Thursday, June 30, 2011

June's top 10 public speaking tips and issues

This month's popular posts bloomed like a mixed bouquet, with all the types of information we like best at The Eloquent Woman: preparation tips, inspiring women speakers to steal ideas from, wardrobe tips, language considerations and more. Here are the most-read posts of the month:
  1. "The perfect preparation:" A downloadable checklist for the whole speaker was far and away the month's most popular post. It's got a 2-page free download of questions to ask yourself before any speaking situation, from small meeting to big speech. Please do share this link with your friends and colleagues.
  2. Famous Speech Friday: Sheryl Sandberg's Barnard commencement address is a recent talk with a strong message for women. Learn from this effective, smart speaker.
  3. Wardrobe lessons from a woman who packed only underwear for TED will wow you with its color and humor--but a serious message is underlying those layers of clothing. A strong example of making your wardrobe deliver your message.
  4. The sushi of speaking: 7 bite-sized ideas to get you speech-ready revised a classic post from the vault so it's updated to get you ready to speak. I like to take this list with me to speaking gigs--great last-minute reminders.
  5. Famous Speech Friday: Susan B. Anthony's "Is it a crime for a U.S. citizen to vote?", another May post, kept going strong this month. Seems appropriate, heading into the U.S. Independence Day holiday...
  6. Why speakers should use the invisible visual, a late-breaking May post, suggests you trade slides for language that will help your listeners "see" your image in their minds. A powerful, underused tactic.
  7. May's top 10 public speaking tips were catch-up reading for many of you this month.
  8. From the vault: How to introduce yourself without bragging replaces any embarrassment you may feel with concrete, practical ways to make yourself known. Try these ideas!
  9. 4 ways to plan a panel to delight the audience has some of the simplest ideas...and rarest. We'd all have happier audiences if panels stuck to these four simple rules.
  10. Famous Speech Friday: Rose Schneiderman on the Triangle Fire is one of the shortest speeches featured on this blog--and one of the most powerful. 100 years old this year, it still resonates.
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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Do women really speak more than men? Not so much.


(Editor's note: I just took a poll on Facebook, asking who speaks more in the course of a day--men, women, or neither--that is, they both speak about the same number of words.. Just one respondent knew the right answer, that both genders speak about the same number of words. Most respondents, men and women, thought women speak more words than men. So I think it's time to re-run this piece on the durable myths about women and speaking.)

You've heard them. You may have even repeated them and believed them. But it's time to slay these 4 myths about women and public speaking. They're not only falsehoods you shouldn't repeat, they're a way to discourage women from speaking up in public -- probably the reason they came into use in the first place.
  1. Women talk more than men do.  This one has been used for years to embarrass women into silence. Reserchers note that the gap's been described as huge, with some estimates saying that women speak 20,000 words a day but men speak just 7,000. But research shows that women and men speak about the same number of words every day, on average: 16,000.  The difference? Men prefer to use "report talk" and speak publicly; women prefer "rapport talk" that builds relationships and is mainly one-on-one, according to linguist Deborah Tannen.
  2. We can't find any women qualified to be speakers (or, we only want the best speakers).  Cancer researcher and university administrator Elizabeth Travis notes that this is one way women are challenged and put on the defensive in program committee meetings.  It's not a numbers issue:  Even in professions where women dominate, they often are still in the minority as speakers on professional society conference programs, research shows.  Historically, efforts to keep women from speaking in public were blatant and noticeable; today, it may have gone underground, but it's still a barrier.
  3. Women get ignored in meetings because they aren't as good at men at speaking up.  In fact, women can be just as effective as men in communicating, yet their points are more frequently ignored--or claimed by others as their own. When they speak up, women are viewed negatively. From a book that offers an exhaustive study of men's and women's behavior and language in meetings: "Study after study has found that, when other variables are controlled (education, expertise, etc.), women are responded to more negatively than men as measured by facial expression, gaze behavior, individual evaluations, and decision reached in task-based groups."  In this case, the myth belies an underlying attitude that's tough to shake.  Some research on how women leaders are perceived suggests that women can be competent or likeable, but not both.
  4. It's women's speaking style that sets them back--they're too emotional and not tough enough.  This myth has pushed many women in public life into mimicking a traditional male style of speaking: louder, more forceful, less emotional.  In fact, what rhetoric refers to as the "effeminate" speaking style is the one successfully employed by the U.S. presidents considered to be among the best speakers:  Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  But, as Kathleen Hall Jamieson points out, women's natural speaking style is a double-edge sword. She writes that "only a person whose credibility is firm can risk adopting a style traditionally considered weak." So as long as women are discredited as speakers, they'll ironically have a tougher time succeeding with the style that comes naturally to them.
I hope you'll start countering these myths when you see or hear them--it's a step we all can take to level the playing field for all speakers.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

