Monday, December 29, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Sweaty palms, nervous laughter, a Brooklyn accent, panic-induced silences. These were just a few of the image blemishes addressed by Dorothy Sarnoff, an opera singer and Broadway star who had a much bigger second career as one of the first, and most influential, image consultants, coaxing stageworthy performances from business executives preparing a big speech, ambassadors on their way to foreign assignments and writers heading out on book toursSarnoff took an optimist's approach to training, focusing on bringing out the best in would-be speakers. Her three books on speaking are no longer in print: Speech Can Change Your Life, Never Be Nervous Again and Make the Most of Your Best: A Complete Program for Presenting Yourself and Your Ideas With Confidence and Authority , but you can find used copies of these classics.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
The legend that built up around the incident...was that Parks, a simple woman exhausted from a hard day at work, took her stand because she was tired. In truth, she had been moving toward that moment of defiance all her life. "The only tired I was, was tired of giving in," she explained later.Parks later was present for two key civil rights moments in which she was denied the opportunity to speak: The rally just before her own trial for the bus incident, and later, at the rally following the 1963 march on Washington, the site of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Collins notes, of the mass meeting held just before her trial, where the yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery was started:
Rosa Parks was given a standing ovation, but she was not given a chance to speak on a night in which virtually every black man in Montgomery wanted a moment in the spotlight. "You've said enough," one of the leaders assured her....[at the march] instead of marching with the male leaders, up front where the TV cameras and newspaper reporters were recording every minute of the event, [the women] were directed to walk with those men's wives. There was not a single woman scheduled to speak at the march, and when the lone woman on the 19-member planning committee protested, the organizers threw together a last-minute "Tribute to Women" in which A. Philip Randolph introduced Parks and other dignitaries...while they sat there silently..."Nowadays, women wouldn't stand for being kept so much in the background, but back then women's rights hadn't become a popular cause yet," said Parks later.Parks did go on to tell her own side of her story in Rosa Parks: My Story, and historian Douglas Brinkley tackles it in Rosa Parks: A Life. We're coming up on an important confluence of anniversaries that will resonate with her life, in the Lincoln bicentennial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and the inauguration of Barack Obama as president. Will black women have a voice in the speeches that honor those occasions?
Getting on the program has long been an issue for women, and one moment in Parks's story underscores once more the importance of having women involved in the programming decisions when speakers are being scheduled. Celebrate Kwanzaa--and Parks--by deciding to speak for yourself this year, whenever your story needs to be heard.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
- Get out into the audience: Walking into the audience accomplishes all sorts of things that can help speakers before they lose the audience. It puts you on their level, makes you more accessible and humanizes you. Better yet, it almost instantly forces people to follow you--especially if you walk around. Audiences tune out when they think they know what to expect; if you move out from behind the lectern and come down the aisle, there's no telling what will happen.
- Gesture: Judiciously used, a gesture that underscores a point can have the same effect in a smaller way. Look for the points of emphasis in your speech and determine whether a well-timed gesture can bring the audience back.
- Get the audience involved: Instead of lecturing at them, take an instant poll--don't tell them your point, ask them what they think and take the measure of the room. Audiences, more and more, want participation, not passive listening. Engage them by asking questions and commenting on the results, or ask them what their experience has been. You'll learn something about them and you'll get their attention.
Those all are better than overemphasizing your point, increasing your volume or showing your panic--unfortunate reactions I've seen from speakers who fear their audience is slipping away. The best technique? Plan a speech designed to do all these things from the start, and avoid the problem entirely.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
In the large auditorium where I teach one of my classes, I constantly stop my students midsentence so I can run up and down the aisles to get within hearing distance.Turns out, of course, that she needed hearing aids. The column takes a humorous and heartfelt look at what it feels like to go from not hearing much of anything to hearing even the smallest sounds, such a revelation that Lim began announcing her new aids to all and sundry. And apparently, she's not the only speaker in her department who needs them:
At my department’s holiday party, I sat between two longtime professors.Read this one if you--or a fellow speaker--complains about your audiences, and take Lim's advice: Be a healthy speaker and get your hearing checked!
“Look, I have hearing aids!” I greeted them. Then I told them how tough it had been to hear my students.
One of them nodded. “I can’t hear my students,” she said. “They all mumble.”
