooks (though the e-textbooks make up for it in lower weight). Most versions of hardcover books are priced just below $10, and many are much lower--making them the perfect office gift or allowing you to inspire more speakers than usual this year. Let me save you some time:  Go here to find Kindle books on public speaking and here to find Kindle books on speeches. Don't forget to use the email option to send your selections to your lucky friends.  (Affiliate links)

Related posts: Why speakers should take a second look at the new Kindle e-book reader

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Friday, November 19, 2010

An interview with the stuttering screenwriter who brought us "The King's Speech"

Readers of The Eloquent Woman already know about The King's Speech, the new Colin Firth movie that examines how a king of England overcame his stuttering.  StutterTalk.com has this audio interview with screenwriter David Seidler, and notes that "During this episode Mr. Seidler discusses his own stuttering, writing the script, researching the project, rehearsals, specific scenes and working closely with Colin Firth and director Tom Hooper to get the stuttering right." 

If you stutter, you'll find the StutterTalk.com site full of resources and inspiring examples of prominent folks who stutter. Check out this fine resource.  To learn more about King George VI -- father of current Queen Elizabeth -- and how he overcame his stutter, pre-order a book based on the diaries of the king's coach, titled The King's Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy.


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Thursday, November 18, 2010

DeeDee Myers on speaker appearance: "Bad hair day=virtual mute button"

Last week, I saw Dee Dee Myers, former White House press secretary, speak at a luncheon. She covered topics from her recent book, Why Women Should Rule the World, and touched on many issues that face women who speak -- or speak up. But the one that caught my ear was a story she told on herself, about how her friends reacted when she appeared on network television. And it was all about her hair.  Her conclusion? "A bad hair day is like a virtual mute button" when you're a woman and you're speaking.

Myers had a way of making this audience of mostly women laugh (although the loudest laughs, I noticed, came from men in the audience), but she put her finger on an inconvenient truth when it comes to women and public speaking: The many ways in which women's appearance varies from men's makes them stand out, not always comfortably, when they put themselves forward to speak in public. 

I call these the double-edged swords for women who speak in public. You can do more with your hairstyle, clothing, jewelry and overall appearance than can men...and yet, it's tough not to notice that men have plenty of appearance advantages, from flat shoes to a relatively uniform appearance code. Hairstyle's just one variable for women, and if you think it's not controversial, read this New York Times article (and many reader comments) on why middle-aged women can't wear their hair long.  At the same time, those variations can be worked to one's advantage.

I liked Myers' easy way of acknowledging the issues, and yet I know there's no easy solution. How do you feel about your "virtual mute buttons" of appearance?  Tell us in the comments. I'd love to hear how it makes you feel when you're speaking, any comments you've had from others and your thoughts on options.

Go here to subscribe to Step Up Your Speaking, my free email newsletter that looks at a different speaking topic in depth each month...then become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook and join the conversation with thousands of other women (and men) about public speaking skills and confidence.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Can you do a better job moderating panels? 3 ways to step up your game


Moderating a panel can be a snap...or a snooze. Most speakers know the basics of moderation--introducing speakers, describing the outlines of how long each one will present, taking and directing questions from the audience, and calling a halt to the discussion to keep thing on time.

But I believe moderators need to add value to the panel, not just hold the door open to let the speakers rush through.  So here are three ways to up your game as a moderator and make your next panel sparkle and shine with creative, valuable approaches:
  1. Get the speakers to interact with one another in surprising ways:  Ask each panelist to ask a question of the panelist next to her, or to offer a piece of advice to the next panelist based on his experience in the area under discussion. Ask each speaker to share one thing she learned while listening to the other speakers. They're all double-whammy approaches that give you an expert's view of the expert. Audiences will love it, and you'll get unique content.
  2. Assign a thematic framework for each speaker:  Don't wait for synergy to arise naturally. In this post from a science writers' conference, one audience member observed a panel of five science book authors, and noted "the elegant framing and naming of the talks that [moderator] Robert Lee Hotz had assigned to his speakers: voice (KC Cole), story (Jonathan Weiner), character (Charles Stipe), structure (Jennifer Oulette), and authority (Carl Zimmer). It was a nice way to uniquely draw out each speaker, while also reviewing some things we can’t overlearn. It was the opposite of stridently didactic."  You can steal this idea and apply it in many ways:   Have each panelist discuss a different aspect of a shared customer base or audience; a different trend in a wide-ranging field; one tool they can't live without.  This approach works especially well when you can identify the over-arching theme, then assign each speaker one aspect of it.
  3. Weave a conversational thread through the speakers' topics:  If you know enough about what your speakers plan to say and can see similarities -- for example, on a panel about career achievements, each of them mentions to you that she'll be recalling an important internship that led to great career moves later -- you can use that thread to introduce each speaker with a common theme.  Just be sure you don't steal their best stories as you're doing it, and warn them upfront how you will be tying things together with your thread, so they can play off that theme.
What else do you do to up your game as a panel moderator? Share your tactics in the comments.


