Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Speakers of heart: A workshop in Amsterdam, a talk in London

My heart is racing ahead to the end of this month, when I'll be speaking and meeting with speechwriters and with women speakers in Amsterdam and in London--and I hope you'll join me.

My topics this month are women and public speaking, and TED talks. Both are dear to me, but fraught with tension, emotion, and challenges for speakers. TED talks, asking as they do that speakers be vulnerable and share personal stories, involve putting yourself "out there" even more so than a usual speech. And for women, knowing that they're likely to be viewed negatively when they speak, by both men and women, makes the uphill climb toward a speech even steeper. Knowing your're being judged might make you think twice about sharing what's in your heart.

But I've learned something from coaching lots of TEDMED and TEDx talks: The best ones are given by people of heart, as my fellow coach Peter Botting calls them. For the coach, that means I get to listen in on not just the emotional tone of what goes into the talk, but all the emotions the speaker is going through before, during and afterward. Many of the speakers I've coached have confided great difficulties they were struggling with alongside the talk, from extreme nervousness to a serious illness or disability. Sometimes, those difficulties are part of the speech: The talk may recall the not-far-off death of a parent or their own near-death, or another trauma.

Speakers of heart bring much onto the stage you don't see, but it all contributes to what they do there. We talk a lot about "authenticity" in public speaking, but these folks are the real deal. And getting you to that point is an underlying theme in my talk and workshop this month.

In Amsterdam, I'm leading another session of my workshop Be The Eloquent Woman on 23 October, as a pre-conference session of the European Speechwriters Network autumn conference on 24 October. I've designed the workshop as a subversive session that doesn't urge women to lean in, get a confidence code or otherwise fix themselves. But we do talk about the context in which women speakers find themselves, again and again, as well as tactics you can use to continue speaking with great content, confidence and credibility. You can register for the workshop, the conference, or both. The conference is targeted to both speechwriters and business communicators. Americans traveling from the U.S. can get an extra discount of €200 with the code "eloquentwoman" entered at registration. I'm looking forward to seeing colleagues and friends at the conference, and hope to meet you there, too.

Previous participants have attended this workshop in London and Washington, and you can get a sense of what they had to say here. I love it when participants end the workshop saying they're now excited about public speaking!

In London, I'm returning to speak to the Fabian Women's Network on what goes into a TED-quality talk. Since I coach TEDMED and TEDx speakers, I often hear clients asking for help delivering a "TED-like" talk--usually a signal they don't want to follow all the rules of a proper TED talk. But that means you won't get all the advantages a well-done TED talk conveys.

Since more and more speakers are trying TEDx talks--more than 9,000 TEDx events have been organized locally around the world so far--you may as well learn how to achieve TED quality in such a talk. I'm looking forward to joining FWN again, and fair warning: This free event requires registration and seats are already filling. The fact that we're meeting in Parliament, a sweeping setting, doesn't hurt. Check out the notes from my last talk to the Fabian Women's Network, and get registered today.

What's in your heart when you speak? Bring it to one of these sessions....

(Creative Commons licensed Amsterdam photo from MorBCN. London photo via Shutterstock.)

Monday, September 29, 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:
  • Winning question: Harvard Business Review suggests that if you're at loggerheads with an opponent, you win them over by asking for advice. I always wonder whether this tactic makes women seem like they know less, feeding common misconceptions in the workplace. But the tactic does work.
  • Spot the storyteller: This post about 7 signs of a storyteller was written for job interviewers--but you can cultivate these qualities for your own storytelling purposes.
  • See me in London: I'll be in London speaking to the Fabian Women's Network on 30 October in Parliament, on what goes into a TED-quality talk. Please register at the link! I'm looking forward to joining this lively group again.
  • This week's most-repeated coaching advice from me to speakers: SLOW DOWN. Really. Pauses, and a slower delivery, let us hear you and even add drama.
  • About the quote: For the authentic eloquent woman, from our Pinterest board of quots for public speakers.
  • As beauty does: We love actress Meryl Streep. Here, she talks about perceptions of beauty:

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner at the 2014 UN Climate Summit

The United Nations Climate Summit has been meeting in New York this week, drawing a slew of celebrities and heads of state. But the UN wanted the voice of a citizen, rather than a high-powered dignitary, to speak at the summit's opening. The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service only accepted applications from women--a decision which irked some people. The UN explained the requirement by noting that women are among the world's poorest citizens, and are in many places the ones responsible for maintaining a community's fuel, food and water. Both of these factors make them likely to bear the brunt of climate change. 

Marshall Islands poet and activist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner was chosen for the speaking honor from 544 nominees. She began with a short, formal appeal to the summit, but finished with an emotional roar of a poem that seemed to stun some in the audience.

Jetnil-Kijiner has been on the international stage before, including a notable reading at the 2012 Poetry Parnassus in London, and her work doesn't shy away from confrontation. She credits women like her mother (the Minister of Education for the Marshall Islands) for encouraging her activism, but acknowledges that it has been an uneasy role to take on at times. "I definitely feel pressure at home, where Marshallese girls are quiet and nice," she said recently. "However when you look at our past, when you look at our culture, it's actually rooted in women who were really powerful women who speak out."

Jetnil-Kijiner's poem delivered at the summit, "Dear Matafele Peinem," is a promise to her daughter that she--and the rest of the world--will do something to avert the threat to her future. It reminded me in a way of a classic bedtime story, where a monster appears but the parents promise to keep their little ones safe from harm. As an adult, I found it especially chilling because it's one of those promises that we aren't yet sure we can keep.

Not all of us are poets, but that doesn't mean you can't steal a few steps from this simple but striking address. Here are a few of the things that stood out:
  • Lose the lectern, and gain an audience. The start of Jetnil-Kijiner's speech is solid, but it really gathers strength after she steps away from the lectern. Watch for the contrast between her hemmed-in position at first, and then her free hands and visible body when she steps to a bare mic to deliver her poem. Can you imagine those verses half-hidden behind the lectern? Stepping away gives her a change to expand and be fierce and push directly toward an audience that probably is not used to being confronted so personally.
  • Find a way to work in a story. Jetnil-Kijner has been researching Marshall Islands storytelling traditions, and she begins this talk with an tale about 10 brothers and the first sail, a significant moment in a world surrounded by water. It takes no time at all to tell, but it brings immediate color to the speech and easily ties together the rest of her remarks. We're used to learning from stories, and this is a terrific example of how to use one in your speech for this purpose.
  • Choose your words carefully. Leave it to a poet to pick the words that paint a picture, as Jetnil-Kijiner does in the "monster" part of her speech that describes what will happen to her daughter's favorite lagoon with unchecked climate change:
Men say that one day, that lagoon will devour you. They say it will gnaw at the shoreline, chew at the roots of your breadfruit trees, gulp down rows of seawalls and crunch through your island's shattered bones.
But she was no less careful with the words in the more formal part of her speech. She sets the tone for the meeting itself by using phrases such as "radical change," "unavoidable impact" and "irreversible loss." Their bluntness is her challenge to the summit's attendees to move beyond discussions of if and when and to confront climate change's here and now.

You can watch the full speech in the video below. What do you think about this poet's moment on the world stage?



Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this Famous Speech Friday post.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How @TEDMED achieved 51 percent women speakers in 2014

Assefi hosting a session at TEDMED 2014
(Editor's note: TEDMED director of stage content Nassim Assefi is a doctor, novelist, civic activist, TED Fellow and active member of the TED community. An internist specializing in global women’s health, she cares for vulnerable urban patients in the US and tackles maternal mortality when working in low-income and post-conflict countries, most recently in Afghanistan. 

I coached TEDMED 2014 speakers under Assefi's direction this year, for a three-day program with 51 percent women speakers, a level unique among TED conferences, let alone your conference. I asked Assefi to share perspective and lessons learned. And I agree with her: It felt different this year, for those of us backstage, and for the speakers, in a good way. To see my retweets of conferences where participants are talking about programs with few or no women speakers, follow @NoWomenSpeakers on Twitter.)

Why was it important to you to seek greater gender diversity among the speakers at TEDMED?

Diversity of all kinds is extremely important to me and one of the signatures of my curatorial style. Beyond the fact that it's politically correct and the right thing to do (especially in terms of potential mentorship impact and connecting with a wide audience), a diverse cast of characters means a more varied set of ideas. I believe much of learning occurs on the edge of discomfort, and that can often be achieved by listening to someone from a background or philosophy different from ours.

Do you think it's more difficult because your topics are related to health, medicine, technology and science? 

Not really. Perhaps only for the hard sciences. However, there are ever increasing numbers of women biologists and doctors.

What are the challenges you saw in securing women speakers for your program?

When we sorted through nominations, men are around 5-7 times more likely to be nominated, even by women. Men are more likely to believe they'd be a good fit with our stage, whereas women sometimes undermine themselves and their abilities. Highly successful women and ethnic minorities are disproportionately recruited to speak, and they're more likely to be juggling household/child-rearing concerns. The net effect is that they're less available to do non-essential, non-paying speaking opportunities like TEDMED. Women are also more likely to drop out.