Friday, December 5, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
According to the article, specific social anxiety is less prevalent than the more generalized social anxiety, and primarily an issue if your work requires you to perform in public, and the symptoms may include:
...a racing heart, dry mouth, shaky voice, blushing, trembling, sweating, and nausea. In specific social anxiety, fear that people will notice these symptoms may impair performance, leading to a downward spiral in which worsening performance reinforces worsening anticipatory anxiety.The article notes that about 12 percent of U.S. adults will go through a social phobia at some time during their lifetimes (near 28 million people currently) -- but 2/3 of them, or nearly 20 million, will be women. It's also "the third most prevalent psychiatric disorder, behind substance abuse and depression, and the most common anxiety disorder." So if you've been wondering whether women fear situations like public speaking more, here's your evidence.
The article goes on to recommend cognitive behavioral therapy -- to learn your fears and habitual thoughts, to help you face your fears, and to learn coping skills -- and/or anxiety medications. A speaker trainer can help you practice, but a therapist may be more helpful at getting to the root issues with this anxiety. You can find qualified therapists at the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, and information on support groups and other resources at the Social Anxiety Association. Chalk it up to protecting the health of the speaker!
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Mitchell--who says she became a confident speaker through Toastmasters--recommends the program, as I do, especially for people who want to build confidence, practice skills, and do so in a genial feedback setting at low cost. Mitchell makes the distinction, however, that Toastmasters doesn't go far enough for business presentation skills and message development (the latter is a core skill if you want to make your presentations memorable, and want to speak extemporaneously). And because she feels Toastmasters doesn't offer experienced speakers enough to further hone their skills, she offers tips for longstanding members who want to keep learning more.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
At the slightest interruption -- an irritating ring tone, an insistent email alert or the hushed conversation in the adjacent office cubicle -- our thoughts can plunge into the mental underbrush like hounds snuffling after the wrong scent...our inability to ignore irrelevant intrusions as we grow older may arise from a basic breakdown of internal brain communications involving memory, attention span and mental focus starting in middle age, researchers have discovered.The article notes that, while men's brains shrink faster than do women's, which affects your ability to learn and remember, it doesn't take a sustained amount of interruption for anyone's aging train of thought to get off track:
In experiments testing how well people of different ages could recall faces and landscapes, [researchers] found that among older people, the brain was slightly slower -- 200 milliseconds or so -- to ignore irrelevant test information.... During that momentary lapse, we can forget a new name, misplace our keys or lose our train of thought.What to do? Researchers in the article offer hope for retraining your brain as you age through "proper diet, cardiovascular exercise and formal education," and a sidebar points you to this brain-exercise from NPR on "Remembering Faces," which tests your distractability. It also recommends two books by Harvard neuroscientist Daniel Schacter: The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers and Searching For Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past. Working on composing a memorable message helps, too -- if you're an older speaker, taking more time to practice and prepare makes sense. For the audience, while you can't control their rates of aging or mental distractability, you may need to focus on eliminating as many distractions as possible, asking them to turn off cell phones, closing doors to keep hallway noise from entering, and more.
Buy The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers
Buy Searching For Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past
Monday, December 1, 2008
I'm a big fan of the American Rhetoric website, where you can search text, audio and video of famous speakers and find a host of other resources (like figures of speech and examples of how to use them). Now, Michael Eidenmuller, Ph.D., founder of the site and an associate professor of speech communication at the University of Texas at Tyler, shares secrets you can learn from great speeches in Great Speeches For Better Speaking. Two women are featured among the six major speeches analyzed in the book, which says you can:
- Maximize your delivery by studying the power of Barbara Jordan's voice, and
- Use Mary Fisher's special rhetorical tactics to sway even the toughest audience
Buy Great Speeches For Better Speaking
Sunday, November 30, 2008
- avoiding the situation, which many could-be speakers do;
- modifying the situation, perhaps speaking to a smaller group if you're more comfortable that way
- deploying your attention elsewhere, with a photo on the lectern or by playing music before you speak
- cognitive change, to reframe what you're thinking about the situation, making it a positive rather than a negative, or
- repression, which the article notes could be as simple as focusing on keeping your facial muscles from moving
“Even if you’re someone who is initially anxious, you can develop tricks and strategies, so someone on the outside would say: ‘Her, anxious? She’s awesome at cocktail parties, she’s great at public speaking,’ ” Professor Gross said. “They wouldn’t understand that if you didn’t have those strategies, you wouldn’t be able to do those things.”Have you tried regulating your emotions about speaking? Share your tricks and strategies with the rest of us!
