Monday, May 30, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking:

Friday, May 27, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Hillary Clinton's 1969 commencement speech

Long before she became a Clinton, Hillary Rodham had an early and activist career as a speaker--so much so that Wellesley College broke with tradition and gave her a place on the commencement podium as its first student commencement speaker.

On that day in 1969, she followed the main speaker, Republican Senator Edward Brooke, and right at the start, signaled that she would rebut his remarks with all the impatience of her generation in a tumultuous time. Do her words sound like those of today's agitated electorate?
We've had lots of empathy; we've had lots of sympathy, but we feel that for too long our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible. 
After she contributed what she referred to at the start as "that indispensable element of criticizing and constructive protest," Rodham turned to her central theme, which focused on three qualities: Integrity, trust, and respect.
Those three words mean different things to all of us. Some of the things they can mean, for instance: Integrity, the courage to be whole, to try to mold an entire person in this particular context, living in relation to one another in the full poetry of existence. If the only tool we have ultimately to use is our lives, so we use it in the way we can by choosing a way to live that will demonstrate the way we feel and the way we know. Integrity—a man like Paul Santmire. Trust. This is one word that when I asked the class at our rehearsal what it was they wanted me to say for them, everyone came up to me and said "Talk about trust, talk about the lack of trust both for us and the way we feel about others. Talk about the trust bust." What can you say about it? What can you say about a feeling that permeates a generation and that perhaps is not even understood by those who are distrusted? All we can do is keep trying again and again and again. There's that wonderful line in "East Coker" by Eliot about there's only the trying, again and again and again; to win again what we've lost before.
Even in 1969, the speech was a sensation. Women were rare as public speakers unless they were protesting, and student speakers even more rare. At a time when many students were activists against the Vietnam War or for women's or LGBT or civil rights, inviting a student speaker presented the college with a certain amount of risk. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Give voice to others. It's one of the speaker's most powerful tools, and one that guarantees you are thinking about your audience. But few speakers take this strong opportunity to give voice to their listeners. "Talk about the trust bust" put that feeling in the words of her fellow students and through a microphone on a day when their thoughts might not have been represented at all. It strikes me that the lines that follow--"What can you say about it? What can you say about a feeling that permeates a generation and that perhaps is not even understood by those who are distrusted? All we can do is keep trying again and again and again."--could be said today by a younger generation.
  • Use the rule of three: On a day when big thoughts are called for, limiting her core speech to three--integrity, trust, and respect--helped give this speech structure and focus. Your audience (and you) can most easily remember three things, another advantage and part of what makes this speech truly memorable.
  • Don't be afraid to challenge authority: In this setting, using her remarks to challenge the remarks of a sitting senator would have been essentially unheard of, and considered an affront and a bold speaking move. It's here that she truly took charge of the event and helped her classmates to feel they had a real spokesperson on stage.
Below is an interview with one of her former classmates about the speech. Note her insights on the preparations made...

Dean Acheson's appraisal of young Hillary Clinton

And an update: Wellesley College released this compilation of audio excerpts from the speech, noting that it received a 7-minute ovation. Have a listen:


(Wellesley College photo)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Guest post: Do you tic when you talk?

(Editor's note: I asked voice coach Kate Peters for permission to reprint this post, which gets at an annoying but involuntary vocal problem many speakers experience. She notes, "Non-verbal “language" speaks volumes to an audience about who the speaker is, their emotional state, and their confidence. In particular, nervous habits surface as body language, but they can also surface as repeated vocal sounds of which the speaker may not even be aware.")

When I was in high school, I had a French teacher who grunted between every few words; little pig-like grunts would come from her mouth even when she was not speaking. It was awkward for us, to say the least, and she was the brunt of many jokes. However, she was either completely unaware of this tic, or did not know how to stop it.

Most people have seen physical tics such as head jerks, or hands that pull at clothes over and over when speaking, but there are also phonic tics. Phonic tics are involuntary sounds produced by moving air through the nose, mouth, or throat. Some call them vocal tics, but they could be a sound made when you breathe or a click of the tongue or a throat clearing. The extreme of phonic tics is Tourette Syndrome, but most are not that severe. For most of us, tics appear when we least want them to– when we are in front of a group. Tics are associated with anxiety. (Naturally, I now have much more compassion for my French teacher because I realize that we must have scared her to death!)

