Monday, February 28, 2011

February's top 10 public speaking tips and issues

You're my valentines this February, for making so many posts on The Eloquent Woman big hits. I always appreciate it when you share posts on Facebook, Twitter or email, and when you invite your friends to join us on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. Here's hoping you find a lot to love in this month's most popular posts:
  1. The all-in-one for eloquent scientists: Resources and role models ran away with top honors this month. Look for more communicating scientists near you soon...this was so popular, it's now among the top 10 most-read posts on the blog for all time.
  2. How to speak up without giving your power away offers concrete advice on why women should speak up, some strong and weak statements speakers make, and a video role model in the form of a female CEO, who advises on communicating in a male-dominated industry.
  3. TED Conversations let you discuss big ideas with the speakers...online you about a new social-networking option on TED.com that promises to make its online audience even bigger.
  4. Chautauqua: A new look at the original TED shares a new PBS program that looks at this summertime swarm of live public speakers, arts and community that has been shaping American public speaking for more than a century.
  5. Famous Speech Friday: Ursula K. LeGuin's left-handed commencement address continued to charm readers in February, after it posted last month. Find out why it's such a strong hit.
  6. Famous Speech Friday: Coretta Scott King's '10 Commandments of Vietnam' was our first entry in this new series, early in January, and it got a boost during this Black History Month. I'm delighted to share this powerful talk.
  7. Famous Speech Friday: Maya Angelou's eulogy for Coretta Scott King is at once musical, funny, deft and eloquent. A worthy model for a difficult speaking task.
  8. Why saying "I don't know" is my best Q-and-A tool is a guest post that got lots of readers. It chronicles a museum educator's realization that not knowing the answers a live audience can lob at you is not only okay, but honest and useful.
  9. What do I do about eye contact and swaying when I speak? asked a reader. It might be about avoiding facing your audience directly. This post has some simple practical solutions to try.
  10. Speaker silence: How to be ready at the right times shares tips on  pausing, refraining from comment and using silences to your advantage.
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Sunday, February 27, 2011

12 ways to ace an acceptance speech--for the #Oscars and beyond

An acceptance speech is just a speech in small--a reduced version of the longer form. At least, that's what the audience is hoping when they watch shows like the Oscars. But because many actors fear and dislike extemporaneous speaking as much as anyone else does, many high-stakes award acceptance speeches fall flat, go on too long, or consist of just a long list of credits and thanks...a list that inevitably leaves someone special out.  Colin Firth, nominated for best actor for "The King's Speech," has already promised a short speech, bless him.

Brevity's welcome. But how else can a winner (at the Oscars or beyond) use the acceptance speech to make a positive impact?  Here's what I recommend any winner do--and you can remember them because they spell out O-S-C-A-R-S:
  • Open well. It might be funny, humble or touching, but just like a great speech or presentation, a short award acceptance needs to begin well to have impact.
  • Say thank you to the awarding group.  Awards don't fall from heaven. Make sure you thank the group bestowing honor upon you, first and foremost.
  • Categorize, rather than specify. This is one time when it's best to thank "every single person whose heart and mind and work went into this wonderful film," rather than attempt a laundry list.
  • Avoid the obvious. "There are too many people to thank," "I'm sure I'll forget someone," and similar time-buyers (time-wasters, in the audience's mind) just use up precious seconds.
  • Rehearse. If you don't like speaking and there's a good chance you'll win, practice is your friend. Remember: Practice can help you deliver great words even when you're emotional and surprised, as many types of winners are.
  • Specify something we won't hear elsewhere. Whether it's how you got started or what that teacher said that spurred you on, give us something specific about you and this award that will make us remember you and your speech. Briefly, please!
I asked readers of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook their advice for all the Oscar winners who'll have to give acceptance speeches tonight , and they came up with some winners:
  • Odumo Tari reminded "Everybody should be prepared. In case you're called, you already know what to say. Don't be caught off guard.
  • Hannah Stewart said, "Just smile and say 'Thank you very much!'"
  • Lahna LadiBug Bronston warned, "Keep it Classy!"
  • Emily Culbertson offered "Two things: go ahead and prepare some notes, and concentrate your thanks on a very, very small number of people. Maybe 5 at the most? Thanking a lot of people is good for in-person audience, but your audience is really the however-many millions who watch at home. This is your chance to speak to millions of people, in your own words. What do you want them to know? If you want to inspire, to make people laugh, etc. tell a story, don't list a group of names."
  • Five was a number that also worked for Deborah Barber Adams, who suggested "Come up with an acronym for the names of the five people you most need to thank. Lots easier to remember a word or a sentence than five individual names!"
  • On Twitter, Jeff Levy added: "The same acceptance speech everyone should give every time: 'Thank you so much, I'm humbled by the honor. Good night.' :)"
 What's your advice--or wish list--for the Oscar winners tonight? Add to our list in the comments.

 (Photo courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

As 'The King's Speech' Heads to Oscars, the Biology Behind a Stutter

(Editor's note: With The King's Speech poised at the top of the contending films this Oscar weekend, stutters and stammers have become easier to talk about. Freelance writer Becky Ham, who covers research on public speaking for this blog in our "Speaking Science" series, shares these insights about stuttering from a recent scientific conference--facts to keep in mind while you're watching and cheering on the film and its producers this weekend.)

When Jennifer McGuire watches home movies of her 3-year old self reciting the alphabet, she can remember all over again the sadness and anger she felt when her father had to prompt her on the letter “r.” She knew her ABCs, but once again her stuttering had made it maddeningly impossible to do the ordinary.

“Stuttering has colored my whole life,” she recently told scientists and reporters gathered at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. “Only recently has it not been the first thing I think about when I get up in the morning and the last thing before I go to bed.”

