Friday, April 18, 2014

5 famous speeches by women about the environment

Next week, we celebrate Earth Day, and it's no surprise that women have shaped so much of the public speaking about environmental issues. I've pulled these five speeches from The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women to showcase their messages about the environment, from pesticides and wildlife conservation to economic arguments for dealing with climate change.

Fittingly for a global issue, this is a global array of speakers, with women from France, Kenya, the United States and the United Kingdom represented, and all of their messages ring true today. Click through to see video of most of these speeches, along with what you can learn from them as a speaker. I'm a proud former Deputy Associate Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in charge of communications, education and public affairs, so it's a particular pleasure for me to share this collection with you:
  1. Rachel Carson's "A New Chapter to Silent Spring" was a 1963 speech to the Garden Club of America, taking her clarion call about the effects of pesticides on human health and the environment right to the people. Her conviction about her message helped her overcome her public speaking fears and changed our environment for the better.
  2. Severn Suzuki's 1992 UN Earth Summit speech was delivered when she was just 12 years old, and she wisely kept her message in the voice of a child. "If you don't know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!" she urged the delegates.
  3. Jane Goodall's "What separates us from the chimpanzees" uses unusual tactics, from sound "props" to Shakespearian influences, to put her message of wildlife conservation across. Another scared speaker, she learned from experience the value of speaking to live audiences to get her environmental message across.
  4. Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai's hummingbird fable was a simple tale she used to convince audiences ranging from poor women in Kenya to powerful world leaders that a small volunteer effort could do much to protect important ecosystems. In her case, a campaign to reforest Kenya led to the planting of 30 million trees--and a Nobel Prize.
  5. Christine Lagarde's speech on "dynamic resilience" led the World Economic Forum in 2013. Titled "A new global economy for a new generation," the International Monetary Fund's managing director put the assembled financial titans on notice that climate change and its effects had to be central to their efforts to reshape the world's economy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Women speakers: Are you the backup singer or the lead performer?

One of the many insights I've had as I roll out my Be The Eloquent Woman workshops involves women who, in effect, are playing backup singer to other speakers. Here are some of the things I've heard in workshops and conversations in the last couple of months:
  • "Since I'm in public relations, I'm really behind the scenes. So when I have to speak--at a press conference or in front of my peers--I don't feel sure of myself."
  • "I like to think that I’m pretty good at chairing, even very large events with high profile speakers, whether the speakers are male or female, but I have been doing this since I was a student and find it quite easy, I’m guessing because the focus isn’t on me."
Call it the backup singer syndrome for public speaking women: You might be willing to moderate or chair, to help others get the prime speaking slot, but not to speak as an individual. I can relate to those comments, having spent much of my career helping to put other people out front as speakers, both in public relations and now as a speaker coach. But at some point, I realized my own career needed to include public speaking and it's a skill I continue to sharpen and use regularly. 

There's a Catch-22 for women more comfortable with the backup-singer role as a speaker, however. It's one of the subtle ways in which women are discriminated against in public speaking. Some conference organizers use women as gendered window dressing, relegating them to moderators or chairs, without including women in the more substantial featured role of keynote speakers or panelists. (That's just one of my 12 ways you can evaluate speaking gigs for gender bias.) It's not just an issue for organizers. If you are always chairing or moderating, you're not speaking about your own content and ideas. Do you want all of your speaking to be about others? Do you want all of your speaking content created by others? I didn't think so.

On a long flight home from my recent London trip, I found inspiration in 20 Feet From Stardom, a documentary about the primarily female backup singers in the music industry. Blues singer Mable John--one of the first singers Motown founder Berry Gordy signed to his own label, and a backup singer in Ray Charles's Raelettes--shared a perspective on backup singers that women speakers would do well to borrow:
We in the music industry, especially African American people, need to know our worth. We need to know as women, we're important. And I think the breakdown is when a woman doesn't know who she is and she settles for less. Check out your worth. You're worth more than that.
I'm not saying you shouldn't moderate or chair. These are important speaking roles, and good stepping stones as you progress as a speaker. They're not simple tasks, by any means. But if you look at the last few years of the speaking you've done and find you are always supporting others and their ideas, it may be time to push yourself forward, into the spotlight. The documentary's great inspiration if you've been lurking behind the scenes, and shows what it's like to always be in someone's shadow. How will you work on moving from backup singer to featured performer in your public speaking?