4 ways to plan a panel to delight the audience

A great panel shouldn't so surprising. But because so many speakers and organizers fail to prepare for delighting the audience, the truly delightful panels are few and far between. Far more common are panels that use up the listeners' goodwill and then some. Fortunately, planning a great panel and pulling it off is well within reach--just four basic factors will get you there, with the bonus that its rarity means yours will be a real standout. Here's how:
  1. Ban the bio-reading:  Use creative tactics for introducing your speakers, and forbid the reading of bios. Use our When you introduce the speaker: Take 5 post to guide you.
  2. Watch the clock: By that, I mean start and end on time. Don't say to speakers, "Just take 5 to 10 minutes." Is it 5 or is it 10? That can mean the difference between an on-time performance and an over-long panel. While you're at it, make sure your moderator doesn't let one speaker run on, leaving the others to rush through their remarks...or go overtime.
  3. Prefer the audience's speaking time: Audience members will always ask the best questions and the questions you couldn't possibly anticipate--and they came to play. So make sure to give them time to speak and ask questions. Want to really delight them? Let audience questions open the session.
  4. Focus and limit: Inviting too many speakers is the surest way to disappoint your audience, since it means neither speakers nor listeners will have enough time. Got too many great folks? Figure out how to make two panels, do part 1 and part 2 panels, or just get choosy.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

From the vault: How to introduce yourself without bragging

(Editor's note: I've updated this classic post and made it more comprehensive, so it's more of an all-in-one you can use to shape how you meet your audience.)

It's one thing when you're introduced by someone else. But what if you have to introduce yourself?

This isn't as rare as it may seem. In many of my professional organizations, time is set aside for a round-robin of self introductions, as in "Let's each introduce ourselves briefly to the group before our speaker begins." In this case, audience members are introducing themselves. If you're the main speaker, you may need to fill in if the moderator, host or organizer is out of the room or otherwise absent. In many ways, I find it preferable to introduce myself, but it takes some finesse. Here's how to handle making yourself known to a group:
  • Dial it down just enough: When someone else introduces you, it's fine for them to emphasize your big award or recent honorific. Just don't do it yourself, unless you do so obliquely. You'll score bigger points if you summarize your credentials succinctly and sparingly. If you know ahead of time that you'll be doing a self-introduction, make sure the audience has a printed bio--also short--or that you've supplied the group with a short standard bio to post online.
  • Take charge of your intro: Use humor, be selective, and chisel those introductory words to explain why you're here today--immediately, you'll stand out. At a networking meeting, being precise about what you're looking for today sets up instant topics of conversation for you.
  • Crowdsource your bio: For the brave and well-friended, ask your audience to help you. Pick three colleagues (ideally, prep them ahead of time) and ask them to say one reason the group should know you....or one thing they should know about you.
  • Reflect your audience: Taking an informal show-of-hands poll of the audience is an excellent way to get your group's attention in many situations. If you start with a poll before you introduce yourself, you'll look confident--and can use what you glean from the respondents to share information about yourself, keying what you say about yourself to the group's mood and preferences.
  • Get serious about your introductions: On the don't get caught blog, I share how to write a suite of introductions of varying lengths. You'll want these to provide to anyone introducing you--and one of them should be written in case you have to use it about yourself.
And, as always, be brief and relevant. If you're speaking about an area where you have a particular experience, share it...briefly. Use your introduction to connect to your audience and they'll thank you for introducing yourself.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

The quest to find women's speeches: 23 Famous Speech Fridays

Some readers think that the Famous Speech Friday series was created to inspire, teach history, or offer an excuse for speech analysis. But in fact the series, and its predecessors – like our top women speakers series – are really here for just one reason. Speaking coaches, speechwriters, and would-be speakers keep writing to me asking where they can find famous speeches by women. And after working to compile these series, I have a few ideas about why they're having so much trouble.

