Monday, November 23, 2015

Giving thanks, and closed for the week

By the time you read this, I will have finished a week of coaching speakers at TEDMED, and I'll be putting my feet up and evaluating how that big coaching task went. The blog is closed for the week, and our weekly speaker toolkit will appear a week from today.

Since it's the week of Thanksgiving here in America, let me give thanks for all of you. From the start of this blog, it's been the readers who have shared posts, brought me story ideas and speeches to cover, and most of all, shared your perspectives and experiences as women speakers, or on women and speaking. You're the fuel for the blog and I hope you know how much I appreciate it!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Rachel Patterson)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Angela Merkel's 2009 U.S. Congress speech

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's 2009 speech before both houses of the U.S. Congress has just about everything you'd want in a famous speech. It is by turns soaring, personal, forceful, humorous and direct. And it's quite a public speaking feat by the woman called "The Quiet German" in a New Yorker profile, which includes a little bit about how the uncomfortable speaker adopted a characteristic posture to calm her hands during talks.

As she mentioned at the start of her speech, Merkel is only the second German chancellor to address the full U.S. Congress. Although she does speak English (and began the address with a greeting in English), Merkel spoke in German with simultaneous translation. Translations add a few degrees of difficulty to any talk, including the need to craft a speech that conveys the same meanings as the original after translation. If you're a world leader, of course, translations are commonplace. But for the rest of us, translations might be one possible way to publish your talk so that it reaches its largest potential audience.

What else can you learn from Merkel's famous speech?
  • Think of all the ways that a theme could work for you. Merkel addressed the Congress about a week before the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It seems like a no-brainer, then, to make use of the Wall as a theme, but it's astonishing to see how much work Merkel gets out of this theme in the speech--all without showing any strain. To begin with, the Wall becomes the bridge between Germany's (and Merkel's) past and present. She then uses it to illustrate international cooperation, fiscal responsibility and strategic defense. Then it becomes a metaphor for tolerance, as it is here:
    Even after the end of the Cold War we are thus faced with the task of tearing down the walls between different concepts of life; in other words, the walls in people's minds that make it difficult time and again to understand one another in this world of ours. This is why the ability to show tolerance is so important. While, for us, our way of life is the best possible way, others do not necessarily feel that way. There are different ways to create peaceful coexistence. Tolerance means showing respect for other people's history, traditions, religion and cultural identity.
    She also uses the Wall as a metaphor for nations' reluctance to act on climate change, which she sees as a barrier that separates the present from the needs of future generations:
    Ladies and gentlemen, I am convinced that, just as we found the strength in the 20th century to tear down a wall made of barbed wire and concrete, today we have the strength to overcome the walls of the 21st century, walls in our minds, walls of short-sighted self-interest, walls between the present and the future.
  • Consider how you'll connect with a diverse audience. Speakers at a joint session of Congress know that their audience will contain more than a few members who don't agree with their political leanings or past stances--and those members aren't afraid to sit on their hands to show their disapproval. Merkel deftly heads off some of this by praising a bipartisan cast of Americans--from George W. Bush to John F. Kennedy--to show how the U.S. and German relationship has a history that transcends any current politics.
  • Take a few extra steps--and breaths--to accommodate a translator. It may be rare that your speech gets the simultaneous translation treatment, but Merkel demonstrates some nice moves here that you can steal for other occasions. She is careful to pause between major sections of the speech, and before key lines and jokes, so that the translation has time to hit her listeners' ears and give them a chance to react before she moves on. She also builds a bit more time in between sections by stepping back just slightly from the lectern before beginning a new section. Even if you aren't having your talk translated, these ideas could help you slow down when you speak, especially if you're a nervous speaker.
You can watch video of the full speech from C-Span below, which also contains a translated transcript.

German Chancellor Address to Joint Meeting of Congress

Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this Famous Speech Friday post.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by

I've got two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us! You get the best discount if you register by October 30, 2015.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

What to do when your speech follows a tragedy

On Saturday, I had two coaching clients heading to the stage. One was giving a TEDx talk, the other was speaking to members of the professional association she runs. The talks couldn't be more different, but they both faced an unusual last-minute issue: Their long-practiced speeches were taking place the day after the terrorist attacks in Paris.

