Friday, February 28, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Lily Myers's "Shrinking Women"

(Editor's note: You'll see in this take from writer Becky Ham that Myers's body language as much as her words signal her discomfort with this brave spoken-word piece, perhaps appropriately in a speech about women and body image.) 

Lily Myers' "Shrinking Women" has been making the social media rounds since last April, when the 20-year old read her poem at the 2013 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational at Wesleyan University. Three and a half million YouTube views later, Myers said it was a moment that almost didn't happen. In an interview with NPR's Fresh Air, Myers said she "hadn't decided that I was going to read that poem until about 20 seconds before I went onstage. Actually, you can--I'm closing my eyes at the beginning."

Hesitating to speak? Of course it's ironic given what came next, a poem that offered up Myers' mother as a silent and ever-smaller role model. But it's not surprising to us that such a personal story has become a public moment for many women. We couldn't ask for a better verse version of the challenges that we mull at The Eloquent Woman.
  • Is this space taken? Myers' mother only eats when she's reminded to do so, and then she only allows herself wine in a measuring glass. She "wanes" while Myers' father "waxes," and she becomes ever smaller within the house. The need to claim space is a significant issue for women speakers, whether it be the physical space that they project into as they talk, or space on the agenda for their speeches, as we've demonstrated time and again with the help of our @NoWomenSpeakers project. It's telling that in another interview Myers described her reluctance to share this poem with these words: "I was feeling small at the time. I had a rough few weeks and I was thinking, 'People are going to think that I don't like men'." But speaking up for women doesn't have to mean speaking against men.
  • Should I speak up? The line that got the most boisterous applause from the slam audience? "I asked five questions in genetics class today and all of them started with the word 'sorry.'" There's more than one way for a lady to vanish as a public speaker. Apologizing for your presence is just one way of making your words disappear before they have a chance to land.
  • Where are my role models? To me, one of the most distressing things about this poem is in reaching the end and realizing that Myers' mother has no lines of her own. Myers describes a history of shrinking in silence among the women in her family, a history that stands in contrast to the lessons offered to her brother:
"You learn from our father how to emit, how to produce, to roll each thought off your tongue with confidence. You used to lose your voice every other week from shouting so much...
I learned to absorb."
The poignant observation is one reason why The Eloquent Woman Index exists. Every Friday, we're breaking another link in this chain of silence, with the words of women like Myers. We hope you can hear these women loud and clear, because they're speaking to you.

Here's the video of "Shrinking Women." Do you recognize yourself in any of Myers' words?


(Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this Famous Speech Friday post.)

Today is the last day to grab the early-bird registration price for my 2 April workshop in Oxford, UK on women and public speaking, Be The Eloquent Woman. The day-long workshop will help you build confidence and competence as a speaker, and help you subvert the expectations that many women face when they speak. I'm excited today to be giving the workshop its debut in Washington, DC, with a group of motivated, thoughtful women speakers. Please join me for the UK workshop, and stay tuned for more workshop dates to be announced.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book journal: Handbagging and women public speakers

As I continue to work on my book on women and public speaking, I'm sharing my "book journal" with you, a way of thinking out loud about the themes I'm coming across in my notes and research. What do handbags have to do with public speaking? More than you might imagine. For the women speakers who carry them, they can be portable offices, a place to stash notes and quotes.

