Friday, July 29, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Michelle Obama's 'a house built by slaves'

Michelle Obama has been giving a lot of "last" speeches lately, like her last commencement speech as First Lady, and many more. But I doubt that her turn at the U.S. Democratic National Convention as a speaker this week will be her last convention speech, because she took a fractured audience and made it not only unified, but eager to follow where she was leading them in endorsing Hillary Clinton as the next U.S. president.

The speech was loaded with understatement. Donald Trump was never mentioned by name, a tactic which served both as slight and sleight-of-hand. Before you knew what was happening, she'd delivered critique after critique. but failed to name the outsized egotist who puts his name everywhere. That might be the ultimate insult, but not mentioning his name also may have serve a useful purpose in giving the crowd fewer opportunities to boo during her speech. Unlike many other prominent speakers, her speech was relatively free of interruptions other than cheering.

Here's a great example of the understatement in this speech: Obama opened talking about how she and the President have tried to raise their daughters, who essentially grew up in the White House. And in listing the lessons for her daughters, she was listing lessons for the nation:
How we urge them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith. How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is: ‘When they go low, we go high.
Most-quoted was the part that begins "I wake up every morning...", but as powerful as that is, its true power momentum came from the words that preceded it. Here it is in full:
The story of generations of people who have felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation but who kept on striving and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful intelligent black young women, play with the dog on the White House lawn.
I often tell you to aim for a signature talk, one that only you can give--otherwise, we are doomed as listeners to hearing the same thing over and over again. Well, here is an intensely personal passage, one uniquely spoken by the first black First Lady of the United States to a world not used to hearing the White House described in just that way. That adds to its power. As actor Mia Farrow tweeted:
Most important of all, this speech did what it set out to do--unlike many convention speeches--and gave a full-throated endorsement of the candidate. The quote above about living in the White House and its point about people of color "who kept on striving" is echoed in this passage that artfully tackles every criticism leveled at the candidate, from how she looks to why she didn't leave her husband when his affair was found out:
And look, there were plenty of moments when Hillary could have decided that this work was too hard, that the price of public service was too high, that she was tired of being picked apart for how she looks or how she talks or even how she laughs. But here’s the thing -- what I admire most about Hillary is that she never buckles under pressure. She never takes the easy way out. And Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life. 
Michelle Obama's role as First Lady means she mostly has to stay above the political fray; there are legal limits to how much, where, and when she may campaign. So when she had the opportunity to do so, she made this political speech frankly feminist, in favor of making a woman president, and unabashedly patriotic, saying, "So don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this, right now, is the greatest country on earth." It was the perfect riposte, rhetorically and emotionally, to the Trump campaign's "Make America great again" slogan. This speech prompted an enthusiastic response in the hall and around the world, from all political sides; some called it a "speech for the ages." Let's also give credit to Obama's speechwriter, Sarah Hurwitz; their partnership is described in this article. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Be a uniter, not a divider: In addition to standing in stark contrast to the negative themes of last week's Republican Convention and the protestors on the floor of her own convention, Obama was able to unite the audience--in the hall and beyond it--with an upbeat, briskly paced talk that emphasized areas of commonality. Read the text a couple of times: You'll notice lines that appeal to, but don't mention, specific audiences, and describe what "we" do, so the message that "we're all in this together" comes through clearly.
  • Don't pull your punches: Despite not mentioning the opponent, there's nothing hesitant about this speech, which levels its criticisms in an artful way. It takes extra effort to write a speech this way, but it is all the more powerful.
  • Remember the job of your speech: The road is littered with endorsers who come to convention and barely mention or endorse the candidate. But as we coaches like to say, every speech has a job to do. By accomplishing what she came to accomplish, there was none of the anxiety and drama around Obama's convention speech--and that meant we were free to hear her words and their meaning. I wish more politicians would take this approach.
You can read the full text here, and watch the video here and below:

 

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, July 28, 2016

My favorite fixes for public speaking: Mindfulness meditation

As a speaker coach, it's my job to keep a lot of tools in my toolbox to help my clients improve their public speaking. But just like any craftsman, I have a few go-to tools, well-worn from frequent use. This is the first in a series of five favorite fixes I turn to all the time. Each one sounds simple, but confers a complex array of benefits to public speakers...if only you will do them. I'm sharing each favorite fix along with the types of speakers who might benefit most from them. You'll get the best results if you try them not once, but over a period of time.

