Wednesday, June 25, 2008

high-tech women get a speaker's bureau

Here's a site that uses technology to help women working in high-tech get closer to speaking opportunities: GeekSpeakr allows you to post a profile, including your topics and expertise, to help event organizers identify women speakers. The site also includes a graph showing the top 25 topic tags for registered speakers. GeekSpeakr's in beta, and needs you to register for its launch.

In my interview with Elizabeth Travis, PhD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, she noted the extra effort it takes to put women on scientific and technical panels:

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.” One man was so keen to do this, he had a symposium with all women faculty speaking—it takes that kind of effort.
Are there sites for your profession that do what GeekSpeakr does for high-tech women? Let me know in the comments, and I'll post a compilation. If your professional organization or networking group includes a speakers' bureau or similar signup, make sure your name and topics of interest are registered there, too.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Harriet McBryde Johnson: able advocate

The eloquence of facing your challengers and speaking the unspeakable takes a bittersweet twist this morning in a New York Times appreciation of author, attorney and advocate Harriet McBryde Johnson, who died June 4 at age 50. Johnson, herself a wheelchair user with a muscle-wasting disease for much of her life, was best known for "Unspeakable Conversations," an essay she wrote in the New York Times. In it, she challenged the idea that parents should be given the legal right to end the lives of infants who would grow up to be severely disabled--an idea put forth by Princeton professor and philosopher Peter Singer. She writes about going to Princeton for two speaking engagements to address the issue, noting, "I am the token cripple with an opposing view," and that view was that "the presence or absence of disability doesn't predict quality of life."

The essay describes her journey to make those two speeches, illustrating, along the way, what it means to live a full life as a person with a disability. Here's a sample, as she arrives at the Princeton hall where the first speech is to take place:
The elevator doubles as the janitor's closet -- the cart with the big trash can and all the accouterments is rolled aside so I can get in. Evidently there aren't a lot of wheelchair people using this building.

We ride the broom closet down to the basement and are led down a long passageway to a big lecture hall. As the students drift in, I engage in light badinage with the sound technician. He is squeamish about touching me, but I insist that the cordless lavaliere is my mike of choice. I invite him to clip it to the big polyester scarf.

The students enter from the rear door, way up at ground level, and walk down stairs to their seats. I feel like an animal in the zoo. I hadn't reckoned on the architecture, those tiers of steps that separate me from a human wall of apparent physical and mental perfection, that keep me confined down here in my pit.
If women see hurdles to public speaking in general, that passage tells us there are even higher hurdles they might face. Calling Johnson "an eloquent defender of the rights of the disabled," Times editorial board member Lawrence Downes notes:
"...her rebuttal boiled down to a simple: How dare you? How dare you decide that certain people with limitations are nonpersons with no right to exist? How dare you presume to define “quality of life,” for me or anyone else, to set the value of a disabled life lower than yours, or to conclude that such a life lacks the potential for happiness and dignity because you cannot imagine how it could?
How, indeed. You'll find Johnson's several books and writings here.

women in public life

Today's New York Times brings another columnist calling for a speech on gender discrimination--but this time, the author is a male, Nicholas Kristof, and he's suggesting Barack Obama deliver it--calling it Clinton's "missed opportunity." Kristof includes this striking bit of data on how women are represented in public life:
Presumably in part because of sexism (and also because of self-selection), women today are still hugely underrepresented in the political arena. Women constitute about 23 percent of legislators in the 50 states, a proportion that has risen only slightly in the last decade. In addition, the political commentariat is overwhelmingly male, which is one reason that Mrs. Clinton’s supporters felt unfairly battered.
That caught my eye because, of course, public office comes with a public platform, an expectation that you will find and use your voice. And we know most women prefer intimate or rapport-building talk to public speaking--yet women are erroneously tagged as "talking too much." I'd love to see any candidate who wants to tackle gender issues take on the hurdles women face in expressing themselves publicly. UPDATE: This must be the topic of the day: WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show has a discussion of new research on the intersection of gender and politics and why the United States doesn't elect as many women to office as other countries. Go here later today to hear the audio.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Speaker updates: Kindle, audioconference tips

On our sister blog, don't get caught news & info, you'll find we often cover topics and tips of interest to women and public speaking. This week, check out these posts relevant to your public speaking needs:

