Saturday, March 28, 2009

Our top 10 speaking tips for March

Readers give me the best ideas for posts on The Eloquent Woman blog, and March was no exception: Most of the top posts from the past month came from reader's comments, requests and emails--and two were even written by readers. Here are the ten most-visited tips offered in March:

Since March is Women's History Month, we also had two popular guest posts on the topic. Alyssa Gardina of the Women's Museum in Dallas shared some unforgettable women speakers who are represented in the museum's collections, and Joni Hubred-Golden of the Michigan Women's Forum did the same, focusing on great women speakers in her state's history. Check out these great inspirations and don't forget to let me know what topics you want to see covered next month!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

when you have to introduce yourself

It's one thing when you're introduced by someone else (and I recommend you take charge of that situation here). But what if you have to introduce yourself?

This isn't as rare as it may seem. In many of my professional organizations, time is set aside for a round-robin of self introductions, as in "Let's each introduce ourselves briefly to the group before our speaker begins." In this case, audience members are introducing themselves. If you're the main speaker, you may need to fill in if the moderator, host or organizer is out of the room or otherwise absent. In many ways, I find it preferable to introduce myself, but it takes some finesse. Here's how to handle making yourself known to a group:

  • Dial it down just enough: When someone else introduces you, it's fine for them to emphasize your big award or recent honorific. Just don't do it yourself, unless you do so obliquely. You'll score bigger points if you summarize your credentials succinctly and sparingly. If you know ahead of time that you'll be doing a self-introduction, make sure the audience has a printed bio--also short--or that you've supplied the group with a short standard bio to post online.
  • Crowdsource your bio: For the brave and well-friended, ask your audience to help you. Pick three colleagues (ideally, prep them ahead of time) and ask them to say one reason the group should know you....or one thing they should know about you.
  • Reflect your audience: Taking an informal show-of-hands poll of the audience is an excellent way to get your group's attention in many situations. If you start with a poll before you introduce yourself, you'll look confident--and can use what you glean from the respondents to share information about yourself, keying what you say about yourself to the group's mood and preferences.

And, as always, be brief and relevant. If you're speaking about an area where you have a particular experience, share it...briefly. Use your introduction to connect to your audience and they'll thank you for introducing yourself.

she's speaky: my upcoming speeches

A check of my calendar shows I'll be speaking in all sorts of places in the next month or two. Here's where you can catch me:
  • Saturday, April 18: At the DC Science Writers Association professional development day, I'll join a panel with speakers from US News & World Report and the Washington Post to discuss social media tools for reporters and communicators. Watch the DCSWA web page for updates.
  • Tuesday, April 28: I'm joining a panel to speak on how to engage bloggers in Washington, DC, for the National Capital Chapter of PRSA. Stand by for details on the PRSA-NCC website.
  • Thursday, April 30: I'll facilitate another in the Communicating Science series of workshops sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Foundation, this time at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. Registration details are here.
  • Tuesday, May 5: I'm keynoting the annual meeting of the Construction Writers Association in Alexandria, Va., talking about social media and how it can help communicators as well as journalists.
  • Monday, May 11: Look for me in New York City, where the Science Writers in New York have asked me to speak on social media as a branding tool.

Want to track my talks more closely? Use this tag or enter it into your favorite RSS reader to stay up to date.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

download the Eloquent Woman widget

If you like the Eloquent Woman blog's collection of ideas, information and inspiration for women speakers, please download our widget here--it lets you display a window into our blog on your webpage, so your readers have immediate access to our updated tips, news and advice. I'd love to see every local, regional or national women's club, professional group, museum, or Toastmasters' group have a copy! The widget is free and easy to include in your blog or website. Let me know when you've added it to your blog or site and I'll give you a shout-out here to share your resources with my readers!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