McGuire’s stutter was noticeable during her time on the podium at the AAAS conference, and the 30 year-old art therapist said she has been in some sort of speech therapy for years. But she was excited to be speaking alongside scientists who are coming at the puzzle of stuttering from some unexpected angles.

About 3 million Americans have a chronic stutter, and most people start stuttering between the ages of 2 and 4. This early start convinced many researchers for years that the speech disorder was a product of poor parenting or signs of uncontrolled nervousness. But it’s more likely that stuttering is the result of genes gone awry or brains working in overdrive, according to the experts gathered at AAAS.

Half of all people who seek therapy for stuttering have a family history of the disorder, said National Institutes of Health geneticist Dennis Drayna, who made headlines last year with the discovery of mutations in three genes that may be related to stuttering. To figure out what these mutations are doing to affect speech, he and his colleagues are genetically altering a mouse to give it a stutter—although Drayna admits that it’s still difficult to hear a stutter in high-pitched mouse talk.

“The brain actually looks different in people who stutter," said Luc De Nil, a speech disorder specialist at the University of Toronto. His brain scan studies show that people who stutter chronically often have signs of “overactivity” in parts of the brain that produces the movements related to speech. Recently De Nil and his co-workers confirmed that people who start stuttering after a strike sometimes have lesions in these same areas of the brain.

All this evidence from biology, said Purdue University speech researcher Anne Smith, makes it clear that stuttering should be treated as early as possible. She hopes her own work with 4 and 5-year olds will help reveal why nearly 75% of children who start out stuttering lost the stammer spontaneously or through early therapy.

“The severity of a child’s stutter doesn’t predict whether the stutter will disappear,” she said, so researchers are looking for other signs of persistent stuttering. Smith’s lab studies have shown that children who stutter at this early age sometimes find it difficult to clap to a beat, and move their mouths and lips differently from those who don’t stutter.

Even as scientists move closer to dispelling the myth that stuttering comes from a lack of self-confidence, the researchers agreed that the struggles of those who suffer with the disorder can lead to nervousness and frustration with public speaking.

Now pregnant, McGuire said she is excited about the future of stuttering studies. “It would be great if my child ends up being a person who stutters, but is able to have it be less mysterious , and have access to effective therapies at an earlier stage of life.”

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Helen Keller: "I am not dumb now" and "Strike Against War"

If you spend any time at all doubting your abilities as a speaker, I give you Helen Keller.  Born in 1880, an illness before she reached age 2 left her deaf, blind and apparently unable to speak--and in those days, that was called "dumb." Her eventual teacher, Annie Sullivan, taught her the link between words and a homemade form of sign language. But did the blind and deaf woman who went on to a 50-year-long speaking career actually learn to speak out loud?

I love that Keller's great-grandniece, Keller Johnson-Thompson, is answering this and other questions on the Hellen Keller Kids' Museum Online, from the American Foundation for the Blind. She shares that Helen was excited about learning to speak even at age 10, with teacher Sarah Fuller:
Helen and Ms. Fuller sat down to begin a task that many claimed was impossible. Ms. Fuller began by placing Helen's hand on her face and in her mouth, lightly at first. This allowed Helen to feel the position of Fuller's tongue and lips when she made a sound. She then shaped Helen's own mouth for making basic vowel sounds. She took Helen's hand and placed it on her throat so that Helen could feel the vibrations. For the next hour, the two focused on making the sounds of language. Helen would gently touch Fuller's face, mouth, tongue, and throat. Helen's hands also probed her own mouth and neck, as she tried to copy what Ms. Fuller was doing. First, she learned to form sounds. With time, she uttered her first sentence: "It is too warm."
That happened before we had recording technology, but here's a rare video, many decades later, with her longtime teacher Annie Sullivan, in which you can see the technique they used and hear Keller say, movingly, "I am not dumb:"



Her 1916 'Strike Against War' speech is as strong an example of how Keller used her public speaking voice as you can find. Take the first paragraph, in which she makes clear that her disability is no barrier to the opinions she's about to express:

To begin with, I have a word to say to my good friends, the editors, and others who are moved to pity me. Some people are grieved because they imagine I am in the hands of unscrupulous persons who lead me astray and persuade me to espouse unpopular causes and make me the mouthpiece of their propaganda. Now, let it be understood once and for all that I do not want their pity; I would not change places with one of them. I know what I am talking about. My sources of information are as good and reliable as anybody else's. I have papers and magazines from England, France, Germany and Austria that I can read myself. Not all the editors I have met can do that. Quite a number of them have to take their French and German second hand. No, I will not disparage the editors. They are an overworked, misunderstood class. Let them remember, though, that if I cannot see the fire at the end of their cigarettes, neither can they thread a needle in the dark. All I ask, gentlemen, is a fair field and no favor. I have entered the fight against preparedness and against the economic system under which we live. It is to be a fight to the finish, and I ask no quarter.
"Neither can they thread a needle in the dark." How's that for an eloquent reference--and the only one here--to her disability and her ability, at once, and with a vivid mind-picture to which any listener can relate?