  On May 15, I'll be convening another session of Be The Eloquent Woman in Washington, DC. It's a subversive new workshop that helps women executives and public officials learn how women speakers are perceived and how to turn those expectations on their heads with confidence, content and credibility. Go here to read how the first workshop went and what participants had to say.

Monday, April 14, 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:
  • Pressure cooker: LinkedIn's career expert talks about how she's learned to build her confidence under pressure--including public speaking pressure.
  • This is phenomenal: Listen to poet Maya Angelou read her poem "Phenomenal Woman" -- I'm pretty sure she's talking about you.
  • Practice makes perfect: Got a video interview? Here's how to do a practice run.
  • About the quote: When you approve of yourself, you don't need much more to step forward and own the room.
  • Seats are filling: On May 15, I'll be convening another session of Be The Eloquent Woman in Washington, DC. It's a subversive new workshop that helps women executives and public officials learn how women speakers are perceived and how to turn those expectations on their heads with confidence, content and credibility. Seats are filling, so register today!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Justice Sonia Sotomayor's law school question

Sometimes, asking a question can seem like giving a high-stress, if short, speech. If you stand up in a classroom and confront the professor out loud, in front of everyone assembled, you're taking the floor--and could be displaying your own knowledge, or your ignorance. It's a risky, on-the-fly form of public speaking, one that takes confidence. Double the risk if you are questioning the authority who has the floor.

All that would apply to law school classes, and to current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who talked about not raising her hand in law school until the third year in this interview with NPR's Fresh Air host Terry Gross. Sotomayor graduated from Yale Law School in 1979 and has published her memoir, My Beloved World, admitting she hadn't so much as raised her hand, let alone ask a question in all that time. Sotomayor said:
And I don't know that I've ever been shy-shy, but I was a much more self-contained and less outgoing person in the earlier parts of my life. It took real effort for me to come out of some of the protective layers I had put on because of the difficulties in my childhood and some of the emotional withdrawal that I had to do to survive. It took a good part of my life to learn how to shed some of that and how to become a more people person. But I had some measure of self-confidence but not enough to feel secure among my very brilliant Yale classmates. Spent a whole lot of time in law school feeling inadequate and not quite sure that I measured up to the accomplishments of my classmates.
It turns out that the question she waited so long to ask was one in which she figured out that her professor's example didn't actually prove the rule he was teaching. To top it off, it was her "first voluntary interchange with a professor." What can you learn from this question-as-speech?
  • Are you just protecting yourself when you don't ask questions? In "Why Don't Women Raise Their Hands More?" a law student reports that "While men are more likely to be judged on their potential in professional settings,women are more likely to be judged by their achievements. In a related pattern, men's mistakes are overlooked and soon forgotten while women's mistakes are noticed and remembered." Choosing not to put your hand up might be a self-defense mechanism, not a weakness--something that women do to protect themselves.
  • Trust your gut: Sotomayor has a facility for math, which was at the heart of the rule being discussed, so she worked out the numbers and came up with a different answer. Instead of apologizing, she simply told the professor that his example didn't fit the rule--something he had not realized in decades of teaching it. To challenge a senior attorney and professor, she had to trust in her sense that the answer was wrong.
  • Keep your hand up: Even when women want to ask questions, they're often passed over in favor of men. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's TED talk on women and leadership tells how she learned from a young woman in one of her audiences that she'd passed over the woman with her hand up, said she would stop taking questions, then called on two more men after the woman had pulled her hand down. So keep your hand up to be recognized when you have something to say.
You'll find a transcript at the NPR link as well as audio of the program. 

(Photo from the Supreme Court of the United States)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Oxford notebook: Women speakers, speechwriters at #uksgox2014

The second half of my England trip was to Oxford, where I attended the spring conference of the UK Speechwriters Guild and European Speechwriters Network and offered a pre-conference workshop, the UK debut of my Be The Eloquent Woman workshop. So I had a day of leading the workshop, followed by, as fellow speaker coach Alan Barker noted on Twitter, "A pleasant prospect: Sitting back and letting *others* be brilliant." Since I've keynoted and chaired this conference, getting the chance to listen and absorb was a fair treat.

