Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Check those name-checks at the door: How to thank people in speeches



Those of us who lead ordinary lives name-drop, mentioning famous or important people we saw. The famous name-check, the opposite task, by mentioning those of us less important or famous in acknowledgements. Name-checks, to my ear, are taking up far too much time and space in speeches and presentations these days. But in one case at the Oscars, name-checks were a leading actress's shield against criticism of her success, a way to look humble when she's been accused of being arrogant--and a way to push her limelight remarks into easy-to-ignore status at a peak moment of public speaking.

Actress Anne Hathaway may have set a record in her acceptance speech for the Oscar for best supporting actress in Les Misérables earlier this week, thanking more than 30 groups and individuals. It's thought she did so to avoid the criticism she got for her Golden Globes acceptance speech--a speech I thought had more content and fewer name-checks, and so worked better for her. It includes a gracious and insightful tribute to fellow nominee Sally Field:


It's no surprise that actors thank lots of people in their awards acceptance speeches. After all, it does take a village to make a film. But there's also a trend in the sciences to include long chains of thank-yous and credits to graduate students, in particular, when scientists give talks or media interviews, a major entry on of my list of 7 ineffective habits of scientists who communicate with the public.

The real problem for most of us with a direct, named thank-you in a speech? You're excluding most of us in the audience in favor of a one-to-one moment. While those are precious in life and lovely for the person in question, they can be deadly for your listeners when multiplied by the dozens. The speaker may well have trouble remembering all those names, a real challenge on stage, but it's a certainty that none of us will. That means we'll be left with no truly memorable moments from your speech. Hathaway's Oscar speech has been routinely covered for just its opening and closing lines, not for the name-checks, and that's perhaps what she wanted to achieve. But is that what you were aiming for?

If not, here are some questions to ask yourself before you rattle off that list of names:
  • Can you thank people in context? We'll be more engaged and interested if you can share what that person did with some specifics, rather than including her in a list of names. "Angela Brown was the graduate assistant who noticed the sampling error that led us to this discovery" or "Fred Stevens makes costumes that transform you as completely as Method acting does" are all the more enchanting because you're letting us see them as real people behind the scenes. Call that proper credit, if you like.
  • Are you name-checking to look important? If that long list of graduate students or assistants or agents and publicists is partly to show off the power of your lab or your production company, consider this: You'll dissipate the power of the moment by showing off your rank-and-file. Try inspiring us instead.
  • Can you elegantly and briefly sum up the village supporting you instead? In an interview, Dustin Hoffman talks about the retired musicians hired to play extras in his movie Quartet, about, well, retired musicians: "[T]hese people, all in their 70s, 80s, 90s...had so much passion, so much gratitude, so much energy...I wish most actors that I work with had so much focus and passion and clarity." Yes, you'll have grouped them together, but in a way that acknowledges and dignifies them, rather than listing them. (And you won't risk having left someone out.) At the Oscars, Daniel Day-Lewis's speech made a lovely summary reference to all the workers on the film Lincoln, and devoted more time to humor and content.
  • Have you timed those thank-yous? This is a good time to record your intended name-checks in advance and play them back. How much time did your list take? What proportion of your remarks does it occupy?
  • Did you want to sound like a PowerPoint presentation? Just because lists are easy to put together in slides and speeches doesn't mean that they work well for your audience. If you're going to list people, you need to use pauses and inflection and other means to keep our attention, lest you sound more like a presenter than someone giving heartfelt remarks.
  • Can you work some meaningful, non-name-check lines into your remarks? Give us some memories and we'll let you run some credits. But only a few. Try to remind us why you got the award in the first place, not to whom you are grateful.
I'll also add that I believe the criticism of Hathaway has much less to do with her speeches than with the "who do you think you are?" objection that arises when women succeed--witness that her well done Golden Globes speech was panned, sometimes rudely. Ironically for women who seek eloquence, she's most decried for sounding "too rehearsed" and "too polished." As the Daily Beast points out:
Run a Google search for 'Anne Hathaway' and 'annoying,' and 1.5 million search results are returned. Try 'Anne Hathaway' and 'hate,' and that number spikes to a mere 28.5 million. 
The switch to name-checking worked with some observers of the Oscars, making her seem more genuine and humble, the look she was reportedly going for. But should she have changed her speaking style for that reason? Daniel Day-Lewis and Ben Affleck were considered to have done the best job with their speeches that night, among the actors, and did far fewer name-checks. Seth Godin writes today about the difference between the sure hand and over-confidence. Oddly enough, I don't think Anne Hathaway was over-confident, but I sure wish she'd been able to deliver the remarks she wanted with a sure hand.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Speakers and speechwriters are always in search of the kinds of ideas, reads and resources that fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see in addition to posts from the blog. I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog. Here are the finds I shared in the week just past:
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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Which women leaders inspire you?