But handbags also are a visible reminder that you're different, an "other," compared to men. You get the appearance of carrying something, which some can see as a subservient look, yet others claim to use them as "armor" and "weapons." We project our views about women speakers on their handbags, characterizing them as bossy, meek or concerned with fashion. Like other appearance issues, coverage of women politicians' handbags and appearance can create very real setbacks. What a mixed bag! Here are some of the articles and issues arising in my research:
  • The speaker's accessory, part one: Handbags and purses weren't necessary when women didn't control their own money, as was the case for centuries. So when American suffragist Susan B. Anthony began regular public speaking in the latter half of the 1800s to advance the cause of voting for women, her alligator bag held speeches--a necessity for a woman who gave an average of 75 to 100 speeches per year, a remarkable schedule of speeches during a time when most women were discouraged from the practice.  Read our Famous Speech Friday post about Anthony's "Is it a crime for a U.S. citizen to vote?" speech. Some say Anthony was saluted--or called out for ridicule--in a jump-rope rhyme that mentioned a lady with an alligator purse. 
  • Handbagging as a not-nice verb: Anthony's handbag was noticed because it was unusual. UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's handbags also were a novelty, but for a different reason: They served as a visible sign that a woman was in charge for the first time. Her cabinet (and other male officials and reporters) called out her ubiquitous handbags as a weapon in meetings, using "handbagging" and "handbagged" as verbs. Some said the term stemmed from her practice of putting the handbag on the conference table and digging through it for a note, something that would undermine the male being "handbagged." The BBC notes that Thatcher's handbag's "fame even reached the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, which defines the verb 'to handbag' as: (of a woman politician), treat (a person, idea etc) ruthlessly or insensitively." After her death, some of the "handbagged" men in question defended the term as not being misogynist. Let's agree it wasn't a compliment, either, shall we?
  • The speaker's accessory, part two: When men aren't doing the observing of Thatcher's handbag-
    as-weapon, a different picture emerges of a prepared speaker. In preparing to play Thatcher in the film "The Iron Lady," actress Meryl "Streep researched her part carefully enough to learn even what Mrs. Thatcher carried in her handbag: 3-by-5 cards with adages by Kipling, Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln and Disraeli." In this BBC Woman's Hour podcast about Thatcher's handbags, it is noted that the luxury of pulling out your notes was not extended to cabinet members or others in the room, who were expected to have answers on the tips of their tongues.
  • Handbagged or hamstrung? Many women leaders today hand their purses to an aide to avoid getting photographed with them, a far cry from Thatcher's approach. But the news media keep putting the spotlight back on the bags. The New York Times published in 2013 an article noting the historic number of women in the United States Senate and along with them, "a historic number of handbags." (Our paper of record, indeed.) In The real problem with writing about a Senator's purse, it's noted again how coverage of women politicians' appearance, especially their wardrobes, has a negative effect on their ability to win elections. From the article: “I’ve been standing next to the reporters who ask questions like, ‘Tell me about your favorite handbag, senator,’ and usually the woman is trying to avoid answering the question or trying to hide their annoyance at being asked because they don’t want to come off like a bitch,” [pollster Celinda] Lake says. “I don’t know any congresswoman who wants to talk about her handbag instead of her economic plan. I’ve never heard a woman politician spontaneously say to a reporter, ‘Let me tell you about my bag'.” Thirty years earlier, Thatcher was an exception to this, saying, "Of course, I am obstinate in defending our liberties and our law. That is why I carry a big handbag." No word on whether a male speechwriter or adviser put those words in her mouth.
  • Signature and language in a bag? Thatcher's purses were not only covered relentlessly, but have been the subject of a play called "Handbagged" and gained attention when it was announced that a statue of her would include her handbag. Fashion critic Robin Givhan describes the language of the Thatcher handbags, noting that, like the Prime Minister herself, they were "conservative, intimidating, feminine." She suggests:
  • This personal carry-all has long been both functional and symbolic. Depending on its style and brand, it can be a statement of status or a pronouncement of folksiness. Hand it off to a hen-pecked husband or a put-upon assistant and it can demean or belittle. A purse can impress and intimidate, bewilder, berate, or amuse....those bags instilled fear in colleagues and combatants alike. What was lurking inside them? What might she pull out: incriminating papers, devastating notes, embarrassing memorabilia? For men, the handbag is a vast, vaguely terrifying mystery. What personal unmentionables lie within?
  • Powerful with a purse--or without it? Of course, that perspective's from the fashion industry, which makes a profit on the handbag--and which inspired "The Devil Wears Prada" film in which Meryl Streep famously dumps her designer handbags on her assistant's desk every morning, day after day. Givhan shares that Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor on whom the role was said to be based, herself does not carry a handbag, saying, "Handbags weigh you down." "There's power in her surprising refusal," says Givhan. Unhand that bag...
(Creative Commons licensed photo from diongillard's stream on Flickr)

