Friday, September 30, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Lionel Shriver's cultural appropriation speech

Little did the Brisbane Writers Festival know what its keynote from Lionel Shriver would do to its conference. That is, until the keynote speaker's first sentence.

Titled Fiction and Identity Politics, and featuring the speaker in a Mexican sombrero as shown at right, the keynote speech began this way, leaving no doubt how it meant to go on:
I hate to disappoint you folks, but unless we stretch the topic to breaking point this address will not be about “community and belonging.” In fact, you have to hand it to this festival’s organisers: inviting a renowned iconoclast to speak about “community and belonging” is like expecting a great white shark to balance a beach ball on its nose. 
The topic I had submitted instead was “fiction and identity politics,” which may sound on its face equally dreary. 
But I’m afraid the bramble of thorny issues that cluster around “identity politics” has got all too interesting, particularly for people pursuing the occupation I share with many gathered in this hall: fiction writing. Taken to their logical conclusion, ideologies recently come into vogue challenge our right to write fiction at all. Meanwhile, the kind of fiction we are “allowed” to write is in danger of becoming so hedged, so circumscribed, so tippy-toe, that we’d indeed be better off not writing the anodyne drivel to begin with.
The reaction began before the speech was over, with some listeners walking out and blogging about their reasons why later. Conference organizers disavowed the message and set up a "right of reply" session for those attendees wishing to speak in rebuttal to the controversial keynote.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied, one of the attendees, noted "Her question was — or could have been — an interesting question: What are fiction writers 'allowed' to write, given they will never truly know another person’s experience?" She writes about waiting for Shriver to subvert the argument made humorously at first, only to conclude that the speech was a "poisoned package wrapped up in arrogance and delivered with condescension."

Just because a speech is famous--and this one surely is now--doesn't make it the best example of greatness. Here's what you can learn from this famous speech, or really, some questions to ask if you are considering such a tactic:
  • Is your respect showing? There are plenty of speakers who make their mark by being gadflies, people who poke conventional thinking in the eye. It's a provocative and memorable approach, whether you agree or disagree with the content. And it's a bold stroke, one that few speakers attempt. But better might be an approach that balances the bold questions with some demonstrated respect for the audience and the organizers. When listeners in the hall see your speech as arrogant and condescending, you have missed this mark.
  • Do you get at the interesting question, or just the glib one? Abdel-Magied posed the tougher question that could have been answered by Shriver's talk: "What are fiction writers 'allowed' to write, given they will never truly know another person’s experience?" That's more on-point for a writers conference, for starters, and would have required some philosophy to get beyond the protest.
  • Are your examples one-sided? Certainly, many speakers cherry-pick their examples to make an extreme point. Playing solely to one side of the argument dismisses your opponents, but also excludes a large portion of your audience. A better (and likely better received) talk might have found many other-than-biased examples to illustrate the complexity of the issue and how authors (aka, the audience) have thought about them through the ages. The talk, for example, put me in mind of Jane Austen, who includes no scenes of men speaking to other men without women present, because it was outside her own experience. Yet she's considered one of the greatest novelists. How does that fit into this discussion?
Not surprisingly, there's no full video of this speech published and available, but The Guardian published the full text here.

(Photo of Lionel Shriver shared by Dr. Kristin Ferguson on Twitter)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

My favorite fixes for public speaking: Hide before and after your talk

As a speaker coach, it's my job to keep a lot of tools in my toolbox to help my clients improve their public speaking. But just like any craftsman, I have a few go-to tools, well-worn from frequent use. This is the fifth and final post in a series of five favorite fixes I turn to all the time. Each one sounds simple, but confers a complex array of benefits to public speakers...if only you will do them. I'm sharing each favorite fix along with the types of speakers who might benefit most from them. You'll get the best results if you try them not once, but over a period of time.

This week's favorite fix is to hide before and after your talk. And by "hide," I mean get away from other people, no matter how nice or important they are. Hiding might take you to the toilet, a nearby stairwell, a walk around the block or in the park across the street, down an empty hallway. Be sure someone knows you're stepping away ("I have to make a quick call" should do it) and make sure you return well in time for your presentation. Just use the time to be quiet.

The idea here is to avoid frittering away your energy on small talk with the organizers or other attendees or backstage crew, and to save it for when you need it, on stage. Don't fill the time playing with your smart phone, either. Just get yourself mentally prepared for going on stage or in front of the room. Neuroscientists have found that multitasking drains your brain's energy reserves.

This is a good fix essential for speakers who are at all introverted, and those who are extremely introverted may need more time alone in advance and following a talk. But it's also a good fix for extroverts who are stressed about their presentations, since stress makes an extrovert feel like an introvert, a highly uncomfortable and foreign experience for them. Don't forget to have a little quiet recovery time in that hallway or stairwell after the talk, too. Then you'll be able to have some energy for chatting with the organizer and participants.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Florian Richter)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of SpeechIt's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Monday, September 26, 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, September 23, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Billie Jean King at FIFA Women's Conference

Even if you've never been a tennis fan, you've probably heard of Billie Jean King. The 39-time Grand Slam champion became a potent symbol of the women's rights movement in the 1970s when she defeated self-proclaimed "chauvinist pig" Bobby Riggs in the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" match. (This throwback article from the New York Daily News gives some idea of how much of a cultural circus surrounded the match.) But King had been an advocate for equal rights in the workplace long before that celebrated match, helping to gain concrete reforms in the prize money and venues offered on the women's tennis tour.