There's more to love in this speech, I think:
  • She makes simple, with language, the striking concept of non-violent resistance: "All you need to do to bring about this stupendous revolution is to straighten up and fold your arms." At a time when America was pressed to join what was then called "The Great War," Keller shared all the pro-war arguments, then reduced them with this one sentence--one to which any listener could relate.
  • She's fearless:  For someone with apparently every communication strike against her, Keller minces no words, and delivers a speech that would make a brave person think twice. She does not hesitate to refute the current tide of opinion: "we have no enemies foolhardy enough to attempt to invade the United States. The talk about attack from Germany and Japan is absurd. Germany has its hands full and will be busy with its own affairs for some generations after the European war is over." This turned out to be true.
  • She called out those who criticized her views using her disability:  Few recall Keller as the socialist she was, but once she found her voice, she used it for the downtrodden. She campaigned against war and for women's votes and the working class, along with many other radical causes--and decried those who only pointed out her disability when they disliked her views. Of one newspaperman, she said, "At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him."
  • Her call to action is strong: Using repetition of the active verb "strike," she concludes this talk by saying: "Strike against all ordinances and laws and institutions that continue the slaughter of peace and the butcheries of war. Strike against war, for without you no battles can be fought. Strike against manufacturing scrapnel and gas bombs and all other tools of murder. Strike against preparedness that means death and misery to millions of human being." And note that she puts you in the speech, "for without you no battles can be fought." Throughout this speech, she subtly and powerfully reminds that war only takes place with your consent and participation.
Here's a video that summarizes this speech with images from the Great War:



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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fast and short: Prepping and watching Ignite! talks

If you've ever wondered what it was like to prepare an Ignite! talk--five minutes, and 20 slides, advanced automatically whether you're ready or not--and what the experience of an Ignite! event is like, I've got two great posts for you.

First, speaking coach Olivia Mitchell, in preparing for her own Ignite! talk, shares what she considers the fastest way to prepare an Ignite! talk--knowing that it sometimes takes longer to prepare for a short presentation.

Writer Lisa Orange just attended the Ignite! DC event, and she offered The Eloquent Woman this glimpse at the proceedings and some of the presentations that caught her eye:

What would you say in five minutes, and how would you say it?

Just five minutes, and 20 slides. That’s the premise of Ignite DC, a high-energy gathering of people with ideas and the courage to put them out in front of 300+ strangers

Ignite DC #6, held earlier this month, had the flavor of a Tweetup and the velocity of a speed-dating event. Sixteen speakers each had 20 slides, which advanced automatically every 15 seconds.

Who were the speakers? Ignite’s Web site promised “artists, technologists, thinkers and personalities.” I heard from a marketing student and a life coach, a DJ and a policy analyst, an artist and a hacker, among others.

The evening’s organizers -- DC entrepreneur Jared Goralnick and public relations strategist and local blogging guru Geoff Livingston – kept the program moving. None of the 16 speakers went over their time, I noticed with admiration. Each presentation was focused, well paced and delivered with verve.

If your time is brief, a flamboyant title creates a flurry of interest right at the start. Here are some of my favorites:
  • Why Jack Bauer Needs a Nap: He’d make better decisions if he could get out from under that 24-hour stress, which must be wreaking havoc on his mind and body. Life coach Alison Horner made her point with humor and offered a gentle reminder to all.
  • Help! The title of Heather Coleman’s presentation was indeterminate, but she followed up on that exclamation point and grabbed our attention with her first words: “If you saw a naked woman running down the road, would you stop your car?” Any snickering stopped as she revealed that the woman was in the grip of severe postpartum psychosis. Tragedy was averted only by a traffic jam and some people whose names she never knew. A sobering story that encouraged listeners to reach out to strangers. 
  • I Suffer from… FOMO: Right away, the listener wonders, what is FOMO? And should I be worried? FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out, Shana Glickfield opined in a cheerfully self-deprecating sketch. Glickfield, an online communications consultant, described overbooking herself, spending too much money, and stressing out friends and relatives in an attempt to avoid what she described as “the worst thing a person with FOMO can hear: `You should have been there!’” She ended the evening with laughter, and a reminder to look away from the screen occasionally and pay attention to the live world.

 Have you given an Ignite! talk? Share your experiences in the comments.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Using Evernote to prepare speeches and presentations: One CEO's approach

In A better filing system for public speakers (and writers), publishing CEO Michael Hyatt shares how he uses Evernote to gather, store, search and prepare his speeches--with ideas useful to you whether you give speeches and presentations, or just prepare them for others.

I use Evernote every day (check out my list of 8 ways communicators can use Evernote) for a wide variety of personal and professional note-taking.  Using the site for speeches and presentations is a next step I'm ready to take, and Hyatt's suggestions are a great guide.He has set up notebooks in Evernote for illustrations, jokes, quotes and statistics, and is now going through all his blog posts, web articles, digital books and even hardcopy books to put material he's already gathered into those four categories, creating a storehouse of material from which to draw upon when he's writing a speech.

Here's why that works: Once you enter text into Evernote, it becomes searchable. So if Hyatt enters text about a certain topic into Evernote, he need not remember where it is. He can tag the item to find it quickly later, or just search for a term and see what comes up. (You can enter files of any type, including video, audio and photos--and if you use the Evernote mobile device app to, say, snap a photo of someone you've met at a conference, even the text on her nametag can be searched in Evernote.)  Evernote is available as a desktop platform, in the cloud on its website and as a mobile app.  It has partnerships with a wide range of devices and services, and you can even buy scanners that let you enter text into Evernote directly.

And why stop with just your actual presentation or speech? You might create a notebook for each speaking gig, with maps and directions, forms, followups, even scanned business cards from contacts you met.