For starters, throughout our history women have been silenced for long stretches of time. As early as the marketplaces in ancient Greece and as recently as last time a man told a woman she talks too much, we are historically in the habit of preventing women from speaking in public. So for many of the time periods I research, women speakers are rare. There are exceptions during these time periods – like Susan B. Anthony, for example--but they are few and far between, and their lives are made more difficult for bucking the trend. I'd love to bring you a speech by Florence Nightingale, for example, but there aren't any I can find; like her contemporaries, she believed public speaking to be improper for a woman.

The other stumbling block: Few records of women's speeches are available, whether in written, audio or video formats. In a few precious cases, dedicated historians and librarians make some speeches by women available, although these archives and women's studies research are losing funding and not able to keep up. But try entering “famous speeches” in YouTube, or checking the list of top political speeches compiled by political scientists, and it’s tough to find a woman. I've had inquirers ask whether I know of any famous women speakers other than, or more recent than, Eleanor Roosevelt and Barbara Jordan, who are often the only two women on such lists. So we're not recording, saving or uploading women's speeches as much as men's, and we seem not to be tagging them as famous. And don't start me on the great women's speeches that can't be embedded or shared--that's why you don't see me writing about actress Nikki James's great Tony Awards acceptance speech, because the Tony Awards won't let me share it here. Conference organizers, please publish records of talks by men and women.

We're just six months into the most recent series, Famous Speech Friday. We've got a great collection started, and it's clear to me that there are lots of good speeches to bring forward. Here's a catalog of all our Famous Speech Friday posts so far, and please leave your suggestions for new entries in the comments!

Coretta Scott King's "10 Commandments on Vietnam"

Ursula K. Leguin's "Left-handed commencement address"

Hillary Clinton's concession speech

Sheila Widnall on women in engineering

Barbara Jordan's Democratic Convention keynote

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Declaration of Human Rights

Maya Angelou's eulogy for Coretta Scott King

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

Betty Friedan's call for a women's strike

Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" lectures

Lady Bird Johnson's 1964 whistlestop tour

Reps. Jackie Speier and Gwen Moore on abortion and family planning services

Geraldine Ferraro's 1984 acceptance speech

Sojourner Truth "Ain't I a Woman?"

Rachel Carson's "A New Chapter to Silent Spring"

Elizabeth II tribute to Princess Diana

Clara Barton's Andersonville testimony

Susan B. Anthony's "Is it a crime for a U.S. citizen to vote?"


Phyllis Rodriguez & Aicha el-Wafi on 9/11 forgiveness


Margaret Sanger, The Children's Era

Rose Schneiderman on the Triangle Fire

Sheryl Sandberg's Barnard commencement address

Aimee Semple McPherson's speech in a speakeasy


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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wardrobe lessons from a woman who only packed underwear for TED

Here's a TED talk that puts wardrobe front and center: Jessi Arrington talks about wearing nothing new. She showed up at the conference with underwear for the week and a suitcase, and proceeded to buy outfits at secondhand stores to illustrate the points she wanted to make. They all had to fit her, and cost less than $20.


This talk is really about living a life with less impact on the environment and about giving back--which she does twice, since she donates the clothes back at the end of the conference. But it's also a great lesson in using wardrobe as something more than what you're wearing when you speak. In this talk, her wardrobe demonstrates her point, provides the visuals for her slides, and prompts the narration (not unlike a fashion show commentary, as she walks you through the week's outfits). It's a prop, but one that moves with her. And yes, she's wearing one of the $20 outfits here. 


By making her wardrobe do double duty, Arrington underscores her points in a highly memorable way. You might do the same with a surprising wardrobe accessory, a special uniform or piece of task-oriented clothing, or literally something up your sleeve. Watch this engaging TED talk and let us know if it inspires new ideas about your speaking wardrobe.



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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Heads up, speakers: Summer Skype deal and tutorial

Speakers are using Skype not just for personal calls, but conference calling and even to "sit in" on panels at remote locations when travel isn't possible. If you're looking to practice or can anticipate more Skype-ing, take advantage of this sale: Until July 31 you can buy a year of Skype Premium (unlimited calls to U.S./Canada phone numbers) at half price ($54).

And if you're a Skype newbie, check out this useful guide to video chat from Lifehacker...then order your account with the summer sale.


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Monday, June 20, 2011

Help put The Eloquent Woman on the ForbesWoman top 100 websites for women list

ForbesWoman is looking for your thoughts on which websites belong in its top 100 websites for women. Help us put The Eloquent Woman on that list--just go to the link to share your vote. Here's what they're looking for:
The Internet provides a constant flood of content, but we hope to cut through the noise to point out the editors and writers offering perspective, insight, and valuable information for the modern woman. In our search for the best and brightest corners of the Web, we consider sites that serve as resources for women, feature outstanding design, inspire and amuse, offer active communities and publish often.
Will you help us make the list? As always, I appreciate your readership and participation!