Monday, November 24, 2008
Elizabeth Travis, Ph.D., the associate vice president for women faculty programs at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center noted that meeting organizers--especially those who are women--need to advocate for women speakers in the EW interview with her in April. She noted:
- In the journal Academic Psychiatry, this letter calls attention to and documents the lack of women speakers at psychiatry grand rounds.
- Nina Simosko asked "Women speakers where are you?" when looking at the Web 2.0 conference agenda earlier this year. Only 20 of the 200 scheduled speakers were women; among keynote speakers, just two of the 20 were women. In addition to the dearth of female speakers on the program, she noted that many women speakers had not yet filled out their profiles on the meeting web site, but all of the male speakers had done so.
- Misbehaving.net, a blog on women and technology, noted that a public relations blogging conference had the same problem, generating lots of comments.
- Free Range Librarian looks at the issue in library conferences, asking whether women are less likely to pursue speaking opportunities, or whether organizers are less likely to recognize their acoomplishments?
When you’re putting symposia together, maybe you put a junior faculty member in--you don’t just pick your best friends which everyone tends to do. You have to be constantly challenging yourself....I organized an international meeting a year ago as a program chair and I said to my committee “Do not bring me a symposium without at least one woman speaker.” There was the usual rolling of the eyes and comments like “Don’t we want the best?” That’s used frequently to challenge women. I said “You have just insulted every woman in this organization.”So what can women speakers (and their audiences) do to get more women speakers on the program? Many of the online writers have started speakers' bureaus, listings and other resources to demonstrate the availability of women speakers, and others are speaking out on blogs or complaining directly to meeting organizers. As a speaker, you should consider these steps to get yourself on the program for your professional or community meetings:
And remember, when you're in a position to suggest a speaker, have some women's names on hand. Helping others to get a speaking engagement is a favor many will be happy to return.
- Get to know the program organizers: Every group has a committee or person tasked with assembling and vetting speakers. Make direct contact with the program organizers and ask what they're looking for. Be prepared to tell them how your participation as a speaker will add to the program.
- Make sure your availability is known: Many program chairs tell me that they spend lots of time looking for willing and available speakers. To make sure they know you're available and willing, promote that on your website, in your bio, and certainly whenever you're networking, both online and in person.
- Suggest topics on which you're willing to speak: Make sure your promotions and conversations include a few suggested topics on which you're willing and able to speak, so program organizers know what you can offer. Be as specific as possible--rather than "communications," suggest more focused topics like "media relations with bloggers" or "communications as a networking skill."
- Promote your existing speaking engagements: Share details on your forthcoming or just-past speaking engagements with friends, colleagues and networking contacts. When people can see that you're already a speaker, they get affirmation that you'll work out for their audience.
- Offer to help organize a panel: If you have a topic on which you'd like to speak, offer to pull together related speakers who can fill out a panel. Or, offer to moderate--a great speaking gig that ties together all the other speakers' points.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I'm listening to a rebroadcast of Diane Rehm's interview with Maya Angelou, about her new book, Letter to My Daughter. Angelou--whose only child is a son--wrote the book to share lessons with women she calls her daughters all over the world. Callers to this show are demonstrating how much she has moved and connected with them, and this book begins with just such a passage:
I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honor our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think that what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.Angelou's writing and speaking style emphasize qualities that any speaker would do well to learn. She's genuine and direct, but not unkind in being so. She uses plain, accessible language, and uses poetic rhythms, modulated tones and vocal emphasis to enhance the simple words. And she enjoys herself and appreciates her audience, always a key to connecting. Enjoy the interview and the book as inspiration from a great woman speaker.
Buy Letter to My Daughter
Monday, November 10, 2008
- I need to keep my remarks brief or fit them into a specific amount of time. Brevity's tough to pull off unless you practice, and for that, you need a timer to keep you honest--and sometimes, to remind you just how much you can fit into three minutes. (While lots of viewers of the recent electoral debates expressed surprise at the debate timing rules, there's plenty you can say in athree minutes if you plan it and practice it.) Consider a timer like the Chaney Acurite 00654 Count Down / Up Timer, which that counts in both directions. You may find that seeing the time remaining is more of a guide while you're speaking.
- I'm concerned about my appearance when I speak. Your concerns here are well-placed, as audiences pay most attention to what they see--and issues with your appearance can detract from even the best-prepared content. Plan to record as much practice video as you can, or recruit colleagues or friends to do it for you from the audience. An unobtrusive and eminently portable camera like the Flip Video Mino Series Camcorder gives you lots of options. Flip cameras are lightweight, self-charging, and simple to use--all the software you need to edit, email or post to the web is contained in the camera, and playback on your laptop is made simple by the built-in USB connection. You can also get a small tripod if you want to set up the camera to record you without a helper; Amazon is offering two free accessories when you buy a Flip camera by December 31, 2008.Why record yourself? It's the easiest way to look for wardrobe issues, inadvertent facial expressions or "visual ums," whether you're making eye contact, and how you use (or don't use) gestures.
- I'm juggling too much paper because I give a lot of speeches. Whether you're tired of shuffling papers at the lectern or weary from toting paper texts cross-country for a series of speaking engagements, the Kindle: Amazon's Wireless Reading Device can help. It's lightweight, can hold the equivalent of 200 books, and you can email your texts to your special Kindle email--plus annotate texts and bump up the type size for easier reading. Using the Kindle for speaking engagements takes practice, but if you're burdened by your scripts, it's a great alternative.
- I want to make sure I look my best or be more visible when I speak. The color most flattering to all skin colors and tones can be found in this "French blue" dress shirt (for men, with the ladies' version here) -- so if someone always buys you a shirt as a holiday gift, this is the one to request. It's effective on television as well as in person. And remember to "practice" with your speaker's wardrobe once in a while (a great use for that camcorder), remembering that people with light-, white-, or no hair will need a dark suit jacket to keep them from fading from view.
Remember, gadgets or no gadgets, there's no substitute for practice.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
A hat tip and a vitamin C supplement to reader Mary Fletcher Jones, who sent us this interesting item about foods that curb anxiety, which included this advice for speakers:
People who take a 1,000 mg of C before giving a speech have lower levels of cortisol and lower blood pressure than those who don't.I'm still hunting down the actual research to bring you, but thought readers can tell me: Have you tried this? On the strength of this, I'm starting a new thread on "the healthy speaker," with tips for how you can relieve stress and improve the physical aspects of speaking. Stay tuned for more.
Great question, Alice--it underscores the subtle signals, many silent, that speakers can send to their audiences, whether it's colleagues around a table or listeners in a lecture hall. And in truth, there's nothing to stop a woman from rolling up her sleeves or taking off her jacket, right? But if you're uncomfortable doing either, try these options:
- Take command of the space: If everyone's seated, stand. If you're behind a lectern, walk out to the front of the audience. If there's a U-shaped table format, walk into the space inside the "U." Move in a relaxed way; a good look if you're standing is to hold your arms with elbows bent, hands lightly clasped, as here. If you're seated at a table, put both arms stretched out in front of you and lean forward.
- Take charge with your words: "Let's get started," or "let's get to work" couldn't be clearer. But make it an invitation to join you--"I know everyone here has good ideas, so let's get started," or "I'm excited to be with you at such a critical time. Let's not waste a moment getting started."
- Do either before you sit down. If it's your meeting--or you want it to be--try either of the above strategies as you enter the room or shortly after, but before you're seated.
SOME OF the best talks I've heard have been by women. I think, firstly, that's because despite huge strides in equality, women still need to prove they are as good as, or better than men in "traditional" roles - which means they put in the necessary preparation.Montagu also questions a source about why she's not heard any good women speakers in the Knesset. Check out the column for another favorite of mine, her reference to what may be the shortest speech ever, by the late Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek: "I am known for my long speeches," he once said. "Welcome!" he concluded. Do pay attention to her good advice about how you can hold an audience's attention!
Secondly, women are excellent communicators, empathetic and looking for a response. They tend to be practical and are more likely to stick to the point. So provided they can exercise discipline and have something to say, they are natural speakers.
Monday, October 27, 2008
After trying out the Amazon Kindle not just as an e-book reader, but to serve as electronic notes for a talk--I offered readers of this blog a discount. Now Oprah's doing the same, after a show last week in which she raved about this new device as her favorite new gadget. If you order the Kindle and enter OPRAHWINFREY during checkout, you'll get $50 off the price, plus 10 percent off The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. (No promotional code needed for that.) But hurry: The offer ends November 1, 2008. [UPDATE: This offer is no longer valid.]
Since first test-driving the Kindle, I've found it especially useful for other tasks of the speaker, including:
- Toting many speech texts with me while traveling. You just email documents to your special Kindle email address, and for pennies, they're converted to the format and sent to the device wirelessly. As the Kindle weighs just 10.3 ounces, it's a lightweight travel companion.
- Reading and annotating texts to cite in future speeches. More than a reader, Kindle lets you clip, mark and make notes on books, blogs, newspapers and documents downloaded to the reader, making them easy to find when you're putting a speech together. There's even a dictionary built in so you can check meanings of words.
- Reading long sections of text from an existing book or blog. If your speech requires a long quotation, download the document to the Kindle and bring it along. You can even electronically "dog-ear" the page in question.
Click on the box below and use Oprah's discount to get your own Kindle. And let me know your experiences with it as a speaker in the comments!
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Honorata Kizende looked out at the audience and began with a simple, declarative sentence.Helping Congolese rape victims to speak out in front of local audiences is one facet of a larger effort to change the culture, along with increased criminal prosecutions, legal clinics and special police units. The speaking serves several purposes, raising awareness locally and internationally, as well as helping the women recover their confidence as well as their voices in a country "where women tend to be beaten down anyway," according to the article. (Embedded in the online article is a video showing one event where women were encouraged to speak, so you can watch this amazing tale unfold.)
“There was no dinner,” she said.
“It was me who was dinner. Me, because they kicked me roughly to the ground, and they ripped off all my clothes, and between the two of them, they held my feet. One took my left foot, one took my right, and the same with my arms, and between the two of them they proceeded to rape me. Then all five of them raped me.”
For every person who comes to this site after searching for "how to be eloquent," these speeches are models of simplicity--and all the more powerful for the lack of flowery rhetoric which would be superfluous here. It's the cold, hard facts, dramatic enough in their own right, that cut through the culture of ignoring the problem. Concrete and sticky, these words demand that you listen: "There was no dinner. It was me who was dinner." The next time you're searching for an elaborate turn of phrase, consider "simple power," and see whether you can transform your speech into something this extraordinary.
This isn't about party politics or ideology. It's about professional presentation. Female candidates — for the corner office or political office — face a different scrutiny than men. Women have to work harder to break sexist stereotypes...Many professional women also are disappointed to hear a public figure speak in a "valley girl" delivery, the manner of speech in which the voice rises at the ends of sentences...That's not good when a woman is trying to project competence.I've heard women on all sides of the political spectrum wonder aloud or express concerns about both of this year's prominent women candidates, Palin and Sen. Hillary Clinton -- much as I often hear women critique another woman speaker at professional conferences. In politics as in public speaking, part of the concern stems from a sense that women have historically had fewer opportunities to speak and often aren't taken seriously as speakers, adding to the pressure on women speakers to "make good" and represent the gender well. (The double-edged sword here: I've seen plenty of women decry other women speakers, in circumstances where they wish they'd had the opportunity--as if one women gaining access to an audience damages other women's chances.) In Palin's case, far from attracting women to the campaign, her efforts seem to have attracted more men and raised concerns from more women. What do you experience when you speak? (Photo of Palin from McCain-Palin campaign website.)
Monday, October 13, 2008
In Woodhull's case, her home state of New York did not extend the vote to women, so she couldn't vote for herself (and was in prison on election day, in any case). The NPR story today talks about her famed "free love speech," actually a response to a question in which she advocated free love--an issue that overshadowed and marginalized her campaign in the eyes of many, prompting the engraving below of her as Satan.
Go here to find all things Victoria Woodhull, including a useful listing of books about her, some of which include the texts of her speeches. The website's FAQ notes that reporters of the day who wanted to mock her made fun of her trilling of her R's when she spoke. (Engraving of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee receiving a deputation of female suffragists, January 11, 1871. A "lady delegate" believed to be Victoria Woodhull is reading her argument in favor of woman's voting, on the basis of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Constitutional Amendments. Published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, v. 31, no. 801 (1871 Feb. 4), p. 349 and today found here in the Library of Congress collections. Caricature of Woodhull as Satan by Thomas Nast.)
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Her clothes don't have the aura of sophistication like that of Michelle Obama's sheaths and pearls. They do not have a patina of glamour like Cindy McCain's heiress wardrobe. And they do not announce themselves with the confidence, assertiveness and listen-to-me-ness of Sen. Hillary Clinton's bold pantsuits. Palin's clothes are common. Everyone knows someone who dresses like her, which is partly why so many folks seem to think that they know her.Givhan notes at the end of her review that Palin's ability to answer questions is itself an unanswered question. As an unpdate on yesterday's post, a major poll taken since the debate show that voters like her--but don't think she's ready for the vice presidency.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
The attention on Sarah Palin's debate performance has been at an all-time high. Palin bingo cards have been filled out, the pundits and Tina Fey have weighed in, the polls have been taken. You can find word clouds of Palin's debate performance on Wordle.net, showing larger those words more frequently used (those would be McCain, also, and going). The vice-presidential debate last week was the most-watched-ever, reflecting not only the unusual drama of a woman candidate, but the roller-coaster economic week the nation's been through. That context helps account for the unusually high number of debate-watching parties, an excuse to gather with friends during a nerve-wracking week for most Americans. The Associated Press noted, of the more than 70 million viewers, "Generally, only Super Bowls bring together so many Americans to watch the same thing."
The day of the debate, I was asked a dozen times "What would you advise Sarah Palin?" by all sorts of people: doormen, cab drivers, family, friends, colleagues, avid poll-watchers and ambivalent non-voters. I said I'd give the advice I'd give any debater: Answer the question, admit what you don't know and what can't be excused, don't get angry or respond in anger, pause, slow down. My intent was to write something that distilled advice for readers of this blog from this high-profile performance, but I realized once more that there's little in a vice presidential debate that yields good examples or tips for the everyday speaker who's not running for office. Lucky for most of us, this isn't the hothouse we'll be growing in as speakers.
In fact, the setting of low expectations for Palin--a standard approach before campaign debates for all candidates, and predictable given her poor performance in one-on-one media interviews--made it impossible for her not to exceed expectations. Or, as Queen Latifah (posing as moderator Gwen Ifill) said on Saturday Night Live's sendup, "due to the historically low expectations for Governor Palin, were she to do a simply adequate job tonight--at no point cry, faint, run out of the building or vomit-- you should consider the debate a tie." (See Maureen Dowd's column today for a long list of "mush-mouthed" politicians, mostly men, in regard to Palin's stumbling.)
This morning, it struck me that Palin's candidacy cuts across party lines to demonstrate, as Clinton's did, the prevailing view that women leaders -- whether experienced or newcomers -- can be competent or likeable, but not both. You can be a substantial policy wonk like Hillary Clinton, but you'll get dubbed a "nutcracker" and "shrill" by men and women. Or you can wink your way through a debate like Sarah Palin, but your grammar will get diagrammed and your policy positions will get parodied as insubstantial. Merely seeking higher office or touting your own accomplishments can, for women in particular, bring a backlash. And many non-political women speakers tell me they get a similar feeling of disapproval from others when they step up to the mic--perhaps the same shunning, in smaller settings. Research has shown they're not paranoid, but actually sizing up their audiences, both male and female, with accuracy. At the same time, campaigns are reaching faster for the sexism argument, making a simple label out of a phenomenon that's deep and complex...and absolutely unworkable on the campaign trail, at least as it's currently paved.
That's not firm ground on which to plant yourself when speaking in public, which may explain why Clinton's campaign actually talked publicly about entering a "likeability" phase, and why Palin's been crash-coursing in foreign affairs. They've both veered between the competent and likeable poles. Women in all sorts of roles have sensed the same tension every day, wondering whether colleagues and audiences "love you because you're beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?" as Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote in their musical Cinderella. Women aren't just passionate about women candidates because they're women--but because they see themselves in those candidates and their perceived troubles and barriers.
Motherlode blogger and New York Times contributor Lisa Belkin has an apt take on "Palin talk," from the audience's point of view, and it's one I've noted in my own circles: Women who speak about Palin (and Hillary Clinton before her) more often than not explain their take on the candidate in intensely personal ways, projecting their experience onto the candidate. Belkin particularly looks at parenting issues, and notes:
This could all be dismissed as merely politics, and it certainly started out as politics, but there was a hunger and a fury in the conversation about Palin that hints at something deeper. Because what we are looking at while dissecting the parenting cred of our politicians (O.K., O.K., of our politicians who are mommies — we pay very little attention to the parenting of men) has little to do with them, and everything to do with us.If you've gleaned a good tip, an issue, or an opinion about women speakers after watching this historic campaign, please leave them in the comments! (Photo of winning Palin bingo card by danperry.com and photo of Clinton nutcracker by dsjeffries, from Flickr.com)
Friday, October 3, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
...in Shakespeare’s day, no women appeared on stage. All of his great female roles, from Juliet to Viola to Cleopatra, were originally played by young men. Female actors were denounced as “monsters,” and a visiting French company that included women was booed off the stage in 1629.The practice didn't end until the 1660s, so that none of Shakespeare's original productions featured women--despite the fact that Juliet, as the theatre's program notes "is often cited as one of the greatest parts ever written for a woman." (Today, of course, an all-male cast raises eyebrows for different reasons and in a different context.) In fact, this production notes that Shakespeare's eloquent poetry about the love between Romeo and Juliet had to carry even more power to be convincing with the audience when two men play the roles--and contrasts with the masculine-dominated world portrayed in the play.
Why does a modern woman concerned with public speaking care? It's just another historical example of the hurdles women have faced in attempting to express themselves in public, taboos that still resonate at some level with some people. Understanding and remembering these historical situations can help you understand negative feedback you may get--and help you turn current speaking situations to your advantage. (Photo of James Davis as Juliet from the Shakespeare Theatre. Go here to read an interview with Director David Muse.)
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Sarah Palin: In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are some, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change.The interview notes a danger for Clinton's use of the form in the above example, as she was criticizing her opponent for fine public speaking...and using an elaborate rhetorical device to do so. Similarly, the interview strikes a cautionary note about overusing antimetabole when it isn't called for. But overall, it helps candidates define what they are and what their opponents aren't, and echoes John F. Kennedy, who loved the form. American Rhetoric's "rhetorical figures in sound" section offers few examples of women using antimetabole but I know you'll be helping to make up for that soon. Go here to listen to the OTM interview; a transcript will be posted in the same place on Monday, September 22.
Hillary Clinton: In the end, the true test is not the speeches a president delivers. It's whether he delivers on his speeches.
The program interviewed Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an associate professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University, who does a great job summarizing the significance of those three women and their roles at conventions past: Hamer, who spoke movingly to the credentials committee about having been beaten for just trying to register to vote; Jordan, the first black keynote speaker to address a convention in prime time; and Chisholm, whose run for president in the 1970s immediately followed the change in voting age, a hopeful signal that newly minted young voters might want a different kind of candidate.
When asked about the indirect reference to Martin Luther King in Obama's acceptance speech--he was referred to as a young preacher, but not by name--Harris-Lacewell put it in perspective:
I do think there’s a problem when you invoke Kennedy by name but not King by name and where you can talk about the historic moment that is Hillary Clinton’s campaign but you don't mention Shirley Chisholm. We've got to have a better historical memory as a country that allows all of the players to be there and all of us to have a place at the kind of table of American history.To find out more about black women who've made significant public speeches, check out this post on a book and recording of famous black speeches and this post on Barbara Jordan's speaking skills--she routinely ranks among the top political speakers.
UPDATE: Today's New York Times op-ed page has a column by Brent Staples on language and race that's relevant here. It speaks to the historic and current risks of eloquence for black speakers:
Forms of eloquence and assertiveness that were viewed as laudable among whites were seen as positively mutinous when practiced by people of color...It's a reminder of the power of speech, and, I hope, an encouragement to keep speaking publicly for all of us.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Margolies also heads Women's Campaign International, which trains women to be advocates and to run for public office, which includes training them to wear appropriate clothes in appropriate settings--for example, many of the women WCI trains wear something different in their home villages than they do in the cities. Margolies stressed the importance of finding appropriate outfits, noting, "most people remember what you wear and your tone over what you say."
Host Michel Martin asked the guests for their fashion advice for women on the campaign trail. Wear color and a good neckline, and look feminine were Agins's tips. Margolies: Dress simply and appropriately, and make yourself look serious and supportive. (Photo courtesy of the Obama campaign photostream on Flickr.com)
Friday, September 5, 2008
A voter laughing is half yours, and just received a line he can repeat next weekend over a beer at the barbecue or online at Starbucks. Here is a fact of American politics: If you make us laugh we spread your line for free.It's advice that women speakers are well-equipped to try, as Noonan suggests the intimate connection that can be made with an audience member by making them laugh, or bringing a smile forward. It's a wonderful way to make a tense audience loosen up--think of Ronald Reagan's "there you go again" line when he was attacked in debates, which made everyone smile at its non-anxious humor. And it bespeaks confidence on the speaker's part. Try some eloquent humor in your next speech and let me know how it goes.
I do not understand the absence of humor, that powerful weapon, that rhetorical cannon, in this year's campaign. There are a lot of things to say here but let me tell you the first I think of. America is a huge and lonely country. We are vast, stretch coast to coast, live in self-sufficient pods; modern culture tends us toward the atomic, the fractured and broken up. When two people meet, as they come to know each other as neighbors or colleagues, one of the great easers, one of the great ways of making a simple small human connection is: shared laughter. We are a political nation. We talk politics. So fill that area with humor: sly humor, teasing humor, humor that speaks a great truth or makes a sharp point.
Teleprompters don't relieve you of the need to practice your speech and they don't guarantee smooth delivery. Practice still makes, well, almost perfect. But teleprompters primarily help you look active and engaged with the audience, instead of your text. They don't have much to do with making the speaker more eloquent.
Here's what former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote in her Wall Street Journal column yesterday, for example, about whether John McCain should use a teleprompter:
I am told alternately that he has given up on the teleprompter and will go straight from text, and that he will use a teleprompter. I assume the latter is true. If it is it will be interesting to see if he has mastered it. That will tell us if he practiced the speech...If he's reading from text, well, it is not true that this is impossible in the media age. People didn't use teleprompters until 30 years ago. But when McCain reads straight from text we tend to see a lot of the top of his head, with the soft white hair and the pink brow glistening under the lights. Which tends to accentuate his age. So how he does the speech is of more than academic interest.In fact, both McCain and Sarah Palin, his running mate, used both text and teleprompter, a confusing mix--I'd recommend one or the other. And in Michelle Obama's case, interviews with her after the speech revealed that her speech was not too different from her stump speech, which means she's well-practiced in its delivery and comfortable with it. Again, the teleprompter isn't the key to smooth delivery.
Readers have been asking questions like "where are the teleprompters?" and the answer usually is "out of camera range" and "near or below the camera." In this photo, a teleprompter at the 2004 Republican convention in New York is located below a bank of cameras. (Photo by vidiot from Flickr)
Thursday, September 4, 2008
This strikes me as a useful training tool: If you liked a particular look, gesture, type of emphasis, or rhetoric--or the combination of all those factors--during a speech, you can replay it and try it out for yourself, with the script running teleprompter-like in front of you. And its accessibility on the web means you can do that kind of practice at home, at the office, in a hotel room or most other locations. Look here for the Sarah Palin speech; here for Hillary Clinton's speech; and here for Michelle Obama's speech in this format. Leave a comment to let me know your thoughts on this as a practice tool!
...the double bind in which television traps a female politician. The [manly] style traditionally considered credible is no longer suitable to television. But only a person whose credibility is firm can risk adopting a style traditionally considered weak....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 reclaim the 'womanly' style.Last night's speech by Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin gives us another view of that struggle. Her rhetoric defines her as a "hockey mom" to evoke a decidedly feminine image. The campaign, apparently wanting to underscore the novelty of a female running mate, features this ridiculous photograph of Palin's high heels prominently on its website, as if perhaps footwear or a shapely calf might drive more votes. But Palin's speaking style last night was decidedly old-school, aggressive and more traditionally masculine in tone--at a time when her own credibility and suitability for the role is widely debated. The hard-driving, loud and emphatic speaking style may prove to be a risk in another way: As Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton found, the effort to appear credible and competitive in a male-dominated field may rob Palin of an advantage noted by Jamieson, the 'womanly' and personal style that helps speakers connect to audiences, particularly on television, which can mimic the one-on-one situations in which women excel at communicating.
Or at least, that may be true for television viewers, or for an audience less dominated by men--attendees at this convention are 68 percent male, an increase over the previous convention. The hall was certainly revved up, and as happened to Clinton, Palin stepped on some of her own lines, letting them get swallowed by the chanting crowd.
But observers are already saying the speech may have been the easiest task she faces. Here, the New York Times weighs in:
From here, Ms. Palin moves into a national campaign where she will have to appeal to audiences that are not necessarily primed to adore her. She will have to navigate far less controlled campaign settings that will test not only her political skills but also her knowledge of foreign and domestic policy. And she must convince the country she is prepared to be vice president at a time when the definition of that job has been elevated to the status of governing partner — something voters might have been reminded of Wednesday by images of Vice President Dick Cheney embarking on a mission to war-torn Georgia.In an earlier speech in Ohio, Palin said:
Well, it's always, though, safer in politics to avoid risk, to just kind of go along with the status quo. But I didn't get into government to do the safe and easy things. A ship in harbor is safe, but that's not why the ship is built.But that's just what she did with her choice of wardrobe. Surprisingly for a former broadcaster, Palin chose a neutral palette, with a gray blazer and black skirt. The RNC's choice of a black background for its speakers, with a large-screen streaming video of landscapes of the United States, didn't help. Even though all eyes were on Palin in the hall, it was Cindy McCain's vivid green dress that stood out in the television footage.
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