I'm an Evernote affiliate. You can certainly choose its free application, or for $45, the premium version with more storage and search options--in which case, I get a small fee. More important to me: Evernote's a major boost to my productivity and creativity. Speechwriters and speakers, check it out!  If you click on the Evernote button, below, you can save this post--and set up a free or premium account in a pop-up window. Give it a try and let me know how you're using this tool to create your presentations and speeches.
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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mastering the metaphor: How to avoid cliche and strike the right phrase


In this Studio 360 interview with author James Geary about his new book on metaphors, you get a tour through familiar metaphors (raining cats and dogs, no man is an island) and a chance to rethink how you use them in your speeches, presentations and everyday speaking. Titled I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World, the book is from one of my favorite authors on language. Here are Geary's tips for thinking through metaphors and how to use them:
  • Understand the 'paradox of metaphor:' Metaphor lets us describe what something is, using something it's not.
  • Use metaphor to describe something abstract, ideal or emotional.  Those states are difficult to make concrete, and in describing them, metaphor is more vivid. Take economic metaphors, many of which involve fluid dynamics: liquidity, solvent, saturated. 
  • Metaphors have subtle psychological effects.  People have been exposed to financial commentary with metaphor had expectations that soaring home prices would continue. In that way, they create a frame through which your listeners think about an issue.
  • Don't misuse "literally:" When you say,"It was literally raining cats and dogs," it increases the confusion between metaphor and reality. "People use the word 'literally' metaphorically," says Geary. "Even literal statements...factual statements are metaphors."  Take "no man is an island," which is both factual and metaphorical.
  • Use metaphors sparingly. Overuse of metaphors diminishes writing.  Cliches become cliches because, when first used, they were incredibly good and powerful. Another "paradox of metaphor:" the more overused a cliche becomes, the more we mistake it for the truth.
  • Use metaphor appropriately.  Sometimes, cliched metaphors represent lazy writing. Geary cites George Orwell, who urged writers to create their own metaphors.  ("Think outside the box" is one example cited.) Geary notes that using the wrong metaphor can shut down listening in your audience, while using the right one has the opposite effect.
Listen to the Geary interview on Studio 360 here:






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Monday, February 21, 2011

The blog's youngest public speaking fan (age 6) shares her first-ever talk



UPDATE: While Jenny would appreciate the promotion, she is actually still 6 and not quite 7. We regret the error.

(Editor's note: Writer Becky Ham, who reports for The Eloquent Woman on research about public speaking, told me that her 6-year-old daughter, Jenny Ham, had to give her first oral report in school--and wound up turning to The Eloquent Woman blog to answer her questions about public speaking. I asked Becky to write about it, with Jenny's permission, and they shared this account and one of Jenny's practice videos. Becky reports that Jenny was astonished to learn that adults have the same questions and fears about public speaking that she did. This post includes links to the posts she used to prepare. Here's how it went.)

My daughter Jenny just finished her first public speaking gig, a short presentation to her second-grade class about the Native American tribe of her choice. She came home excited—but a little unsure—on the day they received the assignment:
Me: Did your teacher give you any tips on speaking in front of everyone? Did you talk in class about how to give a good speech?

Jenny: No, I think we’re just supposed to be wigging it.

Me: Do you mean…winging it?

Jenny: Yeah, that’s what I said.
From that promising start, she spent two weeks researching, writing and practicing. Jenny said her biggest fear going into the talk was that she wouldn’t be prepared. She was determined to make lots of eye contact “so I won’t look boring.” She wondered if it was OK to say “um,” like some of her classmates. She was surprised to see how fast she was speaking after watching herself on video.  She also became a big fan of deep breathing before starting her speech.

On the big day, she felt “nervous at first, then OK.” Her favorite part was “being up at the front of the class by the teacher’s desk” and “having all the attention on me.” And while she said preparation and practice were her least favorite parts of the project, she admits that it paid off when it came time to answer questions at the end of her talk.

Interestingly, Jenny insisted that the girls in her class were more prepared, more lively, and less likely to read directly from their papers than the boys. (While she didn’t accuse the boys outright of having cooties, I suspect there may be some second-grade culture at work behind this observation.)

I’ve been watching her video practice again, and I’m struck by how the lessons she’s learned will stay relevant far into her speaking future.Well, most of them, anyway. She’s missing her two front teeth, and we had to talk about what to do when your words come out in a whistle.

Readers, do you remember your first talk or oral report? Share your memories in the comments.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Declaration of Human Rights

I call Eleanor Roosevelt the "First Lady of firsts," particularly when it comes to public communication. She was the first First Lady to have a syndicated column and a radio commentary program, the first to speak before a major convention, and the first to hold press conferences--to which she invited only female reporters, because they were otherwise banned from the White House press corps. How's that for being the change you want to see in the world?

Her public speaking was forced by her husband's presidency and his disability--she often made appearances when he could not--and after FDR's death, she was tapped by President Truman to serve as a delegate to the brand new United Nations and to marshall the Declaration of Human Rights.  The late 1940s and 50s became her most prolific period of public speaking as a result.

Roosevelt's work on the human rights declaration was mostly behind the scenes, negotiating, lobbying and listening until she could bring UN delegates to a consensus.  But in this speech to a Columbia University sorority, she explains the process that resulted in the human rights declaration, disclosing discussions and nuances in an early version of what we'd call "transparency" today.  Here, she describes the impact that women on one of the committees had on its final language, which originally mimicked the U.S. declaration of independence to say "All men...":
Right away they saw something in our document that we brought to them which we had not given much thought to. As we presented the document, it was perhaps a little too Anglo-Saxon, a little too much like the American Declaration. It said "all men" in the beginning of a great many paragraphs; the final Article reads, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

After I got home I received a letter from a gentleman who said, "How could you as the United States Delegate vote for Article I of the Universal Declaration when it is not like our Declaration?"

Now I will tell you how I could. The women on Committee III--and remember there were 58 representatives of governments in Committee III, not 18-58--and the women said " 'All men,' oh, no. In this document we are not going to say 'all men' because in some of our countries we are just struggling to recognition and equality. Some of us have come up to the top but others have very little equality and recognition and freedom. If we say 'all men,' when we get home it will be 'all men.'" So you will find in this Declaration that it starts with "all human beings" in Article I, and in all the other Articles is says "everyone," "no one." In the body of the Article it occasionally says "his," because to say "his or hers" each time was a little awkward, but it is very clearly understood that this applies to all human beings.
Women in places where human rights are in question have reason to thank her every day for that change.