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From the vault: Do you over-prepare for presentations?

(Here's a revised and updated post that first appeared on the blog in 2008.) A woman in one of my recent communications workshops asked, "What do you recommend for me? My problem is that I overprepare for my talks." Her choice of words labeled it a problem (perhaps because others had said that to her), but when I asked why she thinks she does that, she said, "I have to. I'm a perfectionist."

I've heard many speakers, men and women, say they overprepare before speeches. My take: It's a form of performance anxiety, stemming from a real or imagined challenger, the sense that they're not really qualified to speak as an authority, or other fears. And since nothing's perfect, the perfectionist is really setting herself up to fail, in effect. You may think it just signals your excellent intent, but it's a sign that someone will wind up disappointed.

While I'm all about preparation as the key to giving an eloquent speech or presentation, when preparation adds to the pressure you feel, it's time to revise your pre-speaking plans. Here are some tactics to try:
  • Remember that most presentations and speeches don't succeed due to nuances of content. While you're checking and re-checking your facts ahead of time, remember that the audience won't know what you left out--and you may find that leaving some facts for the Q&A is a more useful approach, anyway. 
  • Redefine what you can accomplish. Few speakers are given enough time to display every fact they know--so why feel compelled to memorize them all? Use your remarks to tell your audience the focus and scope: "There are so many issues we could consider, but today I'm going to take a close look at..." When questioners raise other issues, you can acknowledge them--but remind them of today's focus.
  • Stop over-preparing to meet your own mark: If it's for you, the perfectionist, keep in mind that you can't win that contest--in a sense, declaring your perfectionism means you'll never be good enough in your own eyes. Try this trick: Deliver your next speech without the extra preparation, and see whether anyone notices, besides yourself. If you do fine without it, why keep doing it?
  • Imagine your worst enemy in the audience: If you over-prepare because someone might rise to challenge you, use your preparation time to imagine the issues and develop some calm, thoughtful answers. I train speakers to think of the questions they want, the questions they expect and the questions they fear--and the answers for each. 
  • Put stress relief into your preparation: Taking care of the speaker is the speaker's job, so make sure you are well fed, rested and hydrated before you speak. Don't drink stimulants or beverages that will dry out your throat, like caffeine or alcohol. Step into the restroom, hallway or a nearby stairwell to stretch your arms and legs and do some deep breathing beforehand.
If you're an over-prepared speaker, consider this: The time you spend going over and over your content could be spent learning new speaker skills, like handling tough questions extemporaneously, gesturing, speaking without slides or text, and more. Leave us a comment to explain why you over-prepare, if you do, and what you've done to overcome it.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Aimee Semple McPherson's speech in a speakeasy

A pioneer in what we now call televangelism, using radio and film to spread her preaching, Aimee Semple McPherson was the first woman granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission, earning her the nickname "Our Lady of the Loudspeaker" from writer Dorothy Parker. She was so popular and visible a public speaker that she's been called "the closest thing to Oprah Winfrey in early 20th-century America," even though she died before the advent of television. She built the first megachurch, seating 5,000, in Los Angeles and filled it sometimes daily. Sister Aimee, as she was known, was a woman who wanted to be heard.

But she did more than speak and promote her Pentecostal message. Sister Aimee fed more than a million people in Los Angeles during the Great Depression and some credit her with keeping the city's Mexican population alive at that time. She welcomed black and Hispanic worshipers in an unusually diverse ministry. And she sometimes risked her reputation, with many failed marriages, rumored affairs and charges she had staged her own kidnapping.

Public radio program On Being has done a fascinating hourlong look at Sister Aimee, with a detailed site full of reference material, multimedia and transcripts. It's from host Krista Tippett's notes on the program that this famous speech comes. Contrary to her loudspeaker image, this is a quiet and legendary speech. It was summarized in The New Yorker by author John Updike in 2007, writing about a biography of the preacher:
In 1927, a month after the charges against her were dismissed in Los Angeles, she arrived in New York in furs and a yellow suit, and was taken to a prime watering spot of the Roaring Twenties, Texas Guinan's speakeasy, on Fifty-fourth Street. A reporter called out, with whatever sardonic intent, that she should be invited to speak. Guinan agreed, and, as Epstein tells it, 'Aimee, demure, dignified, stone sober … left her table and stood in the center of the dance floor, smiling until everyone was quiet.' Then she said:  'Behind all these beautiful clothes, behind these good times, in the midst of your lovely buildings and shops and pleasures, there is another life. There is something on the other side. "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" With all your getting and playing and good times, do not forget you have a Lord. Take Him into your hearts.' And that was all — a miniature masterpiece of the evangelist's art, silencing a boozy crowd in no mood to hear it. Epstein writes, 'All at once they applauded, and Tex put her arm around Aimee. The clapping went on for much longer than her speech had taken.'
What can you learn from this famous speech?