I learned last year that this conference (and its autumn counterpart) are highly productive for me, and this session yielded inspiration you'll see on the blog for many weeks to come. Here are my impressions from the Oxford leg of my trip to get things started:

Seeing your self(ie) in historic context
As in London, my workshop participants and I found ourselves surrounded by a lot of masculine imagery in Oxford. In the dining hall at Trinity College, a lone portrait of a woman appeared--and she alone among the portraits had no identification. Fellow speaker coach Marion Chapsal captured two of the women at the conference taking a group selfie with this unknown inspiration from history. Sisters need to stick together, even across the span of centuries. I wasn't surprised by the lack of visible female role models, having prepared a Famous Speech Friday post on novelist Dorothy Sayers, who studied at Oxford and completed degree work, but couldn't receive the degree for several years until the university finally began awarding women that credential.


Women and speaking workshop
The best part of any trip like this is getting good feedback from participants in my workshops. The most frequent feedback from the UK session of Be The Eloquent Woman, my Oxford workshop? It was "too short." I'll take it--and I'll be adding more time for practice and feedback on building skills in future sessions.

It was an honor to have fellow coaches Marion Chapsal and Caroline Goyder in this session, along with executives from the publishing, legal, technology, consumer products and academic worlds. Participants came from various parts of England as well as Ireland and France, and I was struck again with the willingness of the group to trust themselves and the others enough to speak frankly about their challenges, questions and fears about speaking. Nearly every woman present had a presentation in mind during the workshop: corporate speeches, briefings for students, technical presentations, author talks and a short talk at the speechwriting conference. And the group came away from lunch early to talk more about building confidence and dealing with fears about speaking. The picture at right shows the view as you leave the workshop room, crossing one of the quadrangles at Trinity College.


Tips from one chair to another
The speechwriting conference followed my workshop for another day and a half. Fellow speaker coach Celia Delaney (pictured above) chaired the conference in a lively and well-paced way. We put our heads together early on, and my best advice to her was to be the boss of the schedule. Speakers who allow time for questions, rather than filling the entire space allotted, should get questions. When speakers fill all their (and our) time on the topic, direct the audience to find them in the break. For the record, I wish more speakers would leave time for questions, particularly for an audience as eager and curious as this one. But failure to do so doesn't mean that the chair magically has more time in the schedule, and sometimes, the quest to follow up with a speaker makes the breaks even livelier. Delaney kept us on time and in good humor throughout the conference, the two best things any audience member can say about a chair.
Speechwriting insights, tips and ideas
Two unusual speakers at the speechwriting conference in Oxford caught my attention so well that I've already bought their books. I'll be writing about them more in weeks to come, but you may find useful pastor and preaching professor David Day's Preaching With All You've Got: Embodying the Word and hostage negotiator Richard Mullender's Communication Secrets of a Hostage Negotiator. Despite their disparate topics, they share a common approach of listening for and respecting the listener's values, and of tackling the elephant in the room in order to build credibility. I'm looking forward to diving into both these resources from the conference.

Mullender urged speechwriters to use his listening techniques to elicit more useful information from the speakers for whom they are writing--including clever ways to get them to share what's important to them, a tactic I'll incorporate in my training sessions for communicators trying to do the same with subject-matter experts. And Sam Leith, author of Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama, shared an insight about speakers who wrap their ideas in complex, obfuscating words: They have an inner fear, he says, of being understood--and thought banal rather than wise.

Caroline Johns, the speechwriter at Deloitte who attended my session in London for the Fabian Women's Network (shown at left in Marion Chapsal's photo), demonstrated how to jump right into a speech, without a hint of throat-clearing thank yous, jokes or cartoons--something I always recommend. She says, of writing about and for accountants, "If you follow the numbers, a human story will always emerge." Johns also demonstrated with ease how to speak from a written text without reading from it, using great verve in her vocalizing. Marion Chapsal spoke on the second day with a wonderful analogy that used French profiteroles and English trifle to compare and contrast rhetoric in those languages--and made the audience hungry at the same time. Neringa VaisbrodÄ—, speechwriter to the Lithuanian president, reminded us that rhetoric isn't always glorious, but can be viewed with cynicism and suspicion...even as she summed up the feeling with a rhetorical turn, "dishonesty, danger and disbelief."