Practices for panelists: 7 paths to success

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Credible speaking: When speakers say things your audience won't believe

The New York Times's Tobin Harshaw summed up the speaker's take-home lesson from the Juan Williams dust-up nicely: "Let me suggest a broadcast journalism rule of thumb: if you start a statement with the words “I’m not a bigot, but …” just stop talking. Trust me — it’s not going to end well."

Every day, speakers give themselves away with their own words, denials and verbal exceptions, belying the very things they say.  It doesn't have to be a big incident, either.  Juan Williams's "I'm not a bigot," used in explaining his remarks about his discomfort at seeing people in Muslim dress on airplanes, or Richard Nixon's "I am not a crook" in response to allegations of wrongdoing in the Watergate scandal, are just the high-visibility examples people are talking about. 

But there are more common, less famous denials that undermine speakers' credibility.  Think of these as any sentence that starts with a declarative statement, in which your audience can tell there's a "but" clause coming shortly after it starts.  Have you been guilty of these credibility drainers?
  • "I know you all have a lot of questions, but I have a great deal of materials to cover..." announces that you think your material is more important than your audience. While that may be true, it's not a great way to build your reputation with your listeners.
  • "They told me to say this..." isn't just unfair to your staff, boss or trainer. It saps your credibility by suggesting even you don't believe in what you're about to say. Why then, should we?  At best, it suggests you're going to mess up your prepared remarks or didn't practice enough, and want to blame it on someone else.
  • "I know I only have five minutes, but..." tells us that you are about to violate not only the time allotted to you, but are overconfident of your ability to hold our attention. If you're on a panel, you've just alienated your fellow presenters, along with the audience.
  • "I have too many things to say, so I'll talk faster."  I once watched a candidate for high office in a membership organization announce this before a strictly enforced 5-minute statement in front of those who'd be voting for her--then listened to her speed-talk about 20 minutes of points (with slides) into the limited time. She got ridicule, not votes, and lost.  Trying to fix one problem by adding another suggests poor judgment on your part.
What else have you heard speakers say that saps their credibility? Share your gems in the comments.

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Lend me your ears: A new "great speeches on audio" page

Friends, readers, eloquent women (and men), lend me your ears:  The Eloquent Woman blog has a new page devoted to helping you listen to great speeches as a means of improving your own public speaking.

The new Great speeches on audio page includes:
  • Tips on listening to yourself on audio as an important way to improve your next speech.  (In fact, listening to a recording of yourself in the car during drive time's one of my favorite ways to find time to practice public speaking.)
  • Ways to glean lessons from famous recorded speeches, including some free sources of audio and what you can get from listening to others speak.
  • Special Audible.com subscriber discounts for readers of The Eloquent Woman, and a roster of links to collections of famous speeches by African-American and Hispanic speakers, presidents and world leaders, and big compilations of great speeches--some you've heard many times, others more obscure but no less great. Some are read by actors or colleagues, some are original recordings of the famous speaker.  Audible has a great collection of speeches, books on English as a second language, and practice skills for speakers, and the special discounts allow you to save on regular downloads that you can listen to on your computer, iPod or mobile device.
Check out the page and let me know if you spot other offerings we can add to it--and enjoy listening to these inspiring speeches.

1 FREE Audiobook RISK-FREE from Audible

Go here to subscribe to Step Up Your Speaking, my free email newsletter that looks at a different speaking topic in depth each month...then become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook and join the conversation with thousands of other women (and men) about public speaking skills and confidence. Affiliate links are included in the great speeches on audio page.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What are the best speeches in the movies...by women? I've got 2 to start.

Some time ago, another speaking coach emailed to ask me whether I could suggest videos of today's top women speakers--so I asked readers, who came up with these amazing examples of current women speakers. Now, I'm looking for women's speeches in the movies. Not monologues, not great individual discourses, but speeches in front of audiences as depicted in film (and not documentaries, either--keep it fictional).

Why women's speeches in the movies? Every time I see a blog post about great speeches in film, guess what? They're all speeches by men--meaning that the movies sometimes do reflect real life.