  • Surprise your critics with the unexpected: Like many women speakers, Sister Aimee's critics took a "how dare she?" tone about her promotion and prominence. This quiet and simple talk proved she was equally impressive with a small crowd and an intimate tone.
  • Don't be afraid to broadcast your words: McPherson used every tech tool available, and created a lasting legacy as a result. Unlike many famous woman speakers, we have an ample record of her speeches and sermons, including this one.
  • Preach beyond the choir: Talking to gambling drinkers in a speakeasy was not her regular approach, but Sister Aimee was reaching an important if unlikely audience--and so should you if you want to influence more than the groups that agree with you. The key: Speak to them with as much respect as the people who are already your fans.
  • Keep it brief and direct: There's no question this is a persuasive speech. Don't confuse length with effectiveness.

Here's video of Sister Aimee from a newsreel on Prohibition, to give you a sample of her speaking style. What do you think about her speaking?



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Thursday, June 16, 2011

The sushi of speaking: 7 bite-sized ideas to get you speech-ready

For some speakers, the dangers of a speech lurk in the preparation. They over-prepare for speeches, focus on the writing, or worry about potential pitfalls. In some sense, they may be biting off more than they can chew. Here's an alternative: 7 bite-sized, manageable steps you can take to get ready for your next speech. Call these the sushi of speaking: None of these will overwhelm you, and all of them will help advance your next effort.
  • Breathe. Take 10 to 20 deep breaths a few minutes before you're going to speak. (Step into a handy stairwell or restroom if you don't want to be observed.) It's a physiological way to calm your body so it responds better while you're speaking.
  • Sip. Starting an hour or two before your talk, hydrate your vocal chords. For preference, choose water rather than caffeinated beverages, and avoid alcohol if you're an after-dinner speaker. Got a cold or sore throat? Try hot water with lemon.
  • Stretch. Make sure you're limber before a speech. Stretch your arms and legs (that stairwell, again) and do some shoulder rolls and neck stretches to keep your body looking and feeling calm.
  • Re-open. You'll never have a higher level of attention than at the start of your speech, so use it. Practice your opener several times, so that you can do it without referring to your notes and make early eye contact with the audience.
  • Annotate. If you're working from a text, take the time to plan and write in stage directions to yourself: "pause here," "gesture toward audience," or just underscoring words you want to emphasize will help you add grace notes to your speech.
  • Center. Find your core, your center of gravity, and the best stance that will hold you steady when you're not moving around the stage. You want to be able to stand in a relaxed stance, without swaying or hanging on to the lectern, to look most authoritative--and to keep attention on your words.
  • Smile. Smiling helps in two ways, relaxing your mind and your body. Bring a funny picture, child's drawing, or photo that only you can see at the lectern to start your speech with a welcoming face.



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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"The perfect preparation:" A downloadable checklist for the whole speaker

"I am printing it and hanging [it] in my office!" wrote a reader when I first published my checklist for the whole speaker, designed to make you think beyond just your speech to your mindset, your physical state, your audience interactions, technology and much more. A blog for lawyers and mediators went further, saying the checklist:
...isn't just for presenters. Instead, it is the perfect preparation for nearly every client meeting, negotiation and court appearance. Before your next high-stakes meeting, answer each question, first replacing 'Audience' with Client, Judge or even Opposing Counsel. I suspect you'll gain answers that make asking the questions worthwhile.
I've subsequently annotated the checklist at the request of readers to add items for introverts, who might want to make different preparations in addition to the list. Now, the good news: I've revised and updated this useful checklist as a handout that you can use, with appropriate credit to the source. Get your free copy of the Checklist for the whole speaker -- a two-page review sheet that will make sure you're not missing anything before your next speech, face-to-face meeting, conference call, webinar or presentation. Please do share this resource with your colleagues! I welcome your feedback and would love to hear how you're putting this popular checklist to use in your own speaking.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

