Tuesday, November 27, 2007

kindle your next speech

My speaker trainings help you learn how to speak eloquently and without notes where possible, but for many speeches, a text is essential...and creates more problems for speakers. Pages get dropped, make noise, look awkward when you're toting them to the lectern and occupy your hands when you might be gesturing. That's why I got excited this weekend reading about the new Amazon Kindle. This new e-reader device is sold out at the moment, so I haven't tried it yet. (I'll review it in a future post, and welcome comments from early adopters below.) But this latest entry into electronic books offers new features that have great potential for speakers. With it, you can:

-Display your speech--not just books with speeches: Its wireless access allows you to email your own documents (think speech text) to your Kindle and display them just as you would books; because the wireless access is built on cellular phone signals, it's available more widely (and it's free).

-No more shuffling pages: The page "turning" controls are large keys on either side, allowing easy movement back and forth; you'll use your thumbs to page through the text. This lets you avoid dropping pages, shuffling noises and carrying your very obvious printed documents to the lectern. (The Amazon Kindle is the size of a small paperback.) Looks to me as if you can page forward with only one thumb or finger, leaving another hand free to gesture.

-See your speech text in sunlight or indoors: No-glare screens that lack a computer backlight make it possible to read your text in any setting.

-Adjust to large-type settings: Six font sizes allow you to create the display you can best see.

I'm looking forward to testing the Kindle with our trainees and for my own upcoming speeches, and will report back here. In the meantime, if you've tried an Amazon Kindle,try using it for displaying your speech text or talking points and give us your feedback in the comments below.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Helen Thomas: it's OK to have a heart

As a former winner of Washington Women in Public Relations' "Washington PR Woman of the Year" award, I got to relax at this annual luncheon today and listen to keynoter Helen Thomas, a 57-year veteran of the White House Press Corps, first woman officer of the National Press Club, winner of the International Women's Media Foundation lifetime achievement award and the first woman member and president of the White House Correspondents' Association. Fearlessness and persistence are this eloquent woman's trademarks, and I was struck with her simple and direct language. As a former journalist and current public relations practitioner, I appreciated her acknowledgement of what the two professions have in common: "Trust and credibility--without these two standards, we cannot operate."

With an audience of women, she talked about still being outraged that women didn't get a vote in the United States until 1920, but noted that "the outlook is better for us now," with nine women governors, 70 women in Congress, and women as Secretary of State, Speaker of the House of Representatives and "a real woman candidate for President." Thomas noted "it's tough to get out and fight the traditions that men have had," adding that, while it's well established "that the hand that rocks the cradle also can wage war," her advice to all women politicians is "There's nothing wrong with having a heart."

Many Presidents--she's covered them all since John F. Kennedy--would be shocked to hear this aggressive questioner talk about heart, but Thomas noted that "no President has liked the press, going all the way back to George Washington--although I didn't cover him." Gerald Ford said that if God created the world in six days, he wouldn't be able to rest on the seventh until he'd explained it to Helen Thomas, and Fidel Castro noted that the difference between the Cuban and U.S. democracies was that "I don't have to answer questions from Helen Thomas."

Despite the humorous barbs, she persists. Barbara Walters once asked her in an interview whether the men at the White House thought her aggressive; Thomas's answer was simply "I hope so." (But before women entered the White House press corps, the male press aides and journalists had a much cozier arrangement, getting dates for one another in return for coverage or access. Eleanor Roosevelt, the first First Lady to hold press conferences of her own, led the way by opening the sessions only to women reporters--forcing news organizations to hire them, if only for this purpose.)

Wikipedia's "Wikiquote" pages devote space to more bon mots from Helen Thomas here, and here's a story she told at today's luncheon about great speechwriting and Lyndon Baines Johnson: When his speechwriters brought him a script full of quotes from the great 18th century aphorist Voltaire, he reportedly said, "Voltaire? The people I'm going to speak to don't know who Voltaire is," then replaced all references to him with "as my dear old daddy used to say..." For more Thomas tales, read her autobiography Front Row at the White House : My Life and Times.

young women and public speaking

In the past two weeks, I've trained two young women in public speaking and presentations skills, so I couldn't agree more with a column published today in the Charlotte Observer by book dealer Avis O. Gachet: She recommends training for young women in middle school to help overcome hesitancy about public speaking. She thinks early training is needed because:
Producing larger crops of vocal women will make female opinions a normal, not remarkable, occurrence. Also needed are outlets in precinct meetings, church groups and civic organizations -- particularly those that deal with local issues -- where women can voice opinions on issues that touch them.

