Monday, November 30, 2009

November falls for our top 10 tips

November was an active month on The Eloquent Woman blog, with posts about speaking challenges when Twitter's in the room, how to work with speechwriters or maneuver a room without a written speech, sussing out your event space and more coaching for Stephanie Benoit in our Step Up Your Speaking challenge.  Here are the highlights from this busy month!

  1. Audience members used Twitter to wonder whether to "do" her:  Speaker Danah Boyd had a disaster of a speech that included a live Twitter backchannel with snarky--and sexual--comments about her, projected behind her while she spoke. My post on this issue and what it means for women speakers flew to the top of this month's posts, and includes comments from readers, some of whom suggest those Twitter remarks were "not extreme." What do you think, women speakers?
  2. How to present naked--without technology and props, that is--was the topic of a popular guest post by Marion Chapsal, a speaker coach in France.  She walks you through her experience and that of other speakers who use focus, engagement and storytelling to pull the audience in without extras. A bold approach you should be working toward as a speaker!
  3. A checklist on how to check out your speaker space was our number 3 post, with questions to ask and ideas for how to find out what you need to know before you show up, including getting photos, video or other views.
  4. What can speakers learn from speechwriters? Two speechwriters tell you in this popular post, which offers advice on how to say what you want to say as well as effective ways to work with a speechwriter to get the best presentation possible.
  5. Jennifer Cohen's very first public talk was a runaway hit at the Ignite! Baltimore speaking event in October, with the compelling title, "Fired: Four Times."  I saw her deliver it and keep the oversized crowd engaged.  This guest post shares her perspective on speaking for the first time.
  6. Introvert alert:  My post on speaking up for introverts shared tips from a business coach who's an introverted speaker herself, with ideas for what it takes for introverts to prepare for speaking--or speaking up in meetings.
  7. As we near the final coaching sessions in our Step Up Your Speaking challenge, Stephanie took another try at conveying a message, using the tips she learned earlier in our coaching.  This month, she wowed me with this video of her progress--and I compared it to her original contest entry to show you how far she's come by the time of this week 12 (of 15) session.
  8. Working with the people who manage programs and book speakers was the topic of another coaching session for Stephanie this month.  In this post, she got my tips for what to ask those organizers--18 questions in all--to figure out the opportunities available and whether they work for you.
  9. One great way to make a message sing: Use an analogy.  I walked readers through the thinking behind an effective analogy for use in everything from a short message to a full-length speech.
  10. Got a speaker or speakers in your life or work?  My suggestions for gifting the speaker can work whether you're rewarding a colleague, friend, family member or the speakers you book for your events.  The right book, device or gift card can go a long way to encourage a woman speaker.
Finally, November saw us pass the 1,600 mark in fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, a companion site to the blog that includes discussions, videos, tips and more.  I hope you'll join us as a fan or use Facebook's "suggest to friends" feature to share this resource with speakers in your own fan base.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fix 3: Rehash & improve your speaking

Do you find yourself running into the same speaking problems again and again? Do you try quick fixes or on-the-fly solutions, without success? Then it's time to take the fix-3 approach to rehashing and improving your speaking.

It's a simple and systematic approach, and you should use it right after a speech or presentation, and before your next talk:  Take the time soon after speaking to list at least three things you did well, or three accomplishments for your presentation.  (You may well have more than three, but make sure there are at least three on the list.)  These are the factors you should make a point to employ again, whether it's a great outfit, a clever phrase, a strong storytelling element or an effective set of slides.

Then list the three things that didn't go so well--again, at least three, although you may have more.  If your list is a long one, choose three items that you want to improve the next time you make a presentation or speech.  For each one, list the things you need to do to better your performance in those areas.