You, too, may face such a challenge in your speaking career. I don't say that hypothetically: I've had to coach numerous speakers in times of trouble and terror. Here are some models to follow should you find yourself challenged in this way.
  • Is it someone else's job to address the issue? Before you assume you must address the tragedy or event in your remarks, determine whether someone else--a speaker on the dais earlier than you will be, or one with a higher rank or responsibility--will be addressing it in her speech. One minute of silence is better than 10 of them, and by the end of a conference, the repetition will seem more rote than sincere, no matter what you do. A little coordination will go a long way in helping you figure this out. One of the speakers I coached would be among the final speakers of the day, so others handled the task of reflection. If this is true for you, don't forget that the issue may arise in questions after your talk. Be ready.
  • The tragedy is distracting to you before your speech: My other client told me she was having a tough time putting the Paris tragedy out of her mind before her talk. It's not surprising that such a major attack would be disturbing. If you're already nervous about your talk, you can expect your anxiety to encompass any other disturbing occurrence as well. Rather than coach her to put it aside, I encouraged her to consider making it part of her talk, right at the start. As her talk was about a life-saving advance in medical research, I suggested something like, "We're all processing what happened in Paris yesterday. I know I can't do anything about that, but I'm proud that what I'm here to talk about will save lives, not end them." Mention the events of the day in a way that pivots to your topic, if you can do so in an appropriate way.
  • The tragedy prompts a speech you wouldn't normally give: Madonna made an extemporaneous speech before her performance in Stockholm after the Paris attacks.  "I don't need my guitar for this," she says early on, putting her instrument aside and taking the microphone. I hope this speech redefines "emotional" to mean "powerful," as it has both qualities in tandem. If you're in this situation and wish to make an impromptu speech, you too may find yourself explaining why, as Madonna did: "It's been really hard actually to get through the show, because in many ways, I feel torn. Like, why am I up here dancing and having fun when people are crying over the loss of their loved ones? However, that is exactly what these people want us to do. They want to shut us up. They want to silence us. And we won't let them." It's a good reminder that, in its own way, singing also is a form of public speaking. Watch the video here or at the link:
Watch Madonna's Powerful Speech About Paris Attacks at Stockholm Concert
  • You know it's foremost in your audience's mind: One of the great roles of a speaker is reflecting what's on the minds of the audience. Doing so immediately following a major event or tragedy has power, and offers catharsis for an assembled audience, a way of making sense of the tragedy together. I was coaching the board president for a scientific society back when the U.S. invaded Iraq. Our meeting came right on the heels of the invasion. She wanted to remark on the war in her address to members without doing so politically. So I suggested she make a series of acknowledgments that, taken together, would show how many people in the room were touched by the war. She asked each group to stand and stay standing in turn: Those who had lived and worked in the Middle East; those who had served in the military or reserves in the past; those with family members in the military or reserves; those with family members or coworkers deployed in this war. By the end, nearly everyone in the room was standing, a visible measure of involvement that was both silent and moving--and far more respectful than a typical show of hands. She ended this introduction by thanking them all for their contributions, asking them to be seated again, and beginning her talk. You might replicate this, keying it to your audience, event, and the events of the day.
  • When the tragedy changes what you might say: Carly Fiorina's post-September 11 speech was certainly changed by that terrorist attack, especially with a title like "Technology, Business, and Our Way of Life: What's Next." Given just 2 weeks after 9/11 while she was the CEO of HP, she aimed for understanding of the Islamic world and a global view of the events of the day. It's a diplomatic and thoughtful speech, one that looks to a hopeful future as a way of making sense of the tragedy, without sugar-coating the situation of the day.
  • When you have a proper chance to respond officially: Brevity and plain, strong language are the best elements of an official response to a tragedy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's three-minute speech in response to the Paris attacks, appropriate for a head of state and major ally of France, spoke on behalf of the German people and addressed the French people directly, saying, "We are crying with you." Merkel, often said to be a dispassionate speaker in her everyday official speaking, mixes a leadership stance with the strong emotion of the day, serving to summarize the feelings of a nation. It's an appropriate stance to consider if you are presiding over a gathering, organization, or other entity when a tragedy strikes. 
  • Even when you're not the main speaker: U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's Pearl Harbor attack radio address spoke directly to U.S. citizens about the uncertainty and certainty ahead as the nation was about to be drawn into war. Delivered on a regularly scheduled live broadcast the day of the attack, it required her to speak before her husband, the President, addressed the nation--and had millions of listeners. She's a great example of how to address a tragedy when specifics are hard to come by, reaching instead for the more universal emotions and focusing instead on her audience. Let the facts as known inform you, but don't feel compelled to recite them, as they will change.
I know this is a blog about women and public speaking, but on such a specific issue, were you surprised that all my examples are from women speakers? It wasn't a stretch for me, so I hope not--but if so, welcome. We've been waiting for you.

