Thursday, March 23, 2017

Why speaker coaches think you should spend more time preparing

Any speaker coach worth her salt will tell you that the one thing her speakers don't do enough of is practice. It's not at all unusual for me to suggest a two- to-three month horizon to prep for a major talk, only to have the speaker exclaim, "But I've never spent more than two days getting ready!"

If I had a nickel for every time a client said that, I could quit coaching and live quite comfortably.

But that's not enough of a reason for you, is it? You might, then, want to know some of the many reasons coaches urge practice before you dismiss it out of hand. First and foremost, practice gives you room to make mistakes and correct them, without an audience present. I like to say, "If you're going to screw up, wouldn't you rather do that privately with me than in front of the audience?"

More than that, practice lets you take something from good to great, from tentative to polished. You can find out where you stumble and stutter, and come up with workarounds. You can learn whether that move you want to make across the stage works in real life. You will find out which parts of your script or slides just don't stick in your memory bank, and adjust them. You can try out a gesture, how you will handle a prop, volume, vocalizing, and every other aspect of delivery--not just once, but several ways, so you can choose from the most successful options for you. And you'll go into the talk knowing why you chose *not* to do certain things, its own form of comfort. You'll get used to the sound of your own voice, and how it feels to give the talk out loud, as opposed to just silently narrating your slides as you review them; that kinetic memory will build as you practice, giving you that much more confidence.

Practice also affords you the time and space to learn your talk inside out, so you are less flummoxed by a last-minute or unforeseen interruption or snafu. It means that, when you panic at the sight of the lights and the crowd, what you wanted to say will come out of your mouth, anyway, and get you started. Practice gives you the chance to decide that you don't need all those slides, anyway, before the audience's eyes start to glaze over, and the chance to practice without the slides, without having to speed up. And it's great insurance against the bane of public speakers: That moment when you come off the stage and realize you forgot to include your main point.

When considering your practice time, it helps to remember the great irony of public speaking. It's the speakers who look most natural, conversational, genuine, and spontaneously smooth who have practiced the most. Everyone else just looks like they haven't practiced. Audiences appreciate the difference.

For me, the proof lies in what I hear after coaching clients, who love to call me to report, "I did all the preparation you told me to do, and it worked!" Yes, indeed. How can you reform your speaking practice?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by TEDxBrussels)

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, March 20, 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:
  • Fluent women: When it comes to proficiency in English, women around the world speak it better than do men, across most industry sectors. Check out the places where English proficiency is high and low, and how women compare to men, in this video based on a huge survey.
  • Discomfort zone? "For example, I have a history of being uncomfortable with public speaking. In graduate school I took a public speaking class and the professor had us deliver speeches — using notes — every class. Then, after the third or fourth class, we were told to hand over our notes and to speak extemporaneously. I was terrified, as was everyone else in the course, but you know what? It actually worked. I did just fine, and so did everyone else. In fact, speaking without notes ended up being much more effective, making my speaking more natural and authentic. But without this mechanism of forcing me into action, I might never have taken the plunge." From If you're not outside your comfort zone, you won't learn anything.
  • Did you miss? This week, the blog looked at appearance v. content and which one wins the most attention for women speakers; in the wake of all the coverage, some sensible guidelines for journalists followed. Both posts were especially popular on Facebook this week. Famous Speech Friday shared classicist Mary Beard's lecture on women in power. A must-read, must-watch.
  • Join me in London April 3 for my one-day workshop, Creating a TED-Quality Talk. It works for speakers, speechwriters, and anyone who wants to elevate their presenting in this way. We have some seats left, and we're just waiting for you!
  • About the quote: A good example for eloquent women, from Madonna. Find more quotes like this one on our Pinterest board of great quotes by eloquent women.
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, March 17, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Mary Beard on "Women in Power"

If you've ever seen a production of the ancient Greek plays with strong and powerful women--Medea, Antigone, and the like--you may have thought, "Wow, how enlightened the Greeks were to feature such strong women in their plays." But it's smarter to see these as cautionary tales about women in power, says classics scholar Mary Beard. Consider them early markers that women are to be culturally excluded from power in ways that we are still fighting today.