This list on Skinny Scoop was curated by the bloggers at Hello Ladies, the MamaFesto and The Eloquent Woman. Which of these women inspires you? Click through and make your list, then see how it compares with the inspirations of other women.




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Friday, February 22, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Malala Yousafzai's first statement since her shooting

There are few speeches as compelling as those emanating from women who can't speak much, or at all. We've already had a few of them here on Famous Speech Friday: Helen Keller, originally thought to be without speech, but who made a 50-year career of public speaking despite being profoundly deaf and blind. And former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, whose resignation from Congress after she was shot in the head had to be read by a colleague.

Now, another speaker shot in the head has spoken for the first time since she was attacked. Fifteen-year-old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head late last year by Taliban militants while on her way home from school. A frequent and accomplished public speaker, she'd been targeted for assassination for campaigning for the education rights of girls and for promoting "Western thinking." Her shooting sparked demonstrations of support for her mission and her story captured the world's imagination; she was on the short list for TIME magazine's "person of the year" honor, and she's referred to just as "Malala" the world over. Earlier this month, after weeks of surgery and recuperation in Britain, she spoke in English for just a few seconds, making a short video statement that said, in part:
Today you can see that I am alive. I can speak, I can see you, I can see everyone. It's just because of the prayers of people. Because all people — men, women, children — all of them have prayed for me. And because of all these prayers God has given me this new life. a second life.
Her statement also touched on a vision of her future: "I want to serve. I want to serve the people. I want every girl, every child, to be educated. For that reason, we have organized the Malala Fund."  In the video, her speech is clear, but the left side of her face is rigid. While she hasn't sustained any neurological dmaage, she has had surgery to reconstruct her skull and a cochlear implant to restore hearing in her left ear.

You're unlikely to experience anything close to this--that's my hope for you. So what can you learn from this famous speech?
  • It's even more important to speak when someone's tried to silence you: Malala uses public speaking to spread her cause and at 15 is already an accomplished speaker who uses inflection and gesture and emotion to put her points across. The shooting was a direct effort to silence her, so speaking again is more than just a medical and personal achievement. Anita Sarkeesian, a recent Famous Speech Friday speaker, faced a similar challenge when online hackers tried to silence her with harrassment. If you can bounce back and speak again after being silenced, your words will have even more power.
  • Give us your unique voice in "I" statements: No one can make this statement but Malala, and that's underscored by her string of "I" statements. You can use the same tactic both to underscore your unique voice, and to avoid sounding accusatory with "you" statements when you've been under attack. The vertical pronoun lets her share her vision and take the high road at the same time.
  • Don't forget your mission: If you had just 44 seconds, what would you manage to mention? Malala focuses on two things: Acknowledging the support and prayers that helped her recovery, and her mission to educate girls. It's economical, spare and on target, but she spends extra words to be sure that women and girls are mentioned.
You can see some interviews with Malala talking about her mission, and view Malala giving an emotional speech in her own language in this moving video, too--it will give you a sense of how accomplished and moving a public speaker she has been, even as a teenager. Here's her first statement after having been shot. What do you think of this famous speech?


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Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Thank the Academy" analyzes Oscar speeches & gender issues in interactive site


Just in time for this year's Oscars comes Thank the Academy, an interactive site based on analysis of more than 200 Oscar speeches beginning in 1953 in the major categories. Rebecca Rolfe, a master's candidate in digital media, looked at the speeches to find verbal and physical expressions of gratitude, and came up with lots of data you can use as a spectator--or to craft your own acceptance speech. Because she watched video of the speeches and tabulated gender differences, you'll learn some interesting trivia, such as:

  • The average speech length is getting longer--starting at less than a minute in the 1960s, now closer to two minutes. In the 1970s, '80s and '90s, women's acceptance speeches were quite a bit shorter than those of male actors. Today, women and men deliver acceptances of just under two minutes, with only one second's difference on average.
  • 47 percent of the women winning Oscars clutch the statuette, compared to just 21 percent of the men. Twenty-six percent of the men hold it over their heads victoriously, while just 12 percent of women do.
  • Acceptance speeches with notes are longer--just over two minutes--than the extemporaneous ones, which average about one minute, 23 seconds.
  • More women say thanks "so much," at 33 percent, compared to just 13 percent of the men who win Oscars.
And for those playing along at home Sunday night, this analysis solves a question I've long had: The conductor cuts in with music at one minute, 30 seconds, to prompt the long-winded winners to wind up, but those interrupted by music generally clock in at two minutes, 12 seconds, by the time they're done.

Read more about the research, with an interview with Rolfe, in this TIME article. What do you think about this research?


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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Do all your references to women in speeches cast us as "mothers, wives and daughters?"

Perhaps little noted nor long remembered by some who watched President Obama's State of the Union address this year were three little words that have stirred up a rhetorical storm: Mothers, wives and daughters. In Stop Calling Us Wives and Moms, Salon writer Tracy Clark-Flory shares word of a petition calling on President Obama to "stop using the rhetorical frame that defines women by their relationships to other people."

I'll bet this protest comes as a surprise to politicians and their speechwriters, who commonly load up speeches with references to moms, wives, and daughters when women's issues are on the table. It's a popular device. Trouble is, they're leaving out all sorts of women and the wide variety of roles they play other than familial roles. Is my vote less useful to you because I'm single? What about my earning power, my vote, my productivity and the taxes I pay? Do we only value women for their family status? Are married women or women with children more valued than other women? Speeches seem to be saying so, and the women hearing those speeches are not impressed.

Let's just look at the women in The Eloquent Woman Index. Most of the women speakers in the index are not speaking about motherhood, sisterhood or wifely duties in their famous speeches. That's because the majority of women play many more roles than those we were born or married into. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned women 450 times in speeches in her first 20 weeks in office, and has said, "I have been working hard to integrate women’s rights as a cornerstone of our foreign policy. Women are key to the success of the Obama administration’s major development and economic-growth initiatives.” No mention of family relationships needed to capture our collective role as a powerful economic engine.

If, however, you are relegating us to "mothers, wives and daughters" in your only references to women in your speeches, you're helping to ensure that our legacy has only to do with whether we gave birth to you, married you, or are your offspring. And somehow, that seems a lot less about us, and a lot more about you. In a week marking the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, it appears that women have advanced in many ways in our societies. It's the speeches that seem to lag behind or put us back in that familiar place.

For me, at least, this isn't about negating the roles of mothers, wives and daughters at all, but about making sure women are seen in a less lopsided way. The Salon article quotes a man who notes a parallel to gay rights rhetoric: "The reason to fight homophobia isn’t because ‘you’ve got a gay friend,’ it’s because it’s simply the right thing to do. The reason why a woman is valuable isn’t because she’s someone’s sister, or daughter, or wife, it’s because of the person she is unto herself.” Borrow a tactic from one of the speakers in The Eloquent Woman Index, suffragette Nellie McClung, and turn the verbal tables here: Go through a speech referring to mothers, daughters and wives, and replace the phrase with fathers, sons and husbands. If it sounds ridiculous for them, why do that to the women?

The petition blames the president for the word choices. But in reality, speechwriters--a male-dominated profession--are likely more responsible for turning again and again to these words when they want to sum up women and attempt to connect with that audience. So whether you're the speechwriter, the speechwriter's editor, or the speaker who hires and uses the speechwriter, let me urge you to make a more concerted effort to:
  • refer to women in your speeches with adjectives and roles that reflect the wide variety of contributions they make to our society;
  • include mentions in your speeches of "women and men, boys and girls" when you are referring to groups of people;
  • use "she" as well as "he" as a generic pronoun; 
  • quote women and use women as examples of more than family roles; and
  • think twice before you bring out those "mothers, wives and daughters" in a speech, unless (and even if) your remarks focus on family relationships.
Women do much more than speechwriters let their words admit. Don't write our infinite variety out of the speech, even inadvertently. The speech will be the better for it.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see these good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But I want to share the insights with all the blog's readers, so I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog. Here are the finds I shared in the week just past:
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Friday, February 15, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Josephine Baker at the March on Washington

I'd heard for many years that no women speakers were included at the March on Washington in 1963, the event that concluded with Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. But in fact, there was a sole woman speaker: Josephine Baker, the singer and entertainer who lived as a American expatriate in France and enjoyed huge success in the 1920s. And on this day, the 250,000 people on the national mall formed her biggest live audience ever.