If this sounds too simple, know that most speakers don't take the time for this type of self-analysis. Instead, they try different fixes on the spot, or resign themselves to doing poorly, or find ways to gloss over their issues. They may tell themselves they can't fix their problems, or that no one notices. The fix-3 approach is the same one we've been using in the Step Up Your Speaking online coaching for Stephanie Benoit, who chose three priorities for her 15 weeks of coaching. In fact, the fix-3 approach has lots of advantages for either the beginning or experienced speaker:
  1. It lets you take a big wish list and whittle it down into manageable steps, an important factor for the beginning speaker or for any speaker unsure of herself.  You can work on one big problem and break it down: If confidence is a major problem, for example, come up with a list of many steps you can take to improve it--then work on three at a time.  Or your list may have many different aspects.
  2. You can mix large and small objectives, to make the fixes even more manageable.  You don't have to tackle all the difficult goals at once.
  3. Your time in between speeches will be productive and focused.  Instead of showing up for your next talk thinking, "I always do this wrong," or "I'm still scared," you can try out the improvements you've practiced. That will build your confidence as well as your skill.
And one more, the best advantage of all: You'll improve as a speaker. 

In this much-discussed post from a speaker who had a bad experience, she shares a lot about herself as a speaker--things she now takes for granted about her speaking.  Based on her post, her list of factors to improve might include:
  • I have to read my speeches, which means I need a laptop to seem like I'm speaking extemporaneously--but I can't always have a laptop.  For this factor, the speaker may want to work on developing a message she can remember without notes.
  • The setup was different than I imagined it would be.  This hints that the speaker needs to come up with a thorough list of questions to ask the organizers to better anticipate what will and will not be available.
  • I think people don't know I'm reading because of the tricks I use.  If you think similar thoughts, check those assumptions--and figure out how to avoid reading if you can. Your audience will appreciate it.
  • I need to see the audience.  Two possible fixes: Get used to speaking with bright lights through practice, or get into the audience where you can see them.
  • The first two minutes of my talk are painful, and I fill them with fluff until I get comfortable.  Learning to relax before you speak, coming up with a strong beginning to draw the audience in, and not assuming the audience will enjoy a fluffy beginning are all factors to work on here.
  • I think terrible things about myself when a speech is going wrong.  Working on positive ways to reinforce yourself, or ways to shift to a different plan when one approach goes wrong would be options to consider for this issue.
When you get used to using the fix-3 approach regularly, you'll sit down soon after every talk and list your accomplishments and things that need adjusting right away--and be ready with new improvements by the time of your next speech.  Turning flaws or weak points into accomplishments each time can be the best kind of reinforcement.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gifting the speaker

Do you know women you want to encourage in public speaking? That might mean you, and it might mean women in your life. While you're making your list and checking it twice this holiday season, think about gifts that will inspire, educate and assist a speaker. Here are my favorites, and this week, you may want to check Amazon's Black Friday deals and specials for more ideas:

I'm delighted that this post was included in the Six Minutes blog's weekly roundup of top public speaking blog posts. Thanks to Andrew Dlugan, author of the blog!

An outspoken woman gets her due

She knew she'd made news, and history. But because she was outspoken, she wasn't considered suitable as a good example. Now, a children's book that won the National Book Award, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, is giving Colvin what's long overdue: credit for being the first to test the Jim Crow laws by sitting in the "white section" on a bus.

According to author Phillip Hoose, quoted in this article in today's New York Times, “[civil rights leaders] worried they couldn’t win with her....Words like ‘mouthy,’ ‘emotional’ and ‘feisty’ were used to describe her.” Also in the article, Colvin says today, “Maybe by telling my story — something I was afraid to do for a long time — kids will have a better understanding about what the civil rights movement was about.”  But, told for years that she shouldn't draw attention to herself, she even asked the author whether he thought the publisher could get the book into schools.  The article and book are an inspiring read, and a reminder why women should keep speaking up and speaking out.

The object in Danah Boyd's Web 2.0 talk

Danah Boyd, a Harvard fellow and Microsoft researcher of social media and youth culture trends and behaviors, gave a disastrous talk at the Web 2.0 Expo this month.  I've blogged about it on the don't get caught blog in terms of the most-discussed factors that made it a train wreck:  a snarky group in the audience whose comments on Twitter were broadcast online and behind Boyd as she spoke, and Boyd's own preparation missteps, which she describes unflinchingly in her own post here.