Beard addressed women in power in a lecture of the same name two weeks ago in London, putting her knowledge of the ancient cultures and her modern-day focus on women's issues together. Beard's lecture on the public voice of women is an important entry in The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women, and taken together, this pair of lectures is as good a primer as you will find--really, must-reads, both of them--on why women today struggle with finding their voices and claiming their power. The societal barriers to doing so go back centuries, and Beard's the right guide to our unfortunate history. If you think the classics are dull, she's the right guide again--so much so that she was featured in a series of interviews on these Greek heroines on BBC's Woman's Hour radio program in the week prior to the lecture, which was quickly published along with audio and video versions.

For those not sure that ancient Greek women-bashing drama has any impact on women in power today, Beard uses the image of Medusa, whose image--with snakes for her hair--was said to be able to turn people into stone. Medusa was slain by Perseus, who cut off her head and used it to turn his enemies to stone, captured in a famous portrait by Caravaggio. From Beard's lecture:
What’s extraordinary is that this beheading remains even now a cultural symbol of opposition to women’s power. Angela Merkel’s features have again and again been superimposed on Caravaggio’s image. In one of the more silly outbursts in this vein, a column in the magazine of the Police Federation called Theresa May the ‘Medusa of Maidenhead’ during her time as home secretary. ‘The Medusa comparison might be a bit strong,’ the Daily Express responded: ‘We all know that Mrs May has beautifully coiffed hair.’ But May got off lightly compared with Dilma Rousseff, who had to open a major Caravaggio show in São Paolo. The Medusa was naturally in it, and Rousseff standing in front of the very painting proved an irresistible photo opportunity.
But it’s with Hillary Clinton that we see the Medusa theme at its starkest and nastiest. Predictably Trump’s supporters produced a great number of images showing her with snaky locks. But the most horribly memorable of them adapted Cellini’s bronze, a much better fit than the Caravaggio because it wasn’t just a head: it also included the heroic male adversary and killer. All you needed to do was superimpose Trump’s face on that of Perseus, and give Clinton’s features to the severed head.... 
This scene of Perseus-Trump brandishing the dripping, oozing head of Medusa-Clinton was very much part of the everyday, domestic American decorative world: you could buy it on T-shirts and tank tops, on coffee mugs, on laptop sleeves and tote bags (sometimes with the logo TRIUMPH, sometimes TRUMP). It may take a moment or two to take in that normalisation of gendered violence, but if you were ever doubtful about the extent to which the exclusion of women from power is culturally embedded or unsure of the continued strength of classical ways of formulating and justifying it – well, I give you Trump and Clinton, Perseus and Medusa, and rest my case.
Beard also goes on to say that our ideas of power are the kinds of power that elites can claim, but that every woman--not just those trying to run for prime minister or president--needs and wants some form of power. But how should women view her insights? She says:
...the big issues I’ve been trying to confront aren’t solved by tips on how to exploit the status quo. And I don’t think patience is likely to be the answer either, though gradual change very likely will take place. In fact, given that women in this country have only had the vote for a hundred years, we shouldn’t forget to congratulate ourselves for the revolution that we have all, women and men, brought about. That said, if the deep cultural structures legitimating women’s exclusion are as I have argued, gradualism is likely to take too long for me, thank you very much. We have to be more reflective about what power is, what it is for, and how it is measured. To put it another way, if women aren’t perceived to be fully within the structures of power, isn’t it power that we need to redefine rather than women?
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • It's smart to remind us of our history: Beard's research lies completely in the past, although she certainly keeps a weather eye on trends in the present that hark back to historic days. Sometimes, your speech or presentation will benefit from a similar comparison, whether it's to remind the audience how far we've come, or, as here, how much further we have to go.
  • Tell us a story from your viewpoint: History repeats itself, but if you weren't around in the era of ancient Greece, you might not see the comparison. So Beard retells the old tales and brings them into our world with the images online and on tote bags. How can you retell a story from your viewpoint?
  • Speak plainly: Beard does not shy from her topic. The misogyny is clearly and unflinchingly described, and in doing so, she lets us see it. No sugar-coating, muffling, or euphemizing here. Instead, there's brilliant clarity, just what every audience wants.
You can watch the video here or below, and the full text of the lecture is here.