This week's favorite fix is to learn mindfulness meditation. Also called present-moment awareness, mindfulness meditation isn't complicated: You focus on your breathing in and out, or how your body feels, or the sounds that come to your ears, and when your mind wanders, you bring it back to the present moment. Over and over and over again, without chiding yourself for mind-wandering.

Mindfulness meditation works best when you develop a regular daily practice; over time, you will notice yourself becoming more calm and focused. It's not a magic bullet, but if you do it with regularity, it works. It also is a great back-pocket tool for backstage nerves, because you can do as little as a few minutes of meditation to get the beneficial effects. Try these 1-minute and 4-minute meditations from Tara Brach to see what a short meditation can do.

Mindfulness can help you combat fight-or-flight syndrome, which shuts down the part of your brain you need for complex activity like public speaking, and turns on the part that makes you want to run and hide. Full Catastrophe Living offers a good introduction to the benefits of meditation, and a great description of how fight-or-flight syndrome affects your body.

This past year at TEDMED2015, I had the opportunity to work with two experts in meditation. They were not only calm, but were focused and aware of what was happening in every moment. But they know and I know that every speaker could have that advantage!

This is a good fix for nervous speakers, particularly those who jump ahead to imagine catastrophes or think back to mistakes; over-preparers; speakers who blush uncontrollably, since that is a playing-out of your stress on stage; and anyone who gets fight-or-flight syndrome before speaking (aka, everyone).

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Florian Richter)

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, July 25, 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:
  • How the Irish lost their words: New storytelling groups are reviving Ireland's ancient art of telling tales.
  • The hands have it: "Preparing a public speech would have involved careful rehearsal of the splay of the fingers, the angle of the hand and how it would be positioned in relation to the body. Hand gestures formed an integral part of speech, of what Cicero called the sermo corporis, the language of the body. They were sometimes considered to be even more important than the content or composition of a speech." Interesting look at the important role our hands play, including in public speaking.
  • Did you miss? This week, we introduced The Eloquent Woman Booklist of books featured on the blog, and Famous Speech Friday shared Melania Trump's Republican National Convention speech and the controversy around it. On the Moderating Panels blog, I shared
  • The early registration discount is ending soon for my Edinburgh workshop in October on how to Add Meaning with Metaphor to your speeches. Use the links at the end of this post to register! Registration will stay open until seats are filled, but why not grab the discount?
  • About the quote: Drew Barrymore hints at a speaking truth: Experience is a great source of material. Find more quotes like this one on our Pinterest board of great quotes by eloquent women.
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.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Melania Trump's speech at the Republican convention

(Editor's note: This is a longer than usual post, but then again, it's been a longer than usual week for women and public speaking. I'm grateful I don't write this post for any earlier in the week, given how this story unfolded. TGIF.)

The most famous speech of many given in this week of the U.S. Republican National Convention was a woman's speech. At the beginning of the week, that was because it was only the second speech given in the presidential campaign by Melania Trump, wife of candidate Donald Trump. Speculation was natural. By the end of the week, a woman speaker and a woman speechwriter both had been prominently discredited, and the message of the speech completely lost in a plagiarism furor.

I choose speeches for this series by all kinds of women, but require that the speech itself be famous. This speech would qualify for Notorious Speech Friday, let alone Famous Speech Friday. It was slammed on Twitter thousands of times with the hashtag #FamousMelaniaTrumpQuotes giving her credit for all sorts of famous speech lines; parodied by comedians; investigated by reporters; and most of all, kept in play by continued and conflicting denials from the campaign--so much so, some observers suggested it was a publicity ploy from start to finish, although that seems unlikely. More likely: No one was paying much attention to the candidate's wife's talk. Big mistake. Briefly, here's what happened:

