Friday, April 28, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Judge Phyllis Randolph Frye's "My Son"

Before Phyllis Frye became known as the grandmother of the transgender movement, she was a parent--to a son who she chose not see for 16 years. They reunited in 1991, and Frye shared the story at the 1992 International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy.

Frye is the first openly transgender judge in Texas and one of the first openly transgender judges in the United States. Along with her private legal practice, she serves as an associate municipal judge in Houston, presiding over the same courtroom she had dreaded entering decades before, fearful that she would be swept up by the city's anti-cross-dressing laws.

Before that, she had spent the late 1970s and 1980s enduring neighborhood threats to her and her partner, and job discrimination that made it impossible for her to continue her work as an engineer. She was disowned by her family after she told them she was Phyllis, and no longer the Phillip Frye who had been an Eagle Scout and an Army lieutenant.

She went to law school in part to maintain her GI Bill stipend, but she quickly realized that a law degree would give her "the tools to defend myself against all the crap that was dished my way," she later told The New York Times. In the earliest years of her new career, Frye said she struggled with self-doubt about her abilities as a lawyer and advocate. But she was persistent in her efforts to build an active transgender community, and in arguing for her right to live with the same privileges she enjoyed when she was called Phillip.

Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said that she and Phyllis had benefited from being white, middle class and male before their transitions, when "suddenly I found myself marginalized. But I had always had the privilege to speak up. A lot of civil rights movements start from voiceless people. Our movement had a lot of voice-y people."

Frye rarely lost her voice. She charmed her fellow law students and lawyers with her big hats and unfailing courtesy, and she became an indefatigable organizer that convened some of the earliest nationwide conferences on transgender law, employment and health care. But during those years she was also speaking out in a more private way to her son, in an attempt to slowly rebuild that relationship. It is through the lens of this speech, preserved at the Digital Transgender Archive, that we learn what it cost her and other transgender individuals to "merely be true as to who we are."

What can you learn from this deeply personal speech?
  • Choose a strong, simple start. "My son is named Randy, and I love him very much." It's hard to get more direct than Frye is at the beginning of this speech, and the words couldn't be more powerful. Most of the talk proceeds like this, using plain language and a straightforward retelling of events. But in the spare few sentences with which she begins, she manages to show that a simple thing like sharing her son's birthday is not something that she and those in her audience can take for granted.
  • Remember that personal examples have their limitations. One of the interesting themes that Frye comes back to several times in the speech is that her decisions regarding her son are hers alone, and not meant to serve as the "correct" example for anyone in the audience. Her speech at the 1992 conference was part of a larger discussion about transgender parent rights, and she is quick to note that times have changed since she made the choice in 1976 to leave her son behind with his mother. By adding these caveats, Frye takes a respectful approach, acknowledging that even if she is a movement icon, many in her audience face significantly different challenges than she did.
  • Don't forget to look for ways to use the invisible visual. There are so many great examples in this speech of the invisible visual that creates a strong, memorable and persuasive image in a listener's mind. Many of the details of Frye's physical transition work as these visuals, but the image that sticks with me the most is her description of the missing "Y" in her PH_L signatures in the letters to her son, holding it back until he was willing to fill in the blank himself.
(Photo courtesy of Frye, Oaks, Benavidez and O'Neil)

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

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

39 lies, myths, and mistaken notions speakers tell themselves

As a professional speaker coach, I hear a lot of lies, myths, and mistaken notions from speakers--mostly things they tell themselves about their speaking and presenting. Really, the 39 items on this list are assumptions, but often, they're not backed up by data or evidence.

Yes, they may be your experience, or what you think is your experience. Or they may be, as the meditation masters like to say, thoughts that are "real, but not true." In many cases, the things you tell yourself about your speaking are the biggest barrier between you and successful speaking.

Take a look at the list of the myths I hear speakers repeat most often, and see if you recognize any that you're telling yourself:
  1. If I use slides, no one will look at me.
  2. If I use slides with pictures, no one will know I'm using them as cue cards.
  3. It's important to read my slides to be sure all the information is conveyed.
  4. Everyone always uses slides.
  5. I'm telling that joke at the beginning for the benefit of my audience. It doesn't have to connect with my topic.
  6. More jokes are better.
  7. It would be impolite if I don't spend time right at the beginning thanking everyone.
  8. I need to use slides to have a record of the presentation, for investors or absent interested people.
  9. My slides make a good takeaway or handout.
  10. I need to summarize my presentation right at the start to "tell 'em what I'm going to tell 'em." Otherwise, no one will pay attention.
  11. I also need to "tell 'em what I told 'em" at the end, so the audience can remember what I just said.
  12. Everyone can tell that I'm nervous.
  13. Everyone can tell that I didn't prepare.
  14. If I prepare, I will seem too forced and unnatural.
  15. Everyone here knows more than I do about my topic.
  16. I will get questions.
  17. I won't get questions.
  18. If I prepare a lot, my presentation will go better.
  19. If I don't prepare, no one will notice.
  20. I don't need to prepare.
  21. If I memorize my talk, I will sound like a robot, or an 8-year-old child who's memorized a poem.
  22. I need a lectern.
  23. I use my hands too much.
  24. My voice sounds awful.
  25. I have to have my notes in my hand on stage, and I won't look at them.
  26. I look better in black.
  27. I look like Steve Jobs in black.
  28. No one will hear my dangling jewelry, even if it's near the mic.
  29. I look fat on stage.
  30. I can't look at the audience or I'll faint.
  31. I have to look at the audience or I'll faint.
  32. I need to change things right up to the last minute.
  33. They're really listening to me.
  34. They're really not listening to me.
  35. I need to speed up so I don't bore anyone. Keep it moving.
  36. I can't slow down. I'm from New York (or wherever you are from).
  37. I can't speak with a script.
  38. I can't speak without a script.
  39. I know everything I need to know about public speaking and presenting.
If you do recognize these as your own thoughts, it might be time to investigate why you keep telling yourself these things, and whether there's data or evidence to the contrary. And if the lack of data is because you didn't practice and try something new, try that approach first. Your coach recommends it.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by scaty1)