By the time of the march, Baker was 57 and still living in France. She flew to Washington for the March and appeared for her remarks wearing her uniform from the French Resistance in World War II, a symbol of her lifelong activism. She was a risky and controversial choice. Baker was notorious in her day for her body-revealing costumes, but she also broke color lines, becoming the first African-American woman to star in a movie and the first to integrate a concert hall in the U.S. Perhaps because of this, Baker kept her remarks simple and explained who she was, directly:
When I was a child and they burned me out of my home, I was frightened and I ran away.    Eventually I ran far away. It was to a place called France. Many of you have been there, and many have not. But I must tell you, ladies and gentlemen, in that country I never feared.  It was like a fairyland place...Now I know that all you children don’t know who Josephine Baker is, but you ask Grandma and Grandpa and they will tell you. You know what they will say. “Why, she was a devil.”  
Then she brought it home, as it were, putting herself in the shoes of her American audience, and referencing her lifelong willingness to speak out against injustice: 
You know, friends, that I do not lie to you when I tell you I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad. And when I get mad, you know that I open my big mouth. And then look out, ‘cause when Josephine opens her mouth, they hear it all over the world.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Play to the locals: In this case, that meant the U.S. as a whole. Baker stressed her American roots and experiences to connect with this massive audience.
  • Be yourself: Baker, despite the controversy and notoriety swirling around her, uses her remarks to show us she is comfortable in her shoes--and to reveal many sides of herself. She wears a uniform instead of the costumes for which she was better known, talks about being an older woman but encouraging children, and gives a straightforward and simple account of her activism that anyone in the audience could follow and appreciate. It's authentic, and it works.
  • Use the immediate: Baker's conclusion used that irresistible line, "I've just been handed a note..." In this case, she shared that the President of the United States had invited her to visit him at the White House. She said to the crowd: "I am greatly honored.  But I must tell you that a colored woman—or, as you say it here in America, a black woman—is not going there. It is a woman.  It is Josephine Baker." 
You can read the speech here, and this Washington  Post article shares some of the correspondence between Baker and Martin Luther King, Jr. about the speech. What do you think of this famous speech?

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Elizabeth Alexander on poetry and speaking

In our 100th Famous Speech Friday, writer Ursula K. Leguin's commencement speech at Bryn Mawr linked poetry and the power of women's voices when they speak the truth about their experiences, and she used poetry throughout that speech. With that ringing in my ears, I was drawn to a recent On Being episode featuring Elizabeth Alexander, a poet and professor of African American studies at Yale University.

The program starts out with the premise that poetry can help a society "starved for fresh ways to talk about difficult things — for language that would elevate and embolden rather than demean and alienate." What a great way to consider poetry in your speeches, as a fresh way to talk about issues. Alexander looks at poetry as a form of truth-telling speech, in stark contrast with the political speech of today:
We crave truth tellers. We crave real truth. There is so much baloney all the time. You know, the performance of political speech, of speeches you say on the news, doesn't it often feel to you like there should be a thought bubble over it that says, you know, what I really would say if I could say it is you know, these people who I oppose, I don't like them and I don't want to work with them, because they're obstructionist, but I have to act like I want to partner with them, because that's the accepted form of discourse, but in fact, it's not really getting us anywhere. Or, you know how I think of on things like, I don't know, comedy shows when there's a little ticker tape underneath it says, "She's lying." That's how I experience sometimes that sort of speech as well.
One of my favorite moments in this interview sees Alexander speaking about a momentous bit of public speaking of her own, the preparation for her delivery of a poem at President Barack Obama's first inauguration in 2009. Here, she describes the rehearsal--and how the form of language in poetry can catch the ears of even a passerby audience:
...right before the inaugural, the day before, there was a sound check and the sound guy asked me to — you know, the microphone. Oh, my goodness, just this amazing instrument, this finely calibrated, you know, kind of the Hope diamond of microphones — so he said, "OK, why don't you say some poetry" — that was his phrase, say some poetry — "so we can see how it works on the mic." And the day before, Washington was full of people. People were already coming to the inaugural and the mall was quite full with lots of folks, and it was just me up on the stage and no one was looking at me. And I recited one of my favorite poems, Gwendolyn Brooks' "Kitchenette Building," which starts out:
We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray.
"Dream" makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like "rent," "feeding a wife," "satisfying a man." 