We know the subject of Boyd's talk.  But what was the object?

Despite all the discussion, calls for apologies and outrage over this episode, I've yet to see observers pick up on an important point that Boyd herself makes: Some of the comments broadcast on Twitter by some of her audience members were objectifying and sexual in nature. Here's what she said:
I would *NEVER* have given my talk on race and class in such a setting. I shudder to think about how the racist language people used when I gave that talk would've been perceived on the big screen. Speaking of which...what's with the folks who think it's cool to objectify speakers and talk about them as sexual objects? The worst part of backchannels for me is being forced to remember that there are always guys out there who simply see me as a fuckable object. Sure, writing crass crap on public whiteboards is funny... if you're 12. But why why why spend thousands of dollars to publicly objectify women just because you can? This is the part that makes me angry....I don't want to be objectified when I'm speaking - either as a talking head or a sexual toy. I want to inspire, to invite you to think, to spark creative thoughts in your head.
Told you she was unflinching.

Unfortunately, I can't pull up the offensive tweets to show you, due to technical problems on Twitter today (but if someone has preserved this part of the Twitterstream, I welcome hearing from you with a link, or from audience members who recall these particular tweets).  UPDATE: It was later found that the men in question deleted their offensive string of tweets. At some points during Boyd's talk, the projected Twitterstream was taken down due to the offensive nature of the comments, then projected again when the audience objected.

I'll leave it to the psychoanalysts, attorneys and academics to analyze whether the sexual comments from the audience, broadcast as they were online and to the attendees in the room, constituted narcissism, slander, hate speech or all three.  For me, the episode throws into high relief an issue about women and public speaking that generally goes undiscussed, as it has in the hundreds of reflections on this conference:  Public speaking is uncomfortable for many women because they sense (or know from experience) that they'll be seen as sexual objects, and it's considered acceptable to treat them that way, in part, because they've put themselves forward as speakers.  

Talk about discouraging women to speak.  In 2009, we're seeing yet again an issue that has plagued women speakers since the days of ancient Greece and Rome:  Attempting to silence women by treating them as sexual objects (or hysterics, or other negatives).  This chapter in Kathleen Hall Jamieson's excellent book Eloquence in an Electronic Age: The Transformation of Political Speechmaking discusses this topic in detail, but the chapter's first lines sum it up: "History has many themes. One of them is that women should be quiet." If you want to understand the spotty and difficult history of women and public speaking, that chapter's an excellent short course.

Danah Boyd herself was the object in her talk, for some men in her audience. Not a researcher, not a colleague, but an object. 

The silence around this issue is all the more striking because this Web 2.0 Expo experience gives us two unique windows into the minds of the speaker and the audience. If the Twitter feed weren't public, those crude thoughts would've been known only by those thinking them--and the speaker would have had nothing to react to in her blog post.  In a way, I'm grateful for this public meltdown, because it lets us put this common but undiscussed issue on the table, where women can face it and, perhaps, deal with it. I don't think we can change people's thoughts, by a long shot. But we need to be willing to talk about the issue.  If we don't, it will remain one of those vague reasons women feel uncomfortable about public speaking, but aren't sure why. In fact, if the offensive tweets are removed, as they might well be, Boyd's willingness to write about them could be the only record we have--underscoring the importance of making these issues public.

And for those reading this who wonder, "Is this really a problem? I've never experienced it," let me just say that this blog--which aims to offer good advice and information to all speakers, male or female--came about because of the number of women who come to me for training saying things like, "They told me my presentations aren't sexy enough," or "My boss thinks I should wear skirts when I'm making a presentation or a speech."  And that's in the 21st century.  It's not the only gender issue women face in speaking, but it's a major one.

Kudos to Boyd, not just for her excellent research, but her willingness to speak frankly, allowing us to have a discussion.  Please share your thoughts and additional information about this episode, or what you've experienced directly, in the comments.