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But you won't miss a thing, since I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog for all readers to see. Here's what I shared in the week just past:
  • Your silent history: I was delighted to see Mary Beard touch on so many themes familiar to readers of The Eloquent Woman in her essay "The Public Voice of Women." Learn the history of how women have been silenced, and what it means for women who speak up today.
  • Pin these speakers: Here's a clever use for Pinterest: A board of women in technology who'd be good speakers, called "Mics to Watch Out For." Will you try this?
  • Fly without slides: How to speak like a pro without slides will help you put that remote down and face your audience.
  • Knowing when to shut up can be as important as knowing when to speak up. A guide to the cultural considerations of talking or not talking.
  • This week on the blog, we'll look at the role handbags have played in women's public speaking, and a young woman's moving speech about women and body image.
  • About the quote: As a speaker coach, I'm always for preparation and opportunity for my clients. Call that luck if you must...
I'm offering a new workshop on women and public speaking. Be The Eloquent Woman will take place in Washington, DC, on Feb. 28, and in Oxford, UK, on April 2. The day-long workshop will help you build confidence and competence as a speaker, and help you subvert the expectations that many women face when they speak. Please join me for these unique professional development sessions!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Meryl Streep on Emma Thompson & Walt Disney

At some point in your speaking career, you may be asked to speak in tribute to someone special or important--an honoree or nominee, perhaps. That's happening all over Hollywood this awards season. Many of the tribute speeches fall flat with me, too torturously scripted and full of platitudes.

Not so Meryl Streep's tribute to Emma Thompson, star of this season's Saving Mr. Banks, a Disney film about Walt Disney's clashes with Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers. It took place at the National Board of Review awards gala, and it tackled two big speaking tasks--context and honor--in surprising and eloquent ways. And despite the fact that the gala was private and unrecorded, Streep's speech got immediate attention and buzz.

Streep of late has made her introductions and tributes unusual, pithy and memorable, by turns funny and frank. By no means are they the usual recitation of the honoree's resume. In this case, she provides the context by flipping the concept of the movie--Travers, the role Thompson played, as the difficult person in the relationship--and discussed instead Walt Disney's sexism and bigotry. She reads in its entirety a rejection letter Disney sent to a woman seeking a job as an animator in 1938, which said, in part, "Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men." It's a deft and thorough touch that made her remarks authentic, yet it did not derail the main goal of her remarks, to honor and introduce Thompson. And that tribute was beautifully crafted, so much so, you'll yearn for someone to speak this way of you:
Nobody can swashbuckle the quick-witted riposte like Emma Thompson. She's a writer. A real writer. And she has a writer's relish for the well-chosen word. But some of the most sublime moments in Saving Mr. Banks are completely wordless. They live in the transitions, where P.L. traverses from her public face to her private space. I'm talking about her relentlessness when she has her verbal dim sum, and then it moves to the relaxation of her brow, when she retreats into the past. It's her stillness. Her attentiveness to her younger self. Her perfect alive-ness. Her girlish alertness. These are qualities that Emma has, as a person. She has real access to her own tenderness, and it's one of the most disarming things about her. She works like a stevedore, she drinks like a bloke, and she's smart and crack and she can be withering in a smack-down of wits, but she leads with her heart. And she knows nothing is more funny than earnestness.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Pay attention to mood and transition: Bringing up Walt Disney's less charming qualities was an accurate piece of context, given the film in question. But at an awards ceremony, it took a deft touch to ensure the mood of the room didn't sour. Streep used a smooth transition that applied to both of the difficult people she was describing: "But when we sit in our relative positions of importance and mutual suspicion, and we cast judgment on each other's work, we're bound to make small mistakes and misconstrue each other's motives." Then she moved right into her tribute. That transition ensured that this didn't sound like a diatribe, nor an over-praising of Travers, herself a tough nut to crack.
  • Use detail for authenticity: Reading the brief rejection letter told the audience that Streep's statements about Disney weren't just matters of opinion, and added needed detail, briefly, to make her context both accurate and authentic. It added to her credibility, and spoke for itself.
  • Keep your eye on the ball: The main focus of her remarks was Thompson, the honoree. Using the brief letter gave Streep plenty of time to pay tribute to Thompson--and the exquisite language she used in tribute made clear to the listeners that this was the key moment of her speech.
There's no video of her speech at this exclusive event, but you can read the full text here. What do you think of this famous speech?

(Creative Commons licensed photo from Vincent Luigi Molino's photostream on Flickr)

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Inside Voice: Liz O'Donnell, PR executive, blogger, author

(Editor's note: Inside Voice is a new interview series on The Eloquent Woman, in which we'll ask speakers, speechwriters, and storytellers to share their insights. I'm delighted that you can hear fromLiz O’Donnell, a senior vice president at Double Forte, a public relations and marketing services firm She is the author of Mogul, Mom, & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman and the founder of the award-winning blog Hello Ladies, ranked as one of the top 100 blogs for women by Forbes. Promoting her book means she's doing even more speaking these days.)