 ...It's extraordinary, beautiful, tiny, tiny sonnet. And let me tell you, hundreds of people literally stopped in their tracks to hear this unknown-to-them person recite a poem by someone unknown no doubt to most of them. And these hundreds of people, I watched them sort of gather in a darkening sort of cluster and then, when the poem was over, they clapped. In other words, they knew it was something about the form of the poem, right? 
It's a good reminder that the forms we use in rhetoric are there for a reason, to catch the ear and hold its listening closer to the speaker's words--even if we don't know the speaker's identity or the context of the speaking.

Check out the transcript and audio of this program, as well as the poetry and language resources collected at On Being. Alexander's latest collection of poetry is Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010. To learn more about poetry in speeches, read my post on using poetry in a speech to add color and connection.

(Photo from bomackison's Flickrstream)

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Monday, February 11, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Readers who are fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see these good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. Want to keep up with them? Here are the finds I shared in the week just past:
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Friday, February 8, 2013

Updated: 17 famous African-American women's speeches from The Eloquent Woman Index

(Editor's note: This post was updated in 2013 to include that year's additions to the Index. Want an even bigger version of this post? Go to 2015's For Black History Month, 29 speeches by black women in The Eloquent Woman Index.Now that The Eloquent Woman Index has 100 famous speeches by women, it's time to share this resource in ways that will make it even more useful to speakers, presenters and speechwriters. I can think of no better way to celebrate Black History Month this year than with this collection, drawn from the index, of famous speeches by African-American women.

It's a group that yields a fascinating range of perspectives over time, starting with former slave Sojourner Truth's famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech, the most-quoted line of which may have been added later by white men or women. These speakers broke down barriers, illustrated through the lens of the Democratic National Convention, where Fannie Lou Hamer spoke to a committee but failed to get a seat at the 1964 convention; where Barbara Jordan became the first woman and first African-American to give the convention's keynote in 1976; and where Michelle Obama addressed the convention as the first black First Lady in 2012. They shed light on issues ranging from lynching, war and human rights to family planning, sexual harrassment and on-the-job discrimination, and they use their speaking opportunities to inspire future leaders and mourn those of the past.