Fellow speaker coach Alan Barker has done a thorough look at the conference here, and you'll be seeing more of my inspirations from this meeting in the weeks to come. My head's still buzzing with ideas. Check out the tweets from the conference here, and stand by for more to come.

I can't finish without saying once more that Brian Jenner, the group's founder, curates and organizes the best conferences. They are content-rich and loaded with speakers who are not the usual suspects, as well as attendees who elevate the discussion (and are fun to be with). He makes it look easy, and I know it isn't. Jenner gets my thanks as well for inviting me to bring Be The Eloquent Woman to the UK and to this conference. I loved the opportunity to reach across the ocean and get this workshop off to an international start.

On May 15, I'll be convening another session of Be The Eloquent Woman in Washington, DC. It's a subversive new workshop that helps women executives and public officials learn how women speakers are perceived and how to turn those expectations on their heads with confidence, content and credibility. You can grab a sweet discount by registering by April 11. Go here to read how the first workshop went and what participants had to say.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

London notebook: Inspirations on women and speaking


The coastline, columns, a closet, committee rooms, a conversation, confidence. What do they have in common? They all were inspirations on my recent trip to London in the week before I headed to Oxford to debut the UK version of my Be The Eloquent Woman workshop at the UK Speechwriters Guild/European Speechwriters Network conference.

I gathered ideas enough to blog for weeks to come in both cities, but want to share some insights about the London portion of my trip today. You'll see the companion Oxford notebook on the blog tomorrow. Here's what I noticed:

The coastline
The first thing I did in London was to meet fellow speaker coach Peter Botting and head to his other base on the Sussex coast. I never get tired of this view, which Virginia Woolf captured so well in the opening of The Waves. Plots were hatched. Coaching approaches and co-conspiracies were discussed. We focused this time on giving practical tips to clients, something that would figure in the week ahead for me. As per usual with this colleague, my mind is still racing, trying to collect all the ideas we tossed around. Since his clients include Members of Parliament and wannabe MPs, I got a high-level briefing about what to expect on my visit there, as its halls are well known to him. It was a fun transition to my London week.

The columns
Barrister Charlotte Proudman, pictured with me above, gave me a long tour of Parliament before my workshop with the Fabian Women's Network in the House of Commons. She co-chairs the public speaking and debates committee of the network with Paulina Jakubec.

To my surprise, women and speaking figure even in the architecture: A Parliament policeman pointed out the gargoyles of men and women in the hallway linking the central lobby to the committee rooms. The men are pictured speaking, and the women are gagged, supposedly a protest by the sculptor about the silencing of women's voices. We snapped a picture so you can see for yourself. I welcome any information you can share about them, and have some research in motion so I can write more about this on the blog. It was just the first instance of an experience I'd have again and again on this trip, talking about how women can subvert expectations of themselves as public speakers under the gaze of portraits depicting a long history of patriarchy. I'd advertised my workshops for women speakers as subversive, and this underscored how true that is.

On our tour, we sat in the galleries of both houses of Parliament while they were in session and heard several members of those august bodies displaying speaking tactics that I would be disavowing later on that evening. And I stood in Westminster Hall, a portion of the complex dating back to the 11th century, on the spots where Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth stood to address both houses. The shoe was on the other foot, here: In Washington, we also might take visitors to sit in the gallery of the congressional House or Senate, and put them on the step of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. Turnabout is indeed fair play, and these rituals don't get old for me.

The closet
Proudman wrangled for us a look at the Chapel of St. Mary in the parliamentary crypt, where the late Member of Parliament Tony Benn had lain in repose only the day before. Just outside the chapel, I had the chance to stand in the closet where suffragette Emily Wilding Davison had locked herself during the 1911 census, so that her address would read "The House of Commons." It was Benn who erected a plaque to commemorate this act of defiance--and to read it, you have to get inside the closet. There's poetic justice in that.