(Creative Commons licensed photo of weeping statue in Paris's Montparnasse cemetery by Shawn Hoke)

I've got two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us! You get the best discount if you register by October 30, 2015.

Monday, November 16, 2015

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:
I've got two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us! 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Shonda Rhimes's "You are not alone"

Shonda Rhimes creates worlds for you, if you're a fan of any of her popular television series, from Grey's Anatomy and Scandal to How to Get Away With Murder. The diversity in her casting choices and writing prompted the Human Rights Campaign to honor her earlier this year, and her acceptance speech drew immediate coverage and social shares.

That's in part because the speech revealed so much about someone we don't normally see: As a screenwriter, director, and producer, Rhimes is typically not in front of the camera, but alone behind it. Being alone was a major theme of the speech, reflecting its powerful pull in her work, as she described in this passage:
I don’t know if anyone has noticed but I only ever write about one thing: being alone. The fear of being alone, the desire to not be alone, the attempts we make to find our person, to keep our person, to convince our person to not leave us alone, the joy of being with our person and thus no longer alone, the devastation of being left alone. The need to hear the words: You are not alone.
And for contrast, she had sharp words for a term that describes groups, rather than individuals, making this acceptance speech about actual acceptance, in a different sense:
I really hate the word “diversity”. It suggests something…other. As if it is something…special. Or rare. Diversity! As if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women and people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV. I have a different word: NORMALIZING. I’m normalizing TV. I am making TV look like the world looks. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal WAY more than 50% of the population. Which means it ain’t out of the ordinary. I am making the world of television look NORMAL.
This speech was widely shared, not just on social media, but in media reporting of the event. What can you learn from it?
  • Work the room: In a few choice places in this speech, Rhimes references the gathering in the room as a microcosm of the larger issues about which she is speaking: After talking about growing up and often being the only black girl in the room, something that still happens to her in the work world today, she says, "Look around" to get the crowd to understand that directly and in the moment. And at the end, when she predicts that those who feel alone will find their tribe waiting for them, she concludes by saying, "I know this, because mine are at that table right over there," a clever way of acknowledging her friends.
  • Speak to one person at a time: My friend and fellow speaker coach Peter Botting likes to remind speakers that the audience is not hearing them as some kind of mass group, but as individuals, listening one person at a time. That's why I think her voicing of the "alone" theme was so effective: Everyone in the audience, at that moment, understood what she was talking about, within themselves. It's one of the greatest tactics in public speaking, that ability to get up in a room crowded with people and make them feel as if you are speaking just to each of them as individuals. 
  • Tell us something we don't know about you: Rhimes, whose shows include ensemble casts, may be acutely aware that she only ever writes about being alone--but that's not something her audience is likely to have guessed about her. Sharing that kind of insight is what turns this acceptance speech into a unique and resonant moment.
See most of the speech in the video here and below. At one point, Rhimes published the text on Medium, but it has since been removed--and I'm sorry to learn that, as it's as good a read as it is a listen.

Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Making conferences with @NoWomenSpeakers visible: 7 trends I see

It's tough to be the eloquent woman when they won't even let you on the stage. And it's tough to make this issue visible when women speakers are invisible.

That's what has inspired me to run the Twitter account @NoWomenSpeakers since the middle of 2013, two and a half years. Mostly, the account retweets mentions of gender imbalance among conference speakers, and when I first established the account, I was noticing an average of a tweet a day on that topic. Now, on most days, I have scores of tweets to share. I love the variety of the tweets I'm seeing, from offers of help to find women speakers to bold volunteers proposing themselves. People are picking up programs or looking at stages, seeing no or few women, and sharing photographic evidence and data. Some conferences are moving away from defensive tweets to state goals for a 50/50 ratio of women to men in their next program.