The speech was notable for the absence of what we've come to expect from the so-called wifely tribute at a convention. This one was almost entirely devoid of personal details that would help listeners connect with the candidate. Personal details, particularly in a speech like this, do what hours of ads can't do. But Melania Trump did speak a little about her own immigrant experience, noting:
From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect.
All appropriate thoughts for someone looking to be the next First Lady of the United States. So appropriate, in fact, that we'd heard them before, in Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech:
You work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.
Similarities can be found with other passages as well. If anyone at the Trump campaign had thought to themselves, "Oh, no one will notice," they were quickly proved wrong. A Twitter user and former television journalist tweeted about the similarities. Huffington Post was among the first to report on the possibility of plagiarismMainstream media pundits called it a "catastrophic" occurrence, and at least one suggested it was sabotage from within the campaign. Others said it just showed the amateurish nature of the campaign. Twitter exploded.

The campaign itself poured fuel on the fire with conflicting statements. Before the convention, Melania Trump had told at least one media outlet that she had written the speech herself "with as little help as possible." After it was brought to light, the campaign issued a statement about the speech that did not address the plagiarism, but talked about her "team of writers" using her own thoughts among other sources. But the next day, Paul Manafort, the campaign's chairman, denied the accusations, saying, “There’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech. These were common words and values that she cares about — her family, things like that. I mean, she was speaking in front of 35 million people last night. She knew that. To think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama’s words is crazy.” Others in the party had a variety of reactions: fire the speechwriter, the plagiarism wasn't a big deal, and, bizarrely, that the backlash was Hillary Clinton's way of blaming a woman who attacked her.

That mix of responses led to more investigation by reporters. They put the speech through a plagiarism checker (pro tip: there are many freely available online) and found nearly 50 percent of it qualified as "non-unique," despite New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's assertion that "93 percent" was original. With the longest matching phrase at 23 words, the report noted that the likelihood it was a coincidence was less than one in 1 trillion. Side-by-side video comparisons of the two speeches, and videos that overlaid the two speeches, were rushed online. Every speechwriter dreams of a speech being pored over in detail, each word considered...but not this way.

The reality was closer to Trump's original statement. A speech had been commissioned from two top Republican speechwriters, who were quick to share their draft and note how little it had in common with the eventual speech. It emerged that Trump had worked with a trusted ghostwriter to edit the original draft, and finally, that ghostwriter, Meredith McIver, admitted responsibility for incorporating Michelle Obama's words and failing to remove them from the draft. As MSNBC pointed out, every Republican who had fallen in line with the campaign's denial was suddenly left looking stupid, or out of the loop. And, credibility being in short supply, observers noted that McIver's social profiles had all been created fewer than 24 hours before the disclosure, prompting speculation that the speechwriter is not real. But in fact, she does exist, and in the past, had another episode in which she entered errors into a book manuscript for Donald Trump. Because she is not registered as working for the campaign, her involvement may be an illegal in-kind contribution to the campaign. All that for using a writer with whom (I'm guessing) the candidate and his wife feel comfortable.