eloquent elders practice for bat mitzvah

Today's New York Times profiles a group of older women--many in their 90s--who missed the chance to have a bat mitzvah in their youth, but jumped at the chance when it was offered by their suburban Cleveland synagogue. Focused on the speaking practice as the women prepare for the ceremony, the story has many touching moments, as the women recall days when girls' bat mitzvah ceremonies got short shrift, occurring on a Friday or omitting the reading of the Torah. This time, the women second-guessed themselves when it came to their own speeches:
Class members argued intensely over whether to limit each woman’s speech to three minutes. The concern was not whether aging bladders could handle a ceremony that lasts an hour and a half, but whether relatives, some of whom are flying in from as far as Boston and California for the event, might be bored. “These women have spent their entire lives nurturing other people, and now the spotlight is finally on them,” Rabbi Kutner said. “They were afraid of burdening their audience.”
I found their talks especially moving, based as they are on the Torah reading that would have been done in the week these women should have had their original ceremonies 80 years ago. And, if you need encouragement to practice your speaking, the article notes that the women who'd done something as simple as teach Sunday school for decades did better in their presentations.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

when the speaker needs to catch her breath

One of my readers who's on Twitter sent me a private message this week to ask about a problem she experiences when speaking:
Would you consider posting tips on catching your breath during a talk? An adrenaline rush can leave me out of breath w/no way to recover...It's vexing, because it's not about being nervous, but it makes a speaker sound nervous. Have noticed in me + other women.
Since we only have 140 characters per message on Twitter, I asked her a few questions about what else is happening when that situation occurs. She wrote:
Right after I start a talk, I get a little rush that leaves me out of breath, heart beating fast. It makes me sound breathy + nervous...The irony is, I no longer get nervous *before* a talk. And I don't otherwise feel nervous, except needing to take a deep breath...But I fear a deep breath would sound even more nervous! No othr issues per se, tho the breathiness may make me speak faster. Does that help?
It does--and there may be many reasons for the sudden out-of-breath feeling, especially at the start of a speech.

That's because the most stressful time for most speakers happens right at the start. It's when the audience's attention is at its highest -- so much so that your job after the opening will be to hang on to audience attention, since it can't get any higher. Many speakers make their first mistakes in their opening lines, especially if they wing the opening. But more than that, it's the time when you go from relaxed to active, from ready to out there...suddenly, you're exposed, all eyes are on you and it's performance time.

This reader notes she doesn't feel nervous, and in fact, the adrenaline rush suggests it's a classic fight-or-flight response, the body's biological reaction to stress, which includes accelerated heart and breathing rates (as well as responses like blushing or turning pale, which some women I know experience when they start a speech). The tendency to speak faster often follows the racing heartbeat--you're geared up and moving forward. Trouble is, none of that helps you as the speaker. You may get more self-conscious and distracted (like fearing the deep breath you need would make you seem more nervous, or wondering whether the audience is on to your situation). Speaking faster almost always signals the audience there's something wrong--whether it's a too-tight schedule or a too-nervous speaker.

There is a short-term solution: If you need to take a breath, pause and do so, inhaling through your nose while you look out at the audience and smile. Pauses are expected, and if you use this pause well, you can catch your breath, connect with the audience and just look thoughtful.

The long-term solution? Taking control of your breathing to diminish the fight-or-flight stress response. Speakers need to control their breathing just as they control their gestures, movements, and words. Try these steps to achieve the "relaxation response" developed by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School. It's a well-established, well-tested method. As a speaker, you need to start focusing on care of the speaker, and do so long before you're called to the front of the room. So taking the time to prepare with breathing and relaxation should be as much a part of your speaker preparation as crafting your remarks, choosing an outfit or writing your bio. Just like hydration, you need to start this process ahead of time for it to have an impact when you begin to speak.