Her plain language and her fearlessness in speaking out against discrimination led to her speech-filled career after tennis, and we've wanted to feature her on the blog for some time. Her recent speech at the FIFA Women's Football and Leadership Conference offers an excellent chance to hear what makes her such an eloquent woman and a dynamo for equal rights. And how can we not love a quote like this, from the March 2016 speech?
If FIFA wants to win, it is not enough for women to have a seat at the table. We can't just have a seat at the table. My generation worried about getting us a seat at the table. That's gone. That doesn't matter anymore. It's about having a voice at the table and being heard.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Acknowledge your inspirations and partners. Many of King's speeches talk about the people who have invited her to speak or who inspired her words, and this speech is an excellent demonstration of how she weaves these contributions into a talk. Listen to her recall her conversations with FIFA president Gianni Infantino, former U.S. football star Abby Wambach and her brother, former Major League pitcher Randy Moffitt, and you'll get a sense of how King's opinions and values grew organically with the help of their input. She even reads a little from the FIFA program book for the event, and acknowledges her livestream audience (very rare to see this, but increasingly important). It feels like an interesting reveal of how the speech was put together, and I think it gives a more inclusive and informal feel to the speech--making it more of a conversation and less of a proclamation.
  • Use the rhetorical rule of three. We've often talked about it on this blog, but if there is an opportunity to build a speech around three points, you can take advantage of the narrative and structural power this offers. In this case, King notes that FIFA is pursuing three major reforms: To bring more women into FIFA leadership; to develop a commercial strategy for women's football; and to appoint a secretary-general who supports gender equality in the sport. King thoughtfully builds her own "three observations" around these three elements.
  • Offer a historical perspective. One of the joys of listening to a speech by King is getting to hear her stories of how sport and women's rights have changed in her lifetime. As she notes in this speech, "history is slow when you're living it," but we benefit from her historical perspective. Her FIFA talk is full of illuminating stories of inequality in the tennis world; my personal favorite is her early realization at a country club match that "tennis whites" applied to more than just the togs. By offering a look at the earlier fight for equality in tennis, she delivers inspiration and hard-won bits of strategy to the women in her audience, now fighting for an equal place in the world's most popular sport.
Here's the full video of King's speech, starting at the 34:58 mark:

REPLAY: FIFA Women's Football and Leadership Conference 2016 - Morning Session

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

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What does your more evolved, future speaker self look like?

Fight-or-flight syndrome (sometimes called fight-flight-freeze for the reactions it prompts) is normal and nearly universal in public speakers...and everyone else facing a stressful situation. It's evolutionary behavior, or, as I like to say, it's the sign that your caveman brain has taken over, shutting out the functioning of your higher-order brain, more recently evolved.

For public speakers, therein lies the problem: You need your higher-order brain to think and speak in front of an audience. So of course it shuts down just when you need it most.

You know that I and others recommend developing a regular mindfulness meditation practice to counteract fight-or-flight syndrome. When I was listening recently to a mindfulness lecture by Tara Brach on stress and everyday nirvana, she talked about one tactic for counteracting stress responses in everyday situations: imagining what your more evolved, future self looks like.

So speakers, let me ask you: if public speaking is stressful for you now, what does your more evolved, future speaker self look like?

To get you started on your thinking about this, let me share some of the words that my clients use to describe this in my 1:1 coaching sessions or in group workshops. Perhaps you'll find some inspiration here:
  • calm
  • eloquent
  • expert
  • smooth, well-planned delivery
  • awake and aware
  • confident that I can deal with what comes 
  • ready to answer questions
  • relaxed
  • commanding attention
  • able to deal with interruptions smoothly
  • enjoying being in front of the room
  • accepting of praise
  • in command of my content
  • knowing where I might trip up, and having a plan to work around that
  • appreciative of the other speakers and the audience
That's just to get you started. What would your list look like? 

This can be a powerful exercise for setting goals for yourself as a speaker. Sometimes in my workshops, I ask participants to do a similar exercise, in which they choose one word to describe themselves as a speaker today, and one word that, to them, defines "eloquent." Cate Huston said of this exercise and its results, "My talks were extremely well received, something which I attribute significantly to Denise’s help. In the workshop, I defined what eloquent meant to me as 'poised', which is exactly the word a conference organiser used to describe me on stage."

The point here is that your speaker self is an evolving self, or should be. Envisioning yourself as a more evolved speaker is part of the process of making that come true.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Sigurd Gartmann)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both.

Monday, September 19, 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: