Friday, April 29, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Elizabeth II tribute to Princess Diana

As Princess Diana's son, Prince William, marries today, I wanted to devote "Famous Speech Friday" to a pivotal televised live speech given by his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, in tribute to his mother after her death.

The queen's tribute to Princess Diana came only after Britain's royal family had been widely criticized for its absence from London, where mourners gathered in the streets and left as many as a million bouquets and other tributes at the gates of the royal palaces. This was, ultimately, a speech that had to be given. To my mind, the speech has to be evaluated while considering "What if she hadn't said this?" While it didn't satisfy all listeners, it filled communications gaps and gave voice to a collective mourning unlike any the world had seen at that point.

The first plan was to submit it to the networks as a taped address--something that had become customary for the queen, whose last live television address took place in 1959. The stakes were much higher in 1997. This time, hundreds of millions of people watched this speech around the world, simultaneously, as it was happening.  Here's what speakers can learn from this short but powerful speech:
  • It responds to questions in the air: The three-minute speech explains what the royal family was doing, ensconced at its Balmoral palace, but also answers with her presence the question the headlines were screaming: "Where is our queen?" 
  • It trades control for connection: In giving up the control of a taped speech, which could be redone, the queen gained the immediacy and connection that can be had with live television. It's powerful and something a recorded speech can't accomplish.
  • The setting reinforces reality: Behind the queen, you can see the thousands of people gathered outside the palace, a moving backdrop of the audience she was trying to reach. That gives the scripted remarks yet more immediacy.
  • She talked to the audience in person, first: Following a longstanding custom, the queen and other members of the royal family were in the square in front of the palace, shaking hands with the mourners and talking with them, one-on-one--just as you might do before a formal speech or presentation. That, too, helped to forge a stronger connection with the television audience and gave her the chance to hear directly what people were thinking and saying before she spoke to the nation.
  • It included the personal perspective: By speaking not just as a monarch but as a grandmother, and sharing family details that would ordinarily remain private, this speech fulfilled a challenge it had to meet: Making the queen seem, again, like one of the people. .
This speech worked for many because it took her listeners back to an earlier time of crisis.  Elizabeth had spent much of her early life as a symbol of solidarity with the people, from her childhood days when the royal family stayed in London during the blitz attacks of World War II. Her very first speech was delivered at age 14, in December 1940, on the BBC's "Children's Hour" program, to reach out to children evacuated from the city and the blitz.  For Britons of a certain age, the queen's live public speaking--even if on a broadcast--was a comforting touchstone. And while never referenced in her tribute to Diana, those early speeches came back to mind. Here's a recording of that first speech.


    After this famous tribute to Diana, the queen altered her televised annual Christmas address, making it longer and more personal, a change  "from the stuffy tones of broadcasts past."  Here's video of the tribute, wrapped in a news broadcast. What do you think of it?



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    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    April's top 10 public speaking tips and issues

    I'm excited that spring has sprung in my neighborhood, and hope you're just as excited about your prospects as a speaker and presenter. April brought lots of fresh new ideas, tips and opportunities for readers of the blog. Here are your most-read choices this month:
    1. What can video do to help you get that speaking gig, a guest post from Sarah Milstein, shares the conference organizer's view on why it's important to submit video--and how to do it. Not at all surprised to see this top your choices from the blog this month!
    2. Do you over-explain? 5 speaker tricks for using data, details wisely just came out this week and is already a favorite. From slides to Q-and-A responses, here's your toolkit.
    3. Famous Speech Friday: Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" looked at one of most-taught speeches in the American canon. Trouble is, we can't prove she said those words, which may have been added by later interpreters. A post that illustrates how poorly we've kept women's speeches or put words in their mouths over the years.
    4. Make a 'message house' to give your key points context shares a simple form you can use to build--and remember--your three key points. A useful post from last April!
    5. Davos forum to set quota for women at meeting appeared in January, just before the famous economic forum. Quotas don't get as much support here in the U.S., but this post remains popular months later.
    6. Tina Fey: Use improv skills, not apologies, to jump in shares secrets from her comedy studies about when and whether to jump in, and how to do it effectively.
    7. Famous Speech Friday: Helen Keller's "I am not dumb now" and "Strike Against War" appeared in February but is still moving readers. Includes rare film footage of Keller speaking, as well as her stirring anti-World War I speech.
    8. Using poetry in a speech to add color, connection shares two real-life examples--the president of St. Lawrence University and a spoken-word poet--and how they've incorporated poems in their speeches. A timely post for speakers during National Poetry Month.
    9. Panelists: Is that the way you look? gives you a glimpse of what the audience might be focusing on instead of your trenchant remarks. Worth reading before you sit down behind that skirted table. 
    10. Roger Ebert rethinks public speaking without a voice of his own shares one of the most moving speaking performances you'll ever see. Ebert, who lost his ability to speak after cancer surgery, uses an electronic voice as well as his wife and friends to read his words in this TED talk (video included). It's a moving, funny, tearful -- and thoughtful -- look at how we use our voices in public speaking and what it means to truly lose your voice.
    This is a great week to sign up for the newsletter (links below). It'll be out next week focusing on a single speaking topic in-depth. Thanks for reading this month!

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    Wednesday, April 27, 2011

    Improving the sound of your voice

    Last week, NPR's Diane Rehm Show focused on improving the sound of your voice (audio at this link) with a panel of vocal coaches and physicians talking about a wide range of vocal problems. Rehm also contributed to the discussion, based on her own experiences with spasmodic dysphonia, which causes hoarseness and vocal tremors--a condition she developed after decades on the air. 