Let's get to the lessons, shall we? I like to share good examples you can use in your own public speaking, and this speech is a good example of what not to do when you have a high-stakes speaking engagement. Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Authenticity goes beyond facts: When I watched the speech delivered live, the "your word is your bond" speech struck me as inauthentic to Trump. To my ear, the phrasing didn't seem like something she would say herself. Copying, rather than just consulting, previous speeches is a mistake just waiting to be discovered. More important, a speech needs to fit you like a glove, not be a speech that someone else could deliver. The copied version could only be, at best, an ill-fitting glove for Trump. Sarah Palin faced a similar situation, with a convention speech pre-written long before anyone had selected her. But it was customized with stories from her personal life that fit the themes, a much better way to make it her own.
  • Don't miss your big opportunity: Controversy aside, this speech missed the mark by a mile. The speaker didn't practice, saying she only read the draft once over before delivering it. That meant she was reduced to reading the teleprompter instead of reaching the audience. Some observers excused the flat delivery by saying English is not Trump's first language, but she speaks five languages. That wasn't the problem. The content did nothing to help us know and understand her husband in ways only she could share, which is the entire point of having a candidate's spouse speak. Pundits were reduced to commenting on her appearance and that her delivery was serviceable, because the content and genuine connection were so lacking.
  • Use the Russert test: The late journalist Tim Russert had a great test for inauthentic-sounding statements: Take your talking points and turn them into pointed questions that your worst enemy would ask, to see if they stand up. Hard, skeptical questioning might have uncovered such problems as using the lines of the opposing party's First Lady, praising your husband's loyalty when you're his third wife, and challenging the opponent's authenticity with a speech that is plagiarized. The Russert test helps you attend to the details on which your credibility is resting. After all, it's not how you see the speech that counts. It's how we see it.
  • Details matter: Details matter in high-profile talks like this one. The controversy meant that Melania Trump's words really didn't get heard, drowning out her message more effectively than any mute button. Once the error was confessed, her husband's campaign shared its plans to scrub his speech for the same kinds of errors and copies that no one bothered to look for in his wife's speech. Apparently, they know how to do this. They just didn't do it at any point in the prep for Mrs. Trump's speech.
As reporter John Dickerson pointed out in his podcast, this speech matters a great deal to the campaign. He described a series of missteps by the campaign that preceded the speech, as well as the speech snafus, then said:
These are maybe all small things and they're not going to bother the rank and file Trump voters. Good gracious, the opposite is true. They'll think this is the petty baloney stuff that only political insiders care about. But this week is about political insiders, that's what it's about: uniting the party, settling the nerves of the people who give the money and come to the conventions, the rank and file who make a party go...some of them check writers who are worried that Donald Trump is so unpredictable that it's not going to be worth writing money to the party or to his campaign or the campaigns of other Republicans if Donald Trump is going to torpedo the cause. These people...who were trying to be brought into the Donald Trump tent are the ones who pay attention to those little things...
There's no better indicator of the negative impact of this speech than this: Over the four days of the convention, this plagiarism scandal overwhelmingly dominated the media coverage, even prompting reporters to examine how the candidate's speech was being fact-checked in advance.

No matter how you vote, I think it's a shame that this happened to a woman speaker on only her second speech of the campaign. The Republican National Convention had just 34% female speakers on the stage, with this speech the most prominent by a woman. I'm ending the week feeling as if Melania Trump was not, at a minimum, well supported for this now-famous speech, in both the speech preparation and the spokesmanship about the controversy. In the end, this major stumble at what might have been the start of a high-profile speaking career is going to dog her steps going forward. Should she become First Lady, she might well want to avoid speaking publicly, which would be a big step backward for that role. This will frame her media coverage and her credibility. Her unfavorable rating was high going into the convention, and it will only increase now. And it should. In the end, the responsibility for a speech begins and ends with the speaker, no matter how many speechwriters you throw under the bus.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the plagiarized sections of the speech:

Melania Trump Plagiarized Michelle Obama's Convention Speech - COMPARISON
And here's the speech in full:

Melania Trump Delivers Remarks at Republican National Convention

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, July 21, 2016

Introducing The Eloquent Woman Booklist

A reader suggested a compilation of the books we've covered on the blog over the years, and here it is: The Eloquent Woman Booklist. It's not intended to be a comprehensive directory of books about speaking, just those we've featured here.

The books are roughly categorized into these topic areas:
  • Women's speeches, collected or individual;
  • Books about women and public speaking;
  • Body and mind issues in speaking;
  • Language and rhetoric;
  • Storytelling;
  • Quotations;
  • Specific types of speaking styles and formats, from TED talks to scientific presentations and more; and
  • Books by or about famous speakers, mostly women.
I hope you'll use the booklist as a tool for exploring more about women and public speaking, or just finding tools to inspire and inform your next speech! We'll keep the list updated as new books are included on the blog.

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, July 18, 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:
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.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Holly Peterson on 'the best adversity training'

You probably don't think of spoken-word poetry and tackle football as being in the same skill set, but they're both talents of Holly K. Peterson. Also known as HK Poet when she's slamming poetry, Peterson plays professional women's tackle football for the Sacramento Sirens. And at the National Football League's first-ever Women's Summit, held just before the 2016 Super Bowl, Peterson wowed the crowd performing an ode to what she called the "sisterhood of sports."