When women have something worthwhile to say, let them speak up -- forcefully and publicly. More, more, sisters. We will never have true control over our lives until we do -- no matter how painful, no matter how awkward the initial steps.
From my own experience as a speaker and a trainer, it's rare these days to get training early in your career -- yet that's exactly when women can benefit most. Early training helps you build confidence, as many issues seen as insurmountable may have simple solutions. Too many executives, male and female, build up bad habits through lack of training, then seek to correct them later in their careers. Early training benefits your employer and your professional organizations, as well as your own career: It's a promotion-worthy skill at the office, and you can help promote your profession outside your organization using your speaker skills.

I recommend young professionals talk to their professional societies and community or church groups as well as their HR departments and managers. Ask them to arrange group or one-on-one training, or bring them ideas about speakers and trainers who can address the issue for you and your colleagues. When you have a choice about training to pursue, seek out speaker training first, as it's a skill you can use in many venues. Then pursue opportunities to practice by speaking to small groups (even with friends who also want to practice).

losing a lisp or an election?

If you lisp and want a quick vocal lesson on correcting it, listen to NPR's story yesterday by comedian Mo Rocca about his own lisp--and that of presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani. S is the culprit for both speakers, and a speech therapist walks Rocca through the various types of lisps involving an s, then works with him on, yes, the presidential oath of office to correct it. (The oath is full of s-sounds--especially "the Consitution of the United States of America.") The therapist notes that three weeks of concerted effortand training could help either Rocca or Rudy correct his lisp; then the discussion moves to whether you want to lose it.

too many speeches? call in the cavalry

We chuckled at this tidbit in the New York Times Magazine interview of noted scholar Patty Limerick, a University of Colorado at Boulder professor of American history and the chair of the school’s Center of the American West in a recent issue about movies and the West. The interview suggested that she didn't sound like a "big fan of westerns," and her reply was:
It took me a very long time to admit to myself that the main reason I don’t watch many western movies, of the John Wayne kind of western movies, is that I dissolve with desire to have John Wayne take control of my life. I want John Wayne to come to my office and answer the phone and say, “The little lady isn’t making any more speaking engagements, buddy.”
Do you need John Wayne to fight off the requests for speeches? Maybe not, but do consider asking requesters enough questions about the engagement in advance to be sure it's worth the effort you'll be putting into it. What's in it for you? Hold out for more benefits than a ride into the sunset.

what to ask a trainer

Whether you're booking a training for someone on your team, or shopping around for your own training, use these questions to interview your prospects. They work for media trainers as well as presentation or public speaking trainers:
- what's your approach to media training? Trainers have many different styles: Some want you to hammer a message over and over -- no longer considered a best practice in the field for media interviews. Some have no experience as journalists, something we consider a distinct advantage in media training. Some aren't up to speed on new media and answering questions from bloggers. Take the time to hear your prospective trainer's beliefs and approaches. Especially with public speaking trainers, you need to feel comfortable with your instructor.

- can you combine media and presentation training? can you do both? Because media and presentation training share a basic skill set, a good trainer should be able to point out to you which skills work in many settings. However, if you're going to be doing multiple interviews or multiple speeches, consider a separate training for each specific skill.

- how do you price your training? Ask about group and individual rates, and be ready to discuss any special needs or goals you have. Group trainings are less expensive per participant, but mean less practice time for individuals, and some special needs are best corrected one-on-one.

- do you use video and audio recording? Effective training can be done without cameras, and may be less expensive; it's a fine option if you don't anticipate many television interviews. At the same time, seeing or hearing yourself on tape, while uncomfortable, offers the best feedback to help you learn both public speaking and media interviews. But don't assume cameras will be used--ask.

- will you offer a discount if I book more than one session?Always worth asking, followed by "how would two sessions change the training?"

- who else have you trained? may I speak with them? The best trainings happen one-on-one, so most trainers don't allow observers -- and some clients require confidentiality agreements from their trainers. But you should be able to talk to other referres, ideally someone in your profession or situation.

- what does your training cover? The answer will vary depending on the number of trainees and the amount of time, but you should get a fulsome list of skills to be learned during the session.

- how do you handle these special issues I have? A good trainer will admit when a specific issue -- such as a speech impediment -- is beyond her abilities, but should be able to bring in a specific type of coach to augment the training.

- how long are the trainings? what time of day do you recommend for training? We recommend no more than a half-day at a time, and prefer to train in the morning, for the same reason: Your energy. Training's intensive, especially one-on-one. Be sure you don't lose the learning because you're tired.