What was your first public speaking experience? Your most recent one?

My first public speaking experience that I can recall was an assignment in high school Spanish class. I shook, and my voice cracked, and my classmates laughed at me. It wasn’t a teasing/bullying kind of laughing; they were my friends and just thought it was funny. I, however, found nothing funny about it. It was a weird experience to feel my head, which was saying, “You’ve got this,” separate from my body, which seemed to be saying, “You are going to die up here in the front of class.”

When do you feel most successful as a speaker?

I feel most successful as a speaker during the Q&A when I can tell by the questions I’m being asked that I’ve made a connection. As an introvert, I am wiped out every time I speak. A good tired means it went well and hard work paid off. A kind of blue tired, doesn’t feel so successful.

What do you dread about speaking?

Well, I used to dread the fact that even if I thought I was enjoying the speaking experience, my body had a mind of its own. I used to shake – a lot - when I spoke. And my voice would crack and my lips would get stuck to the front of my gums. But when I’m speaking about my new book, Mogul, Mom, & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman, I love it -- and my mind and body feel connected.

Do you have any bad speaking habits? Any good ones?

Apparently, I fidget when I speak. I just had one of those, not-feeling-so-great speaking events and some woman came up to me and told me I fidget. Great. Thanks.>

On the good side, I am told I am very relatable and very authentic. It’s been fun learning that this introvert can actually make these great connections with her audience – simply by speaking my truth.

Have you ever had training or help with your speaking? What did it look like? Why did you seek it out?

I’ve had lots of coaching. In college, at Emerson, I took courses like Oral Interpretation and Public Speaking 101. Throughout the course of my career, I’ve gone through several coaching sessions and I took the Dale Carnegie course – which was great. I always seek speaking training out out because I know I will benefit from help in this area. What does it look like? It’s always scary going in and fun coming out. Always.

The advice I remember is that my mouth makes a natural frown so I really need to turn on my smile when I speak. But the best advice was probably from the Dale Carnegie course, and it was speak about what you know.

Tell us how it feels when you're speaking or presenting.

It feels freeing to speak about my book. I feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing – connecting with women on a topic that is important to all of us. I love being on -- as long as I have time to crash post-speech. Again, as an introvert, speaking wipes me out. I need to build time in for the post-speaking crash.
If you knew you could not fail, what kind of speech or presentation would you give? Tell us about the setting, audience, type of talk, content...

I’d give a TED Talk on one of the many themes from my book like How to Keep Women in the Workforce, How to Close the Housework Gap, How to Make Time for What Truly Matters, or Why We Should Listen to the Women of Main Street – Not Just the Women of the C-Suite

What's your public speaking pet peeve...as a speaker? As a member of the audience?

Apologizing. I try not to do it.

Why is public speaking worth the effort, in your view?


It’s all about the connection. If you had told me a year ago that this introverted writer would like speaking about her work as much as she likes writing about it, I never would have believed you. But it’s true.

I'm offering a new workshop on women and public speaking. Be The Eloquent Woman will take place in Washington, DC, on Feb. 28, and in Oxford, UK, on April 2. The day-long workshop will help you build confidence and competence as a speaker, and help you subvert the expectations that many women face when they speak. Please join me for these unique professional development sessions!

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But you won't miss a thing, since I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog for all readers to see. Here's what I shared in the week just past:
  • Workshop deadline: Friday, Feb. 21 at midnight ET is the deadline to register for my new workshop on women and public speaking. Be The Eloquent Woman in Washington, DC, on Feb. 28. The day-long workshop will help you build confidence and competence as a speaker, and help you subvert the expectations that many women face when they speak. There's also information at the link about a companion session taking place in Oxford, UK, on 2 April.  Please join me for these unique professional development sessions!
  • Rock that speech: Rocker Karen O, the frontwoman for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, is prepping for a possible Oscar acceptance speech for best original song.
  • No taking sides: You can't blame speaking issues on your left or your right brain--both sides of your brain are involved in speaking, another sign of how complex public speaking really is.
  • Make the connection: Here are 7 killer ways to connect with your audience.
  • Start 'em young: A new phenomenon, TED-Ed Clubs are for young people who want to learn how to give a TED talk. Be sure to share this with young women and girls!
  • This week on the blog we'll hear from a PR executive and book author about introverts and public speaking, and from an Oscar-winning actress who gives outstanding tributes and intros.
  • About the quote: Oh, that Margaret Edson, having some fun in a stunning extemporaneously delivered commencement address. Find more quotes like this on our Pinterest board of great quotes by eloquent women.
  • Oh, snap: In the U.S., today is the Presidents Day holiday, honoring all the women who've been elected president. We can dream, can't we? In the meantime, read our famous speeches by women who ran for president of the United States: Victoria Woodhull, Shirley Chisholm, and Hillary Clinton.