Here are the 17 famous speeches from the Index given by African-American speakers, arranged in chronological order. I've also added, where available, book suggestions that will give you the chance to learn more about either the speech or the speaker. Which is your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comments:
  1. Sojourner Truth's 1851 speech "Ain't I a Woman?" is oft-quoted, but has a disputed source, illustrating why it's often tough to find famous women's speeches. In this case, that happened because Truth could neither read nor write. That doesn't detract at all from her message about equality for all women of all races. Read Soujourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman" Speech: A Primary Source Investigation for more about the many versions of this speech, only one of which contains the most-quoted phrase.
  2. Ida B. Wells's 1909 "This Awful Slaughter" busted the myth that women's safety was the reason lynchings were carried out, and used a mix of data and defiance to fight against the practice of mob killings of black men. Read the book To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells to learn more about her campaign.
  3. Josephine Baker at the March on Washington shares the brief remarks of the lone woman to share the program with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and scores of other, male speakers. Those who thought of her as a notorious showgirl learned more about her self-enforced exile to France as a way of seeking racial equality.
  4. Fannie Lou Hamer's 1964 convention committee testimony failed to gain her a seat at that convention, but succeeded in raising the visibility of violence against blacks attempting to register to vote. Four years later, she became an historic convention delegate. You can read more about her public speaking in The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer: To Tell It Like It Is.
  5. Coretta Scott King's 1968 "10 Commandments on Vietnam" -- a speech she gave in her husband's place, just weeks after his assassination -- took scribbled notes found in his pockets and made them into a powerful call to action. Desert Rose: The Life and Legacy of Coretta Scott King is a recent biography.
  6. Shirley Chisholm introduces the Equal Rights Amendment wasn't a first. This member of Congress was re-introducing the legislation, 40 years after it was first proposed--and did so in her usual fiery and forthright style.
  7. Barbara Jordan's 1976 Democratic convention keynote broke barriers for women and for blacks in one speech, suggesting that "the American Dream need not be deferred." It's loaded with elegant rhetoric and is a wonderful listen, thanks to Jordan's vocalizing skills. A Private Woman in Public Spaces: Barbara Jordan's Speeches on Ethics, Public Religion, and Law takes a focused look at the speeches of one of America's most eloquent women.
  8. Anita Hill's 1981 Senate testimony about Clarence Thomas disrupted the Senate confirmation hearings of the then-nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, leveling sexual harrassment allegations against him that ultimately did not prevent his appointment to the court. "It would have been more comfortable to remain silent," she said in this televised testimony that stunned viewers and brought harrassment into the open as an issue. In Speaking Truth to Power, she tells her story.
  9. Maya Angelou's 2006 eulogy for Coretta Scott King might be any eulogy from one close friend for another, as Angelou tells stories about the civil rights icon that only a girlfriend would know. This is a lovely, simple and moving tribute.
  10. Edwidge Danticat's 2007 testimony on death in detention gave the novelist a gripping real-life story to tell, about her uncle's treatment at the hands of U.S. immigration and customs officials when he was held in detention. It's moving, direct and powerful, just like her fictional writings. You can read more about this dramatic story in her book Brother, I'm Dying.
  11. Rep. Gwen Moore's 2011 floor speech on abortion rights and family planning came during a debate about federal funding for family planning. She chose to use her status as a member of Congress to share a personal perspective as a former teenage mother.
  12. Michelle Obama's 2011 speech to young African women leaders took place in a powerful setting, and used that visual reminder to call these young women to action. Michelle Obama: Speeches on Life, Love, and American Values collects speeches of our current First Lady, preserving the legacy of a frequent speaker.
  13. Viola Davis's 2011 awards acceptance speech, "What keeps me in the business is hope," went far beyond the usual platitudes and confronted what it's like to be a black actress in the movie industry. An eloquent extemporaneous speech.
  14. Michelle Obama's 2012 Democratic National Convention speech follows a formula for memorable speeches recommended by President John F. Kennedy's speechwriter, Ted Sorensen. And it worked with today's audiences, garnering more than 28,000 tweets per second from those who watched it.
  15. Viola Davis's 2012 commencement speech is titled "Go out and live!" It's a stunning example of what you can do with a tired speaking format, and is like no college commencement speech you've ever endured. Perhaps my favorite line: "The two most important days in your life are the day you were born, and the day you discover why you were born."
  16. Essie Washington-Williams's "I feel completely free" told the world a secret she'd kept most of her life: She was the daughter of a black woman and Senator Strom Thurmond, a white segregationist who campaigned against civil rights. 
  17. Myrlie Evers-Williams's invocation at President Obama's second inaugural happened just last month, marking the first time the invocation at the ceremony was given by a woman, and by someone other than a member of the clergy. The widow of assassinated civil rights activist Medgar Evers summoned the spirits of the leaders of that movement to witness the day's proceedings. Read more about her story in her memoir Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be.
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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"You've said enough:" The missing speaker's voice of Mrs. Rosa Parks

"Finding and hearing Rosa Parks has not been easy," writes Jeanne Theoharis, author of the newly released The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, issued in time for the 100th anniversary of her birth, which happened earlier this week. As someone who's been trying to pull together a  post on a Parks speech for years, I couldn't agree more. Theoharis has written a book that at once answers many of my questions about Parks as a speaker as well as explains--for me, at least--why you haven't yet seen her featured here on the blog.

I knew that Parks was a frequent speaker, but couldn't lay hands on  texts of her speeches; often, references to them didn't include full citations or even the date or venue. Surprisingly few books for adults have been written about Parks's life, and one by historian Douglas Brinkley oddly includes no footnotes. The many books for children, and many of her media interviews, preserve the image of the timid, tired seamstress who just wanted to sit down--instead of the strong activist who made an intentional act of civil disobedience. A lawsuit between her family and the repository of many of her papers has kept them in boxes, unavailable to researchers and writers.

Parks, though an active organizer and adept speaker, was kept from speaking at two of the biggest moments of her career, at the rally right before the trial for her bus protest, and at the 1963 March on Washington. "You've said enough," she was told. At those most visible moments, she was spoken about, but not allowed to speak.