People with tics report that they first feel an irresistible urge to clear the throat, or grunt, or whatever the tic is followed by the tic. Even though it feels like you can’t stop yourself, it is possible to get rid of most tics as you do other habits, through awareness and practice; if you are aware of it you can stop it. Some tics, of course, are more deeply ingrained, more about the anxiety of being in front of others, and may take longer to conquer. Either way, if you have a vocal tic, eliminating it will increase your credibility, your comfort, and the audience’s comfort as well. Here’s how to work on it:
  • Observe yourself, either through video, or through feedback from others. You need to know exactly when the tic appears and what it is (grunt? click? sigh?) Sometimes this is all it takes to begin to break the habit.
  • Answer the tic urge with distraction.Tics are pent up energy. If you notice when the urge comes upon you to make the tic sound, say something before you can tic, or energize your voice consciously and you may dissolve the urge, and even replace it with a positive habit.
  • Before going on stage, calm yourself down with several deep low breaths, and repeat.
  • Focus on what you can do for others rather than what they are thinking about you. This is the key to conquering almost any kind of stage fright!
  • Prepare well. The more prepared you are the less likely it is that the nerves will get to you.
About Kate Peters
Kate Peters has taught voice and communication impact for over 30 years, and is the author of the book, Can You Hear Me Now? She has coached many executives and leadership teams at companies such as Cisco, Intel, Ernst and Young, Disney, Boeing, CA, British Petroleum, Invensys, First American, and Nissan. She helps translate geek speak into influential everyday speech for speakers at TEDMED and TEDx events, and is a featured speaker herself with organizations such as Women in Business, NAFE, E-Women, Rotary, The UCLA Alumni Association, CASE, and IABC. As a guest on talk radio spots she has taught vocal skills to thousands, and thoroughly enjoyed coaching callers into the Canadian based “Wayne and Jane Show" to sound sexy for Valentine’s Day.  Her blog, Kate’s Voice, has been named one of the top 100 online public speaking resources by Prezi

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Daniel Oines)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking:

Friday, May 20, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Michelle Obama at Tuskegee University

"Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating?"

You might find it difficult to imagine yourself saying those words in front of a crowd of thousands. But that's just what U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama did in her commencement address this year at Tuskegee University, in a speech that considered how we view and treat race in our society from an historic and more contemporary perspective. And in doing so, she took back some of the power of being a woman speaker, by naming the criticisms that aimed to silence her.

First, she spent considerable time talking about the Tuskegee Airmen, America's first black military airmen. These African-American fighter pilots and bomber pilots fought in World War II in the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. Despite their service, they faced discrimination and segregation on the ground. Here's how Mrs. Obama made this historic group come alive for the graduates. From the transcript: 

Just think about what that must have been like for those young men.  Here they were, trained to operate some of the most complicated, high-tech machines of their day -- flying at hundreds of miles an hour, with the tips of their wings just six inches apart.  Yet when they hit the ground, folks treated them like they were nobody -- as if their very existence meant nothing. 
Now, those Airmen could easily have let that experience clip their wings.  But as you all know, instead of being defined by the discrimination and the doubts of those around them, they became one of the most successful pursuit squadrons in our military.  (Applause.)  They went on to show the world that if black folks and white folks could fight together, and fly together, then surely -- surely -- they could eat at a lunch counter together.  Surely their kids could go to school together. (Applause.)
Later, she turned to the discrimination and silencing questions she herself faced:
Back when my husband first started campaigning for President, folks had all sorts of questions of me: What kind of First Lady would I be?  What kinds of issues would I take on?  Would I be more like Laura Bush, or Hillary Clinton, or Nancy Reagan?  And the truth is, those same questions would have been posed to any candidate’s spouse.  That’s just the way the process works.  But, as potentially the first African American First Lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others. Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating?  (Applause.) Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?
She details more of those specific jabs and criticisms, then says:
So throughout this journey, I have learned to block everything out and focus on my truth.  I had to answer some basic questions for myself:  Who am I?  No, really, who am I?  What do I care about?  
And the answers to those questions have resulted in the woman who stands before you today. 
For her efforts, this speech was dubbed racist or "reverse racist" by conservative critics. She was told to "quit whining," and worse--all reactions using a long-standing tactic of branding the speaker as doing the very thing she's speaking against, and a true double standard.