The all-in-one on engaging your audience: 11 resources for speakers

As soon as you realize that speaking isn't just broadcasting with your voice and a microphone, you begin to consider engaging with audiences, from making them think and getting feedback from them to handling hecklers and simple questions. Here's our best advice on engaging audiences for speakers, from the vaults of The Eloquent Woman:

  1. Start early to engage: Check out your audience at the door suggests you start engaging even before you start your talk.
  2. Even a keynote can engage: Making the audience part of your keynote tells you how to take that big spotlight and share it for even better results.
  3. Are questions getting you off-track? Then you need our graceful ways with Q-and-A to engage, but focus, your audience.
  4. Getting really off-track with a heckler? Handling the heckler looks at some high-profile examples, but brings the advice down to earth for your next speech.
  5. What if you don't get questions? If you want to make your presentations more interactive but don't get questions when you finish, you need to take a second look at your approach.
  6. Speak less to engage: Speakers: 7 reasons I want you to talk less is a warning shot that tells you when your own words might be getting in the way of engaging with your audience.
  7. Listen to the questions: Q-and-A is the most common form of audience engagement. How to listen to audience questions tells you what to do first: Listen.
  8. Engage to persuade: Want to put your points across persuasively? Engaging the audience is at the core of that effort. Persuade me: 21 ways speakers can tells you how, in the voice of an audience member.
  9. Emergency engagement: In my trainings, lots of speakers want to know what to do when you're losing the audience. You might be surprised at my answers.
  10. Use social media tools to engage: Using new media to engage your audience might involve letting them live-tweet, or capturing their questions on video for your own blog post.
  11. Learn from the "Last Lecture:" Randy Pausch knew he was dying when he gave this lecture, full of audience engagement. Thanks to online video, it's one of the most-watched-talks ever, and for a lot of reasons. See what one speaker does when audience engagement is front and center.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Sheryl Sandberg's Barnard commencement address

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg gave the commencement address this year at Barnard College -- a women's college known for its great commencement addresses about women's issues -- and rocked the house with a speech at once straightforward about barriers to women's progress and encouraging for the graduates.

This speech got lots of play on social media channels, and I think that's in part because of Sandberg's clear and non-anxious way of speaking about the issues women face. Her message reflected that approach, as in these lines where she sums up the challenge women face in the workplace: That you can be competent or likeable, but not both, in the eyes of many. And she's not afraid to cite and sum up research on this score:
...there are external forces out there that are holding you back from really owning your success.  Studies have shown—and yes, I kind of like studies—that success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. This means that as men get more successful and powerful, both men and women like them better. As women get more powerful and successful, everyone, including women, likes them less.
Sandberg also puts a new spin on the discussion of whether women should put themselves in the "slow lane" to juggle family and work, by explaining that she sees many young women starting to opt-out long before they have families, making early career choices based on future scenarios. She challenged the graduates not to slow down just yet, in one of the more pointed and inspiring sections of this speech, by saying:
If several years ago you stopped challenging yourself, you’re going to be bored.  If you work for some guy who you used to sit next to, and really, he should be working for you, you’re going to feel undervalued, and you won’t come back.  So, my heartfelt message to all of you is, and start thinking about this now, do not leave before you leave.  Do not lean back; lean in.  Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision. That’s the only way, when that day comes, you’ll even have a decision to make.
With this speech, she stomps out hesitancy, and concludes with: "....go home tonight and ask yourselves, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?”  And then go do it." Here's what you can learn from this already famous speech:
  • Big crowds require big gestures:  Sandberg does the traditional opening for a commencement speech, greeting parents and faculty. But when she acknowledges the class of 2011, she looks straight ahead and opens her arms wide to indicate the full audience of 600 in front of her. Tiny gestures would be missed by this big crowd; the grand gesture implies the grandeur of the moment, and better yet, can be seen by all.
  • Don't forget the personal:  Sandberg takes a moment to acknowledge her college roommate, who's now a member of the Barnard faculty, with a personal message. Without having to put too fine a point on it, she underscored for the graduates two great examples of where they might go--from cap and gown to becoming a faculty member, or perhaps the COO of Facebook.
  • Don't assume all your graduates are in their early 20s:  Recently, a few commenters on the blog have told me how annoying it is to be in mid-life, graduating with a degree, and hear the speaker at commencement make all sorts of breathtaking assumptions about the age of the grads. (Speechwriters, heads-up on this score, please.) Sandberg's speech resonates with all ages, from those yet to make tough work-life decisions to those who already have, and know the wisdom of what she's saying firsthand. Why not take the extra step and make sure your remarks encompass all ages of learners?
  • Use data, clearly: Sandberg excels at this, and rarely uses charts and graphs to get her data across. But more important, her use of data to underscore women's workplace challenges helps take that discussion out of the easy-to-dismiss emotional realm and backs it up with real research--and there's plenty of data backing up her statements. It's also the kind of data that rarely gets shared with young women, in my experience. Yet Sandberg is hardly unemotional in her delivery, striking the right balance and making herself both competent and likeable here.
What do you think of this commencement speech? Leave word in the comments.