Don't expect to do this just before you speak, and do expect to practice this as a regular routine in order to get the most benefit. With practice, you should be able to revive the relaxation response in just moments--say, while stuck in traffic or in the few minutes before you start to speak. You also may find useful this article on meditation, a similar process. Then check out all my tips on speaker preparation and the healthy speaker.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The joke-teller's memory problem

In today's New York Times, science writer Natalie Angier probes the problem faced by many a speaker, impromptu or planned: Why can't you remember jokes when you need to retell them? She starts with what our brains can remember: patterns, as in music. From the article:

“The brain has a strong propensity to organize information and perception in patterns, and music plays into that inclination,” said Michael Thaut, a professor of music and neuroscience at Colorado State University. “From an acoustical perspective, music is an overstructured language, which the brain invented and which the brain loves to hear.” A simple melody with a simple rhythm and repetition can be a tremendous mnemonic device....when the alphabet is set to the tune of the ABC song with its four melodic phrases, preschoolers can learn it with ease.

But when it comes to jokes, based on surprise, the factors that make 'em laugh also make the joke itself harder to remember. The key? If you're going to use a joke, you need to practice it again and again and again to ensure you'll recall all the details that make it sing.

Monday, March 16, 2009

4 things to remove before speaking

Speakers tend to focus on what to add to their presentations, be it more words, a choice of outfit or special visuals. But a quick scan of your person and your surroundings can help you strategically remove stumbling blocks before you speak--and before they trip you up. Here are four I focus on:
  • Lose the name tag: Photographers join us in asking you to take off that plastic name badge before you get on stage. Not only is it unnecessary--it can't be read from where you're standing, and you're going to be introduced--it adds a white, glaring square to your image and detracts from any video or still photos that capture the event.
  • Replace dangling earrings: Any earrings that have the potential to dangle, swing or make noise -- and be captured by the microphone -- should be replaced with something quieter.
  • Avoid bracelets and rings: Especially if you plan to gesture for emphasis, bracelets can make noise and rings on your gesturing hand can distract the audience. (I recall a speaker who pounded the lectern for emphasis, setting off a jangling set of bangle bracelets each time--beautifully amplified by the mic.)
  • Get your hairstyle off your shoulders: If your hair is shoulder-length or longer and you're wearing a lavalier microphone on your lapel, the sound of hair brushing over the mic will interfere with what your audience is hearing. Use a mic attached to the lectern, or pull your hair back to avoid contact with the mic.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

find us on Twitter

I love seeing posts like this one on Twitter, where I post under the name dontgetcaught, and where you can see updates from the Eloquent Woman blog. There's a growing community of women on Twitter who are looking for advice, tips and information on public speaking, getting on programs at conferences and more. If you want a different early-alert system to my posts on women and public speaking, try Twitter...and let me know what kind of conversation you want to have.

we're a newsletter all-star

Constant Contact, the email marketing site I use for my free monthly email newsletters, has named don't get caught a Constant Contact 2008 All-Star. Every month, newsletter subscribers get links to my most recent posts from this blog and from don't get caught news & info, my blog on communications strategies, training and message development. Newsletter subscribers also get a heads-up on my seminars, speeches and workshops, as well as other special discounts and offers. You can sign up here for a free subscription.

speaker on ice: when you need to wing it

If you hang around long enough, someday, someone will come up to you and say, "The speaker just let us know she's sick and won't be coming. Can you fill in?" These aren't words you dread so much as simply fail to expect. If your plans were to be a happy audience member that day, those words bring an end to your vision for carefree luncheon, dinner or event.

This happened to me a few years ago on the day of the annual Washington Women in Public Relations "PR Woman of the Year" award luncheon. I'd won the award the year before, and I'd been asked to present the award to this year's winner. This is a plum assignment, and doesn't require saying much more than, "...and the winner is." And I was already speaking that day, on a panel discussion in the morning. But as our panel left the podium, one of my assistants came rushing up with a cell phone. "They want you to fill in--the keynote speaker is sick."