What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Name your silencers: The easiest way to take the power away from harsh criticisms--the kind that aim to silence your voice--is to name them in your speeches. Shed light on these negative tropes and take your voice back. In doing so, you'll be a great example to others.
  • Show us those places where history echoes: With a deft hand, this speech shares parallels between the history of discrimination against the airmen, and the first black president and his family a generation later. The discrimination takes a different form, but remains in the form of "fears and misperceptions," despite progress, and the speech does a great job sharing that perspective from the individuals' points of view.
  • Make your speech one that only you could give: This commencement speech could have been formulaic, so familiar is this spring speaking ritual. But by adding her own perspective, Mrs. Obama made this speech very much her own. The next time you are preparing a presentation or speech, ask yourself: Could anyone else give this? If the answer is yes, put more of yourself into it.
You can watch video of the speech here and below, and read the speech here.



(White House photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The quantified speaker: 6 kinds of speaker data to know about yourself

A practical way to advance your speaker skills also is often overlooked: Quantifying your performances as a speaker over time. Put another way, if you keep track of certain measures after each talk, you can compare your data over time and make changes as needed. Most speakers don't do this, and never learn how to adjust. Here are 6 kinds of data that are easy to track and useful in advancing your skills:
  1. How fast or slow do you really speak? Most speakers have no real idea of their speaking speed, but all public speakers need to speaker slower than they do in conversation if the audience is to hear and understand them. Use a formula of 120 words per minute as your guide, and divide that into the total words in the transcript or script of your speech. Then look at the recording time to calculate how fast or slow you really speak. Comparing the ideal to the real is the key here. Then you can probe why you're speaking fast or slow. If you work with a speechwriter, ask what speed she's writing to, and get yourself and your script in alignment. But if you are speaking faster than the speed the writer's writing to, don't make her speed up. You should slow down, instead.
  2. Do you stay within the time allotted? End too soon? Go overtime too often? Again, a recording can help you figure out how long you spoke, compared to what was on the schedule. Tracking this data over time lets you see your pattern and whether it needs correcting. The 120 words per minute rule of thumb virtually guarantees that you will stay precisely on time. 
  3. How much time do you generally allow for questions, as a proportion of the total time? I advise the speakers I coach to aim for 50 percent time for speaking, and 50 percent for questions, a balance that's most satisfying to the audience (and likely to give you great reviews). Again, tracking this over time will let you see where you need to adjust.
  4. If you use slides, how do you use them, and how much time do you spend on them? I had a client who could never get off his title slide--two hours later, he'd still be talking with that in the background. Calculate how many slides you use per presentation first. Then calculate the high, low, and average time spent on each slide. Make note of whether you spend too much time on a particular slide; this often happens right at the start, on the title slide, or at the very end. Too much time on one slide might also mean that you have too much content on it. Consider the rule of "one thought per slide, but not one slide per thought" to adjust, and learn how to declutter your slides.
  5. Are your ums within average? Ums are not the big problem everyone makes them out to be, and a few ums here or there are nothing to worry about, despite what you've been told. In fact, they represent about 10 percent of everyone's speech, in every language in the world--that's how common they are, and why we often don't notice them. But if your ums are, say, 40 percent of your talk, we'll certainly notice. They also signal that you aren't remembering what you have to say, which likely means you felt rushed, didn't have or take enough time to prepare, or were thinking about something else. If you are having a service transcribe your talk video, be sure to direct them to include ums, uhs, and ers. Otherwise it's standard practice for transcribers to omit them, and you won't learn a thing. (Yes, that's right: A time-honored way to erase your ums is to have the transcriber leave them out.)
  6. Your most frequently used words: Every speaker has favorite phrases, used over and over for all sorts of reasons: You like the sound or the cleverness or the ease of them. Put the text (or better yet, the transcript) of each speech you give into a word cloud generator like this one, and the words you use the most will appear largest in the visual word cloud. Then all you need to do is decide whether you need to vary your vocabulary, or stick to your favorites. And for another kind of data, ask your team members to list your stock phrases. If they work on your presentations or listen to you enough, they'll be able to make a top 10 list easily.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Gavin Tapp)