I've got two examples to get you started. Leave your suggestions in the comments (and if there's video you can find, share a link, please). Help me find and share a great list of women's speeches in film!

Samantha's speech at the breast cancer benefit, from Sex and the City.  What's great about this speech? It's awful, to begin with: Trite phrases, no personal story from the speaker, generalizations abounding. She's perspiring visibly from the hot flashes, a result of her treatment. She looks awful. When she finally acknowledges what everyone can see, she pulls off her wig for relief....a genuine gesture that helps her make a direct connection with other breast cancer survivors in the audience. Watch what they do next--it makes for a rousing and inspiring ending.



Then there's a speech against all auditory odds: Sally Field, in her Oscar-winning role as Norma Rae, yelling her message to coworkers in the ear-splitting noise of the factory floor. She realizes she's not getting her message across, writes the word "UNION" on a piece of cardboard and stands on a machine table to make a silent, one-word speech that's the iconic moment from this movie:



Come on, film buffs: share your suggestions in the comments!

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Friday, November 12, 2010

"I'm not nervous when I speak, but...": Why it's okay to be nervous

I hear this line more than almost any other when I'm coaching women about public speaking: "I'm not at all nervous when I speak, but...."  And here's what comes next:
  • "...I get out of breath right away and my heart beats fast."
  • "...I can feel myself blushing, almost as soon as I start to talk."
  • "...I talk too fast--I can cram 30 syllables into the space of two."
  • "...I start to perspire, and feel really uncomfortable."
"But," they always add, "I'm not at all nervous."

"Okay," I usually say. "Then it must be that your mind is not talking to your body, because your body sure sounds nervous.to me."

One thing I've learned about training executives in public speaking and presentation skills is that part of my role is to make it okay to be nervous about speaking.   I'm not sure when we all decided that being nervous when you speak is wrong (similar to when we all decided that saying "um" is wrong).  Just as speech disfluency (a fancy word for stumbles like "ums") is natural and normal in all languages, being nervous when you speak, too, is natural and normal.

How do we know everyone fears public speaking?

We sure talk a lot about how everyone fears public speaking more than death, even though the most-often cited evidence comes from a simple item with no footnotes in The Book of Lists. (The list famously put public speaking as the number one fear, and death at number 7.)  But there's plenty of evidence to suggest that most people feel some level of anxiety before they address a group in a presentation or speech, particularly if they don't do that on a regular basis--and even if they do.  Psychologists use public speaking when they're researching stress, as a task that can generally be expected to result in physical and mental stress in most of their research subjects, so let's use that as our marker.

The real phenomenon underlying fear-while-speaking is one of the most basic human reactions, fight-or-flight response. It makes sense, as many speakers have pointed out:  There you are, typically alone, facing a crowd. The hormones that kick in mean your body is telling you, "Be ready. What if they charge forward and attack?"

The fear really is physical

Fight-or-flight response kicks in physically--in fact, you can think of it as your body kicking you in the shins, so to speak, to say, "Danger ahead!"  Even the most expert speakers will describe themselves as having a kind of heightend focus and awareness; some of the physiological reactions in fight-or-flight include things like diminished peripheral vision, as it's a time when you want to focus on what's facing you head-on.  So it's no surprise to me that my trainees often describe public-speaking nervousness by describing physical symptoms.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to reduce your physical response to public-speaking nerves.  As I described in an earlier post on when the speaker needs to catch her breath, the "relaxation response" practice of deep breathing to calm yourself.  And while a little deep breathing while you're speaking or right before you speak can help, the "relaxation response" is best done over time, so that when nerves strike, your body has an alternative method of responding to stress.  (Find the how-to in the book The Relaxation Response.)  At a minimum, find 10 minute before you speak to do some deep breathing, stretch your body and calm down--I like a handy, empty stairwell or side hallway for this purpose.

Your mind has something to do with it, too

I think speakers are making it tougher on themselves when they say "I'm not nervous."  Facing an audience is embarrassing in many ways.  You're alone. You're visible to all. You can fail in three dimensions. There's nowhere to hide. Authors and writers can be anonymous if they choose, but that's nearly impossible for speakers--something I think every speaker senses.  You've literally "put yourself out there," physically as well as aurally and mentally.  No one needs to tell you this, of course.

So accept that. Tell yourself that before you speak. Make it normal and natural: "I know I'll be nervous and I'm going to do things to help combat the physical reaction--and I'm going to take advantage of the pluses of nervousness, too."

Your ace in the hole

The audience can't usually tell that you are nervous. Remind yourself not to clue them in, and you can fake your way right through the presentation.

Let's make it normal to be nervous

There's one more thing I'm sensing:  The more we say "I'm not nervous, but....", the more we're making it difficult for anyone (ourselves included) to admit to being nervous. How about "I'm nervous about doing well today, so I'm going to go in the hallway and do my usual prep so my body doesn't sabotage me?"

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

For Thursday: Step Up Your Speaking newsletter--subscribe now

Every speaker develops, over time, a kit of tools she uses to make the job easier--and pays attention to what other speakers use, too. In this month's issue of my free email newsletter, Step Up Your Speaking, I'll share the tools I'm using and the ones I have my eye on, so you can make your next presentation or speaking task easier.  I'm looking forward to sharing the list with you, so be sure to subscribe today to get this issue--use the links below.

Do you have a favorite tool you use when speaking? Leave word in the comments.

Go here to subscribe to Step Up Your Speaking, my free email newsletter that looks at a different speaking topic in depth each month...then become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook and join the conversation with thousands of other women (and men) about public speaking skills and confidence.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How'd that "Good on Your Feet" dynamic speaking workshop go--and what's next?


I've been at lots of meetings since last week's "Good On Your Feet: Dynamic Speaking Skills" workshop in Washington, DC, and keep hearing "how did the workshop go?"  I'll let the participants' feedback answer that question. Here's what they had to say about the workshop:
  • "I feel more confident in my ability to give presentations--thanks!"
  • "I found useful the Q&A response tactics and a pausing technique that I can use."
  • "Most valuable: practicing with feedback from Denise and the other participants."
  • "Most valuable for me were the graceful ways with Q&A, critiques, video recording and moving around (walking and talking)."
The focus on extemporaneous speaking skills--including handling questions and answers, pacing, using your body movement as a dynamic factor in a presentation, and using a message to think on your feet--was a big hit, and a skill that our trainees will be using daily in their work.

Now that one group is good on its feet, it's time for us to keep moving. Here are some new ventures and updates from The Eloquent Woman:
  • The blog has several new features:  If you only experience the blog through Facebook or an RSS feed, check out the blog home page to see the features that only appear there.  This fall, I've added samples of the most popular posts in the right margin, so you can see what others are reading; a new point of entry to The Eloquent Woman's speaker resources store, stocked with the Kindles, books, gadgets, supplies and electronics I recommend for your presentations; and a new page about my speaking engagements and some of the topics on which I'm asked to speak.
  • The "Step Up Your Speaking" workbook companion to last year's online coaching series of the same name is now in the editing stages. It's a guide that will help you take that 15-week program and apply it to improving your speaking, whether you're a beginner or need to advance your skills even further. Stay tuned for the workbook launch and ordering details.
  • New workshops are coming:  I'll be doing another "Good On Your Feet" workshop in early 2011 and will share registration details soon, as well as a workshop for "The Networked Communicator," also in 2011. With a focus on creating online profiles and using social media to advance your career, the session also will include information useful to speakers who want to promote their speaking gigs online.
As always, I welcome your feedback and participation and am happy to put you on a waiting list for future workshops.  Thanks for reading!
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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Taking charge of your conversations and speaking: The language of power

If you feel as if you're giving ground too much in conversational exchanges or meetings, a new books suggests ways to change the way you approach power--and includes a section on how your speaking can affect the balance of power.  How to become fluent in the language of power is an excerpt from the book No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think about Powerthat looks at how women use language--words and body language--and offers advice on how to navigate conversations. Author Gloria Feldt suggests that:
Because men still control most of the clout positions in this country, we do need to become fluent in different conversational styles—and in asking directly for what we need, or what we desire, rather than hoping that our indirect statements will be interpreted correctly. And at the same time, we must insist that men reciprocate by understanding and becoming fluent in our communication styles, too.
Understanding your conversational and presenting style is critical to the process, Feldt notes.  Check out this new resource!