    The nearly hour-long program includes calls and emails from listeners with perplexing vocal issues, resources for treating voice problems and tips for how to manage your voice to keep it healthy and vibrant. You'll find more, including comments from more listeners, in the transcript of the show "Improving the Sound of Your Voice" and in Finding My Voice, Rehm's account of her own vocal struggles.

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    Tuesday, April 26, 2011

    Do you over-explain? 5 speaker tricks for using data, details wisely

    You're smart--and loaded with facts, numbers, data points and the charts, graphs and diagrams to go with them. But if you haven't thought through how to use data and details sparingly, your audience will just get overwhelmed and miss your message. Try these five useful tactics for taming that tsunami of technical detail in your next presentation:
    1. Save some data for the Q-and-A: You don't need to share every single fact in a speech or presentation.You'll look even smarter if you save some to reveal in response to questions. Do some thinking ahead of time about the questions you get most often, natural questions that might arise from your conclusion, and questions this specific audience might ask--then prepare to answer them after, not during, your formal presentation.
    2. Flip the order for later data: If you're a scientist or engineer (or just have a lot of detail to put across), your default impulse will be to put all the background explanations, detail and data first, then get to your conclusion, result or decision-making issue. Instead, flip the order to put the data later, not first. Start with the bottom line, and use data to support that, instead of the other way around. Public audiences and business decision-makers want the results first, before the detail.
    3. Keep your data off your slides: If you put all your data on slides because you can't recall it all, just remember that if you can't remember it, neither can your audience. (And using your slides as your notes just doesn't work, for you or your audience.) Max Atkinson uses Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's TED talk to point out that you can have a business-data-driven presentation without slides.
    4. Even with a fun analogy, don't make the numbers too big to grasp: The Wall Street Journal's "numbers guy," Carl Bialik, writes here about using analogies to describe very large numbers. He's collected some bizarre examples, like the website that figured every American adult could buy two pairs of Manolo Blahnik pumps for the cost of the war in Iraq. A better approach would be to skip the big numbers (in terms of how many bills would reach the moon, something hard to picture) and go with a smaller number, like the cost per taxpayer. Check out Bialik's blog post on this column, which includes links to all sorts of sites that help us visualize numbers and dollars. 
    5. Use a three-step response if you explain too much when answering a question: If you over-explain in response to a question, an issue for many women, try the three-step response: Pause. Answer. Stop. Think about why you're over-explaining and come up with a briefer approach. You should aim for a back-and-forth with your audience, not a lecture...and if you explain too much, you might be making too many assumptions about what's wanted. Not sure what the question's really about? Ask your questioner a question to narrow down the scope of your response: "Are you referring to the results or the overall approach we took?" 


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    Monday, April 25, 2011

    When metaphors misfire: Tips for speakers from a master negotiator

    You want to connect with your audience, and use a shorthand you'll both understand--so you reach for a metaphor. But will it work? That's the question and caution behind the metaphorically titled post "Metaphors are bridges: They can connect you to the other side--or collapse disastrously." In it, a Tufts University negotiation lawyer talks about some high-level discussions in which metaphors helped or hurt the eventual ability to reach an agreement. The latter happens easily when you use a metaphor that's just a mystery to listeners from another culture:
    ...less skilled negotiators sometimes discover the unintended results of using metaphors the other side doesn’t understand. Telling Nigerians in a negotiation that your company is ready to “step up to the plate” may promote confusion rather than reassurance. In one negotiation with a Saudi Arabian agency, an American executive proudly proclaimed that he represented a “blue-chip company.” When this drew quizzical looks, he launched into a long explanation of the term “blue chip” and its origins in gaming casinos, only to be told that Saudi Arabia does not allow gambling.
    Because that also can happen when you're negotiating with someone from your own culture, caution is the key. This is a useful read if your speaking and meetings include negotiations, whether those are for a raise or world peace.

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

    Language works: This is your brain on metaphor

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    Friday, April 22, 2011

    Famous Speech Friday: Rachel Carson's "A New Chapter to Silent Spring"

    It's Earth Day, and this week, we'll look at one of my earliest heroes, scientist and writer Rachel Carson. Her first book The Sea Around Us, had me toying for years with the idea of becoming a marine biologist, just like her. Carson worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service--at one point, one of just two women in a professional role at the agency--and caused a stir with her 1962 book Silent Spring, warning of the dangers of pesticides for plants and animals. The book launched the environmental movement, and eventually led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where I was proud to serve many years later.