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Dr. Maya Angelou: "Be a Rainbow in Someone Else's Cloud" - Oprah's Master Class - OWN
If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Nancy Hanks on the student she expelled

Sometimes the organization that helped you get your start asks you to come back and share wisdom in the form of a speech. In educator Nancy Hanks's case, it was Teach for America, the organization that brings people from a wide range of backgrounds to public school teaching in America, and the occasion was TFA's 25th anniversary, with an audience of 1,000 of her fellow educators.

Hanks wanted to talk about the prison pipeline, the steps that contribute to young people's incarceration--an issue that disproportionately affects students of color and those with disabilities. Acting up in school leads to punishment in school, then out of school, when there are more successful ways to handle those situations.

Hanks, now an administrator in Madison, Wisconsin's school system, used the first part of her speech to share her thought process about what to say that day. She considered inspirational quotes, then discarded them. She considered data. But in the end, she decided to tell a story of personal failure: The day she expelled a troublesome student, back in her days as a school principal in Chicago. First, however, she held her audience to an accounting of the roles educators play, often unintentionally, in contributing to the prison pipeline. Here's a sample:
If you’re a teacher, it’s in the moments when the unconscious bias — that we all have, by the way — compels you to address the “aggressive” or “off task” behaviors of your scholars of color while the identical behaviors of their white peers often go unaddressed, banishing those students to the main office, discipline referral form in hand while you continue on with your well-designed Common Core-aligned lesson. That’s your contribution.
She continued with similar examples for administrators and superintendents, repeating "That's your contribution."

Then Hanks made a pivot to reflect what her audience was probably thinking:
Yes, systems matter, and yes, there are villains out there. But we’ve got to be way more honest and own our piece of this. 
Now I can see somebody right now walking out feeling some type of way…. like, “Can you believe her? She was up there throwing shade, talking about ‘I’m building the pipeline’…I am a drum major for justice!” 
But I promise you, it’s all out of love, and I promise you, I don’t have all the answers. I’ve just tried to learn from my mistakes.
She followed with a story about running into a former student she'd expelled years earlier, and the shame she felt, knowing at this later stage in her career that she could have made wiser, kinder choices about how to handle this student. It's a highly personal anecdote of failure, and she does share what happened to the student and where they went from that chance encounter.

The Washington Post not only covered the speech, but reprinted the full text and video--unusual for any speech. “I was nervous about giving this speech because I’m certainly not an expert in this field,” Hanks told the Post. “I know colleagues and professors who are way more well-versed in all of the nuances of this work. But I feel like there are people who are like me, everyday trying to do the right things by kids, and who are confronted with these situations where you have to sometimes make courageous choices that ultimately can impact people for the rest of their lives.”

What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • If you think the audience is doubting your words, say what they're thinking: This is a great tactic for speakers with controversial ideas and topics. It makes you seem less out of touch and more thoughtful, and lets you make your proof points even more strongly...or, as Hanks did, to pivot to a story you can tell on yourself.
  • Use repetition for emphasis: Hanks uses a classic rhetorical device, epistrophe, repeating "That's your contribution" at the end of the paragraphs about what each educator group contributes to the problem. It's useful both for emphasis and for memory, drawing each set of contributions to the same close.
  • Tell messy stories of personal failure: Hanks's personal story is a messy one--the kind BrenĂ© Brown recommends you tell without neatening it up to a "happily ever after" story. She does achieve redemption: The student turns out okay, and they make an agreement to work together so he can take his college admissions tests successfully. But the story isn't finished, as she tells it, and it focuses squarely on her failure and what it might have led to, and what she does differently today.
Reader Kimberly Moynahan found and suggested this speech. Thank you! Watch the video of the talk below.

A principal on how meeting a student she expelled changed her approach to discipline

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Storytelling and emotion: Their physical impact on speaker and audience

An effort to physically map human emotions and the impact they have on the body used stories and storytelling to elicit emotions--and gives us clues about what your audiences may be feeling when you tell different types of stories.

