Monday, May 23, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

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

Friday, May 20, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Michelle Obama at Tuskegee University

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

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

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

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

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

(White House photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

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

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

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Nancy Hanks on the student she expelled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Storytelling and emotion: Their physical impact on speaker and audience

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

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

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