    Most of her work was conducted in the field or in writing, but Carson's book and the controversy around it led her into public speaking...reluctantly. Her 1964 obituary in the New York Times reveals her public speaking fears--and how she spoke, anyway:
    People remembered Miss Carson for her shyness and reserve as well as for her writing and scholarship. And so when she received a telephone call after the publication of “The Sea Around Us,” asking her to speak in the Astor Hotel at a luncheon, she asked Miss Rodell what she should do.
    The agent counseled her to concentrate on writing. Miss Carson nodded in agreement, went to the phone, and shortly came back and said somewhat helplessly: “I said I’d do it.”
    There were 1,500 persons at the luncheon, Miss Carson was “scared to death,” but she plunged into the talk and acquitted herself. As part of her program she played a recording of the sounds of underseas, including the clicking of shrimp and the squeeks of dolphins and whales. With the ice broken as a public speaker, Miss Carson continued with others sporadically.
    That's the earliest reference I've heard of a scientist playing undersea noises. Sounds like an early TED talk, doesn't it? Many years later, Vice President Al Gore, in a speech about Carson, highlighted the ways she was attacked as a woman in efforts to diminish her impact:
    ....because Carson was a woman, much of the criticism directed at her played on stereotypes of her sex. Calling her "hysterical" fit the bill exactly. Time magazine added the charge that she had used "emotion-fanning words." Her credibility as a scientist was attacked as well: opponents financed the production of propaganda that supposedly refuted her work. It was all part of an intense, well-financed negative campaign, not against a political candidate but against a book and its author.
    Her speech, "A New Chapter to Silent Spring" addressed the Garden Club of America in 1963, the year after Silent Spring was published. The club--largely comprised of activist women gardeners--was a savvy audience choice for Carson, who was bringing her message directly to public audiences with speeches such as this one. And her message warned that citizens could not rely on many of the authoritative sources of information on the dangers of pesticides, from the federal government to professional organizations.
    It is my conviction that if we automatically call in the spray planes or reach for the aerosol bomb when we have an insect control problem we are resorting to crude methods of a rather low scientific order. We are being particularly unscientific when we fail to press forward with research that will give us the new kinds of weapons we need. Such weapons now exist -- brilliant and imaginative prototypes of what I trust will be the insect control methods of the future…. Research men at the Department of Agriculture have told me privately that some of the methods that they have developed and tested and turned over to the insect control branch have been quietly put on the shelf. 
    Here's what you can learn from this pivotal speech:
    • Give the audience your inside view. What's the real problem? Yes, eagles were dying and food crops were tainted. But after years of working in government and armed with her scientific knowledge and observations, Carson knew that a major barrier to change was a system full of conflicts of interest in the production and regulation of pesticides--conflicts that benefited industry. She told her listeners that the American Medical Association was referring its physician members to a pesticide trade association when they needed answers to patients' questions about the harmful effects of insect sprays, and raised questions about scientific societies and universities taking donations or research funding from the same industry groups. Those conflicts would otherwise have been invisible to her listeners.
    • If your topic is technical, make your words universal: There's not a word in this speech that dumbs down the topic, yet it's understandable and clear. Carson doesn't resort to her profession's jargon, but puts the issue in terms anyone can understand.
    • Make a bold call for action that solves the problem: Carson significantly called for an independent environmental agency, since pesticides in her day were regulated by the Department of Agriculture, which also had a mission to support the industry and the farmers that used its products. Today, the EPA has no parent agency, an important accomplishment that came a decade after Carson called for it. Getting citizens to understand why that independence is important made this speech a first step toward the goal.
    • Give your listeners something they can do: Carson, ever the scientist, gave her listeners the best tool to guard against these conflicts: Questions they should ask.Her conclusion for the speech: "As you listen to the present controversy about pesticides, I recommend that you ask yourself--Who speaks?--And Why?"
    There's no recording of this speech that I could find, but here's a video tribute to Carson that will show you more photos of her at work, and give you a sense of her accomplishment. She died of breast cancer the year after this speech was given, in her late 50s, but her words still shape our world: As I was writing this post, I heard a report on new research showing that women's exposure to pesticides can impact their children's IQs.



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    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    Are you quoting the King James Bible in your speeches?

    There's every chance that, when you give a speech or presentation, you're quoting from a 400-year-old reference book that you probably didn't even pick up or look at. That's how ingrained the language from the King James bible is in English-speaking cultures. This line-by-line reworking by nearly 50 scholars in the 1600s isn't in everyday, but elegant, phrasings that are loaded with metaphors that still resonate today.

    From NPR's coverage of the King James Version (KJV) anniversary, experts point out that you're not necessarily making a religious reference when you quote from this historic work:
    The King James is woven into our lives. It was read in churches and family devotionals for centuries, and today its language laces hundreds of everyday phrases. Consider: "How the mighty are fallen" (Samuel 1:19), and "Can a leopard change its spot?" (Jeremiah 13:23), and "The writing is on the wall" (Daniel 5: 5/6), and "The blind leading the blind" (Matthew 15:14). "These phrases have become part and parcel then of the general usage in the English language," says [Baylor University's David Lyle] Jeffrey. "We do not recognize them any longer perhaps as biblical unless we have a pretty good memory for the language of the KJV."
    The NPR story includes a list of dozens of phrases that are likely to have first appeared in English in the KJV, from "in the twinkling of an eye" to "skin of your teeth."   It also looks at some famous speeches, including Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and President Bill Clinton's remarks after the Oklahoma City bombing, which drew inspiring language from this elegant work. If you're not familiar with it, take the time to explore its phrasings.

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    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    Tina Fey: Use improv skills, not apologies, to jump in

    NPR Fresh Air host Terry Gross interviewed Tina Fey last week about her new memoir, Bossypants,and the discussion turned to how women speak and interject--or don't--in their everyday interactions. Fey says she learned how to avoid sounding apologetic with some improvisation skills she learned early in her comedic career. Gross brought up the topic, noting:
    ...you describe some of the rules of improv. And one of them is, you know, make statements. Don't ask questions, and put the onus on the other person to come up with something. You come up with something, give it to them, and then they have to react with something....Were you ever in that category of speaking in apologetic questions and having to be more assertive, or speaking all the time in statements that sound like questions?
    Ms. FEY: Hopefully, I don't really have that behavior - that kind of...
    GROSS: Exactly.
    Ms. FEY: Once again, I'm maybe a little on the old side? I think that became standard issue in the late '80s. I don't know. I mean, I'm a shy person. And so I definitely learned in those early improv classes to initiate, and to step forward. And you learn so much in those classes because you also, eventually - once you get better at improv, you learn like, you know, when do you step forward? A great - you know - thing, an improv Olympic thing, I think, too -which is another improv - you know, you ask - when you're teaching, you ask improvisers who have been a couple classes in, a couple sessions, whatever you say - here's a question: When do you enter a scene? And people say: Well, when you have an idea. No.When do you enter a scene? When you think of something funny to say. No. And the answer is: When do you enter a scene is when someone needs you. You're only to enter when someone needs you. And so if you feel - if you're observing the scene and you feel it start to lull, or if someone in the scene refers to something that it would be beneficial to see. And so it's this great mindset of contributing, but as a group. You never just come in - I mean, people do because you always make mistakes in the practice of it - but come in just because that scene looks fun and I want to be in it, too, or I've got a great idea for a loud character that could enter this scene.
    Would that work for you if you're trying to sound less apologetic or trying to interject in a meeting? Leave your thoughts in the comments. You can read the transcript of the interview with Tina Fey here, and listen to it here.


    Related posts:  How do I establish credibility as a speaker when my age and looks work against me? with tips on making your voice sound more decisive


    Do you auto-apologize? Time to take a "sorry" audit

    7 ways to dive in with effective interruptions in meetings and discussions

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    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Roger Ebert rethinks public speaking without a voice of his own

    Most of us take for granted how we sound when we speak, and don't like hearing our own voices recorded. But what if you lost your voice permanently?  You'd miss it, says film critic Roger Ebert, a self-described "motor mouth" who lost the ability to speak naturally due to cancer surgery. That hasn't stopped his public speaking, however. Ebert's TED talk, "Remaking My Voice," looks at how the presence or absence of a voice affects the speaker, and how he had to completely reconsider speaking.

    You can't just listen to the audio on this one, because Ebert makes full use of the other communications tools at his disposal: Gestures and facial expressions. He also uses other readers, including his wife Chaz, since he's found that the electronic voice he can use through his computer is monotonous to listeners (and continues to gesture while they are speaking). You'll note that most of them read from a text, an important nod to the fact that these are not their words, but his. Near the end, Chaz cries as she reads his words about how people treat him when they assume things about his disability, and she notes, "You should never let your wife read something like this." It's an amazing moment--the silent speaker and his substitute doing the crying as she speaks for him. But you'll laugh more than cry watching this, and he concludes, "I have a voice, and I do not need to scream."

    The talk also ponders what it's like to feel disconnected from the audience, and his efforts to find an electronic voice that was based on recordings of his own voice, from thousands of hours of audio and video recordings--and you'll hear some samples of that famous voice.In the process, he teaches us important lessons about why intonation, phrasing and cadence are so vital to speaking. You'll want to make full use of these tools after watching someone do without them, just one insight I took away from this unusual and moving TED talk, which coincidentally occurred during Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness month.


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    Monday, April 18, 2011

    Audition for a TED Talk: Entries due April 24

    If you've dreamed of giving a TED talk, here's good news: TED is inviting you to submit a short video that might lead to your giving a real TED talk, in its first public auditions.

    The TED (short for technology-education-design) conference and  its spin-offs feature short speeches that push unusual ideas, and this audition also is seeking creative formats for your talk. The ideas shared on the TED blog are ideas you can borrow for a regular presentation as well as your TED audition:
    Imagine:- a ‘slide-blizzard,’ a presentation containing more images than words- a talk accompanied by an imaginative soundtrack- a talk given in front of a custom-animated movie- clever ‘choreography’ between a speaker’s words and what we see on-screen- improv / audience interaction- intense campfire-style storytelling- a brilliant performance (music, spoken-word, dance … surprise us!)- a rant delivered at blitzkrieg pace, an intelligent comic routine, a mystery- a remarkable new invention- or… just an amazingly good classic TED talk with an ingenious ‘idea worth spreading’
    Here's the process: You make a one-minute video to show how you speak and any creative format you choose, and upload it to YouTube or Vimeo. Then send a link to your video along with an application. Speakers chosen from the video auditions will get to give their TED talks in front of a live audience of TED staffers and their invitees. Your one-minute video is due April 25, 2011 by 11:59 pm Eastern time. Check out the blog post for the full schedule.

    And if you enter, keep us posted! You'll find useful tips on video for speakers below.

    Related posts:  What video can do to help you get that speaking gig

    When you're seen in HD: New on-camera tips

    8 things to look for when your speech is recorded



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    Friday, April 15, 2011

    Famous Speech Friday: Sojourner Truth: "Ain't I a Woman?"

    Many's the week when I've had trouble finding text of a famous speech by a woman, let alone a video or audio recording. But I don't think there's a better example of  how spotty the record of women's public speaking has been in our history than this one: Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" speech from the mid-19th century. And that isn't just because of the date in question. We really don't know what she said, as oft-quoted and -taught as this speech is.