Related posts:  Twitter backchannel: Danah Boyd's take
New ebook on presenting with Twitter

Tweeting at meetings gets controversial

Speakers: Learn from Twitter hecklers

5 ways to find out about your audience

Find out more about women's issues in public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog

Find out more about my workshops and one-on-one speaker coaching services

Become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Speak with power and elegance: Eat, Pray, Love

As part of her blog's series on powerful women speakers, speaker coach Marion Chapsal shares some observations about this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia that are useful if you're working on creating a speaker presence for yourself.

Here's what Marion noticed in this talk that you can take away:
  • You can perform on a stage with nothing else but your presence, yourself, no technology.
  • You can rely on stories and myths to give flesh to your talk.
  • You can be perfectly structured with elegance and flow.
Those all sound like an eloquent woman to me. Thanks to Marion for sharing another good video example of a powerful woman speaker. What did you see in this talk that you can use in your next speech?

Related posts:  What's your speaker presence?

Week 13: Following up after a speech

Plenty of speakers focus on preparation and delivery. But in week 13 of Stephanie's online coaching, I want to be sure she--and all of you--keep in mind what happens after your speech. How and whether you follow up with your organizers, audience and followers can make the difference between a good speech and a great one. Here's my checklist of steps you should take after a speech, and these tips work for meeting presentations and small-group talks as well as formal speeches:
  • Thank those who invited you. That may be a program committee or individual organizer, as well as anyone who recommended you as a speaker to the group in question.  If your "speech" was a presentation in a meeting, thank the person who chaired it as well as the person who asked you to present.  And don't just thank them from the lectern during your presentation--write an email, or speak to them in person directly after you speak, or both. Organizers and meeting chairs need feedback, and you can use this opportunity to let them know your interest in speaking again.  Pave the way for future talks now. 
  • Thank those who went above-and-beyond for you.  All sorts of things can and will go wrong during presentations. Did someone (or a group) rally around to help you get through it? From the audio-visual team to the organizers or audience, be sure to take the time to let them know how much they helped you.  Sometimes, you can find ways to thank them publicly, as I did in this blog post sharing what could have been a disastrous presentation made wonderful by the collective efforts of the board of Science Writers in New York when I spoke to their group in May.  If it's a group you'd always want to have your back in a troubled presentation, say so.  (This step also may apply to someone behind the scenes: The person who let you rehearse endlessly, the person who handled the technology, and others.)
  • Talk to individual audience members:  Don't just dash off after you speak. Be sure to allow another 15 - 30 minutes to mingle with individuals and take questions from them.  Keep in mind that many audience members--even in small meetings--won't want to ask a public question (and that may be particularly true for women, who tend to prefer one-on-one interaction).  As the speaker, it's up to you to be available. If these contacts ask you for more information, be sure to write or call them soon after your presentation to follow up.
  • Be sure people know how and where to find you later.  Bring business cards or a paper handout with your contact information--and please don't just note your contact points on a slide.  If possible, work with the meeting organizer to make sure each participant has your materials.
  • Share additional resources.  One way to take some pressure off your presentation is to decide to focus your remarks tightly, but share more information as an ongoing reference.  I've switched from paper handouts and materials to posting additional points on my blogs to make resources and links widely available, and I sometimes post video of the Q&A with longer answers than I can give in a presentation.
  • Let people know you're available to speak to other groups.  Don't think this is obvious. Your materials, take-aways and even the last part of your presentation should, where appropriate, let people know your willingness to speak on this topic again.
  • Share information on the success of your speech, and share your materials.  Think of the audience beyond the room you're speaking in.  Post an update to Twitter or Facebook after you speak, share photos from the event, and post links to your materials where a wider audience can see them.  You can use sites like SlideShare or Prezi to post your slides online for others to see--check out the SlideShare section of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, where you can post slides from your recent presentations and see popular slides from other speakers.
Stephanie's just starting out as a speaker, so she won't be able to put these tips into action just yet.  But she can be thinking about what types of materials she'll use as audience resources.  And anyone can join our conversation in this week of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday to share what you're grateful for as a speaker.

Related posts:  15 Weeks to Step Up Your Speaking contest and online coaching

Become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook

I'm delighted that this post was included in the Six Minutes blog's weekly roundup of top public speaking blog posts. Thanks to Andrew Dlugan, author of the blog!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

what do speakers assume?

