Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Wear blue for your audience--and video

For your next speech, presentation, or media interview, take a cue from the curtains you see behind nearly every press conference, and wear blue near your face. News shows and newsmaking organizations have made the blue-curtain background ubiquitous to help the viewing audience, because this shade of blue:
  • flatters virtually every skin color;
  • focuses attention where you want it,on your face; and 
  • for those with light hair (blonde or red), white hair, or no hair, adds the visual emphasis and focus that darker hair provides for others.
For preference, try a shade of blueshown here in several examples. Because women have more options in terms of suit colors, they might choose a French blue sweater, scarf or jacket. Can't find a shirt or blouse that's precisely this shade of blue? Go ahead and wear a lighter shade of blue. This works well not only in a television or video close-up, but when you're at the lectern or on stage as well.
 called "French blue,"

rather give that speech after all?

We've been guilty of repeating the myth that people fear public speaking more than anything else, but checked to get the data -- and in fact, snakes are feared more than public speaking, by 56 percent of those surveyed compared to 40 percent who fear public speaking, according to a 2001 Gallup poll. (The snakes have been winning this contest since 1998, according to Gallup.) In fact, fear of public speaking decreased from 45 percent in 1998 to 40 percent in the more recent poll. However, women were more likely than men to fear public speaking (44 percent of women compared to 37 of men surveyed). Still, those surveyed feared public speaking more than many other uncomfortable situations, including (in descending order) heights, being closed in a small space, spiders and insects, needles and shots, mice, flying on an airplane, dogs, thunder and lightning, crowds, going to the doctor and the dark. We can't teach you about those fears, but we can coach and train you to be a more confident and effective public speaker. Check out our collection of tips on this blog about public speaking here, and learn more about our training services here.

need a candidate for a good opening line?

When we tell folks that our company name, don't get caught, refers to not getting caught unprepared, we have in mind moments like the ones we heard when NPR gave airtime to coverage of the 2008 presidential candidates who flocked to speak to the 1,000 members of the International Association of Firefighters, meeting here in Washington. "Over the course of a long day, it wasn't all serious," reported Don Gonyea, who captured two gaffes from the candidate pool. Interestingly, both occurred in the moments during the speakers' introductory words -- in our experience, the first moment when speakers are tempted to go off script, but shouldn't. Some examples from the story:

- Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback's introduction aimed for a joke that, well, misfired: "I hope there are no fires breaking out anywhere across the country with all you guys here." He did his own first responding and quickly regrouped to say "I'm sure people are covering."

- "The day's oddest moment," according to Gonyea, belonged to New York Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton's opening remarks. "Thanks so much, and thanks for last night, too," she said. (She was referring to a reception the evening before.) As the largely male audience laughed, she realized her gaffe and laughed, too.

Gonyea's take? The candidates are "still working out their material." Ours? They recovered quickly and genially -- always a good look to laugh at yourself -- but you should work out your opening, no matter how casual, and stick to your plan. First impressions still count, and we can help you work on yours to create a strong start to your next speech. Check out the full Morning Edition story here.

a goldmine of women's speeches

Looking for inspiration from a gifted woman speaker? Check out Gifts of Speech, a database of women's speeches that goes back to the 19th century. You can search speeches by the name of the speaker as well as by the year in which the speech occurred; additional databases include Nobel lectures and the top 100 speeches. You'll find Congressional testimony, commencement talks and large-group public addresses.

how women size up audiences

A recent Washington Post article summarizing research on gender differences in negotiations -- specifically, how and whether men and women ask for raises -- offers an interesting insight for any woman facing an audience. The article notes that economics and psychology researchers:
....found that men and women get very different responses when they initiate negotiations. Although it may well be true that women often hurt themselves by not trying to negotiate, this study found that women's reluctance was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did. Both men and women were more likely to subtly penalize women who asked for more -- the perception was that women who asked for more were "less nice".
Hannah Riley Bowles, one of the study authors, underscores that the women in the study had sized up their audiences and tailored their approach as a result, despite the downside to not getting a raise:
"This isn't about fixing the women," Bowles said. "It isn't about telling women, 'You need self-confidence or training.' They are responding to incentives within the social environment."
You can go here to read an online chat with the Post reporter, Shankar Vedantam, and economist Linda Babcock, of the Program for Research and Outreach on Gender Equity in Society at Carnegie Mellon University. Babcock also has co-authored Women Don't Ask, a book on gender and negotiation.