LRB · Mary Beard · Video: Women in Power

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, March 16, 2017

Silencers: In appearance v. content for women speakers, guess which wins?

There are all sorts of things that can silence a woman speaker, from audience or online trolls and hecklers to the conference organizers who keep her off the program. But for truly deafening silence around a woman's speech, there's nothing like her outfit or her hairstyle to do the trick.

That's what it felt like as recently as last week, when I posted this mini-rant on The Eloquent Woman page on Facebook, one that thousands saw and interacted with:


Clinton spoke at the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards on International Women's Day, wearing red as did many women in support of A Day Without a Woman, on the same day. But you could read more about her wispy bangs than about the content of her speech in much of the coverage.

And attorney Amal Clooney, speaking at the United Nations on the very next day, on the serious topic of launching a formal investigation of human rights crimes committed by ISIS, was primarily covered not for her topic of substance, but for wearing yellow and for showing her "baby bump." Clooney, who is pregnant, was thus reduced to being the baby-carrying wife of actor George Clooney, despite her strong speech.

Then we learned that actor Angelina Jolie "looked chic" as she spoke at the London School of Economics Centre for Women, Peace and Security, on her work at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
I've noted before how Dee Dee Myers, former press secretary to President Bill Clinton, has said that a bad hair day can be a "virtual mute button" for a woman speaker. But it appears, really, that all it takes to silence the woman speaker is to focus on her hair. Or her outfit.

This is another persistent and durable silencer that women have been facing for centuries. Consider this take from an exhibit on in Paris just now, about fashion for women during World War I, nearly a century ago: "if the war accelerated modernization already underway, fashion also reflected profound anxiety about women’s liberation." We're seeing that anxiety about three powerful women today, and it gets in the way of a further power they are wielding, public speaking.

In coming weeks, we'll have a substantive speech of Clooney's featured in our Famous Speech Friday series, and of course, Clinton and Jolie are already have speeches featured here. I wish more media outlets would focus on their content instead of their appearance, but we'll continue to make content the focus for women speakers featured here on The Eloquent Woman.

(UN Photo of Clooney by Rick Bajornas)

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, March 13, 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, March 10, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: California State Senator Janet Nguyen's silencing

Maybe we should change this to Famous Silencing Friday? Yet another woman legislator--this time, a Republican state senator in California--was silenced mid-speech on the floor of her legislature in late February.

Senator Janet Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant to the U.S. who fled her country as a child, rose days after a tribute by the California senate to Tom Hayden, a Vietnam war activist who also served in the state legislature; Hayden died last year. But Nguyen rose to protest the tribute, first in her native language, then in English. Not until she spoke in English did her intent become clear to her colleagues. Here's how she began:
I and the children of the former South Vietnam soldiers will never forget the support of former Senator Tom Hayden for the Communist government of Vietnam and the oppression by the Communist Government of Vietnam for the people of Vietnam. 
After 40 years, the efforts by people like him have hurt the people of Vietnam and have worked to stop the Vietnamese refugees from coming to the United States, a free country. We will always continue to fight for freedom and human rights for the people of Vietnam.
Nguyen tried to continue speaking, but a male senator rose to object on a point of order procedural complaint, which was taken up by the presiding officer, who repeatedly called her out of order, drowning out her remarks. Finally, he had her removed by security officers, effectively ending her speech.

Because all that was caught on video (below), it quickly went viral. The #shepersisted hashtag that emerged after U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced in the Senate was revived, and at the state's Republican convention the following weekend, "I stand with Janet" stickers were distributed.

There's a theme here, for the dudes in power: Silencing women speakers, even when you fall back on procedure, is just going to backfire, and spread their words further. And while the state senate's president pro tempore said he took responsibility for making sure this didn't happen again, Nguyen reminded everyone that it wasn't just she but her constituents who were silenced. From the New York Times article: "My constituents are extremely upset,” said Ms. Nguyen, who represents a part of Orange County with a large Vietnamese population. “They’re upset that their voices were shut down.”

You can read the full text of her speech here; thanks to the controversy, it received far more circulation than it might have done, or did in the senate. Below is the video of Sen. Nguyen's start of her speech and her removal.


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.