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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Plan B presenting, from tech speaker and reporter David @Pogue

Have you prepared that other presentation you're giving--the plan B version? That's the version you'll wind up giving when something goes wrong, so you may as well rehearse for it.

If that sounds pessimistic, consider this: Most frequent speakers quickly find themselves working out plan B, C, D and beyond when it comes to presentations and speeches. New York Times technology reporter David Pogue, one such speaker, recently described his own adventures with talks where the on-site technology and his plans for the presentation didn't match. He's seen plenty of work-arounds and would-be crises, and concludes, "In the high-stakes world of public speaking, only one rule applies: Whatever works."

You can glean plenty from Pogue's detailed description of what he aims for when presenting, and where his hosts' venues fall short (and what happens after that). To get your own plan B presentation ready, check out my checklist for the whole speaker, a step-by-step preparation guide that covers technology as well as your content, appearance, mindset, audience and more. What's your plan B? Share it in the comments.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Voice-only speaking (think conference calls) in Step Up Your Speaking newsletter, for Tuesday

What if you were asked to speak, then told that you wouldn't be able to see the audience, nor they you? That would mean no props, no slides, no gestures, no need for that colorful outfit--and no cues from your listeners as to their level of attention. Sound crazy? It happens every day in webinars, conference calls and phone media interviews, which are among the most common types of public speaking. That voice-only speaking is the focus of this month's Step Up Your Speaking, my free email newsletter that looks at one speaking issue in depth every month.  The next issue comes out tomorrow. This time, you'll get tips on strategizing for an invisible audience, how to break into a conference call and interject your points without asking permission, handling "media tours" or any situation where you're doing phone calls again and again, and ways to vocalize to hold listeners' interest. Sign up at the links below and share this with a conference calling colleague!

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Famous Speech Friday: Rose Schneiderman on the Triangle Factory Fire

Memorial speeches don't normally turn a harsh eye on the audience, but garment workers' union organizer Rose Schneiderman's speech "We Have Found You Wanting" did just that a century ago in the wake of New York City's Triangle Factory Fire. Delivered before an audience at the Metropolitan Opera House on April 2, 1911, the speech took place within a week of the fire at a meeting designed to focus on how to prevent such a tragedy in the future. Schneiderman, a former garment worker turned organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union and the Women's Trade Union League, wasted no time and gave no quarter. Here's how she started this six-paragraph speech:
I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting.
Making sure her audience was under no delusions, she explained briefly and clearly why the fire wasn't an unusual event:

This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and poverty is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death.
Frances Perkins, a witness to the fire who later served as Secretary of Labor for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, also heard Schneiderman's speech at the meeting. Recalling it many decades later, Perkins said:

I'll never forget this was the first time I ever had heard Rose Schneiderman speak....She was an unknown little girl, a little red headed girl; she couldn't have been, - well, she couldn't have come up to my shoulder. Very small type but with red hair, fiery red hair, and blazing eyes and pretty too...a voice that carried in the Metropolitan Opera House. Wonderful what a speech she made, and I remember how moved we all were by this girl who was a member of that union, you see, the Ladies' Dress and Waist Union. [The women factory workers in the audience] were all eligible for membership in her union, and she took them all in with the most beautiful speech....
Many would disagree that her speeches were beautiful--but they certainly made plain the plight of the garment workers. When a state legislator complained a year later about the indelicacy of women getting involved in politics, she replied, "We have women working in the foundries, stripped to the waist, if you please, because of the heat. Yet the Senator says nothing about these women losing their charm. They have got to retain their charm and delicacy and work in foundries. Of course, you know the reason they are employed in foundries is that they are cheaper and work longer hours than men. Women in the laundries, for instance, stand for 13 or 14 hours in the terrible steam and heat with their hands in hot starch. Surely these women won't lose any more of their beauty and charm by putting a ballot in a ballot box once a year than they are likely to lose standing in foundries or laundries all year round."