She started with a vivid description of how it felt to catch her first ball, then let the audience savor their own memories:
It was my first taste of greatness. It was just a sip. But whether it was a catch or a throw or a pass or a goal, if you are savoring a similar memory on your lips, then I know you know what I’m talking about. Because you see, you and me, we are part of a sisterhood. A sisterhood of sports, a solidarity of sorts, a mixed bag of background, bonded by every compliment that made us want to be better than just fast for a girl, than just strong for a girl, than just good for a girl. We are the lost stars of our universe. Forever being compared to the sun.
And with a nod to all the women and girls who love competing in sports, but will never make it professionally, she deftly describes what holds them back--the same thing that the women in the room have overcome:
Far too often, they’ve been judged by how they look rather than how they play. Rather than asked to twirl and smile for the camera, have been called the B word that isn’t beautiful, have been pushed back like a cubical, have been told that America is only looking for the slam dunk. So, we got creative. And we became resilient. Because we went through the best adversity training that money could buy.  
Peterson's talk moved the crowd and was singled out for sharing widely after the summit. What can you learn from this famous speech?

  • Poetry can add sparkle to your speech: In this talk, Peterson uses poetic devices like repetition and rhyming sparingly, but to good effect. Whether you are quoting a poem or delivering your remarks in that form, poetry can add a distinguishing feature to your speech. Here, it set her remarks apart on a day in which many speeches were given.
  • Adversity and passion make a great contrast: This could have been strictly a salute to what's wonderful about sport for women. But by including the hard-fought battles and obstacles faced by women athletes, the joyous parts of the experience are seen as well-earned, rather than just magically wonderful. Blues singers refer to this as a mix of "juice and pain," and it's a smart way to keep your remarks from being overly saccharine.
  • Give us vivid images in our mind's eye: Peterson's opening about her first catch gets the audience engaged right away, imagining this scene: "I remember the first time I caught a ball. It was a happy accident. I was 5 or 6 six years old at my daddy’s baseball game when I just happened to be running along the outskirts of outfield when a fowl ball took a bad hope. I barely remember seeing it. But I remember hearing the sound of my glove pop, feeling it stuck in my clutch like it belonged to me. Like it was a part of me. Like it was my destiny to be standing in that exact spot. I remember the way the crowd stopped and the amazement on their faces as I threw the ball all the way back to the third baseman." I call this the invisible visual, and it will be remembered long after any slides you use are forgotten.

 Watch This Female Football Player's Inspiring Speech About Being a Woman Athlete

Thursday, July 14, 2016

"Is your metaphor workshop appropriate for an academic scientist?"

I got a question on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook last week about my upcoming workshop,  Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. I decided to share the question in case there are others wondering the same thing. Here it is:
Hi, Denise -- Would the Edinburgh workshop be appropriate for an academic scientist ? I have been following your blog and advice, and would love the opportunity to hear from you directly  - but I realise the target audience is quite different. 
I was quick to reply: The workshop is absolutely appropriate for an academic scientist. While it takes place as a pre-conference session to a speechwriting conference, the workshop is designed to work for both speakers of all kinds and speechwriters, in all sectors.

But there are other reasons why it's an appropriate workshop for an academic scientist. First, metaphor is particularly useful when you're trying to convey the meaning of a complex technical or scientific concept, something that's difficult to describe and difficult to comprehend. So you might say that scientists are indeed a target audience for workshop on metaphor.

It also happens that I've spent most of my career as a professional communicator working with scientists, scientific societies, and research institutions, helping them to translate their work for public audiences. And truth be known, some of your colleagues are already ahead of you--our speechwriting group includes at least one engineer and science communicator.

If you've been holding back on registering for the workshop for this or similar reason, hold back no more. Let us help you find the metaphors that best describe your work, no matter what that work may be.

The workshop is an October 20 pre-conference session at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, and we'll be meeting at the Scottish Parliament. Speakers and speechwriters all are welcome! 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.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Islomanic)

Monday, July 11, 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:
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.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Margaret Sanger's 1929 self-silencing speech

Today, you can read tweets nearly every day that highlight the irony of conferences about rights for women that feature all-male panels. But how would you handle being a speaker at a free-speech conference when your particular topic--making birth control available to women--is banned?