Friday, February 14, 2014

4 famous speeches by women athletes from The Eloquent Woman Index

With the Winter Olympics in full swing, it feels right to turn Famous Speech Friday over to some women athletes whose words are as powerful as their performances in sport. Fielding this team of four, drawn from The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women, I was struck by the barriers they've overcome, barriers far tougher than any distant finish line. From injury and physical disabilities to scandals and discrimination, these four women all come out winners in their sports and in their speeches. Click through to see video or read texts of these speeches, and find lessons you can use to improve your own public speaking:
  1. "This body couldn't make it:" Distance swimmer Diana Nyad's 2011 TEDMED talk takes you stroke by stroke through her failed attempt to swim 70 hours straight from Cuba to Florida. It's a mesmerizing, funny, and physical talk that veers from dreams to defeat. Nyad finally completed that swim in 2013, but this story, with its determination theme, is just as satisfying as winning.
  2. "Worth a thousand Lances:" British Olympic cyclist Nicole Cook's retirement speech took on Lance Armstrong and the cyclist doping scandal, how poorly women are treated in the sport, and the need for future protections for women and girl riders. She minces no words, tackling the tough issues of her sport just as she would any tough turn or daunting hill. It's a scorcher.
  3. "It's part of who I am:" Golfer Sophie Gustafson's speech on her stuttering was a rare speech, funny and self-reflective, and recorded on video to accept an award from a group of sports journalists. It took her eight hours to record this six-and-a-half-minute statement, just another indicator of the grit that makes her a champion on the links and off.
  4. "Disabled people need to find their voice again:" Before she became a paralympic athlete and amember of the UK Parliament, she was inspired by another parliamentarian with a disability. Tanni Grey-Thompson's "shout a bit louder" speech about disability was given as a memorial tribute to him, and as a call to action for others with disabilities to speak up for their rights.
I'm offering a new workshop on women and public speaking. Be The Eloquent Woman will take place in Washington, DC, on Feb. 28, and in Oxford, UK, on April 2. The day-long workshop will help you build confidence and competence as a speaker, and help you subvert the expectations that many women face when they speak. Please join me for these unique professional development sessions!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Guest post: Presenting gives me nightmares, but I still do it. Here's how.

(Editor's note: Reader Cate Huston escaped from graduate school to be a Software Engineer at Google. She used to be an international hobo, teaching programming in the US and in Shanghai, training in martial arts in China, qualifying as a ski instructor in Canada, and aimlessly wandering around Europe. After nearly 7 years as an expat, she's now readjusting to life in London. You can find her on Twitter (@catehstn) and on her blog, Accidentally in Code, where this post first appeared. It's reposted here with her permission. I've shared with her that Winston Churchill also practiced by trying out key lines on unsuspecting colleagues in advance of his speeches. Thanks, Cate, for contributing a speaker's perspective.)


I get very nervous presenting, although it’s something I do relatively often. This is not out of enthusiasm for getting up on stage, but rather because I find myself in the position of being the least unwilling engineer.
After my last presentation I was told that I didn’t need to be nervous, because I was good at it (and also because I have a “great personality” – awwh) but I don’t think nerves are a bad thing, within moderation, if you harness them to give a better talk.
There are plenty of people I’ve seen present who frankly should be more worried, because they are appalling at getting their points across. Every time I see someone like that present, I think “this is why I worry”.
Anyway, last time I was so nervous that I was actually having nightmares the night before (about someone who used to be underminey and gaslightey, which I don’t think is unrelated to what I was nervous about). I got more and more jittery as my time approached. And then I got up to the podium, completely focused on the points I was going to make, and the stories I was going to tell, and rocked it.
Aside from the compliments above, people commented on:
  • The delivery of my jokes.
  • Their concrete takeaway.
  • An adjustment in their thinking in relation to a point I made (x2).
  • Something they are going to look into as a result.
And ranking in my top two favourite pieces of feedback after a talk:
“And you’re an engineer!” – we have a bad rep, sometimes deservedly so.
(My other favourite piece, from another talk, was “I thought you were going to end with ‘and then we all
die’, but you didn’t. How did you do that?”).