There's no one speech to point to about the declaration--rather, far too many--but here's what I observe about Roosevelt's speeches and speaking that you might be able to use:
  • She never fails to use examples featuring real people:  A master of this form, Eleanor Roosevelt genuinely saw her mission as one of shedding light on the experiences of "ordinary" people, and used them to illustrate her points, whether they were the women delegates helping to frame the declaration of human rights, or a rural couple whose lives were changed by the presence of a public library where one had not existed before. Roosevelt spent countless hours touring with and talking to citizens, and incorporated their stories into her speeches--her way of representing them, even though she never held an elected office.
  • She was a master of the aphorism:  And we quote hers every day, from  Do what you feel in your heart to be right -- for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't, to A woman is like a tea bag -- only in hot water do you realize how strong she is. Those short, punchy, funny lines give the listener something they can recognize and relate to--and remember later to repeat to others, just what a speaker wants to prompt.
  • She was shy, feared public speaking--and did it anyway:  In the video examples below, you won't see a sign of nerves (and by the time these were recorded, she'd had ample practice). Her call to service was stronger than her public-speaking fear.
Here's the short video of her statement after the United Nations ratified the declaration:



Here's video from a television "speech" she gave later, to celebrate Human Rights Day--I think it will give you a good sense of her speaking style in a less cavernous setting:



Photo courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

TED Conversations let you discuss big ideas with the speakers...online

TED, the conference where speakers share big ideas in a proscribed format, has launched a new site where you can talk to those speakers:  TED Conversations.   TED's goal is to help spread the ideas that speakers bring to the conference, and the new social site makes it even easier to participate in the hard-to-get-into conference. You'll have the chance to discuss topics in three categories (ideas, debate and questions; search for and tag topics of interest to you; link specific TED talks to a discussion; and more.  But pay attention to the expiration date--every discussion will have one, to keep things focused (just like a live Q-and-A session, right?).  You won't just be discussing topics with other TED fans, but with many of the speakers and community members you'll recognize from previous interactions with the TED website.  Check out this new public speaking community and share your thoughts on it in the comments.




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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How to speak up without giving your power away


On The Glass Hammer blog, this post on 10 ways to be more powerful advises women to express a point of view, something many women avoid to spare themselves trouble. The post notes that that approach just diminishes your effectiveness over time:
Every time you leave something that you feel strongly about unsaid, you take away your own power. You listen to the critical voice inside that says, “that wasn’t that important anyway,” “maybe that’s a stupid idea,” “I’ll let someone else say it first.” The more you listen to that voice, the louder it gets.
The post includes lots of useful advice, including the preparatory steps you need to take so that you'll feel ready and confident when the time comes to speak up.  I'd add that you should frame these types of statements starting with "I" -- it's a confident, powerful construction, and has the advantage that no one can contradict what you're thinking or feeling on a topic if you are solely speaking for yourself.  (Check out my lists of the 5 weakest speaker statements and the 6 strongest speaker statements--the latter group all start with "I.")

In the video below from Empower Women Leaders' YouTube channel of mentoring videos, Hala Moddelmog, president of the Arby's Restaurant Group, shares her insights on "being yourself in a male culture," with more tips based on her experience as a woman in a male-dominated industry.




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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

'My 5 favorite websites for professional development' includes The Eloquent Woman


Nikita T. Mitchell's Journeyful Life blog shares her five favorite websites for professional development, and The Eloquent Woman's there, among some impressive company. Here's what she had to say:
This blog meant to inspire women by providing the information we need to become better, more confident public speakers. The site engagingly offers a plethora of ideas, lessons and research on public speaking that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else.
Check out the rest of her recommendations and her blog. Thanks, Nikita!

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Speaking with laryngitis? Don't whisper

The New York Times recently did some health fact-checking and looked at whether whispering is harmful to your voice, since people with laryngitis are often advised to avoid whispering, lest it further damage the vocal chords. 

A researcher (who happens to also be a professional baritone) used fiber-optic scopes to watch subjects' vocal chords as they whispered, and as they spoke normally  The study concluded that a majority of the speakers were, in fact, "squeezing their vocal cords together more tightly to produce the whisper, which is more traumatic." 

While this isn't true for all speakers, the study's lead researcher recommends that you use “the voice you would use if you wanted to talk to somebody next to you without having other people in the room hear," rather than whispering.


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Monday, February 14, 2011

Guest post: Why saying "I don't know" is my best Q-and-A tool

(Editor's note: Museum educator Emily Finke writes the blog This View of Life. Her latest post, "Elements of an Effective Public Education Toolkit," is really about handling those questions that come at you from left field or out of the blue--and for which you just don't have an answer. Rather than dismiss the question, give a snarky or flip answer or get defensive, she takes the time in this post to talk through why and how you should make "I don't know" part of your Q-and-A arsenal.  (I put "I don't know" at the top of my list of the 6 strongest speaker statements, so this post resonated with me.) A hat tip to Kathleen O'Neil for pointing me to the post, and to Finke for her gracious permission to reprint it here.)

The world of a museum educator is a fly by the seat of your pants endeavour. No matter how much education and experience you have in one field, the museum visitors to whom you talk aren’t going to stick to that field. You could be innocently talking about calcium formations in caves when Bam! Out of nowhere you’ll be asked about the use of caves for shelter, food storage and black powder production in the civil war. And that’s the most relevant question you’ll get. Most of them will be more along the lines of “So, what do you think about von Däniken’s ideas about aliens?” or “I heard that Jesus was actually born in a cave, not a barn” or “Batman lives in a cave! There are BATS! Are you Batgirl?” (Usually the last is from a five year old who will then go on to ask you a complicated question about adaptations to bat senses which allow them to live in caves.