It happened in 1929 to Margaret Sanger, a nurse and sex educator, and the founder of what is today Planned Parenthood in the United States. She prepared the speech for Boston's Ford Hall Forum on Free Speech, but as the topic of birth control was banned in Boston at that time, she came up with a different way to deliver her remarks. Sanger stood onstage, a gag over her mouth, while historian Arthur M. Schlesinger read her speech for her.

It's brief, so I'm going to share the entire text with you here:
To inflict silence upon a woman is indeed a drastic punishment. But there are certain advantages to be derived from it nevertheless. Some people are so busy talking that they do no thinking. Silence inflicts thoughts upon us. It makes us ponder over what we have lost--and what we have gained. Words are after all only the small change of thought. 
If we have convictions, and cannot express them in words, then let us act them out, let us live them! Free speech is a fine thing, it should be fought for and defended. 
If my voice is silenced by the hypocritical powers of reaction, in Boston, so much the worse for me, but so much the better for you for this act of suppression is to test the courage of your convictions, if you desire for free speech. 
It becomes your cue to speak, to act, to demonstrate the valor of your thought. 
Sometimes I think we all talk too much. We read too much. We listen too much. But we act too little. We live too little. The authorities of Boston may gag me, they do not want you to hear the truth about Birth Control. But they cannot gag the truth. We do not need words. We do not need to talk, because the truth speaks for itself. Use your eyes, use your ears, use your intelligence and you can find out for yourself all that I could tell you. You all know that I have been gagged. I have been suppressed. I have been arrested numerous times. I have been hauled off to jail. Yet every time, more people have listened to me, more have protested, more have lifted their own voices. Here have responded with courage and bravery. 
As a pioneer fighting for a Cause I believe in free speech. As a propagandist I see immense advantages in being gagged. It silences me, but it makes millions of others talk and think the cause in which I live.
Boston's Mayor Curley's campaign against obscenity and unpopular political opinions in this era led to the phrase "banned in Boston," This speech was a singular effort to beat that ban at its own game. The organizers of the conference were hoping her simple presence would mock the ban, and specified that she would not be allowed to speak to the crowd of 800 in her invitation. Sanger took it several steps further with the gag and her remarks. She brought the crowd to silence, and a more serious consideration of what was happening to her, framing it as a test of her listeners' convictions on free speech. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • When you can't speak, go for the visual: The image of Sanger getting ready for the speech by having a gag placed on her mouth has been called the first photo-op of the 20th century. Your content is always most important in your speech, and your visual appearance and voice can either support or take away from your content. Here, Sanger made the visual a strong and compelling part of her content, demonstrating physically what was being done to her with the ban.
  • Use contrast to make your point: "It silences me, but it makes millions of others talk and think the cause in which I live" makes the point clear. Her silence would breed more commentary than if she had been allowed to speak. Using talking vs. silence and speech vs. action as contrasting points throughout her remarks allowed Sanger to emphasize each point clearly.
  • If there be rules, follow them...audaciously: Technically, this isn't a speech about birth control--it is mentioned just once in the context of what the authorities didn't want the audience to hear. Instead, this is a speech about free speech. In order to take the stage, Sanger couldn't focus on her topic, so she did not...but made an even stronger statement as a result.
Thanks to New York University, which has Sanger's papers available online, the full text of the speech also is here for your reference. This speech of Sanger's also was featured in the documentary The Ascent of Woman, available globally on Netflix.

A note from the editor: We've featured another speech by Sanger in The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women. The Girl Scouts of the United States shared our post on famous human rights speeches by women, which includes the Sanger speech, and an anti-abortion group accused the Scouts and this blog of having a bias in teaching girls to admire pro-abortion women. Politifact investigated and found the claim to be false, and in fact, that post and the entire blog include a wide range of views. The group also has violated the copyright of this blog by publishing screenshots of my content without express permission from me. 