NARRATIVE

The vast majority of my prep time is spent constructing a narrative. An arc that will tie what I’m going to say together, and then I’ll fit the bits and pieces of factoids into it, as they work. If they don’t, I’ll leave them out. It’s easy to get attached to ideas and facts that you want to talk about, but they aren’t always relevant. If they are but don’t make the cut, they can still come out at question time.

OUTCOME

This is very tied to the narrative. A presentation is an opportunity for you to influence people’s behaviour, what do you want them to do? I wanted people to take a broader view on something, understand better where we are, and use that to influence their priorities and choices going forward. We’ll see how that worked out as time goes on, but when the goal is for people to take a broader view, then I need to draw focus away from details. When the goal is influencing priorities and choices, I have to contextualise that and make it clear that this is more important than they realised.

RULE OF THREE

I can’t talk about this better than Denise does on The Eloquent Woman, so I won’t. Groupings are your friend here, details can be grouped, linked together, and lifted up into three distinct strands. Optionally illustrated with pictures of adorable kittens.

START STRONG.

You have maximum attention at the start, why waste it telling people who you are? Better to capture that attention so they listen, and impress them so much they want to find out more – and make it easy for them to do so by, say, taking up a small corner on your slide template for your twitter handle.
Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 10.18.11 PM

BE PROVOCATIVE

One of the things I’ve been working on is removing wishy washy caveats from my writing and my speaking. This is my blog, of course it’s what I think, and find relevant. Same with talks.
Statistics are so useful for me here, especially talking to engineers. I collect surprising and shocking statistics and pepper my talks with them. So statements like “The tech industry is hard on women” or, “studies show that women leave the industry at greater rates” become “63% of women in STEM report experiencing sexual harassment” [source]. “Mobile is increasing in importance and longer term people expect to be able to do everything on their phones” becomes “13,000 people a year buy cars on the EBay mobile app. There is nothing people won’t do on their phones.” [source].

KEEP IT SHORT

I never start with time. Never. I’ve now given enough talks of varying lengths that I have a good idea what is enough content for a given length, and then can adjust accordingly, if time is tight. But in general I aim to use 60-70% of any time allotted to me, and then either finish early, or leave time for questions.
Basically I make a judgement on what points I can make in that kind of time frame, and aim to present them as succinctly as possible, within the narrative. It’s better to come in early than waffle. Especially in a work context – no-one has ever complained about a meeting or talk ending early. It just leaves more time for questions, or for getting back to work!
In Extreme Blue we had to distill our summer’s work down to a four minute presentation. At first I thought it would be impossible. It wasn’t.

PREPARE. PREPARE. PREPARE.

Here’s the thing about a talk made up of stories – you can break it up into pieces. I think my manager had heard the key stories from my talk in the couple of days before I gave it publicly. At no point did I ask him to sit down and practise with me, though! Same for friends I’ve been hanging out with, and err, men on dates (such a mystery why I’m single, really). I’ve practised my talk in bits to unsuspecting people, with the added bonus that since they think this is a conversation (no really, it is) they will respond, and comment, and pick apart my thinking if they find it lacking.
In the shower, or whilst swimming laps, or walking are good times for me to go through all the pieces in my head (stretch goal – start talking aloud to myself around the house).
Nothing beats nerves like knowing you’re prepared. Nothing.

PROPS

On the day, I was tweeting about how I always present in four inch heels, and that’s not what I’m talking about here, although it goes without saying that I carefully consider my outfit (yet more great comments on The Eloquent Woman).
If I’m talking about mobile, or my career (working in mobile), I present from a mobile device. If I have to use the standard laptop, I put my notes on my tablet. I keep my slides to a minimum, but if I don’t need them – why use them? I gave a talk about my career path once using the Google Maps app (connected my iPhone to the projector) and zoomed around talking about the places I’ve lived and the things I did there.