I had a cab ride and a half-hour of reception time to mull remarks and adjust to the new luncheon scenario. For someone whose personality type likes to plan ahead, this is not fun. My colleague Kate came by and suggested--given the group's focus on women in public relations--"was there any time in your career where being a woman in PR was significant to your success?" Normally, I'd have said no--but then it came to me. I had one example, just one, and a risky one, because it involved talking about a surgical procedure used to ease childbirth for women. At a luncheon speech. I'm just saying. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I used the luncheon opening talks to mull my hasty remarks. And then I was called forward. Let me break it down for you as I now see it in hindsight, and in the form of tips, while I share the story with you:

  • I started by taking a poll of the audience. In this case, I knew I was going to talk about childbirth at a luncheon, so I wanted to edge into the topic. "Let me ask you a few questions before I begin. How many of you are married? How many are single? How many have children? How many have grandchildren? How many don't have children?" In a room filled primarily with women, but also with men, this allowed me to check my assumptions about who'd understand the story I was about to tell.
  • I took the real-life situation of the day and put it into my talk. "I was struggling to come up with what to talk to you about, when Kate asked me whether there was a time when being a woman made a difference in my ability to do public relations well. I like to think it doesn't make a difference, but there was just one time when it did, so let me share that."
  • I explained where I came out on the poll so the audience understood my perspective."I asked you whether you had children. I don't, but early in my journalism career, I edited a magazine for new parents. I wanted to see how many of you might be familiar with a surgical procedure, an episiotomy, because it's part of my story." That got a buzz of reaction, so I could tell I had, shall we say, an informed audience.
  • Given my risky topic, I made sure they knew I wouldn't talk about the procedure much. People were eating lunch, after all. "This is a luncheon, so I'm not going to go into the details. But it's important to know that episiotomies are among the most-frequently recommended surgical procedures for women in childbirth, because--as the doctors tell their patients--they make childbirth easier. But they are also painful and add to your recovery time. At the magazine I edited, the topic of episiotomies always drew lots of reader reaction. Ladies, am I right?" Heads were nodding. Here I knew the odds were high they'd agree. People were giggling, and I learned at this point I could have a little fun with this.
  • I brought it back to our shared topic, women and public relations. "So fast forward in my career. I'd moved to public relations and was working for a major scientific journal, and the organization decided to launch a second journal, only about clinical trials. They're popular with the media, as they offer the chance to learn about new treatments for all sorts of diseases and conditions. We had several important reporters eager to see the first studies coming out from the new journal. And, because of my own earlier work in journalism, I was excited to see that the first major study we would publish was about...episiotomies."
  • I shared data and drama. "I was excited because millions of women give birth every year in the U.S., so childbirth issues clearly impact a lot of people--not just mothers, but the families around them. And this study had a surprising conclusion. I knew episiotomies were widely prescribed and done at that time. So imagine how I reacted when I learned that the procedure had never been comprehensively studied before. What's more, the study we were about to publish had all the right conditions--a large sample size, a 10-year scope, irrefutable findings--and found that, all things being equal, an episiotomy makes little to no difference in ensuring an easier delivery."
  • I pulled the story back to the PR focus. The room was buzzing with surprise, and I used that to push forward. "I've done a lot of work communicating scientific topics and this one had all the hallmarks of a good story. I had a wire-service reporter eager to see the first of our published studies. Now, I have to say that I don't tend to hover over reporters considering stories--I like them to stand on their merits. So I don't call to ask whether they received the information, and this reporter typically would call me right back if he was interested. But he didn't call. Five minutes, 10 minutes went by. So I picked up the phone and said "Whaddaya think?" And he said, "Honestly, I just didn't think this was all that important." At this point, whether you had children or did public relations, I'd put forward something for everyone. You could be horrified about the research or about the reporter's reaction, or both.
  • I brought it full circle for a big finish. "I tried explaining the merits again, but he wasn't buying it. So I said, 'Fred, I seem to recall you and your wife have kids, am I right? Do me a favor and call her, tell her about the research in your own words. Don't go by what I'm telling you. And then if you have any women in that newsroom, gather an odd number of them and tell them the same thing. You want to do the story or not, fine with me. But just call me when you've done that--I'm curious to hear what they say.' Five minutes later, he called and said, "I'll do the story--just make them stop yelling at me!" At this point, the room erupted in laughter and applause--the real reward for a story with a beginning, middle and end.
  • As I look back on it, starting with an audience poll and concluding with the reporter doing a poll of his own added a nice symmetry to the talk...but I can't honestly say that was aforethought. I was delighted to turn then to announcing my successor, the day's winner. What did I learn that would really help you when you're tapped to speak at the last minute?
    • When backed into a speaking corner, stick with the familiar. I'd told that story many times in smaller settings, so I knew it by heart--and knew it got good reactions. I didn't have time to write notes, and didn't need them, because I knew my own story.
    • I knew the audience would be willing to cut me some slack. As a member, a former award winner and a recognized speaker in the group, I had some advantages, but none greater than the sympathy folks have for the recently-pressed-into-service speaker.
    • I didn't try to replicate the talk I was replacing. No way, no how. In fact, I erred on the side of short, funny and informal.
    • I spoke only to my own experience. I'm not a parent, but I had relevant experience in my professions around the topic and focused on them.
    • I stuck to topics that mirrored the event, women and public relations, and that focus helped me be brief, relevant and cogent.