Gagging women's voices can happen in all sorts of ways. A common way to try to silence women is to accuse them of saying (or writing) things they have not said, using public shaming and criticism as the gag. This blog is proud to publish a wide range of women's voices, and I stand firmly against the public shaming that aims to silence my voice and the voices of others, including efforts to silence Sanger long after her death. I don't ask you to agree with every opinion shared in these famous speeches, but please don't put words in my mouth or in the mouths of the speakers described here. -- Denise Graveline

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, July 7, 2016

Blindspot: When it comes to women, how famous is famous?

When I first created this blog's Famous Speech Friday series, and later the collected posts in The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women, I emphasized the word "famous." It was important to me that the speech, and not necessarily the woman giving it, be famous to some extent. I did that because I wanted to include not just the speeches of celebrities, or someone's ranking of "best" speeches--the kind that often ignores the speeches of women--but to collect speeches with impact, by women of all kinds.

I also was reacting to questions I received from speechwriters and speaker coaches when I started the blog, asking whether I could find and share any famous speeches by women more recent than Eleanor Roosevelt or Barbara Jordan--both of whom died decades ago. I was astonished by these questions and ready to prove that famous speeches by modern (and historic) women did, indeed, exist. How had the others missed them?

Some of the early reviews of this collection by men went right after the word "famous" to dispute its importance. The Index was a nice idea, I was told in published reviews and even to my face, but the speeches weren't actually famous, even though nearly all of them have had audiences in the millions, either for the speech or its later coverage, or both. In this, I'm in good company: Kanye West just took credit for Taylor Swift's fame, saying "I made that bitch famous" in his latest video.

So you can imagine that my ears pricked up at this interview with Harvard social psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, an expert on what is called "implicit bias." With Anthony Greenwald, she is the author of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, and she studies our unconscious minds. Among her experiments is one that teases out the bias against associating women with fame:
I made the discovery that people make judgments about the fame of a name. "How famous is this name?" And it turns out if you’ve heard a name that you could randomly sort of pull out of the phone book, you know — "Sebastian Weissdorf." If I hear the name or if I’ve seen it somewhere in some irrelevant context and then two days later I’m asked, "Is this a famous person?" I’m more likely to say yes. 
So there’s a kind of a lingering perceptual what we might call fluency for that visual stimulus. And I just did that same study except that I thought I’ll use both names of men and women and discovered, to my great astonishment and my colleague Tony Greenwald’s astonishment, that women’s names did not become famous overnight in this study. So we thought, oh, so the underlying perceptual fluency can be exactly the same, but at the point of making a decision — "Is this famous?" — some other standard is being used. If female, not famous. If male, famous. And people were doing this without awareness. So I would quiz all 400 of them. “Did you use the gender of the name in making your choice?” “Absolutely not.”
Banaji also unpacks the famous riddle about a father and son who are in a car accident. The father dies at the scene; the son is brought to the hospital for surgery. The surgeon says, "I can't possibly operate on this child. He's my son!" So who was the surgeon? Most people come up with a convoluted reason why the surgeon is a male. The correct answer, that the surgeon is his mother, is missed by 80 percent of those answering, men and women alike. (You can test your own implicit bias at her group's Project Implicit website.)

Banaji says, "If 100 percent of surgeons were men, this would not be a bias. This would be a fact. And I’ve talked to doctors who work in hospitals where 80 percent of the entering class of surgeons are women. And they don’t get the right answer. That’s what you mean by monolith. What is it about our minds that doesn’t allow us to get to an obvious right answer? Because there’s almost like a firewall in our minds that the stereotype really is. It won’t let us traverse into the domain of the right answer because there’s a wall. And that wall is just sort of keeping us from getting there."

That explains to me why people can read about these famous speeches and the measures I use to determine that, but still see women's speeches as "not famous." It's a bias aided by the centuries of preventing women from speaking at all, a bias that continues with today's all-male panels and the low proportion of women speakers at conferences. No wonder we can't call to mind famous speeches by women more recent than Eleanor Roosevelt. That monolithic bias is in the way. And it's being furthered in our technology, as the white-male-dominated tech industry builds bias into artificial intelligence and algorithms that guide what we read, see, and do.

For me, I'll keep calling the speeches we collect on this blog "famous," because--using unbiased measures like audience size and publicity--they are famous. No matter what you think.