Sometimes you’ll have an answer. Strangely, I’m probably better equipped to answer most Biblical literalism questions than most creationists. Sometimes there is no good answer and you’ll be left thinking. Von Däniken, really? Did they really just quote Chariots of the Gods at me? Really?

However, there will always be a question that is perfectly valid and pretty interesting. The moment they ask, you’ll wish you knew the answer. Partially for knowledge, but partially to reward the visitor for asking such a good question. But you won’t know the answer. And that’s okay.
The most important tool in a science communicator’s arsenal is the ability to say “I don’t know, but here’s where you can find out” or some variation on that. It’s also one of the most difficult things to learn how to say. My colleagues at the museum are a group of highly educated, fairly young professionals who have ended up here through a wide variety of paths. They know their fields backwards and forwards, and are usually pretty good at speaking with the public about them. However, they are mostly young enough that their primary method of learning and reporting has been as the student part of a student-teacher relationship.

This has a huge impact on the way they present information. They are used to working in a very narrow field with people who are actual experts in said field. They never really heard “I don’t know” coming from their professors, so they don’t immediately consider that a valid answer.

Instead, they will treat a visitor’s question in the same way they treat an essay exam – as if they have to give some answer, no matter how tangential or speculative. The ability to say “I don’t know” has never been an acceptable answer in their life before, so why should it be now?

This is a problem, and one I see repeatedly among young educators and communicators. They know that their position has changed from a theoretical position, but they haven’t made the transition to “expert” from “student”. They don’t quite realize that everything they say while on the museum floor is going to be approached by the visitor as gospel truth. They are “the authority” according to the people who walk through our doors.

To highlight this idea, I have to tell a story that one of my friends told me. When I first started at this museum, my friend Cel was in art school. Now Celia is truly a renaissance woman, who aside from being talented in art, is also an incredibly logical thinker and absorbs knowledge like a sponge. Unfortunately for her friends who don’t quite share that ability, she also has deadpan delivery of the most ridiculous statements down pat. While she was at art school she managed to convince several of her roommates that there were “giant, human-sized preying mantises” that lived in the sewers of New York. The evidence that she used to support this was that “her friend who worked in a museum” told her it was true.

This story is interesting from a couple points of view. First of all, the fact that she assumed that they would immediately know it was ridiculous because of course human-sized praying mantises couldn’t exist. Non-aquatic invertebrates just don’t get to that size! Those of us with even the smallest background in sciences generally take it for granted that people outside of the field will know these basic facts, when that is just not true. The second interesting idea is that they accepted that of course the girl who worked in a museum was a valid authority, not knowing anything about me. Heck, I could have been working at a modern art museum for all they knew.

I bring up that story because it’s one that has stuck with me since it was told to me. I have always had a tendency to use sarcasm and humor to get my point across. If I considered something a ridiculous question, then I would answer in kind*. Or if a question was out of my realm of knowledge, I would speculate based on half-remembered facts and concepts. I shudder now to look back at the things that 18 year old me told people because I didn’t know that there was a better answer. Things that those people might still believe and be telling others.

It took me years to be able to honestly say “I don’t know the answer to that question” gracefully and without embarrassment, and it’s the single biggest accomplishment in my ability to explain the intricacies of the world at a basic and intelligible level. It also took me years to be able to not assume that concepts that were basic to me (laws of superposition, natural selection, etc.) were not basic to people who had studied something other than a hard science, or to people who had spent their lives learning how to run a business or do a trade. However, that didn’t mean that they were dumb or not interested. It just meant that those ideas had never come up.

My current ability to explain at an effective level owes much to my ability to switch between a student role and a teacher role. In the student role I am a researcher, learning from other people and from the world itself. I’m always trying to expand my breadth of knowledge in order to be able to answer whatever question is thrown at me. In the teacher role, I am conscious that what I am saying may not be interpreted in the way I was saying it, and that making up something or using a silly answer to bunt a question so that I don’t look ignorant isn’t the most effective way to create a more knowledgeable population. Admitting ignorance and then giving them the tools to find the answer themselves will be much more effective in the long run.

My Public Education Toolkit

1. Explain things from a position of knowledge, but don’t go beyond that knowledge without checking your facts. If you can give someone an idea of where to look for an answer to their question, then you’re not failing them by saying “I don’t know.” In fact, you’re probably engaging them further in their own process of learning than you would if you just spouted out a fact.

2. Explain things at a basic level, but not in a way that is talking down at the visitor, particularly if you’re speaking to a group. One-on-one you have an opportunity to ask specific questions to find out their knowledge level. In a group, you don’t have that ability. My favorite method for this is to engage the children in the group in a Q and A. If you get them to explain things, then the adults feel good that their children are smart, plus they’re probably learning along with the kids.

Both Radiolab and Science Friday on public radio provide great examples of how to explain complicated concepts on a layperson-friendly level. Also, I’ve been repeatedly known to steal wholesale from Carl Zimmer’s explanations (with citation!) when talking to visitors. If you find an explanation that works, don’t be afraid to use it! Chances are, your visitors don’t read science blogs or popular science literature. And if they do, then they’ll recognize and be able to engage with you on that level!

3. Humor/sarcasm can be used, but it has to be used carefully. If you make a visitor feel bad about what they don’t know, then you’ve lost all ability to communicate with them. If you make them feel like they’re in on the joke, then you’ll probably be able to engage them on a more in-depth level, and they’ll probably go away from the discussion remembering the humor and therefore the concept.