    A former slave who renamed herself and worked as an abolitionist and public speaker at a time when women in general were often forbidden to speak in public, Truth's most famous speech has had a few "authoritative" versions published. None of them agree. The rhetorical device it's most lauded for--the repetition of "Ain't I a woman?"--doesn't appear at all in the first recorded account. Truth herself could not write, and often dictated her recollections of events or speeches, but not in this case.

    This happened more than once to Truth. Some of her most famous lines were later attributed to men and recast as clever and impromptu remarks. (If you've ever heard a speaker say, after a lovely introduction, "I can hardly wait to hear what I have to say," you can credit that to Truth, for example.) And, at the same time, this was a woman who remade herself, her name and often, her age.

    Here's the first version of the speech, recorded by a newspaperman and abolitionist in 1851, soon after the women's convention in Ohio where she spoke; he noted at the time that it was "impossible" to record it accurately. Truth was trying to note that privileges extended to white women of the day, and to men, weren't shared with her:
    I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a woman's rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that? I have heard much about the sexes being equal. I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it. I am as strong as any man that is now. As for intellect, all I can say is, if a woman have a pint, and a man a quart – why can't she have her little pint full? You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much, – for we can't take more than our pint'll hold. The poor men seems to be all in confusion, and don't know what to do. Why children, if you have woman's rights, give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they won't be so much trouble. I can't read, but I can hear. I have heard the bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well, if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again. The Lady has spoken about Jesus, how he never spurned woman from him, and she was right. When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha came to him with faith and love and besought him to raise their brother. And Jesus wept and Lazarus came forth. And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and the woman who bore him. Man, where was your part? But the women are coming up blessed be God and a few of the men are coming up with them. But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard.
    Women later added the "ain't I a woman?" phrase repeated throughout the short talk, and recorded it in a Southern dialect, even though Truth had been raised in New York state, spoke Dutch through most of her youth and didn't use a Southern accent or style of speaking. Facts ranging from the number of her children and the  mood of the audience hearing this speech were changed or exaggerated. These later versions of the speech were widely published again and again, and became the accepted version, despite the lack of evidence. They also formed the basis for Truth's image and legacy. If that's not an argument for taking charge of your speaker image, I don't know what is.

    Truth made public speaking her career, and knew some of the leading thinkers and orators of her day. But in pursuing speaking opportunities, she faced plenty of resistance. Hecklers tried to keep her off the program by claiming she was really a man, a common challenge at that time, as no woman could be expected to speak so well as a man.  At one appearance in 1858, Truth, in the face of suggestions she was a man, opened her blouse and bared her breasts to the audience. If all that surprises you, it's important to note that at this time, Harriet Beecher Stowe--the bestselling author of the day, and one who herself reinterpreted Truth's famous speech--sometimes had to let her husband give her talk for her while she sat in the gallery, on her own book tour.

    The Sojourner Truth Institute has a wealth of information on Truth and her ill-recorded but much-lauded record of public speaking for you to explore more. I wish I had a recording for you. This would have been a great famous speech to hear in its true form.

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    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Using poetry in a speech to add color, connection

    Lots of speakers talk about being poetic, or giving epic talks. But should you actually use poetry when you speak to achieve that effect? I've got two recent real-life examples to get you started.

    William L. Fox, president of St. Lawrence University, stumbled upon using poetry in speeches--and now makes a point of it. In this essay, "Speaking Through Verse," he describes the impromptu decision to recite a poem during his remarks to a group of the university's alumni, gathered on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, a dramatic setting. He said:
    ....I abandoned for a few moments my talking points. The Langston Hughes poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” which I knew by heart, came to mind, so I recited it, thinking it would connect me with my fellow Laurentians, and connect us all to the location. An excerpt:
    I've known rivers:
    Ancient, dusky rivers.

    My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
    I was pleased at the positive reception my impromptu recitation received on that summer night, so I decided to carry with me poems appropriate for other, similar occasions, poems that would help alumni and others connect with the University in a new way....It’s a way for people to hear something they don’t hear during their work day, something different from the press of business or the political swirl of the moment.
    Another way to consider using poetry in a speech is to watch a real poet do it. Spoken-word poet Sarah Kay performs two poems--at the very start and the very end--in her TED talk  "If I should have a daughter," shown below. Listen for cadence, words that move her forward, and the words that lend themselves to expressive gesture. These poems draw you in immediately, and leave you wanting more. Both of them got standing ovations:



    You might not be a poet yourself, nor a student of poetry. So what should you keep in mind about using poetry in a speech?
    • Have a plan: Fox puts poetry to work aforethought, using it to make connections and evoke emotions in alumni returning to campus. His poetry choices are based on the place, the event, the memory or experience he wants to evoke. In this approach, the poem is both shorthand--a way of quickly summing up a big thought--and seductive, drawing the listener in and making her pause and think.
    • Don't let us check out: You can do it as Fox does--with poems that aren't universally well-known, which  means you need to listen to what's coming next--or as Kay does, with original work of her own. Either way, make sure you don't reach for the best-known poem on your topic. Your audience will thank you. (And in Fox's case, his audience members suggest other poems to him, a great sign of their engagement and attention.)
    • Make it sing:  Kay's expressive gestures and vocalizing make her poems three-dimensional, gripping to watch as well as to hear. Poems stir emotion, divulge secrets, share different viewpoints, draw back a curtain. So help them do that with your voice, gestures, and tone.
    • Memorize--or use notes: As Fox notes in his essay, reciting poems from memory is a by-gone skill once drilled into young people. So if your memory for a poem isn't as sharp or practiced, by all means, carry the text with you. (That's a great use for a Kindle, by the way, when you're speaking--your Kindle can hold thousands of poems and entire collections, ready for sampling.)
    Do you use poetry in your speeches? Tell us how in the comments, and share some favorite poems that work for you when speaking.