That experience is a kind of cautionary tale for women speakers--letting others keep you silent, failing to publish your own speeches, and letting others tell your story can mean that, in the end, your work is ignored and misunderstood. In the retelling of her story, she was made out to be a "seamstress" when she was an assistant tailor, a higher position; meek when she was an activist; "just tired" and needing to sit, when, as she put it, "I was tired of giving in." So Theoharis has strung together evidence to the contrary from hundreds of interviews and other documents in this book, giving us the "rebellious" picture to replace the one we've had all these years. She acknowledges that the unexamined archive of Parks's papers and effects may well contradict even this new view, but for now, it is a refreshing and welcome read that adds to a fuller picture of this eloquent woman.

Someday, I'll get my hands on one of her actual speeches, and we'll have that Famous Speech Friday post. In the meantime, dip into Theoharis's book to update your vision of Parks and read about many of her famous speeches. You can hear an interview with Theoharis here.

(Photo of Rosa Parks from the National Archives)

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see these good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But I want to share the insights with all the blog's readers, so I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog. Here are the finds I shared in the week just past:
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Friday, February 1, 2013

What's next for Famous Speech Friday & The Eloquent Woman Index

The speeches captured in this blog's Famous Speech Friday series all wind up in The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches. As of last month, the series and the Index have examined 100 famous speeches by women, a milestone that makes me proud, tired and a little bit in awe.

Not long after I started this blog, I started hearing from speaker coaches and speakers asking for good examples of speeches by women other than Eleanor Roosevelt and Barbara Jordan. Now, 100 speeches in, you don't have to hunt for a wide range of notable speeches by women.

So what's next?

I could stop doing the series, having long ago proved the point that there are plenty of famous speeches by women. But lots of readers tell me "I look forward to Famous Speech Friday" or "this is such a great way to learn about women and their issues." At the same time, the Index gets more unwieldy the larger it becomes. Readers report that they roam the Index looking for inspiration, historic examples, speeches on a particular topic, individual speakers and other slices of information.

As a result, 2013 will see the start of some new twists and takes on the series and the Index:
  • Famous Speech Fridays will continue, in part because there are just too many great speeches and speakers to cover, in part because there are yet more varieties of topics, types of speeches and types of speakers to include. There are plenty of FSF posts in the queue, and I just know new examples will be popping up on my radar this year. But FSF posts won't appear every Friday, so that we can introduce this next option.
  • The Index will get more useful, as we introduce hashtags for topics, themes, types of speakers and types of speeches. You'll also start seeing Friday posts that compile subgroups of speeches from the Index, such as speeches about failure, or by women in politics, or by kids and teens, or extemporaneous speeches. I'm hoping these tools will help you better search and use the Index. Posts that help compile the Index in this way will be alternating with regular Famous Speech Friday posts. We'll start next week with the Index's collection of speeches by African-American women.
  • The Eloquent Woman YouTube channel is now available, with all the speeches in the Index that are available on video, plus other videos from the blog. It's your ready-made channel of great examples of women speaking, whether you need it for practice, ideas or inspiration.
  • I'm assembling the Famous Speech Friday bookshelf, which will collect books about each of the speakers (and where possible, the speeches) featured in the Index, so you can learn more about these eloquent woman. Stand by for bookshelf posts and a page devoted to the shelf coming this year.
  • We'll keep on pinning Famous Speech Friday posts on The Eloquent Woman board on Pinterest, and quotes from the series on the Great quotes by eloquent women board. The quotes board also can be accessed from The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, too!
  • I'll keep asking for your leads and suggestions, since some of the best FSF posts have been brought to me by readers and fans. If you have a suggestion for a speaker, famous speech, type of speaker or type of speaking example you'd like to see in a Famous Speech Friday post, please email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz. And if you've sent a suggestion, stay tuned...more are coming.
I use a simple but challenging set of criteria for the series, and that won't be changing. The speeches in the Famous Speech Friday series must be:

  • famous in some way, via news coverage, social media feedback, or some other measure
  • given by a female speaker, but she need not be famous--some of the best entries have been from women made famous by the speech, instead of the other way around
  • speeches that incorporate women's issues in some way, and that yield practical examples that any speaker can put to use
The speech can be from long ago or last week, although I don't always cover famous speeches immediately, since it sometimes pays to wait to hear all the reactions. I'd love to hear your suggestions, and thank you for your support for this ongoing feature!

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