*E.G.: to the question “You know how St. Peter said ‘and on this rock you will build my church?’ Well, I was wondering what kind of rock that was.” my instinctive answer was “Pumice. Because it’s holey”. However, the visitor was asking a serious, if misinformed on many levels, question. And by answering in a serious way, I might have helped him at least straighten out the question he was asking in a way that wouldn’t have happened if I had given the humorous answer.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Maya Angelou's eulogy for Coretta Scott King

A eulogy can be the most difficult of speeches: The speaker is mourning, and already emotional, and the charge to honor a loved one who has died may seem daunting. It would be easy to fall into vague, general platitudes and too many adjectives (of the "all her life, she was the best, most honest person who every lived and helped everyone all over the world" variety). But those types of words don't move mourners, nor do they bring the departed person into focus.

You have a great example for any eulogy you might give in Maya Angelou's 2006 eulogy for Coretta Scott King.  "But she's a writer--of course she's eloquent," you might say. And while that's true, not all great writers are great speakers. This is a cogent eulogy, one that's short, knowing, humorous, stirring. Here's what I like and notice in this famous speech:
  • It helps us picture the departed person:  Early in the eulogy, Angelou begins a description of Mrs. King using simple words, but adds this deft analogy that lets the audience picture her in their minds for the rest of the talk: "In times of interior violent storms she sat, her hands resting in her lap calmly, like good children sleeping."  That image, so familiar to those who knew her and those who only knew of her, gives the audience something on which to focus during the descriptions that follow.
  • It uses words to bring the audience together: This was not a small funeral, and included a wide range of people--all races and political views and faiths. Angelou uses several devices to unite this disparate audience. She begins and ends by singing the words of a hymn that says "I'll see what the end is gonna be," a reminder of our common mortality.  She spends a paragraph acknowledging the different groups of people Mrs. King championed, a subtle way of recognizing people in the audience who belong to those groups.
  • Once united, she gives the audience a call to action:  In fitting tribute to Mrs. King, Angelou tells the assembly, "those of us who gather here, principalities, presidents, senators, those of us who run great companies, who know something about being parents, who know something about being preachers and teachers -- those of us, we owe something from this minute on; so that this gathering is not just another footnote on the pages of history. We owe something." Then she leads them through a list of five simple wishes for justice and fairness, using the rhetorical device anaphora--a repetitive phrase at the beginning or end of a series of sentences. In this case, it's "I mean to say I want to see" with the wish following.
  • It's blessedly short, but packs a punch in every paragraph:  This is a eulogy with 17 paragraphs, 8 of them a scant sentence long. The entire speech, including the singing, runs just over 7 and half minutes. It's full of active verbs and concrete nouns, and no wasted words. Would that we all could do so much with so little.
  • It makes a saint into a human: It would be easy to consider Mrs. King a martyr of sorts, but Angelou brings her back to earth with personal stories only she would know--a card that every eulogist should play, if she can, because it offers novel content that will grip the audience's attention. Like this story: "On those late nights when Coretta and I would talk, I would make her laugh. And she said that Martin King used to tell her, 'You don't laugh enough.' And there's a recent book out about sisters in which she spoke about her blood sister. But at the end of her essay, she said, I did have -- 'I do have a chosen sister, Maya Angelou, who makes me laugh even when I don't want to.' And it's true. I told her some jokes only for no-mixed company." That in turn made the audience laugh, providing a needed moment of emotional relief during a solemn and sad occasion--something eulogists should plan on doing when possible.

Here's the video of the eulogy, a must-watch-and-listen so you can hear Angelou sing, listen to the cadences of her speaking, and understand how all those one-sentence paragraphs help her to pause for effect--a good demonstration that you can write a speech to aid the speaking of it. You can read along with the full text at the link above.




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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Really? One speaker says: "I need to speed up to fill silences."

I asked readers of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, "If you could improve one thing about your public speaking, what would you focus on?"  and one reader said she wants to work on "Speaking a little faster. Toastmasters training helped me eliminate the filler words but removing all those um and er and ya know fillers left me with too many audible gaps."

Really? I'm not a fan of trying to eradicate ums and uhs, which are natural in every language and didn't become verboten until the advent of audio recordings of speech. My solutions are twofold: Develop some "time-buying phrases" that give you time to think of what to say next, and better yet, get comfortable with silences.  There's no reason your talk--no matter how long or short--needs to be a wall-to-wall carpet of sound. In fact, with a little planning, you can put pauses in aforethought and for effect.

Many speakers I know resort to speeding up to fill perceived (by them) awkward spaces and silences, or when they're afraid of being stopped and questioned.  But speaking too fast carries its own penalties and may mean your words go unabsorbed--and we mustn't have that, speakers. Check out the links below to learn more about speed, ums, silences and related topics.

Related posts:  Are you comfortable with silence as a speaker?

The research lowdown on speaker speeds

What to say when you don't know what to say: time-buying phrases

When did "um" become a dirty word?


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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chautauqua: A new look at the original TED

It predates TED talks by more than a century: The Chautauqua Institution, which every summer hosts 170,000 people for 2,000 events over a two-month period in the summer. For speakers, it's long been a mecca, featuring daily morning and afternoon lectures, as well as scores of plays, concerts, and more.  Morning lectures take place in an amphitheatre that seats 5,000; afternoon lectures in the smaller, 700-seat Hall of Philosophy (shown here), where the spillover crowd can number 1,200 and the topic always focuses on religion, spirtuality or philosophy.  And if you thought TED or Ignite! were the first talks to set speaker limits, you're way off base. Chautauqua speakers have strict speaking limits and must take audience questions.

PBS has just launched a program every speaker should watch, Chautauqua: An American Narrative. The 2011 season of Chautauqua takes place June 25-August 28, and you can see this year's lineup of speakers at the link, as well as tools for building your visit calendar and more. There's much to explore, and the upstate New York setting and many outdoor venues are a big part of what makes this series of talks unusual. Have you been to Chautauqua?