  • Hear me on an audioconference June 17, on how to "Inject Some Life into Your Next Speech: Tips for Boosting Results and Revving up Your Audience," with a special focus on why you need to rev up your speaking skills in this age of social media and other audience distractions. There are 2 registration fees, one of which includes a CD copy of the session, and you can ask questions during the live audioconference. Check out the post for details on how to register and what will be covered.
    • I've finally got my hands on an Amazon Kindle e-book reader and think it has great potential for you in public speaking. My review lists features of the new device that let you toss your paper-text speeches, but they require some practice. Check out the post for details and decide whether it works for you. I'm eager to have your comments if you've used the Amazon Kindle in a public-speaking situation; leave them in the comments on either blog.
      You can find all of the don't get caught news & info blog tips on public speaking here--whenever you click on that link, you'll get our latest posts.

      Friday, June 6, 2008

      finding a quotable eloquent woman

      "If you have any doubts that we live in a society controlled by men, try reading down the index of contributors to a volume of quotations, looking for women's names," said Elaine Gill, and I know how she feels. While searching for inspirational quotations from women speakers to share with you, I checked out Historical Voices, a thoroughly researched (but still in development) site that aims to collect recordings of great speakers from the earliest days of recorded sound...and found no woman speakers, even though early sound recordings included them.

      The good news: There are some dedicated websites and books that catalog women's words, voices and speeches to inspire your public speaking. Here's a sampler:
      We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.
      I'd suggest that women public speakers use these quotations from other women two ways: As inspiration for your own forays into speaking publicly, and as your preferred source for quotations in your speeches--it'd be a powerful trend if women decidedly preferred to quote other women in their talks and presentations. Look for more updates on sources for these quotes in future posts, and feel free to share your favorites--quotes or sources--in the comments.

      Buy books on quotes by women

      Sunday, June 1, 2008

      is it time for a gender speech from clinton?

      Anna Holmes, managing editor of the blog Jezebel, makes the case for Hillary Clinton to address gender discrimination in an op-ed article today in the New York Times. Holmes offers this prescription for how such a speech could come about:
      The question is when, and how, she could do it. The when: after she bows out of the presidential race, so that it couldn’t be painted as a last-ditch effort to win. The where: a public university, or perhaps a private women’s college like her alma mater, would be fitting. The how: she could speak from a place of pride and passion, pride for how far she and other women have come; passion for how far we have to go, including the sad fact that sexism is so pervasive as to be almost invisible and so accepted that to mention it is to risk being accused of hypersensitivity. She could talk openly about the tug of war between the personal and the political, between the armor women wear in public and what they expose in private. Lastly, she could recognize the occasion for what it is: an opportunity to heal the rifts between women in the Democratic Party and to bring new female voters into the fold.
      What's striking to me is that Holmes's strategy encapsulates the factors any woman might consider when contemplating a forthright speech on a difficult topic when her gender is a factor with the audience (as so often it is). She advises timing the speech to avoid an easy-to-anticipate criticism from the audience--one that supporters and opponents might make -- but urges her to mention that criticism in the speech, to identify it for what it is. Rather than just struggle with the "tug of war" about women's personal and public identities, she urges putting the tension where it belongs: in the speech, where it can be shared with the audience rather than strangling the speaker. Finally, she recommends leadership: positive statements of pride, passion and perspective that appeal to the audience's nobler instincts in the face of sexist attitudes.

      This approach is a wonderful strategy to borrow, and one I feel too few speakers try as they aim for polished, poised and safe presentations. I'm not suggesting you rant--the power in the speech Holmes suggests will derive from the speaker's restraint, and also in turning a tough spotlight on herself. As Holmes writes: "She also needs to be honest in a way that she hasn’t been lately" about the privileges she has enjoyed and the wider needs of women without those opportunities. That would add credibility to the attributes of such a speech.

      Holmes cites two speeches Clinton gave years ago on women's issues, and because the Times didn't see fit to offer links to them, I will: her 1995 address at the United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing, and her 1969 commencement address upon her graduation from Wellesley College. Read them, and leave your comments below: What would you like to see Clinton say about women and their struggles in speaking pbulicly?