THE AFTERMATH

I normally don’t remember the 15-30 minutes following a talk, as I calm down from all the stress. I definitely don’t take in anything anyone else is talking about. When I presented at Ignite, I came down off the stage and went straight to the bar for vodka. I’ll also really need some alone time soon after. I’ve learned to adjust my expectations accordingly, and just admit that I was so stressed from it that I didn’t know what’s going on for a while, or need to have a social break. People are usually pretty understanding – especially if they liked what I did.

THE END

It’s a lot of work for me to give a talk. A lot of time, a lot of stress. This 10-15 minute presentation was probably about 10 hours of work, not including surreptitious practise time! Recall the nightmares the night before.
But, even 35 people, and 15 minutes, is a lot of other people’s time to waste by giving it badly. About 9 hours of their time, which makes my prep time seem reasonable. Setting objectives for what I want my talk to achieve also makes the prep time seem worthwhile.
For more on presenting, I highly recommend The Eloquent Woman blog.
I'm offering a new workshop on women and public speaking. Be The Eloquent Woman will take place in Washington, DC, on Feb. 28, and in Oxford, UK, on April 2. The day-long workshop will help you build confidence and competence as a speaker, and help you subvert the expectations that many women face when they speak. Please join me for these unique professional development sessions!

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But you won't miss a thing, since I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog for all readers to see. Here's what I shared in the week just past:
  • Warm up your audience: Here are 10 techniques to build rapport quickly with anyone.
  • Ink in Inc.: Inc. magazine shared 9 habits of highly effective speakers. I'm delighted that The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women is among the sources of inspiration listed at the end of the article. Good tips here, too.
  • Not sorry: Do you apologize automatically? Here's how to suppress the apology reflex.
  • Coming up this week on the blog are famous speeches by women athletes, and a reader's account about how she persists with presentations.
  • About the quote: Inspiration from our board of quotes for public speakers on Pinterest.
  • Seats are filling: Have you registered yet for my new workshop on women and public speaking? Be The Eloquent Woman will take place in Washington, DC, on Feb. 28, and in Oxford, UK, on April 2. The day-long workshop will help you build confidence and competence as a speaker, and help you subvert the expectations that many women face when they speak. Please join me for these unique professional development sessions--and help out by sharing them with your friends and colleagues.
  • Vocal variety, indeed: Actress Meryl Streep demonstrated vocal range and skill when Ellen DeGeneres asks her to read various mundane scripts as different characters. A fun exercise to try yourself.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Brené Brown's 2010 TEDx talk on vulnerability

"Be thou vulnerable," TED tells its speakers. But this famous speech was about vulnerability--in us and in the speaker. It must have struck a chord, because Brené Brown's 2010 TEDx talk on vulnerability is, as of late 2013, the fourth-most-watched TED talk of all time.

But long before social work researcher Brown had garnered more than 13 million views for this talk, and gone on to speak at TED itself, she looked at this local TEDx talk as an experiment in her own research into vulnerability. From an interview with On Being, she recalls:
I did this TEDxHouston talk in June of 2010 and then, in December of 2010, the talk was chosen to be on the main TED website and it went viral very quickly. And one of the things that happened during that experience for me, it was the most intense vulnerability I've ever experienced in my professional life....And that thing was an experiment, like, I never had — if someone would have told me that was going to happen, I would have never said the things I said. And my experiment was let me just try being vulnerable while talking about vulnerability. Let me see what that's like....There were parts of it that were very hard for me and that I felt very unprepared for.
Brown admits that, while her research is on a "messy" topic, her first efforts were to make it "not messy," which itself was an effort to avoid vulnerability and the shame that goes with it. She explains:
...shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won't be worthy of connection? The things I can tell you about it: it's universal; we all have it.The only people who don't experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection. No one wants to talk about it, and the less you talk about it the more you have it. What underpinned this shame, this "I'm not good enough," which we all know that feeling: "I'm not blank enough. I'm not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, promoted enough." The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability, this idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen. And you know how I feel about vulnerability. I hate vulnerability. And so I thought, this is my chance to beat it back with my measuring stick. I'm going in, I'm going to figure this stuff out, I'm going to spend a year, I'm going to totally deconstruct shame, I'm going to understand how vulnerability works, and I'm going to outsmart it.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • The more esoteric your topic, the more concrete your language: Social work research into vulnerability is not everyday discussion fodder for most of us, and it feels and sounds "messy." So Brown uses simple, concrete terms throughout this talk. Of her own struggle with being vulnerable, she says, "For me, it was a yearlong street fight. It was a slugfest. Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back. I lost the fight, but probably won my life back."
  • Define your terms in words I can recognize: Brown defines vulnerability for the audience in terms that reflect real feelings the audience can see and feel: "to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there's no guarantee...to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror...to say, 'I'm just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive." In the process, she helps ensure that many in the audience will continue discussing the topic, having given them the words with which they can describe how it feels.
  • Demonstrate your own subject: Sometimes, a speech gives you the opportunity to demonstrate, as well as talk about, your subject matter. I especially love the way Brown ends this talk with the very vulnerable statement, "That's all I have," the perfect embodiment of what she's been talking about.
You can read the transcript of her On Being interview here and watch the video of her talk here (with a transcript) and below. Dive further into her research on vulnerability in Brown's books, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are and Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. What do you think of this famous speech?