- what's your own experience as a speaker and trainer?Feel free to ask us how we learned the ropes. If you can, go see your trainer speak in front of a group.

- where do you conduct the training? Trainings shouldn't happen in your own office, where you can be interrupted and distracted. But they may take place in a conference room you provide, a hotel room, a television studio, or the trainer's own facility.

- for group trainings, are there guidelines on participation? See our post on the don't get caught blog about why we prefer training groups of peers, rather than supervisors and subordinates.

- what will I need to do to prepare?You may need to provide a biography, messages you're already using in interviews and a list of your goals for the training. Your trainer should do independent research as well, looking at coverage of your topics and you, in order to help you develop effective messages and anticipate questions. Or, if you have a specific presentation prepared, ask whether you need to bring that on your laptop or a thumb drive.

- what materials or resources do I get to reinforce my learning? Do you get take-away materials? Online resources? Follow-up consultations? Our clients have access to two blogs with ongoing, updated resources, tips and ideas to reinforce training.
We're always happy to answer questions like these to make your training a better experience. Email Denise Graveline at info@dontgetcaught.biz.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Barbara Jordan: 'I never had to apologize'

Search on women and public speaking -- or ask your network about eloquent women, as we did recently on Linked In -- and Barbara Jordan's name always seems to come up more than once. For many who heard her in the 1960s and 70s, it's her voice that still resonates--and her ability to put simply some of the most complex ideas in democracy.
She's another barrier-breaker: the first African-American since Reconstruction to be elected to the Texas Senate, the first female African-American from the South to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and the first woman--and African-American--to deliver a keynote address to the Democratic national convention.

But this was no shy role model for women in public speaking. The citation for a late-career award from West Point noted her early interest in public speaking:
Deciding early in life to be something out of the ordinary, she honed her gift for public speaking in high school and later at Texas Southern University, where she won national recognition in competitive debate and oratory. After graduating magna cum laude, she enrolled in the Boston University School of Law.
Many feel her finest speech happened on July 25, 1974, as her opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee's proceedings on the impeachment of Richard Nixon. With speed, eloquence and just a touch of humor, she opened with an acknowledgement that a black woman member of the House of Representatives might have a grievance with the Constitution she was about to uphold--and solved that issue neatly for the audience, establishing her authority to question the President under the law, never once mentioning her gender or race, but letting the televised image speak for itself:
Earlier today we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, "We, the people". It is a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed, on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that "We, the people". I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision I have finally been included in "We, the people".

Today I am an inquisitor. I believe hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemnness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.
An oral history interview with Jordan by the LBJ Presidential Library lets her describe that subtle approach: "You don't have to focus on that [race] specifically nor stridently, you just have to be there. And when you are there, black people are represented." Jordan also notes that "wherever I travel no one has forgotten that speech." Televised in prime time and watched by millions, it prompted an enormous public reaction, swaying many citizens about the case for impeachment--and offering what many considered the best civics lessons they'd ever had on the Constitution. It ranks number 13 in the top 100 American political speeches -- and Jordan, one of a handful of women on that list, is the highest-ranked woman political speaker, the only woman in the top 10 and on a par with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy in placing twice in the top 15.

The same oral history discovers that her confidence came from an independence instilled in her by her grandfather:

I never had to apologize for whatever I was doing. I was not self-effacing. Now, some people may say that that's bad, but I always figured that if he said that I was to be my own person, that I could just go out there and be it, which I did do. So I didn't look back and I didn't look around for excuses for non-achievement. I just decided that what one wants to do, one proceeds to do it.... That doesn't work for everybody...I have to remind myself that it worked for me, but it does not work for everybody.
Earlier this year, her speeches were collected in Barbara Jordan: Speaking the Truth with Eloquent Thunder (Louann Atkins Temple Women and Culture Series), edited by her friend Max Sherman and published by the University of Texas Press. Sherman notes that, in an interview shortly before her death, she was asked to define ethics and did so in an eloquent--and utterly simple way:
Ethical behavior means being honest, telling the truth, and doing what you said you would do.
The book also includes some of the speeches on a DVD; you can see an interview with Sherman and an excerpt from the DVD here. The university includes an archive of text, audio and video of Jordan speeches here. The texts are moving, but the audio's even more so. If you remember Jordan's speeches, tell us what made them memorable to you; if you're new to her speaking, listen, read and react in the comments below. (Photo credit: Larry Murphy, University of Texas at Austin News and Information Service.)

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