What was easy about it?

I've found that once you set your intention to do something, the rest follows.

Did it feel different having so many women on the program?

Yes. The program was more interesting, covered greater breadth, and inspired many more people. Also, women tend to prepare more for their talks than men.

What reactions did you get from speakers? From the audience?

Some may not have noticed. Other conference organizers were impressed and laudatory. We haven't polled the delegates yet. Here's one unsolicited piece of feedback from one of our speakers: "I have never been to a conference (medical or otherwise) where I felt as if women were so empowered and treated like equals. I absolutely loved the fact that you did not make a big deal about it - you just treated it as totally normal that >50% of the speakers were women. This was not a 'woman's conference' but it did more for the cause of women doctors/scientists/people than any targeted gathering could have aspired to do! Thank you for this! I hope all of medicine follows your lead!"

What would you advise other curators and conference organizers who want to see more women on the program?

Be conscious about making this a goal. Whenever there is a white man nominated for the speaking position, ask yourself: is there a woman or minority of his caliber who could equally do the job?

What would you say to those who say it's impossible, or too difficult?

You're not working hard enough.

For years, I've heard other conference curators (including women) bemoan the fact that it's really hard to achieve gender parity. TEDMED 2014 has shown it's possible when you prioritize it. We can continue to improve upon our diversity of all kinds (age, field, nationality, ethnicity, political orientation, etc) at TEDMED, and I hope we do.

The TED blog selected these fresh ideas shared at TEDMED2014. Enjoy the previews while we wait for the conference videos to be released.

Monday, September 22, 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:
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Friday, September 19, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Indra Nooyi's "middle finger" speech

Commencement speakers get a thumbs-up or thumbs-down depending on how well they can make a hidebound ceremony seem fresh and memorable. Indra Nooyi got a definite thumbs-down from some quarters when she offered up a 2005 commencement speech that included a starring role for, ahem, the middle finger.

Nooyi, president and CFO of PepsiCo at the time, spoke at the Columbia University Business School graduation on the topic of global business. She was an inspired choice: born in India, in charge of PepsiCo's international strategy for nearly a decade, and consistently ranked among Forbes' most powerful women in business. And she employed an inspired analogy in her talk, using the hand and its fingers to talk about perceptions of the United States in the world marketplace.

Each major continent was represented by a finger in this analogy, which emphasized how the "hand" (the world) did its best when all its fingers worked together. Nooyi dubbed the U.S. as the middle finger of the hand--an anchor of strength and purpose, but apt to send the wrong signal if extended on its own. The thrust of the speech was a cautionary tale to young Americans ready to launch their careers on the global stage. But parts of the blogosphere in particular were incensed by the speech, seeing it as an attack on American values. Nooyi later released a statement saying she "had come to realize that my words and examples about America unintentionally depicted our country negatively."

So was it a speech full of wise advice or insulting asides? You can read the full text here, and check out the notes below on what we think worked in this speech:
  • If you use an analogy, be sure that it has its roots in real life. America-as-middle-finger could have been little more than a gimmick, but Nooyi knows just how important this perception is on the global stage. Her talk is built around real examples, like the boorish businessmen in a Beijing bar, that support her analogy and give it credibility and urgency.
  • It doesn't hurt to repeat yourself. In this case, the analogy gave Nooyi the perfect tag line to repeat during the speech. There are several places where she encourages the graduates to "extend the hand, not the finger." Repetition is one of the classic skills of rhetoric that you might want to explore for your next speech.
  • Talk about yourself if it's relevant. Who better to speak about perception in global business than Nooyi? As PepsiCo CFO and an immigrant, she had both the professional and personal experience to know how misperceptions can hurt:
Graduates, it pains me greatly that this view of America persists. Although I'm a daughter of India, I'm an American businesswoman. My family and I are citizens of this great country. This land we call home is a most loving and ever-giving nation--a Promised Land that we love dearly in return. And it represents a true force that, if used for good, can steady the hand--along with global economies and cultures. Yet to see us frequently stub our fingers on the international business and political stage is deeply troubling."
Today, Nooyi serves as the chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo, and yes, she's given several other commencement speeches since 2005. At BlogHer 2011, she emphasized that women leaders should "overinvest in written and oral communication" with an eye to how speaking can motivate others. She admits to flunking the first communications course she had at Yale, and in this video talks about how she's learned to speak slower over the years.



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

(Creative Commons licensed photo from the World Economic Forum)

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