To create these maps (view larger), the 700 participants were shown a variety of emotional words, stories, videos, and images. They were then asked to paint two human silhouettes on a computer; one to show where they felt increased sensation, and the other for decreased sensation. The researchers then compiled all of the maps, being careful to mitigate the effect of sensation-specific phrases (cold feet, heartbroken, hot-headed, a shiver down your spine), and to remove any “anomalous painting behavior” (doodles, symbols, etc.) The two silhouettes were then combined, and then the combined images from all participants were averaged to create the final maps.
Speakers will appreciate that fear and shame appear from this test to be upper-body emotions, flooding the face and torso. The research not only identifies where in your body you (or your audience) will feel an emotion, but showed reactions to particular types of stories. On the circle map here, the emotional intent of the story is shown around the circle's edge, while the color-coded lines show the emotions of the audience's reaction. What's interesting here are the combined emotions evoked by certain types of stories. Happy stories only yielded happy reactions, for example, but an angry story might yield anger as well as feelings of disgust or sadness.

You can read the research here. I'd advise you to use the circle chart when you're planning the impact of a story you wish to tell. What impact (or impacts) will it have on the audience? Where will they be reacting physically?

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking:

Friday, May 6, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Dorothy Fuldheim on Kent State shooting

Forty-six years ago this week, there were a few things that were unusual about Dorothy Fuldheim's evening commentary on WEWS-TV on May 4, 1970. For one thing, "Cleveland's First Lady of the Airwaves" finished the piece weeping in front of the camera. For another thing, nearly every call that came into the station that night was critical of the beloved Fuldheim. "Why are you sorry for those deaths?" one such caller complained. "Too bad the National Guard didn't kill more."

Fuldheim had been at Kent State University earlier that day, where National Guardsmen had shot 13 students, killing four, after weeks of campus protests following President Richard Nixon's announcement that the war in Vietnam would now spread to Cambodia. Fuldheim came away from reporting at Kent State that day anguished and raw, asking, "Since when do we shoot our own children?"

Kent State was far from the first controversial issue Fuldheim had tackled in her years in public speaking. As a child, her father took her to courthouses to learn how to speak like a lawyer. In 1918, the social activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams approached her about delivering an antiwar speech, after seeing Fuldheim's fiery performance in a local theater group. After that, Fuldheim began charging $10 a speech, speaking on topics from birth control to public utilities. Men sometimes groaned when they saw a woman approach the podium, she recalled, but she calculated that she had given 3000 speeches in 20 years (that's an average of one speech every 2.5 days).

She made the transition to reporting and commentary as a way to collect more information for her speeches, and began broadcasting in 1944 on Cleveland radio and in 1947 on television. It's said she was the first woman to do a live television broadcast in the U.S., and the first to host her own show. She interviewed presidents, popes, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and her direct and witty observations gained her thousands of fans.

Those fans had cheered when, just a few weeks before Kent State, Fuldheim threw Yippie Jerry Rubin off her program for his lewd remarks. Viewers who thought that she was holding back the tide against the counter culture were dismayed by her commentary on May 4.

Here's most of that night's commentary, reprinted in Dorothy Fuldheim: The First Lady of Television News by Patricia M. Mote:
There were no guns in the hands of the four who were killed and the nine who were wounded-they had no weapons, no iron rods in their hands, they were giving no speeches. Their sin was protesting against the war and the four that were killed were only bystanders. They were there to see what was going on; they were students who were curious about the excitement. There were crowds gathering on the campus to protest the war do they came along to see what was happening. No one told them that the governor of the state had called out the National Guard. The governor apparently decided it would show these long-haired troublemakers that protest meetings were not to be tolerated. There was some jostling, shouting and rock throwing but what prompted the National Guard to shoot? And who gave the National Guard the bullets? Who ordered the use of them? Since when do we shoot our own children? Ask the parents of these young people how they feel. When will their anguish be over? Tortured at the thought that their children were killed and without a reason, they exist with a pain in their hearts.
As the angry letters and calls poured into the WEWS station, Fuldheim offered to resign--an offer her boss at the station swiftly refused. Later, she responded to her critics on air, saying that she was "bewildered" at the intensity of feeling her report unleashed. (You can read parts of that commentary here.)