Here's what you can learn from this compelling speech:
  • Don't waste your moment: Schneiderman had a live audience wanting to do something to address the wrongs the fire represented, and a city united in its grief. She didn't fritter away that moment with platitudes.
  • Keep it simple to keep it powerful: This speech's six paragraphs are models of simple language and simple sentence structure. Adjectives and adverbs are at a minimum, and active verbs take precedence. That allowed her to make strong statements fast--and concisely.
  • Use your authority: Speaking as a former garment worker and daughter of a tailor, as well as someone who'd seen the inside of more factories than her audiences had, Schneiderman had the authority to speak on her subject firsthand. As a witness, she used declarative sentences to push forward what she'd seen and how it looked. With few who could counter her, the words became that much  more powerful.
  • Cut to the chase:  Schneiderman's opening line -- "I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship" -- announced at once her point of view and her focus. She let her listeners know right away they wouldn't be hearing a flowery mourner's speech, but a call to action.
  • Use the invisible visual:  The image of the burned bodies laid out on the sidewalks was still fresh in the audience's minds, and she took advantage of it, using it in her first sentence to focus the mind's eye of her listeners with the most dramatic image.
This year marks 100 years since the fire and this speech. Schneiderman's words were a game-changer, inspiring scores of actions, laws and other protections for workers, as well as inspiring future activists like Perkins. What do you think of this famous speech?


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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Speaking Science: Practice out loud with others to sharpen persuasion skills

Putting across your point of view persuasively is a critical factor in eloquent speaking, whether you're giving a keynote or presenting new ideas to your boss and colleagues in a meeting or conference call. And according to two Columbia University education researchers, practicing out loud with others--in mock Q-and-A sessions or debates--might be the best way to sharpen your persuasive reasoning skills, all the more reason to build time into your prep for out-loud practice sessions.

When Deanna Kuhn and Amanda Crowell studied ways to build these skills among middle-school students, they took two different approaches over the course of a three-year program. One group of students developed their persuasive stance on controversial issues—from euthanasia to the juvenile court system—in a traditional way, writing several essays and participating in teacher-led discussions of the topics.

The second group of students built their persuasive arguments through dialogue—a lot of it. They hashed out the issues with their fellow students using chat software, moving through multiple rounds of debate with peers who agreed and disagreed with their stance. The intensive dialogue ended with a whole-class debate on each topic.

The result? The students who talked it out were much more persuasive when it came time to write an essay on a new topic, despite having less writing practice than the traditional group.  Too often, Kuhn and Crowell say, students see these essays as an exercise in stringing together a set of statements rather than a conversation with a specific audience. The chat group in their study probably sharpened their persuasive skills as a result of having audiences who challenged and broadened their point of view in real time, they suggest.

Most students don’t come to middle school with these skills, Crowell emphasized. Adults need to practice them, too, she says, since these aren't skills you will pick up naturally as you get older. She said many adults still lack “an understanding that while the world is uncertain and people disagree, you can still take a position, support it with evidence, and attempt to steer the world in the direction that would make it a better place. We want to move them to that place earlier,” she said, “so that as they encounter issues that they care about they will engage them in a sophisticated manner rather than just shrugging their shoulders and hoping for the best.”

(Freelance writer Becky Ham reports and writes our Speaking Science series.)


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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Everything is Going to be Okay:" Words for grads or commencement speakers?

New Yorker cartoonist BEK (real name Bruce Eric Kaplan) likes graduation speeches--even though they seem to occupy our thoughts only on one day, and don't necessarily say anything truly profound. They're "better in theory," he says. So he's put his cartooning pen to work to write and draw Everything Is Going to Be Okay: A Book for You or Someone Like You. In the process, he's created a book that will delight anyone who's had to give a speech as well as one that makes a great gift for a recent graduate. Here's how much he loves them:
I love graduation speeches. I have always loved them, I will always love them. Once when I was in my twenties, I laid on my old girlfriend's peach couch (which I still had, but not my girlfriend) and watched twelve hours of graduation speeches on Sunday being televised on that odd BOOK TV channel. I have never been happier.
In this Huffington Post piece, you can see a slideshow sample from the book, including cartoons, and Kaplan's thoughts on why graduation speeches inspired him.

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