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    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    What can video do to help you get that speaking gig? An organizer's tips

    (Editor's note: Sarah Milstein, co-author of The Twitter Book and general manager of the Web 2.0 Expo, is a reader of this blog who has prompted some of our most-read and useful posts. Over a recent lunch, I urged her to share why she uses videos to choose her program speakers. This post does not disappoint: It has the straightforward advice and inside view she's so good at sharing. Learn from these practical tips, based on real needs of conference organizers. I've added only boldfacing to emphasize a few points.)

    I organize and program a few large conferences, including Web 2.0 Expo, for which we require prospective speakers to submit video of themselves speaking. Now, nobody but Donald Trump likes the way they look on camera, and video is a little bit of a pain to capture. Why do we require it? And when you come across a conference organizer that asks for it, what should you do?

    We require video because we care about presentation style--will this person connect with our audience?--and nothing else gives us even a sliver of a hint of how the proposed speaker will appear to audiences. Sometimes, a good writer turns out to be a lousy presenter. More often, a PR person writes and submits a proposal on behalf of a speaker--who may not even know about the submission--and then we really get no representative info. Video helps overcome all of that.

    In seeking good communicators, we're not necessarily looking for classic presentation skills. Indeed, some of the most compelling videos we've seen were shorts that people made for us and that included title cards or walking-through-busy-NY-streets or funny interstitials. Without the usual tools, they did a good job of connecting and telling us that the presenters were thoughtful communicators. Of course, we've seen lots of good videos that simply put the speaker in front of a camera and let 'em rip for 120 seconds.

    So what to do if video is required of you? A few tips:
    1. If you have an existing, strong video of yourself presenting at another conference, use it! Make sure the link is live and there isn't ten minutes of intro material before you appear (if there is, edit it down and repost). Also, if the video shows you as part of a panel, and you speak only occasionally or don't appear until minute 18, that won't help your cause. Similarly, if the video is a TV interview you did where you appear stiff or say very little, start fresh.
    2. If you have an upcoming presentation, and the conference is going to capture video, ask how quickly you can get a copy (or a link to it). If they're not filming, consider having an associate sit in front and make a video of you using a Flipcam or camera phone.
    3. No upcoming engagements? No problem. In fact, the ability to make a video is a real democratizer because it means you don't need previous speaking experience. Simply use your Flipcam or phone to make a video of yourself pitching your idea in two to three minutes (or whatever the conference requires).
    4. Practice a few times first so that you can give the pitch with a tone that's both relaxed and energetic. Depending on the conference, you probably don't need to go crazy with hair/makeup/wardrobe or appearing before an impressively well-ordered bookcase. But don't draw the wrong kind of attention with stained sweatpants and a background of dirty laundry (both of which we've seen); those sorts of careless touches, like typos in a written proposal, suggest you won't give our attendees the sort of careful consideration they deserve.
    Finally, see if you can deliver your pitch with a genuine, friendly smile. We want to connect with you, and your facial expressions affect us!

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    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Share your public speaking quest: What are you seeking on this blog?

     started this blog to fill a gap I kept finding about women and public speaking. Women weren't featured enough on programs, their words weren't always preserved and in many periods of history, they were prevented from speaking. So I went in search of good public speaking advice, plus research and information about why women's public speaking challenges might be different than those that men face.

    Since starting the blog, I've had lots of nice feedback from readers and from my trainees, who use the blog as an ongoing source of follow-up advice after our training and coaching sessions in public speaking and presenting, here in Washington, DC and all over the world. Many readers are speechwriters and speaker coaches seeking to learn more about the women with whom they work.

    But new readers join our discussions every day, here on the blog, via email, in the free monthly newsletter Step Up Your Speaking, on Twitter, and on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. And I know enough to know that I can't imagine all the ideas, questions and challenges you've come here with.

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

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

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

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

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    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Famous Speech Friday: Geraldine Ferraro's 1984 acceptance speech


    Geraldine Ferraro died last month, and in death, her accomplishments sounded just as historic as they were when they happened--but with the benefit of history. Her acceptance speech for the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 1984 may seem late in coming. But while many women had run for president before her, she was the first woman nominated by a major party for the vice-presidential role, as Walter Mondale's running mate. Not until Sarah Palin's nomination two dozen years later was that repeated.