Benn was a noted speaker, as described in this article on Tony Benn and the living art of rhetoric. In describing the plaques he had put up for Davison and others, he explained his effort as countering the images of patriarchy: "If one walks around this place, one sees statues of people, not one of whom believed in democracy, votes for women or anything else. We have to be sure that we are a workshop and not a museum."

The committee room
We did our part to turn Parliament into a workshop rather than a museum that evening. Eighty-five women crowded into a committee room in the House of Commons for my workshop with the Fabian Women's Network, with the topic Succeeding as a public speaker. The indefatigable Felicity Slater and others live-tweeted the proceedings, and you can get a sense of the topics we covered in my post with notes from the session, including a link to the Storify I created of the audience tweets.

You can see from the photo at right that the committee room--with rows of seats facing each other on either side of a long aisle, with a distancing podium intended for the committee at the front--was not the best layout for an interactive talk. So I put myself at ground level with the participants, walking up and down that center aisle. Since my back would be turned to parts of the audience no matter what, I made sure I moved around and looked at participants in all parts of the space. A real challenge in action for someone talking about good speaking skills.
I wasn't the only person who noticed the "pale, male and stale" images lining the walls:
Those optics and surroundings really do have an impact on women speakers, but at least this group was comfortable pointing that out:

The conversation
Once done with the workshop, it became time for museums--but even there, I found inspiration on speaking. One of the points I make about women and speaking in my workshops is that women, long forbidden to speak in public in our history, have developed a different style of speaking. Linguist Deborah Tannen refers to this as "rapport talk," or conversational style. It's a style that has been popularized by the TED talk, and co-opted by male speakers like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, in contrast to the "report talk" that characterizes the traditionally popular masculine rhetorical style. Urging women speakers to take back their authentic, conversational, connect-with-the-audience style was a big part of my message on this trip. That's why I was delighted to come across the lovely Vanessa Bell painting, A Conversation, at the Courtauld Gallery. It captures perfectly this traditional female style of speaking.

At the Victoria and Albert Museum, I kept coming across examples of lecterns, essential in times when the prayer and choir books were large in format and too heavy to hold unassisted. One model featured a female angel hoisting the lectern overhead--talk about a woman in a supporting role for another speaker--and an older model included a detailed carving of a bagpiper, considered a comic symbol of lust that was in turn supposed to prompt the virtuous to think penitent thoughts. Wonder how well that worked? Both examples are a far cry from today's popular plexiglass lecterns, intended to disappear and take away any sense of a barrier between speaker and audience. These, instead, are like armored vehicles that protect the speaker and lend the appearance of authority.

The confidence
No lectern can lend the authority that comes from inner confidence when you step forward to speak in public. Hands down, the best part of my London trip was hearing from women who attended my workshop about how they felt more confident or were able to make changes in their approach to public speaking, putting the tips to practical use right away. Here's a sampling:
  • "You taught me many valuable skills last Thursday which have already increased my confidence, I can't wait to speak publicly again and test them out! I will even be doing power poses..."
  • "I just did a talk to a group of 15 and wanted to thank you for your advice. I prepared in advance, had 3 key points which I listed in my intro, and started with a story. It went really well, and I was amazed at how comfortable I became. Writing it out made such a difference, and has really given me a huge boost of confidence to take on other talks!"

No better music to the ears of a speaker coach than to hear "I can't wait to speak publicly again" or "I can't wait for next week's workshop!"

The last two tweets are the transition to the Oxford portion of my trip, from women who attended the Fabian Women session and the Oxford conference: Cate Huston, a longtime reader of and contributor to the blog whom I had the chance to get to know in real life on this trip, attended my Oxford workshop. Deloitte speechwriter Caroline Johns also was at the London event prior to speaking at the Oxford speechwriters conference. I'll have my Oxford notebook for you on the blog tomorrow!

On May 15, I'll be convening another session of Be The Eloquent Woman in Washington, DC. It's a subversive new workshop that helps women executives and public officials learn how women speakers are perceived and how to turn those expectations on their heads with confidence, content and credibility. You can grab a sweet discount by registering by April 11. Go here to read how the first workshop went and what participants had to say.