What can you learn from Fuldheim's famous speech?
  • Your speech is also a performance.You don't have to be a full-fledged actor when you speak, but it doesn't hurt to remember that most speeches do tell a story in front of an audience. Fuldheim said she drew heavily on her theater experiences to set a scene and tell a story when she delivered her commentaries, a talent that comes through when she describes the face-off between the National Guard and the students.
  • Your emotional speech could lead to an emotional response. Fuldheim didn't hold back any of her emotions--rage, confusion, despair-- when she went on the air that night. She may have been bewildered by the fact that the response was so negative, but I don't think it's bewildering that the response was so passionate. Speaking in frank and emotional terms can set the "rules of engagement" for a conversation with an audience, encouraging them to feel and respond in kind.
  • Learn how to respond--not react to critics. The WEWS station manager remembers the days after Kent State as the first time he had ever seen Fuldheim "really shaken," in 25 years of work together. But she thoughtfully waited more than two months to respond to the criticism, in an on-air commentary that did not apologize for what she had said on May 4. Instead, she simply described the kind of blowback she had received--including some death threats--and explained again why she felt the events at Kent State had failed the students, the National Guard, and their country.
Here's a much later video, Fuldheim's commentary on her 86th birthday, when she was still broadcasting. It conveys a lot of her inimitable style of speaking: Video Vault: Dorothy Fuldheim's 'The House I Live In' commentary

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

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Why memorizing your high-stakes speech frees you: Sen. Amy Klobuchar

How important is it, really, to memorize your speech...especially if you will have access to a teleprompter? Just ask U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Back when she was a county prosecutor in Minnesota, Klobuchar was tapped to speak at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the highlight of which was Barack Obama's stirring keynote speech. For her rather less important three-minute speech in the middle of afternoon 3 of the convention, Klobuchar was given a set of rules. She'd be using a teleprompter, and under no circumstances could she make any jokes about then-President George W. Bush. So, given that first proviso, she decided she didn't need to memorize her short speech.

That's when her mentor, former Vice President Walter Mondale, stepped in. Klobuchar related the tale on episode 39 of The Axe Files, David Axelrod's new podcast:
Klobuchar: That was my first national convention and I’m ready to go out there the day before I give my 3-minute speech for John Kerry. I was a prosecutor at the time and he says to me, “Well, have you memorized the speech?” and I go, “Well, no, there’s you know, there’s teleprompters” And he said, “Don’t trust a teleprompter.“ "That is how Carter said Hubert Horatio Hornblower [instead of Hubert Horatio Humphrey] at that the Carter convention." 
And I said, all right. It seemed outdated. I’m up there on the stage. Patrick Leahy’s speaking, the teleprompter goes dark. And I’m standing there, I look in the front row and there, waiting for me to speak, is Walter Mondale and I’ve never seen a more “I told you so” look in my life.
I get up to the stage, I give my speech. I don’t use the teleprompter at all, it came up in the middle and, because I memorized it like he said. And it went really well. And the organizers had told me that I couldn’t even use a little joke about George Bush where I said something about…

Axelrod: Yes, I remember that convention.

Klobuchar: Yeah

Axelrod: I was there with Obama. He spoke there, too.

Klobuchar: Right. Well, really? In any case, maybe little more notable than my 3 minutes but…

Axelrod: But he also memorized his speech.

Klobuchar: That’s right. But anyway, I had a joke, a Barbara Jordan quote, about how what America wants is something as good as its country and a promise as good as its country. And I said, I’d like to end with something famous from someone from Texas and I paused...not George Bush. And they prohibited me from using that joke. And after the teleprompter went dead, I’m like…

Axelrod: So did you use it? Did you ad-lib? 
Klobuchar: Yes, I did. I completely ad-libbed because I decided if they were having technological problems…
Too often, I see speakers look at memorizing your speech as something awful--limiting, structured, nervous-making. But Klobuchar learned to see it as freeing her from that nervousness, or the prospect of technological failure...and then freed herself from one of the other rules, while she was at it. I think it's telling, too, that Obama used the same insurance policy on his more prominent speech. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking: