Sunday, November 30, 2008

keeping your cool

Today's New York Times looks into the psychology behind seemingly cool customers--those who stay calm under tense circumstances like, oh, public speaking, for example. Turns out it's not just a genetic tendency, but one that can be learned by regulating your emotions. Stanford University psychologist James J. Gross offers five methods of doing so, and I've added options for keeping speakers calm for each:
    • 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
The article goes on to note:
“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

what does it take to get on the program?

What does it take for a conference to feature more women speakers on the program? Women have been blogging, writing and researching the question "Where are all the women speakers?" in a variety of professions for some time now--and sometimes getting pushback from male organizers of conferences who dismiss or defend speaker rosters with low percentages of women. While the complaint often comes from professions in which women are in the minority--like the high-tech world--just as many can be found in professions where women are abundant, like library science, public relations and the medical professions. Here's a sampling of what women are noticing:
  • 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.
  •, 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?
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:
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:
  • 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.
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.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Inspiration from Maya Angelou

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

the speaker's wish list: practice tools

Calling someone a "practiced speaker" is a compliment that recognizes the work involved in becoming a smooth, eloquent presenter, interviewee or speaker. But even speakers who invest in training need to spend time practicing on their own. Among the skills or issues it's most useful to practice in advance are your timing or time limitations; your appearance, from wardrobe to facial expressions; how you handle written texts on the lectern, if you work from a prepared speech or notes; and whether you're visible and showing yourself to best advantage. With holidays approaching, here's a wish list for some tools and gadgets that can help you practice on your own to reach specific speaking goals:

  • 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

presentation fashion: the audio guy's tips

Life in the Corporate Theater blog has a useful set of tips for what not to wear when you're using a lavalier microphone--a list that includes large necklces and blouses with ruffles or low necklines, which, respectively, create more noise or keep the mic too far from your mouth. I'd add another: Women with long hair should keep it pulled back or behind their shoulders when wearing a lavalier mic, because it also can create noise problems. I'm working on some video demos to show you these and other "appearance issues" for your next speech--stay tuned! A hat tip to Breaking Murphy's Law blog for pointing us to this post.