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Presentations: Go big, go small, go collaborative with these 4 resources

Presenters are always looking for the next great trick, tool or technology to keep you from sleeping in front of their slides--or to make the dance of the presenter go more smoothly. Here are four new resources to check out as potential supports for your next presentation:
  1. Forget pocket protectors. Try pocket projectors:  Silicon Alley Insider reviews 7 pocket projectors they promise will make your next presentation less boring...I'd rather you took charge of that, but the convenience factor is high with these small slide-showers
  2. Slides should not be snooze-worthy, says 10,000 Words, a journalism blog. It offers these good, basic tips for keeping your slides from sending the audience to sleep.
  3. If your slides are already smart, perhaps you want to enter SlideShare's "world's best presentation" contest, this year with categories for nonprofits and other types of organizations.  I wish this contest included footage of people delivering the slides, too--that's far more than half the battle.
  4. Prezi adds meeting collaboration features:  I like Prezi.com as a way of moving out of PowerPoint, and now the popular presentation tool includes a meeting collaboration set of features detailed by Mashable! and by tech guru Robert Scoble.  It's a real-time collaboration tool, which ups the ante for your next presentation.
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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Speaking science: What politicians' spontaneous gestures tell you about their message

It’s Election Day in the United States, and most of the country probably needs a break from politicians after months of dueling campaign ads and heated debates. But something to watch for next time: which hand does a candidate use to gesture when delivering the good news?

After scrutinizing video from the final 2004 and 2008 U.S. presidential debates, researchers found that right-handed politicians—in this case, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and former President George W. Bush--tend to gesture with their right hands when they’re speaking positively. Their left hands spring into action when they have something negative to say.

But just the opposite was true for the 2008 left-handed contenders, Arizona Senator John McCain and now-President Barack Obama. They gestured with their left hands when they said something positive, and saved their right hand gestures for negative speech.

It’s a striking finding, particularly given the strong associations that “right” has with ideas such as intelligence, honesty, and goodness across cultures. But something deeper—and more personal-- is at work here, said Daniel Casasanto, a neurobiologist from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands.

“Overall, the data support the idea that people associate good things with the side of their body they can use most fluently,” Casasanto said. “Dominant is fluent, and fluent is good.”

In their report published in the journal PLOS One, Casasanto and psychologist Kyle Jasmin at the New School for Social Research in New York suggest that this “body-specific” association is mostly unconscious. Presidential candidates—and the rest of us—don’t wittingly link their dominant-side gestures to positive speech. But those gestures could be useful for those of us trying to decipher a speaker’s true feelings.

“If listeners can track which hand a speaker uses to gesture,” Casasanto said, “they may be able to receive subtle clues to the speaker's attitude toward the things they are talking about.” Of course, he added, a listener would have to know if the speaker was right-handed or left-handed.

In this case, right and left don’t appear to have anything to do with “right-wing” and “left-wing” political leanings. If you’re right-handed, right is good—no matter what your campaign ads say.

(Editor's note: This post was reported and written by freelance writer Becky Ham as part of our ongoing "speaking science" series on the research behind public speaking.)

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz on women getting talked over in meetings

Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz
Fourteen thousand women convened in October at The Women's conference, hosted by California first lady Maria Shriver. In this report on the Women's Conference from the excellent Glass Hammer blog, a panel of top women CEOs at the conference talked about the barriers that remain for working women--and the challenge of women getting ignored and talked over in meetings apparently doesn't just happen to the junior staffers.  On the panel were tough-talking Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo! Inc., whose first speech there was chronicled on this blog; Anne Mulcahy, Former Chairman and CEO, Xerox Corporation; Anne Sweeney, Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks & President, Disney/ABC Television Group; and Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church (and one of our "top women speakers" as nominated by readers). Mulcahy noted barriers for working women, and then:
Bartz agreed – she said, “I don’t think we’ve made progress. I don’t think there is a level playing field"....She reiterated a common complaint of women executives. “The thing that really annoys me is when a woman will say something in a meeting and everyone ignores her. And three minutes later a man will say it and it’s a great idea.” While it’s hard to imagine anyone ignoring Bartz, she says it continues to happen to her today in her work on Cisco’s board. But, she exclaimed, “Now I go, ‘I just said that!’”
Bartz (and the rest of us) are in good company:  Even Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has described getting talked over and ignored in meetings with her male peers on the court, who later made the same points and were recognized for it.

Are these--or any--women getting ignored in meetings because they aren't as good as men at speaking up?  Far from it. That's one of the 4 myths you should stop spreading about women and public speaking.  The author of this study of women speaking up in meetings noted:  "Study after study has found that, when other variables are controlled (education, expertise, etc.), women are responded to more negatively than men as measured by facial expression, gaze behavior, individual evaluations, and decision reached in task-based groups."

Have you made points in a meeting, been ignored and watched a male colleague repeat them later, for credit? What's your experience with speaking up in meetings? Share your experiences in the comments.


Related posts:  Book offers study of women speaking up in meetings

How speaking up affects your image in business meetings

Go here to subscribe to Step Up Your Speaking, my free email newsletter that looks at a different speaking topic in depth each month...then become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook and join the conversation with thousands of other women (and men) about public speaking skills and confidence.