    In many ways, the nation wasn't ready for her, and yet her persistence helped set precedents and markers for thousands of other women. Today, we are still marveling when a female member of Congress talks about her own abortion on the floor of the House of Representatives. Ferraro paved that road, while tackling a grueling speaking schedule. From her obituary:
    For the first time, a major candidate for national office talked about abortion with the phrase “If I were pregnant,” or about foreign policy with the personal observation “As the mother of a draft-age son....” She wore pearls and silk dresses and publicly worried that her slip was showing. She also traveled a 55,000-mile campaign trail, spoke in 85 cities and raised $6 million.
    From coverage of her funeral:
    Mr. Mondale said that the path Ms. Ferraro took was not an easy one. During a vice-presidential debate, “George Bush offered to explain to her foreign policy,” Mr. Mondale recalled. “Every day, she was patronized in a way not experienced by male candidates. If they ever make another movie about true grit, it should be about Gerry"....There were two women in the Senate when Ms. Ferraro became the vice-presidential candidate, Mr. Mondale said; there are 17 now, along with 77 in the House, 6 governors and 1,700 state legislators. Ms. Ferraro’s candidacy “took down the men-only sign at the White House,” said Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat. “Gerry was a force of nature, a powerhouse. She did change the way we women thought about ourselves in American politics.”
    Bush also addressed her as "Mrs. Ferraro" throughout their debate, despite her standing as a former member of Congress, which should have called for addressing her as "Congresswoman" or "Representative." Reporters questioned whether, as a woman, she could "push the button" to start a nuclear attack.

    But all that came after her acceptance speech, which is why--in retrospect and in the history books--it looms large. That night was all about hope, possibilities and connecting with her party's base. Ferraro did that by talking about herself as part of her family:
    Tonight, the daughter of a woman whose highest goal was a future for her children talks to our nation's oldest party about a future for us all. Tonight, the daughter of working Americans tells all Americans that the future is within our reach, if we're willing to reach for it. Tonight, the daughter of an immigrant from Italy has been chosen to run for President in the new land my father came to love. Our faith that we can shape a better future is what the American dream is all about.
    Looking back, many would say she played it safe in this speech--and there were scores of critiques about this speech and her debate, saying she was too masculine in her style and too traditional. It's tough being first. Today's listener should keep in mind that when the occasion is historic, the speech doesn't need to overreach. It just needs to fulfill the goal, and let the occasion do the talking.

    Later in her career, Ferraro shared her battle with the teleprompter (a new technology in her day) and how it affected this acceptance speech. (You'll note in this partial video of her speech that she refers to written notes more comfortably.)  And more recently, she caused a foment during the 2008 campaign by criticizing Barack Obama and suggesting that Hillary Clinton had been treated unfairly in the campaign, not a "safe" stance at all.  None of that takes away from what made this speech famous: The first time a woman could say these words for real. Here's the video:



    (Photo from drewsaunders photostream on Flickr)

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    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    Slide into these cool presentation tools

    Into each work life, some slides must, well, slide. But you can make the most of them with this collection of updates:

    1. Slide them out to the world: This post on how to become a SlideShare marketing master will help you take full advantage, from how to format your slides to tagging and other keys to making sure they get shared.
    2. Slide into the class consciousness: PowerPoint offers this 5-minute makeover for your class presentations to add video, images and other ways to engage the audience.
    3. Slide on a smaller screen: Using an iPad to present? Check out these 3 useful iPad apps to help you give better presentations.
    4. Slide past the static image: If you want to get beyond a static slide, here's a tutorial on creating impressive video presentations in PowerPoint--including how to size them for later emailing.

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    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    For Thursday: Step Up Your Speaking newsletter

    Are you conflicted or hesitant about being emotional when you speak? Whether you're tearful, angry, happy or sad, emotion colors your speaking and can contribute to--or take away from--your impact on and connection with the audience.

    That's the focus of the next edition of my free email newsletter, Step Up Your Speaking, out on Thursday this week. If you're not a subscriber,  now's a good time to sign up and to share this with your colleagues and friends. This issue will cover advantages and disadvantages of emotional speaking--including tears while speaking--in ways I know you'll find useful. Use the links below to subscribe.

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    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Panelists: Is that the way you look?

    When I'm training a team presentation, a set of panelists, or just an individual speaker who's going to be on a panel, I use a time-honored training tactic. While one person is at the lectern speaking and the rest of the panel is waiting to speak, I train the video camera not on the person  speaking, but on the waiting panelists.

    For this exercise, no one actually gets to see himself speaking--just waiting to speak. And those silent behaviors of panelists speak volumes. Eyes roll at the statements with which they disagree, or they make faces at the audience. We see only the tops of their heads (and sometimes, their bald spots) while they surreptitiously check email or tweet. Yawns, doodling, hair-twirling, finger-tapping, and bored consideration of the ceiling and its delights all happen.

    Here's the thing to keep in mind: You may not think you're "on" until you are speaking, but if you're not paying attention to how you look while you're waiting to speak, you're giving the audience an unintended preview. It's one more reason to embrace video practice (and my list of what to look for when you're recorded as a speaker).  But to help you really improve, here are my suggestions for the panelists-in-waiting:
    • Use active listening: Turn your attention to the person speaking, visibly. You can look away to pen a note to yourself, but focus on that speaker--that way, your eyes aren't sending other messages to the audience. Practically speaking, it means you can better inform your own remarks. From an optics viewpoint, you'll look attentive and respectful. Far better than rolling your eyes or drumming your fingers. Want to scan the audience? Smile while you do so.
    • Breathe and relax:  You're not speaking, but you can use this time to breathe (inhale and exhale through your nose to make this less visible). You'll lower your tension level, stay calm and feel better prepared once your turn comes up.
    • Control your hands: You can lean forward slightly on your elbows and lace your fingers together to keep them under control, if you have fidgety fingers (and practice that breathing). Be sure you aren't inadvertently gesturing or moving--it will be distracting to the audience.
    • Consider the table, or lack thereof: Skirted tables for panels were created precisely because panelists also fidget from the waist down. Be sure to notice, however, whether you have any screen between you and the audience. If not--perhaps when the entire panel is seated in chairs--cross your legs or otherwise position them comfortably and correctly. Remember that pointing a shoe at the audience is as offensive as pointing a finger. 
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    Monday, April 4, 2011

    Get a new view of The Eloquent Woman blog

    Google gave Blogger a new look, with several options for how you get to see this blog--as well as any other on the most-popular blogging platform. The new options are for readers to choose, but you need to know where to find them so you can embed them in your reader, bookmarks or other pointers. All of the new choices are more visual, with some offering many more links in list form so you can scan more previous posts.