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Savvy speakers keep up with my wide-ranging reading list on women and public speaking by following The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, where these links and articles appear first. I always collect them here for you on Mondays as well. It's a great way to expand your public speaking knowledge:
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Friday, April 21, 2017

For #marchforscience, 13 famous speeches by women scientists and engineers

Scientists will be speaking up tomorrow in Washington, DC, and in cities around the world for the March for Science, so it's a great time to inspire with this baker's dozen of speeches by women scientists and engineers. They not only cover issues related to being a woman in a technical field, but also innovate, in many cases, modes of public speaking. Each of these speeches is part of The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women, and at the links, you will find--where available--audio, video, text, and ways you can incorporate their lessons into your own public speaking. Keep speaking up, women scientists and engineers! We need to hear you:
  1. Amelia Earhart's "A Woman's Place in Science" was an important address that took advantage of radio's broadcast powers to reach women with the idea that they could work, consume, and enjoy the benefits of science.
  2. Danielle George's Royal Institution lectures, a Christmas tradition in England, were only the sixth since 1825 given by a woman, the first by a woman engineer, and the first by one who was eight months pregnant. 
  3. Diane Kelly on what we don't know about penis anatomy is a TEDMED talk that details what this woman scientist discovered after she was told not to bother pursuing a line of research that interested her.
  4. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty's Northwestern University commencement speech handled a slip of the tongue with ease and humor, and focused on just what graduates want to hear about: the future.
  5. Tech pioneer Grace Hopper explained nanoseconds so that anyone might understand them, using lengths of wire. It's a great demonstration, and evidence of her ample skills as a science communicator.
  6. Jane Goodall's "What separates us from the apes" takes a look at the lecture of a frequent speaker who believes strongly in getting in front of live audiences to explain her research.
  7. Jill Bolte Taylor's "stroke of insight" TED talk required her first to relearn how to speak after a major stroke. She wins, hands down, the race for most unusual prop, a real human brain.
  8. Katharine Hayhoe's climate change elevator speech takes a big, complex topic and boils it down briefly--and clearly. It's a great model for scientists seeking to discuss hot topics with clarity.
  9. Rachel Carson's "A new chapter to Silent Spring" was a big keynote for this nervous public speaker. Even so, she chose a key consumer audience for it, and used novel undersea audio recordings as part of this speech.
  10. Astronaut Sally Ride's "Shoot for the Stars" speech draws on this physicist's experience as the first American woman in space. Watch how she deftly uses Q&A to share more data.
  11. Sheena Iyengar's TED talk on the art of choosing shares this psycho-economist's research on how we make decisions. Iyengar, who is blind, also describes a fun story about her choosing nail polish colors.
  12. Sheila Widnall on women in engineering minced no words in talking about the discrimination women in the field face. But this speech includes both barriers to women's progress, and enablers that help them move ahead.
  13. Dame Stephanie Shirley on women in tech at TED details how this pioneer built a highly successful all-woman, at-home programming business at a time when most women didn't work outside the home. It's a great example.
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

How trauma kills our storytelling abilities

I've told you why it's important not to make all your personal stories 'happily ever after' stories, and to keep in the messy parts. And I've shared here a real-life story about a cancer patient who was dying, and asked to speak about her treatment, clearly a difficult task.

But it's also true that some stories are just too traumatic to tell. I've seen many speakers overcome by the experience of trying to speak in front of an audience about a deep personal trauma. In effect, speaking about it is the equivalent of reliving the traumatic experience, or can be. But storytelling--whether you do it in public or in private--can be a path toward coming to grips with your trauma.