the origins of eloquence in a gesture

...can be found in an upturned palm, we learned earlier this year in John Tierney's charming report in the New York Times. Emory University researchers studied chimpanzees and bonobos, which use the palm-up gesture consciously to ask for food and "more abstract forms of help, creating a new kind of signal that some researchers believe was the origin of human language," Tierney writes. Today, he notes, we use it to ask for food, objects, money, divine help, cooperation, pardon, acceptance and other nuanced concepts. It emanates, he writes, from the "crouch display" that animals use when confronted with a threat; its opposite, the "high-stand display," belongs to an aggressor. Here's how it evolved:
The human remnant of the crouch display is a shrug of the shoulders, which lowers the head and rotates the forearms outwards so that the palms face up. Conversely, the high-stand display persists in humans as a rotation of the forearms and palms in the opposite direction, producing the domineering palm-down gesture used by a boss slapping the conference table or an orator commanding quiet from his audience.
Emory's primatologists "note that gestures are controlled by the same part of the brain that controls speech. But it is also possible, they said that gestures and speech evolved jointly to create language," the article notes. And that lets you use simple gestures, like the upturned palm, to express more complex ideas with metaphors, emotion and sympathy.

In our "Eloquent Woman" focus groups earlier this month, participants alternately bemoaned and praised similar behavior in women speakers -- particularly at the start of a presentation, when many apologize (for being late, for the room conditions, for replacing another speaker), or spend much of their time thanking and acknowledging others. Our participants described this as women seeking to include and connect with the audience, and even as a way to seem less threatening -- a verbal version of the crouch display? Perhaps so, but it's a tactic now used by very prominent male politicians, as Tierney notes in his "TierneyLab" discussion area (click here for the discussion on the palms-up gesture). He writes:
Skilled politicians instinctively woo audiences with the upraised palms that made Mr. Clinton and Ronald Reagan seem so genial and helpful (or contrite, when the occasion demanded). Veteran politicans know to avoid palm-down gestures unless they’re attacking enemies or trying to look strong (like Richard Nixon desperately flashing his victory signs as his presidency was collapsing).
Kathleen Hall Jamieson's book, Eloquence in an Electronic Age, takes a long look at Ronald Reagan's "self-disclosive, narrative, personal, "womanly" style," and notes:
The broadcast age has rendered the combative, data-driven, impersonal "male" style obsolete. Two ironies result: only to the extent that they employ a once spurned "womanly" style can male politicians prosper on radio and television; meanwhile, in their surge toward political equality, women abandoned and must now reclaim the "womanly" style.
Leave us your comments here, or join the discussion over at TierneyLab--palms up, of course.

learning from 'the last lecture'

For those of you who have trouble starting a talk, the idea of a last lecture may sound like your heart's desire. It's part of a trend on college campuses, says today's Wall Street Journal:
Schools such as Stanford and the University of Alabama have mounted "Last Lecture Series," in which top professors are asked to think deeply about what matters to them and to give hypothetical final talks. For the audience, the question to be mulled is this: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance?
But with its focus on 46-year-old Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch, who's dying of pancreatic cancer, that question sharpens--and informs--the challenge.

You can watch a video of Pausch's last lecture via the link above, or read the book, also titled The Last Lecture. It's an affectionate romp through disappointments and dreams in his life and career, and it offers reminders for those of us who still have speeches to give:
  • Share with the audience exactly where you stand today: You may have changed your mind about a major policy, be celebrating a special birthday or have been dreading the speech. But sharing this morning's thinking with your audiences gives your speech a freshness missing from many lectures. It's what they came to find out.
  • Get out into the audience: Walking off the stage and into the audience is still the best way to engage them. Hand things out or pass them around. Pausch, who recounted fulfilling his childhood dream of winning giant stuffed animals at carnival games of skill, had the toys brought out and distributed them to audience members.
  • Move: After showing x-rays of his tumors, Pausch does one-handed pushups on stage to make a point about his health. It's a gripping moment, powered by movement.
  • Don't avoid the emotional or the personal: In the course of his last lecture, Pausch showed photos of his bosses and students; gave a birthday cake to his wife; and shared how his mother described him as "a doctor, but not the kind who helps people." It's these gestures that best connect you to the audience. Once discouraged and dismissed as a technique women brought to public speaking, top speakers today understand that audiences of all types, from television to the lecture hall, value personal connection.

who talks more: men or women?

Linguist Deborah Tannen, who distinguishes between men's "report-talk" (talk to convey information) and women's "rapport talk" (talk to build relationships) gives us her talk-take on the recent journal Science article that measured the number of words spoken by men and women, in an opinion column earlier this year in the Washington Post. The research concludes that reports of women overtaking men by over-talking are greatly exaggerated (though the study, done on college students, has some limitations in generalizing to the public at large).