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, July 4, 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:
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.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Beyoncé's speech on racism and fashion

Beyoncé is a well-known fan of good public speaking, having sampled Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche's TEDx talk in her song "Flawless," and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in a performance at the BET Awards. While she herself rarely gives a speech, she did so recently as the winner of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Fashion Icon award. The short, smoothly delivered speech not only shared her lifelong fashion influences, but revealed much about racism in the fashion industry--even as it gave appreciation to designers for what they contribute to their clients.

The speech is short enough that I'll reproduce it here in full:
Thank you so much, Diane, for the things you just said about me. I feel so much love and I feel so proud. As long as I can remember, fashion has been part of my life. Its effect on me actually started before I was born. Many of you guys don’t know this, but my grandmother was a seamstress. My grandparents did not have enough money, they could not afford my mother’s Catholic school tuition. So my grandmother sewed clothes for the priests and the nuns and made uniforms for the students in exchange for my mother’s education. She then passed this gift onto my mother and taught her how to sew. 
Starting out in Destiny’s Child, high-end labels didn’t really want to dress four black country curvy girls, and we couldn’t afford designer dresses and couture. My mother was rejected from every showroom in New York. But like my grandmother, she used her talent and her creativity to give her children their dreams. My mother and my uncle, God rest his soul, made all of our first costumes, individually sewing hundreds of crystals and pearls, putting so much passion and love into every small detail. When I wore these clothes I felt like Khaleesi. I had an extra suit of armor. It was so much deeper than any brand name. 
My mother is fabulous and beautiful and she’s here tonight. My mother, my grandmother, and my uncle are always with me so I cannot fail. My mother actually designed my wedding dress, my prom dress, my first CFDA Award dress, my first Grammy dress, and the list goes on and on. And this to me is the true power and potential of fashion. It’s a tool for finding your own identity. It transcends style, and it’s a time capsule of all of our greatest milestones. So to my mother, my grandmother, my uncle, thank y’all. Thank you for showing me that having presence is about far more than the clothes you wear and your physical beauty. Thank you for showing me how to take risks, work hard, and live life on my own terms. 
I want to say thank you to every designer who works tirelessly to make people think they can write their own story. Y’all are fairy godmothers, magicians, sculptors, and sometimes even our therapists. I encourage you to not forget this power you have or to take it lightly. We have the opportunity to contribute to a society where any girl can look at a billboard or magazine cover and see her own reflection. Soul has no color, no shape, no form. Just like all of your work, it goes far beyond what the eye can see. You have the power to change perception, to inspire and empower, and to show people how to embrace their complications, and see the flaws, and the true beauty and strength that’s inside all of us. Thank you so much for this incredible award, I’ll never forget this night. God bless you all. Thank you.
What can you learn from this famous speech?

  • Don't be afraid to name an injustice: In a room packed with the world's top fashion designers, for the fashion icon of the moment to say, "My mother was rejected from every showroom in New York," and then describe how her mother went on to make all of her outfits, was a needed perspective. It not only explains the artist's justifiable pride in her fashion, but the basis for that pride. And you could just imagine every designer worth his or her salt wishing they'd had the chance to get in on that budding talent's fashion needs at the ground-floor level. Too late now.
  • Give us the big picture: Far from a diatribe, this speech is delivered quietly and directly. It's full of genuine thanks as well as pointed observations, and it takes the troubles of the past and turns them into a bigger picture for the audience of designers to consider: "You have the power to change perception, to inspire and empower, and to show people how to embrace their complications, and see the flaws, and the true beauty and strength that’s inside all of us." Therein lies the redemption for the industry's earlier failures.
  • Thank with specifics: Award acceptance speeches with laundry lists of people to thank fail on many counts (not least the ability of the speaker to remember all those names). Here, Beyoncé chooses a handful of influencers--her mother, her uncle, her grandmother--and creates detailed pictures of them. You can imagine her mother and uncle sewing crystals onto costumes, and her grandmother sewing Catholic school uniforms to pay for her mother's tuition. Those are indelible images in the minds of the audience, just what every speaker hopes for.
You can read the full speech here, and watch it in the Periscope video shared below:

Swarovski @swarovski

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.