(Photo from Seabamirum's Flickr photostream)
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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A speaker wants "More time to reflect on improving the next speech," and how to get it

I asked readers of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook what they'd focus on if they could improve just one thing about their public speaking and presenting. Tiffany Lohwater said she'd focus on "More time for...reflection on how to improve the next one."

To my mind, that reflection time needs to come as soon as possible after your presentation or speech, simply to aid your memory of what happened. But it needn't be a lengthy, laborious process. Instead, try these tactics to squeeze in a worthwhile review of your last speech with an eye to improving the next one:
  • Start a free-association list: Just get down on paper your first impressions in bulleted or list form. What do you recall, positive and negative? What got the biggest laugh or the most applause? What fell flat? Where did you feel awkward? You can divide this later into a positive/negative pair of lists if you prefer--I'd suggest labeling them "I liked...." and "I wish...." to capture potential changes without judgmental. If it's easier and faster for you that day, use your smartphone or even your voicemail to record a list on audio as a reminder to get you started.
  • Gather other data:  If you have access to feedback forms, pull out and add to your list any useful evaluation remarks, positive and negative. Have access to some video or audio? Watch it now, using my list of what to look for when your speech is recorded. Once you're done, add to your list of pros and cons.
  • Pick three: You'll have plenty of things you liked and that you want to improve...so just pick three to focus on for next time. That makes the process manageable, especially if you start your reflection time understanding that your ultimate goal is to find just three things.
  • Keep a running list:  You'll save time next time by keeping a running list of things you've done well and things you want to improve. Pick three, focus on them next time, then use your list from the previous speaking engagement to start your evaluation of the latest one. Then there's no need to rewrite the same items, making the task a bit shorter; you need only add any new observations, and put a check next to items that still made the list this time.  A running list also is a great way to keep tabs on your progress, and can show what you're working on now as well as what you've mastered--a great motivator.
How do you work in time to reflect on what you can improve next time? Share your ideas in the comments.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

The all-in-one for eloquent scientists: Resources and role models

I've spent the better part of my career working with scientists and engineers and helping them communicate with public audiences. But even I'm surprised by the popularity of this blog's posts on how to translate from the technical. Here's an all-in-one resource compiling our posts about becoming an eloquent scientist--or just clearer when you're sharing a lot of data and details:
Finally, a post from my other blog:  A scientist's elevator speech in 45 seconds, an example from prominent biologist E.O. Wilson (and all the more impressive because he did it on demand, on live radio). I'm available to train groups of scientists in public speaking and in translating from the technical for public or non-scientist audiences--and I've trained thousands of scientists in academic, corporate and government labs. Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz to discuss your needs.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Barbara Jordan's Democratic convention keynote

For many, Barbara Jordan was the definition of an eloquent woman. Her rhetoric was decidedly old-school, shaped by her legal and legislative work, and the fact that she was a groundbreaker as both a woman and an African-American. It takes a lot of energy, dedication and bullet-proofing yourself to be:
  • the first African-American since Reconstruction to be elected to the Texas Senate,
  • the first female African-American from the South to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and
  • the first woman--and African-American--to deliver a keynote address to the Democratic national convention.
We focus on that 1976 keynote this Friday. Delivered in the year of the U.S. bicentennial, it would have been special for anyone. But just by opening her mouth and uttering the first words, Jordan made it historic. She did not let the moment speak for itself:
But there is something different about tonight. There is something special about tonight. What is different? What is special?

I, Barbara Jordan, am a keynote speaker.
When -- A lot of years passed since 1832, and during that time it would have been most unusual for any national political party to ask a Barbara Jordan to deliver a keynote address. But tonight, here I am. And I feel -- I feel that notwithstanding the past that my presence here is one additional bit of evidence that the American Dream need not forever be deferred.
It's an opening that exemplifies Barbara Jordan's brand of eloquence, with simple language, sweeping cadences, pauses for effect, and strong declarative sentences. The impact is both soaring and humble. Here's what to look for in this stirring speech:
  • The vertical pronoun: Jordan was a master of using "I" statements, underscoring that she had a platform from which to speak that had been denied to women and blacks for centuries--and she was not one to let others speak for her. (Put another way, no one can really tell you what you're thinking and feeling, so you should speak for yourself.) It is at once confident and authoritative.
  • Classic rhetorical devices:  She trained herself early in old-school oratory, so it's no surprise that her speech follows classic forms.  One example:  She uses anaphora, a pattern of repetition, as a unifying device to help bring the convention crowd together (the traditional role of the keynoter in that setting). She says, "We are a people in a quandary about the present. We are a people in search of our future. We are a people in search of a national community. We are a people trying not only to solve the problems of the present, unemployment, inflation, but we are attempting on a larger scale to fulfill the promise of America." You can find 40 examples of such figures of speech at American Rhetoric--how many can you identify in Jordan's keynote?
  • Strong declarations:  Look for Jordan's use of sentences that start with "Let," which are peppered throughout the speech. "Let each person do his or her part." "Let there be no illusions..." It's a strong declarative form for those sentences, one that puts them in high relief and serves as an equally strong call to action.
  • Vocalizing that matches the language--and the setting:  Sure, conventions require strong speakers. But listen to the care Jordan takes in emphasizing particular words. There's music in it, a real vocal range. Don't think for a moment this was spontaneous. Her voice is as important a tool here as anything else.
If you follow the first link above, you can see the full text of the speech and audio as well. Here's a partial video for you to get a glimpse of what they called her "eloquent thunder:"

(Photo credit: Larry Murphy, University of Texas at Austin News and Information Service.)

Related posts:  Barbara Jordan: "I never had to apologize", including links to a book collecting her speeches, and much more about her career and growing up.

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