Here's a good example in a Chronicle of Higher Education article about a woman who survived the shootings at Virginia Tech a decade ago. Today, Kristina Anderson speaks to groups about her experiences. Here's what happened at one of them:
Ms. Anderson, a sincere 29-year-old with crystal-blue eyes, takes the hallway to the resort’s convention center. Two hundred law-enforcement officials, mental-health experts, and campus-safety officers have come for the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals’ spring conference. She takes a seat toward the back of a room and listens as the keynote speaker, Sheriff Jerry L. Demings of Orange County, describes the police response to the fatal shooting of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub last year. 
Soon, Ms. Anderson notices her heart pounding. She puts two fingers to her neck and checks her pulse. Fast. She breathes deeply, trying to slow the sudden creep of anxiety. She’s nervous about tomorrow’s presentation, but she feels something else, too. It’s the weight of an approaching anniversary. 
On April 16, 2007, a troubled student armed with semi-automatic pistols killed 32 people and wounded 17 others at Virginia Tech. Ms. Anderson was one of them. 
These days she describes her experience, in city after city, giving presentations about school and workplace safety. She did 86 last year. It’s a job, a way of reshaping the meaning of that terrible day again and again. Survival, she’s still learning, isn’t a one-time thing, a seam stitched and then forgotten.
That reshaping of her story is a key part of recovering from trauma. But first, the trauma kills off our ability to tell stories, as you'll learn in this interview by Krista Tippett with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, an expert in how the body processes memory and trauma. From the interview:
MS. TIPPETT: Something that’s very interesting to me in how you talk about trauma, the experience of trauma, what it is, is how the nature of memory is distorted, that memories are never precise recollections, but that in general, as we move through the world, memories become integrated and transformed into stories that help us make sense. But in the case of traumatic memories, they’re not integrated, and they’re not even really remembered as much as they’re relived. 
DR. VAN DER KOLK: That’s correct. There’s actually a very old observation, and it was made extensively in the 1890s already by various people, including Freud. That’s really what you see when you see traumatized people. Now, these days, the trauma is a popular subject. People say, “Tell me about your trauma.” But the nature of our trauma is that you actually have no recollection for it as a story in a way. 
Many victims, over time, get to tell a story to explain why they are so messed up. But the nature of a traumatic experience is that the brain doesn’t allow a story to be created. And here, you have an interesting paradox that it’s normal to distort your memories. Like, I’m one out of five kids. When we have a family reunion, we all tell stories about our own childhood, and everybody always listens to everybody else’s stories — says, “Did you grow up in the same family as I did?” 
MS. TIPPETT: Right. There are five versions of every story. 
DR. VAN DER KOLK: Yeah. There’s all these very, very different versions, and they barely ever overlap. So, people create their own realities in a way. What is so extraordinary about trauma, is that these images or sounds or physical sensations don’t change over time. So people who have been molested as kids continue to see the wallpaper of the room in which they were molested. Or when they examine all these priest-abuse victims, they keep seeing the silhouette of the priest standing in the door of the bathroom and stuff like that. So it’s these images, these sounds that don’t get changed. So it’s normal to change. 
My old teacher, George Vaillant, did a study that you may have heard about. It’s called the Grant Study. And from 1939 to 1942, they followed the classes at Harvard every five years, and it’s going on to this day. Most of them went off to war in 1942, and almost all of them came back in 1945, and they were interviewed. And then they have interviews in 1989, 1990, 1991. It turns out that the people who did not develop PTSD, which was the vast majority, tell very different stories, let’s say, in 1990 than back in 1945. So now it was a glorious experience, it was a growth experience, and how good it was, how close they were to people, and how patriotic they felt. And it’s all sort of cleaned up. 
MS. TIPPETT: Right. But it’s become a coherent narrative. 
DR. VAN DER KOLK: But it’s very coherent, and it’s a nice story, and it’s good to listen to it, and relatives have all heard it a million times, but — because we make happy stories in our mind. People who got traumatized continue to have the same story in 1990 as they told back in 1945, so they cannot transform it. When we treat people, you see the narrative change, and people start introducing new elements.
Later in the interview, Tippett asks about Broca's area, a part of the brain responsible for processing language, and we learn a bit about what's going on in your brain when trauma interferes with your storytelling skills:
DR. VAN DER KOLK: Well, in our study and some others, I mean, for me that was really the great finding early on, is that when people are into their trauma, Broca’s area shuts down. That is something that almost everybody has experienced. You get really upset with your partner or your kid, suddenly you take leave of your senses and you say horrible things to that person. And afterwards, you say, “Oh, I didn’t mean to say that.” 
The reason why you said it is because Broca’s area, which is sort of the part of your brain that helps you to say reasonable things and to understand things and articulate them, shuts down. So when people really become very upset, that whole capacity to put things into words in an articulate way disappears. And for me, that is a very important finding because it helped me to realize that, if people need to overcome the trauma, we need to also find methods to bypass what they call the tyranny of language.
That says a lot about the power of speaking something out loud, doesn't it? It's useful information to keep in mind when you are evaluating whether to speak on a topic that causes or caused you great distress.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Zervas)
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Savvy speakers keep up with my wide-ranging reading list on women and public speaking by following The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, where these links and articles appear first. I always collect them here for you on Mondays as well. It's a great way to expand your public speaking knowledge:
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.