The vast majority of tweets I see, however, are complaints about the lack of women speakers at conferences not solely targeted to women. (Tweets about women's conferences stand in stark contrast, sharing elation at seeing so many women on the program!) One important way to look at these public complaints is that they offer a realistic answer to the question "where are all the women speakers?" instead of saying the women need to be "more confident" or some other fix. They shine a light on legitimate reasons women might well avoid accepting a speaking gig or attending a conference.
I'm happy to say this isn't a lonely job. More organizations and individuals are making a point of sharing what they see when there's a gender imbalance in conference programs and on conference stages...and in turn, that visibility is helping nudge real change. Here are some of the ways these colleagues-in-arms are making the issue of keeping women off the program more visible:
  1. List-makers: Many conference organizers privately say they don't consult published lists of women speakers. But for the many people curating such lists, they are public evidence that there are plenty of qualified women in many professions who might be considered as conference speakers. Sometimes these lists are specific to a particular region as well as a profession, as in this list of Australian women in tech startups; it's offered in an article. Other lists are published as spreadsheets, as in this deep list of Muslim women speakers. Those of you who are curating lists should keep this evidence coming. My tip: Add links to video or text of speeches from the women you're recommending, to give organizers more reasons to consult your lists, and fewer excuses to ignore it.
  2. Tally keepers: Some people count up the women-to-men speaker ratio when they get a conference program; some do it right from the audience. Thankfully, more and more people are sharing those tallies on Twitter and elsewhere. I've told you before about Gender Avenger's tool for sharing a visual tally of the gender balance or imbalance for conferences you attend. Whatever tool you use, keep those tallies coming! Gender Avenger, among others, can point to real change in the proportion of women speakers at conferences; here's one example, and here's a report on conferences that changed their ways after landing in GA's Hall of Shame. If you tweet about a gender disparity among speakers, I'll retweet via @NoWomenSpeakers.
  3. Voting with their feet: Until women attendees stop going to meetings dominated by male speakers, and women speakers do the same--and make their reason known--conferences won't feel the financial pinch. Articles like You literally cannot pay me to speak without a code of conduct, and I won't go to your conference because the plenary speakers are all men are two recent examples of declarations I've been hoping to see from more women. I'm interested that I'm not just seeing this in male-dominated conferences. I specifically did not attend GHC (the Grace Hopper Celebration for women in tech) is a good example of how an all-women's conference can still exclude. When participants say "I don't see myself on the program," that's a bad sign, as well as a place to start improving. 
  4. Making clear why you turned down the gig: I'm also encouraged that more women are making explicit the reasons they turn down speaking gigs, to counter the old "we invited women but they turned us down" excuse. What's behind that? is a good question to ask. Gem Barrett took to Twitter to counter an organizer's shout-out for not showing up (she refused to speak without a code of conduct). And if the conference doesn't take harrassment complaints seriously, you can blog about it, as this FOSDEM participant did. Making it public corrects the record and helps other women. 
  5. Praising the good actors: So many tweets I see about women speakers praise conferences for being exemplary models in their practices as well as their speaker gender balance. Here's a recent example: I'm pleased to see my former employer and current client the American Association for the Advancement of Science joins the ranks of conference organizers with a code of conduct--we need more major organizations to take up this effort.
  6. Data collectors: More people and organizations are collecting and publishing data on the dearth of women speakers, as in Healthcare conferences still a sad place for diversity. And I'm seeing more research published that's trying to get at a better understanding of the underlying problem with conference gender diversity, like this report on the positive impact of including at least one woman on the selection committee, and this mathematician's calculation that the odds of an all-male panel are astronomical--that is, all male panels don't "just happen." Love seeing these evidence-based refutations of the myths around getting women on the program! We need yet more research and evaluation of the numbers on women speakers, so researchers, please keep it coming.
  7. Visual monitors: Congrats, you have an all male panel! is a Tumblr that uses pictures of all male panels to make its point. And every day on Twitter, women and men are sharing pics from conference programs, websites, and stages to show, as well as tell about, the problem of gender imbalance. Conference organizers, for their part, are finding that when the first few speakers are announced and they're all men, they're getting angry tweets. The common comeback is "We're posting women speakers soon," but the photographic evidence speaks volumes.
I love the way journalist Michel Martin, an advocate for listening to diverse voices, puts what we all should be doing. She says, "You want to know what my real charge to people is? My real charge to people is look around and see who’s missing. And try to invite that person." Web Summit just did this in a bold move, announcing it would issue 10,000 complimentary tickets to women to its conferences in Lisbon, Hong Kong, India, and New Orleans--and it invited anyone to nominate a woman entrepreneur to get a free ticket. That's using the anger of the crowd in a useful way. The move does, of course, follow criticism of the conference.

It's not enough to be shocked or sad or angry about the issue. Go wield your influence to make it change, eloquent women and men. Need some case studies and examples to follow? Check out my post on 12 ways to diversify conferences with @NoWomenSpeakers, with some great case studies you can copy.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Executives International)

I've got two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us!