We agree with Tannen that the circumstances of increased talking represent a significant gender difference in public speaking: Women speak more in personal situations, men more in public venues. As Tannen summarizes: "Studies that find men talking more are usually carried out in formal experiments or public contexts such as meetings." Her article notes studies in which there's:

....an overall pattern of men speaking more. That's a conclusion women often come to when men hold forth at meetings, in social groups or when delivering one-on-one lectures. All of us -- women and men -- tend to notice others talking more in situations where we talk less.

Counting may be a start -- or a stop along the way -- to understanding gender differences. But it's understanding when we tend to talk and what we're doing with words that yields insights we can count on.

When do you tend to talk, and when do you tend to remain silent? What do you use your speaking opportunities to do: report or build rapport? It's a good speech-preparation exercise and something you may want to journal about or discuss with a trusted advisor, to make yourself aware of your choices when speaking opportunities arise.

executive women's speaker secrets

...will be divulged next March 10 from 12 noon to 2pm at the Executive Women's Forum at the Tower Club in Tysons Corner, Virginia. Don't get caught president Denise Graveline and speechwriter Jeff Porro will give participants strategies to "Take Your Next Speech from Good to Great." Stay tuned for registration details to come later this year. In the meantime, we've developed "Eloquent Woman" workshops we can bring to your workplace, annual conference or retreat for groups of 10 women. To find out more, email us at info@dontgetcaught.biz.

Lady Bird: from shy to shining

During funeral services for Lady Bird Johnson, we reflected that few today recall her shy start as a public speaker. Robert Caro, prolific biographer of the late U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson, her husband, describes in Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 2) just how her shyness got in the way of her public speaking early on:

So deep was her shyness that, as a high school senior, she prayed that if she finished first or second in her class, she would get smallpox so that she wouldn't have to be valedictorian or salutatorian and have to make a speech at graduation.
She put the responsibility for her avoidance of that speech in the hands of a higher power, but circumstances forced her to face -- and speak to -- the public. Eventually, she became the first of the First Ladies with her own press secretary, made hundreds of public appearances and wound up giving as many as 16 commencement speeches, if only to accept her own honorary degrees.

On the LBJ Library website, you can read a biography of Lady Bird Johnson; read and listen to quotations from her speeches, interviews and conversations with her husband; and read the eulogy to her written by PBS journalist Bill Moyers, a former special assistant to President Johnson. He divulges a tip she gave him about speaking early in his career:

She was shy, and in the presence of powerful men, she usually kept her counsel. Sensing that I was shy, too, and aware I had no experience to enforce any opinions, she said: “Don't worry. If you are unsure of what to say, just ask questions, and I promise you that when they leave, they will think you were the smartest one on the room, just for listening to them. Word will get around,” she said.
Despite all that shyness, Moyers singles out Lady Bird Johnson's courage as a public speaker during a 1964 campaign whistle stop tour of Southern states, just after her husband had signed the Civil Rights Act. He notes that in the face of jeers, protests and name-calling:

She never flinches. Up to forty times a day from the platform of the caboose she will speak, sometimes raising a single white-gloved hand to punctuate her words — always the lady. When the insults grew so raucous in South Carolina, she tells the crowd the ugly words were coming "not from the good people of South Carolina but from the state of confusion." In Columbia she answers hecklers with what one observer called "a maternal bark." And she says, "This is a country of many viewpoints. I respect your right to express your own. Now is my turn to express mine."

In these two anecdotes, Moyers captures several smart tactics employed by this eloquent woman:

  • Ask questions. More than a stall tactic for the shy speaker, asking questions of your audience--whether it's one person or 500--will help you to better understand your hearers. You'll be less likely to make a misstep with the help of this "market research." It builds your confidence, and theirs in you. And it's a great attention-getter.
  • Word will get around. Whether you're quiet or loquacious, people are watching. Your reputation rests on moments when you're resting, as well as when you're actively speaking.
  • Speak calmly and for yourself. Lady Bird Johnson was spit on, yelled at, had things thrown at her, heard her children insulted, and still remained calm in front of the angriest of audiences. In some cases, she confused and silenced the protesters who were seeking to embarrass her, simply by acting as she planned, rather than reacting. And she spoke for herself: In disagreeing with the protesters, she used "I" statements, saying, "I respect your right" to disagree, but insisting on her own right to express her views.

Have you ever sabotaged your chance to speak publicly? Or, if you're shy to speak, what do you do to build confidence? Let us know in the comments.

Photographs of Lady Bird Johnson at her 1934 college graduation and on the 1964 whistle stop tour courtesy of the LBJ Library.