I'm offering a new workshop on women and public speaking. Be The Eloquent Woman will take place in Washington, DC, on Feb. 28, and in Oxford, UK, on April 2. The day-long workshop will help you build confidence and competence as a speaker, and help you subvert the expectations that many women face when they speak. Please join me for these unique professional development sessions!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Inside Voice: Brian Jenner, European Speechwriters Network

(Editor's note: Inside Voice is a new interview series on The Eloquent Woman, in which we'll ask speakers, speechwriters, and storytellers to share their insights. This week, I'm pleased to let you hear from Brian Jenner, a British speechwriter who has created two thriving networks in that profession: The UK Speechwriters Guild and the European Speechwriters Network. I've worked with Brian as a keynote speaker and as a chair at the conferences of the guild and the network, and I admire his thinking about speakers and speaking. He curates conference speakers with an eye to presenting variety, humor, insight and inspiration, and does so without including a single panel discussion. I share his views on speakers who go overtime, among many topics!)

Where did you get your storytelling chops? (aka, skills)

I did Toastmasters for many years. I also studied French and German at university. My time at journalism school gave me interviewing skills.

What are the most important parts of a story, for a public speaker?

As a humorist, it’s the feedline and the punchline. Surprise is a important feature of any entertaining yarn.

What's something you wish more speakers would include in their storytelling?

More colour, that means insights that make the speaker more likeable.

What's something you wish more speakers would leave out of their storytelling?

Statistics.

You write speeches for clients. What does it take to put words in someone else's mouth?

It takes sensitivity. You’ve got to listen to the client’s voice and work out whether they would feel comfortable saying what you’re giving them. 

What's the difference when you write a speech for yourself?

Not much. You’re always looking for structures to squeeze your material into. I still need help because the point about your own work is you can’t see the faults or neurotic leaks in it.

Do you have a favorite speech or talk to which we can point our readers? What is it and why is it your favorite?

Lord Rabbi Sach’s Pre-Selichot Address, his last as Britain’s Chief Rabbi, is one of the most amazing sermons I’ve seen delivered. He blends topical storytelling with Biblical commentary. And he uses gestures you’d usually associate with an evangelical preacher. 

If you knew you could not fail, what kind of speech or presentation would you give? Tell us about the setting, audience, type of talk, content... 

I’d like to give careers lectures to schoolkids. Learning to speak in public can be about learning to think for yourself. If you think for yourself, you’re not going to be a very good employee, you’re going to have to be self-employed. Hence, I see a link between public speaking, leadership and entrepreneurship.

What's your public speaking pet peeve...as a speechwriter? As a member of the audience?

As a speechwriter, I don’t like clients who rewrite large chunks. As a member of the audience, I would throw rotten vegetables at people who go over their time. However good their presentation is.

Why is public speaking worth the effort, in your view?

Because you move people through the spoken word. You can persuade them to see the world differently and act on it.

I'm offering a new workshop on women and public speaking. Be The Eloquent Woman will take place in Washington, DC, on Feb. 28, and in Oxford, UK, on April 2. The day-long workshop will help you build confidence and competence as a speaker, and help you subvert the expectations that many women face when they speak. Please join me for these unique professional development sessions!

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But you won't miss a thing, since I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog for all readers to see. Here's what I shared in the week just past:

I'm offering a new workshop on women and public speaking. Be The Eloquent Woman will take place in Washington, DC, on Feb. 28, and in Oxford, UK, on April 2. The day-long workshop will help you build confidence and competence as a speaker, and help you subvert the expectations that many women face when they speak. Please join me for these unique professional development sessions!