    That worked for me. What's worked for you when you've had to speak with little to no preparation time? Share your story in the comments.

    Six Minutes takes our tips on eyes & voice

    It's always a pleasure to find The Eloquent Woman blog in Andrew Dlugan's weekly roundup of the best public speaking tips on the Six Minutes blog--and this week, two posts made the cut: the eye-contact tips our readers were hunting for, and Stephanie Chasteen's vocalizing tips from her experience as an NPR intern. With the eyes and the voice featured, I'll use my hands to clap a thanks to Andrew, whose blog is a must-read in the public speaking space.

    Friday, March 13, 2009

    Michigan: Women's words as fuel

    (Editor's note: We've asked some of our Twitter correspondents to contribute views on women speakers during Women's History Month. Today's contributor, Joni Hubred-Golden is an avid student of women's history. She publishes stories by, for and about Michigan women at Michigan Womens Forum and on Twitter here.) Michigan history rings with the voices of women, speaking out on topics that range from abolition to suffrage to labor and civil rights. Some were born here, others, like Sojourner Truth, came to Michigan later in life. But their stories are woven into fabric of our state, as their words fueled the engine of progress not only for women, but for all Michiganders.

    Among the earliest public speakers were women who spoke eloquently in opposition to slavery. Laura Smith Haviland (pictured at left), a Quaker, became not only a "conductor" with the Underground Railroad, but after the war ended, made many public speeches regarding the conditions faced by freed slaves. Perhaps because she knew the emotional impact they would have, Mrs. Haviland carried with her irons, chains and other implements used on slaves to show during her presentations.

    During her work with freed slaves, Mrs. Haviland became acquainted with Sojourner Truth, whose life's work centered around her call to be a devoted and passionate champion of abolition, and later, suffrage and temperance. She came to Michigan many times as a speaker, and eventually settled in the Battle Creek area to live out her final years. An example that shows the strength of her message is recounted in The Battle Creek Journal, which reported on the 1863 Sabbath School Convention, held in Battle Creek:
    She said that the spirit of the Lord had told her to avail herself of the opportunity of speaking to so many children assembled together of the great sin of prejudice against color. 'Children, 'she said, 'who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who made mine black? Was it not the same God? '' Driving home her point with two hundred similar words she closed with, 'Now, children, remember what Sojourner Truth has told you and thus get rid of your prejudice and learn to love colored children that you may be all the children of your Father in Heaven'....This short speech from Sojourner was perhaps the most telling Anti-Slavery speech that was ever delivered at Battle Creek or in Michigan. Scores of eyes were filled with tears and it seemed as if every individual present sanctioned all she said...

    Another prominent but lesser known Michigan woman speaker, Nellie Cuellar began her career as a public speaker and activist when she organized a protest against the murder of three black share-croppers by a local sheriff. She, too, began her activism outside of Michigan, creating political education seminars to teach people how to lobby for their concerns on the local, state and national level. She moved to Michigan with her husband in 1930 and, among other civic and volunteer activities, helped organize coal strikes in Michigan and Virginia and other protest movements.

    Olympia Brown, another outspoken woman and suffrage advocate and native Michigander, became the first fully ordained woman minister in the country, at the St. Lawrence Association of Universalists in Malone, New York. Inspired by another minister, Antoinette Brown (not related), she also trained many young women to enter the ministry. But in her tireless campaign for the vote, Brown found her most daunting challenges. She spoke not only in arenas where her words were welcomed, but quite often in places where her message was openly mocked and opposed. She gave more than 300 speeches in one four-month period in Kansas, and even though the suffrage amendment failed there, leaders of the movement considered her work a great success.

    Many other women could be named on the roster of outstanding speakers in Michigan's history, from Anna Clemenc, a vocal advocate of the labor movement during the 1913 miner's strike in northern Michigan, to Millie Jeffrey, who was a member of the National Democratic Committee, chairperson of the National Women’s Political Caucus, and by appointment of President Carter, a member of the Commission on the International Women’s Year. The more we search for them, the more we find inspiring role models whose willingness to speak out and ability to speak clearly helped change the course of Michigan history.

    Wednesday, March 11, 2009

    Museum: unforgettable woman speakers

    (Editor's note: As part of Women's History Month, we asked The Women's Museum in Dallas to share what's in its collections concerning famous women speakers in history. Marketing Assistant Alyssa Gardina contributed this post and the photo of the exhibit.) In honor of Women’s History Month, I’ve put together a selection of great women public speakers from history. All of them are honored in the “Unforgettable Women” exhibit at The Women’s Museum: An Institute for the Future in Dallas, Texas.

    At the top of our list is Barbara Jordan, a Texas politician who served in the House of Representatives in the 1970s. Barbara began her remarkable career as an orator encouraging voters at home in Harris County, Texas. After her voter registration drive, Harris County saw a record 80% voter turnout. Barbara is most remembered for her 1976 Democratic National Convention keynote address, “Who Then Will Speak for the Common Good?” She was the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote speech, which is ranked 5th in the “Top 100 American Speeches of the 20th Century”.

    Jane Addams, best known for founding the Hull House in Chicago, was also a noted public speaker. In this image, she is seen speaking to a crowd after arriving home from an international peace conference in the Netherlands. She was also the first woman to speak at a political convention, taking the floor to nominate Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.

    A public-speaking dynamic duo, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were responsible for making some of the most memorable speeches of the suffrage movement. Susan wrote many of the speeches, which then would be delivered by the more outgoing Elizabeth. They wrote and spoke on topics including marriage, divorce, the Bible and women’s rights.

    These are only a sampling of the incredible women public speakers who have had an enormous impact throughout history. Through the multimedia exhibits at The Women’s Museum, we honor these women and their contributions to our country.

    (You can find out more about The Women's Museum: An Institute for the Future on its blog, on Twitter, on Facebook and on Flickr.)

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009

    geeky girl offers NPR vocalizing tips

    Stephanie Chasteen, a physicist and science educator who worked at National Public Radio in a crossover journalism internship for scientists, offers insights on vocalizing, based on her behind-the-scenes experience, in "The Voices in Your Head, or How NPR Reporters Do Their Voicing." She offers useful tips on everything from analyzing how you sound to how to write out your script to include emphasis and inflection. My take: These are especially useful for speakers who are being recorded, interviewed on-air, or podcasting, but there's plenty here to help the ears of your audience in a standard speech. Chasteen's internship was forged by my client (and former employer) the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Special thanks to Andy Carvin, NPR's social media guru, for sharing her post on Twitter!

    5 eye contact tips for speakers

    After Debbie Friez's guest post on body language last month, these commenters wonder whether the eyes have it--or not. Here's what they wondered:
    In terms of body language, I would also love to know more about eye contact and what it communicates...Eye contact is not super-comfortable for me, but I'm afraid it makes me look evasive or dishonest (when I'm not at all). I often wonder how much eye contact is passable, professionally.


    Cultural sensitivity can transform these tips [into] a nuanced strategy. For example, Native Americans consider direct eye contact, particularly with an elder, a sign of disrespect.
    Other colleagues have shared variations on this theme, wondering whether eye contact is necessary or even good. "I was trained in acting never to look at the audience," one said, and another noted she was taught as a youngster that gazing directly at any adult, regardless of culture, is disrespectful.

    So let me clear something up: Eye contact with the audience is essential for speakers, whether you're in a small meeting or addressing a crowd of 1,000. Failing to use eye contact means you're losing one of the most important tools you have to connect and convince your audience about your message. In the speaker-audience relationship, your very position establishes you as the leader of the group--at least for the duration of your talk. Research shows that looking away from your audience signals avoidance, looking at them signals approach, and that audiences rate it highly. It's important, however, to use eye contact as you would any other presentation tool: wisely and well. Here are five ways to make sure your "eyes have it" in your next speech:
    1. Be sure you look at all sections of the room. Don't ignore one side or the other, or favor those in front without looking to the rear of the room. If you have trouble remembering to do this, write directions to yourself in your speech text -- "LOOK REAR," "LOOK LEFT" -- as reminders to vary your general gaze.
    2. Be sure to look briefly and directly at individuals as well as sections. Audiences can sense when you're not connecting, so don't just look at the left side wall--take a moment to drop your gaze to someone seated in that section. Then move on.
    3. Use eye contact to emphasize an important point. Eye contact is an important tool for visual learners, and can help audiences to remember and retain what you're saying. Use it to emphasize what you want them to recall, to indicate a specific group in the audience, or to refer to what a previous speaker or questioner pointed out.
    4. Plan ahead for cultural concerns. I recommend that you research your audience in advance whenever possible, and some cultures, particularly non-Western ones, do find prolonged, direct gazes to be rude or even provocative. (The opposite is true in Western cultures, by the way--so avoiding eye contact can lead your audience to attribute negative thoughts to you.) Check out this Wikipedia article on eye contact issues, and talk to the meeting hosts for advice in advance.
    5. Check your eye contact with some video practice. In my trainings, I often find that speakers are unaware of where their eyes are traveling. Like any form of gesturing--and that's what moving eyes are--you need to have intentional, rather than unintentional moves. Even the simplest video camera can help you see what others see--before your speech. Then check my advice on how to replace what I call "visual ums" that may interfere with your ability to connect with your audience.

    Sunday, March 8, 2009

    photographer's tips on eye contact & more

    TED, the technology/education/design conference, hires a photographer to capture its dynamic speakers, and James Duncan Davidson offers this "dear speakers" essay on everything from taking off your name tag to how to move effectively around the speaking space. Since some of our readers recently asked questions about eye contact and connecting with the audience, take a look at his advice on where to look. He says eye contact will:
    ...make them feel like you are addressing them. Obviously, there are many people in the audience and you can’t look at all of them at once. The good news is that you don’t have to. If you pick a few people in various places of the audience and lock eye contact with them, everyone else around them will feel that. It works. If it helps, you can lock eyes with friendly people that you know in the audience. Don’t have any friends out there? You can make some talking to a few people before you go up on stage. Then, when you make eye contact with them, you are making eye contact with the audience and connecting with them.

    Four talks for International Women's Day

    The sun's setting on International Women's Day here on the east coast of the United States, but here's a great collection of speeches by powerful women from around the world to honor the day. These come to us courtesy of the social-media blog Mashable, which pointed me to TED--the technology, education and design conference--for its blog post highlighting speeches by four outstanding women: author and activist Isabel Allende, Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, scientist Nalini Nadkarni and singer Nellie McKay. What's exciting for speakers hoping to follow in their footsteps: You can see video of each speaker and find what you can borrow from her technique. Want to speak about women's issues? The International Women's Day website offers facts and figures about the state of women's lives around the world.

    Wednesday, March 4, 2009

    6 minutes: definitive speaking blogroll

    Six Minutes is a public speaking blog that offers a great service: Author Andrew Dlugan takes the time to read a wide swath of public speaking blogs, and (almost) weekly compiles the "weekly might have missed list" of what you need to read in the public speaking blogosphere. Dlugan also has compiled his definitive list of public speaking blogs -- and I'm delighted that The Eloquent Woman clocks in at number 20 on that list of more than 100 public speaking blogs. Thanks, Andrew! (He also deserves credit for convincing to create a "speaking" category, and his suggestions created the base for that page.) If you're not using this ample resource to read up on speaking skills, well, we can't speak to that...

    Eloquent Woman expands on

    The Eloquent Woman blog offers you lots of ways to subscribe to this blog, from our widget and feeds (look in the right column) to sites like, which aggregates many feeds by topics. Now you can find Eloquent Woman posts on two Alltop sites: Its section on women and its speaking section. On Alltop, you'll see links to our four most recent posts, and can see previews of them by moving your mouse over the links. If you like what you see, you can share it on Facebook and Twitter, using the links in the upper right corner of any Alltop page.

    Tuesday, March 3, 2009

    can a mentor help me be a better speaker?

    Have you asked another woman to mentor you as a public speaker? Accenture released a new report today that focused on mentoring, with interesting responses from women executives. From the report's key findings:

    When asked to whom they turn for career advice, just 14 percent of women cited a formal mentor at work, compared with more than 50 percent of women who cited either family, friends and current or former colleagues...Yet women acknowledge the value of a mentor: they report that their mentors help them think differently about certain situations, help with their current roles and help them see more opportunities and with identifying their skills and capabilities, increasing their confidence and encouraging them to stretch themselves
    Nearly 30 percent cited mentors as having "helped me improve my communications skills." And in many situations, from meetings to medium-sized presentations to big speeches, a mentor can fill in the gaps between training as a trusted advisor. A mentor can watch you present and watch the reactions, and talk to you privately about the results.

    Mentors can be in your workplace or elsewhere (and I'm always gratified that so many of my coaching and training clients are eager to get my feedback as they keep advancing in their speaking skills). Can't find a mentor in your workplace--or have a group of women needing or willing to give mentoring help to emerging women speakers? Try the social networking site, which currently has a challenge to gather 5 million mentors.

    Can men help women get on the program?

    Chris Messina blogged last week to update a 2006 post he wrote, taking the tech industry to task for fielding major conferences with only white male speakers, and deploring the absence of women from the program, an issue I've written about here. After a little progress--one woman on the program of a major conference--he sums up his concerns this way:
    The question is no longer “where are all the women?” — it’s why the hell aren’t white men making sure that women are up on stage telling their story and sharing the insights that they uniquely can provide!

    Why should it only be women who raise their voices on this issue? This isn’t just “their” problem. This is all of our problem, and each of us has something to do about it, or knows someone who should be given an audience but has yet to be discovered.
    Tech leader Susan Mernit blogged about Messina's post, and added:
    ...the challenge is for organizers to budget the time to jump out of their comfort zone when they plan their programs--and to believe it matters enough both to the quality of the experience--and the marketing--that they find, invite and include talented women.
    I agree, though I'd still recommend that women put themselves forward as potential speakers at the same time. What do you think?

    Sunday, March 1, 2009

    Speaking of Women's History Month

    March is Women's History Month, and because the history of women speakers is a short one, comparatively speaking, The Eloquent Woman tries to cover speaker history and fill in the blanks with profiles of women speakers from the past, so we have plenty of role models. You can go here to see all my posts related to speaker history--modern and not-so-modern. I hope it answers the question one of our commenters posted last month, asking for suggestions on who have been the the best woman speakers. Leave your comments for women whose public speaking impresses or inspires you, and I'll do profiles on them in upcoming posts. (Photo of Emmeline Pankhurst on Wall Street from the Library of Congress photostream on Flickr.)