Wednesday, April 23, 2014

From NASCAR slides to "Any questions?": 8 kinds of slides to delete right now

Lately, I've been coaching several speakers getting ready for industry conferences--hired either by their companies, or the conference organizers. As a result, I've spent an enormous amount of time telling speakers to ditch slide after slide after slide.

This alarms the speakers (and their assistants and interns) no end. Some see the slide deck as a shield against forgetting a point or having to speak without giving the audience something else to look at. Some plan fully on reading them aloud, reducing the slide to a cue card and the audience to a read-along experience. One confessed that the slides she submitted reflected "thinking out loud" about all the things she wanted to say, but that she then couldn't bring herself to omit them once they were created, even though her presentation was just five minutes.

They'd better not try that in the boardrooms of LinkedIn or Amazon, where the CEOs have banned slides from presentations, joining the ranks of scientific teams, military units and even the Central Intelligence Agency in the U.S. as places where PowerPoint isn't allowed. The main reason? The audiences engage better, attendance goes up, and the discussion is of a higher quality.

Even if you're not ready to give up slides altogether, let's agree: It's far too easy to turn your slide deck into a dense layer of igneous rock instead of a tool that will help illuminate your points. If you're short on time, or just interested in a cleaner, clearer, clutter-free presentation that better engages your audience, omit these slides:
  1. Your title slide: The title of your presentation is in the program, on the sign outside the door, and in the podcast/social media post/press release for the conference. If you're being introduced, it will come out of the mouth of the introducer. We don't need to see it on the slide in addition to all that. Save it for when you distribute copies or publish your slides independently on the web, but don't show it in your live presentation. 
  2. Your bio: Make the introducer do her job and leave it out of your deck. No introducer? Introduce yourself verbally, no slide needed.
  3. Today's report: Don't tell us what you're going to tell us, an antiquated set of instructions for military field instructions rather than slide presentations. Again, an early verbal outline will do.
  4. Charts no one can actually read: Unless this part of your presentation is about how bad overly complicated charts are, do not include charts that make people squint. Saying, "You probably can't see this, but..." and pointing to a particular section do not, in fact, aid our understanding.
  5. A thank-you slide: Thank yous are most effective when they come from the heart and from your lips, not from your slides. Pepper those thank-yous throughout the presentation at the appropriate moments, rather than loading them up at the end or beginning. They'll mean more. "This is the part of our research where our lab assistants really had a chance to shine..."
  6. The "Any questions?" slide: Repeat after me: "And now I'd be delighted to answer any questions you may have." Again, no slide needed.
  7. The NASCAR slide: Named because it resembles the race-car drivers' jackets loaded up with logos, you may call this slide "our partners," "examples from industry," or something else. But I call it a NASCAR slide. Expressing your points in logos does not actually make them clearer, and loading ALL the logos on one slide doesn't actually feature your partners. Instead, work them into your presentation where they belong, just like thank-yous. "And this phase of the project got some much-needed help from...." or "No one else would have funded this aspect of the project but..." are better acknowledgments. 
  8. Slides that exist only because you use one slide per point: Put some mystery and interest back in your presentation and prove that you're not using them as cue cards. Use slides only for points you cannot make any other way. Need a slide in that spot so you don't advance too far? Insert black slides where you just want to talk, a tip that applies for any slide I've omitted in this list.
If your rationale for a well-packed slide deck is "it will make a great handout," bear in mind that research shows that only shorter slide decks actually get read. The longer the deck, the less likely your audience will flip through it later, let alone sit through it. This may seem like a painful exercise, but you can thank me after you get a standing ovation for your crisper, on-time presentation.

Monday, April 21, 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

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)