    Here's how to see your choices: Go to http://eloquentwoman.blogspot.com/view/mosaic to check out my favorite option, "mosaic," then use the upper-right button to switch to flipcard, sidebar, snapshot and timeslide versions.) You'll need a modern browser for this one: IE8, Chrome, etc. Watch the Blogger video to see examples of others' blogs with the new views, and leave word in the comments about which view suits you best.



    Let me know what you think of these new options. Which one is your favorite?

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    Friday, April 1, 2011

    Famous Speech Friday: Reps. Jackie Speier and Gwen Moore

    In a heated debate and a highly formalized setting, when you have no time to prepare anything else, would you throw away your remarks? That's what Rep. Jackie Speier of California's 12th district did last month on the floor of the U.S. Congress.

    But that's not why her speech became famous. She used her brief allotted time to speak about her own abortion, during a heated debate over an amendment to take funding away from Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit, for its women's health and sex education services. (Interestingly, abortion services were not the subject of the amendment, although the debate included discussion of unwanted pregnancies.)

    The House was in hour three of its debate on the amendment, attached to one of the continuing resolutions extending the U.S. federal government budget. Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey's 4th district had just spoken in support of the amendment. Speier then requested time to speak and was given five minutes to do so. Here's how she began:
    I had planned to speak about something else, but the gentleman from New Jersey has just put my stomach in knots.  I'm one of those women he spoke about just now. I had a procedure at 17 weeks, pregnant with a child that had moved from the vagina into the cervix. And that procedure that you just talked about was the procedure that I endured. I lost a baby. But for you to stand on this floor, and suggest, as you have, that somehow this is a procedure that is welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous.
    Speier then pointed out that abortion and other services offered by the nonprofit were legal under current U.S. law, and in a series of anaphora statements, repeated "Planned Parenthood has a right to..." as she enumerated its services. She compared attacks on the nonprofit with a hypothetical attack that might be mounted on Halliburton, a major defense contractor--but have not been. She concluded: "I would suggest to you that it would serve us all very well if we moved on with this process and started focusing on creating jobs for the Americans who desperately want them. I yield back." Her statement took all of 3 minutes and 14 seconds.



    She was followed by Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin's fourth district, also speaking against the amendment. Moore described being a teenage mother, having her first baby:
    I'm really touched by the passion of the opposite, you know, to want to save black babies. I know a lot about having black babies, I've had three of them. And I had my first one when I was 18 years old, at the ripe old age of 18. [Interruptions] I thank you for that courtesy, Madam Chair. I had my first baby at the ripe old age of 18, an unplanned pregnancy. And let me tell you, I went into labor unfortunately on New Year's eve, and I had not even one dime--phone calls cost a dime at that time. I didn't have a phone in my phone in my home and didn't ahve a dime to go to the phone booth to call an ambulance...an ambulance which is a waste of money, using Medicaid dollars. But I didn't have a car and didn't have cab fare....I just want to tell you a little bit about what it's like not to have planned parenthood. You have to add water to the formula. You have to give your kids ramen noodles at the end of the month to fill up their little bellies so that they won't cry. You have to give them mayonnaise sandwiches.
    Here's Moore on video with her full remarks, just over 5 minutes including the interruption:


    Moore later revealed that having that first baby at 18 kept her from attending Radcliffe, part of Harvard University.

    Both these speeches went viral on the web and were broadcast on numerous news programs, gaining both women a wider audience than they might otherwise have expected. What worked with these speeches?
    • They spoke for themselves: In the face of debate arguments that made sweeping generalizations about pregnant women and their choices, each women told her own story and refuted the arguments with specific details based on real experience. 
    • Conformity to the rules: When you're testifying before a legislature or actually working in one, the rules determine all. You win no points--and may lose your chance for impact--by going overtime or behaving inappropriately. Both these representatives contained their remarks appropriately, and Moore handled the chatter on the floor smoothly, letting the presiding officer handle it and thanking her before resuming her remarks.
    • The formal language of debate: The personal nature of these remarks is in high relief against the formal language of the Congress. Think: "the gentleman from New Jersey has just put my stomach in knots." Formal titles, phrasing and requisite language about time and ceding time all help to subtly remind the listener that important business is being conducted and that rules do apply to the speeches.
    • The personal stories no one else can tell: What so many found compelling about the remarks of both women were their personal stories--and I always encourage women looking to find their own voices to tell the personal stories that are the most difficult to tell, because they're the most compelling and riveting. No one else can tell your stories as effectively as you can--and best of all, you'll rarely need notes for them.
    • The rhythms of rhetoric: Formal rhetorical devices are not unusual in the halls of Congress, and both women used anaphora, a figure of speech that repeats words or phrases to effect. The rhetoric adds another type of structure to the remarks, so that even the unplanned Speier speech had the ring of a serious speech.

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