Last month, I spent nearly as much time in the audience as I did up front as a speaker, and from that vantage point, I noticed lots of speakers making faulty assumptions about their audiences or their speeches. (For example, I saw lots of speakers assume they could hold the microphone anywhere and still be heard.) So I asked fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook what speaker assumptions they'd noticed, and whether those assumptions were right or wrong. Here's what they said:

  • Germaine Palangdao called out speakers for "Acronyms - they assume everyone knows acronyms."
  • Cynthia Baugh-Gunder Hill wrote, "Of the many audiences I have been in this past summer listening to speakers on various subjects related to education and special needs... I must agree with the acronyms and the audience not being able to hear clearly. In addition... speakers that use PowerPoint and the lights are dimmed to the point that you can't make any notes, even if they supply you with a copy of the slides."
  • Tiffany Lohwater added, "speakers who assume that their audience can/should read the 15+ text bullets on one slide in small font, before they click on to the next one!"
That's why I was glad to see this week that Marjorie Brody, writing on the Six Minutes blog, notes 8 faulty speakers assumptions and what you can do to fix them.  Her list includes:
1.Deep knowledge of a topic alone will enable me to present ideas on it.
2.My audience members are mind readers.
3.I can present information/concepts that took me 3 months to learn in a 20-minute presentation.
4.Everyone in my audience is equal.
5.I don’t need to practice out loud.
6.I’ll have plenty of time to get there.
7.If I get off the platform/stage, I will be closer to audience members.
8.If I speak at my normal speed, everyone will understand me.
What do you notice speakers assuming when you're in the audience? Can you think of assumptions you make when you're speaking--and what to do about them? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments. I just know we can add to these lists!

And check out my checklist for the whole speaker, designed to help you get at some of the most basic speaker assumptions--from your content to what you're wearing--before you speak.

Friday, November 20, 2009

free ebook on speaking and Twitter

For those of you who've been wondering how to handle an audience that's commenting about your speech or presentation on Twitter--while you're speaking, here's a post about a new, free ebook that every speaker needs, with guidance for what to do before, during and after your presentation.  Check it out!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Where is my (eloquent woman) badge?

Today, The Eloquent Woman on Facebook passed the 1,500-fan mark.  Want to celebrate? You can add this fan badge to your website, blog or FB page. Go here to do so--and thanks so much for your ideas, questions and inspiration for women (and other) speakers!

week 12 wow: Stephanie's new message

One of the biggest thrills I get as a trainer is to watch someone make real progress as a speaker--and that might mean confidence, message skills and delivery successes, or much more. To see what I mean, watch Stephanie Benoit's contest entry for our Step Up Your Speaking program, less than 6 months ago:

Now watch her in week 12 of our coaching, trying for the second time to deliver a message:

And, I might add, Stephanie reports that she did that video message in just one take!

There's much to be proud about in Stephanie's message, delivery and motivation this week. Here's what I see:
  • Her message is about facing her fear of public speaking with focus, frequency and faith. To put it across, she uses the most effective methods for translating what you want to say into a format audiences -- and you, the speaker -- can remember. She used the rule of three key points as an outline for her message, and the alliteration helps us both remember what she wanted to put across.
  • She built on her current experience, speaking from the heart. Stephanie might have chosen a major world issue or current event, but instead, she talked about just what she's doing right now: Facing her fear of public speaking and sharing what she's learned from her own experience. That makes her message real and credible, and also makes it sing and resonate.
  • She tells a story we can follow and to which we can relate. There are lots of ways to add drama and storytelling skill to your message. One way is Stephanie's choice: Talking about a problem (fear of speaking) and then the 3 qualities you need to slay that dragon of fear and succeed. In the process, she makes it easy and even enjoyable for her audience to follow along.
Well done, Stephanie! Another time, you may want to try an analogy or another method to dress up your message. But this one is outstanding. And I'm impressed at the evidence of how far you've come. Got feedback or congrats for Stephanie? Please leave them in the comments.

Related posts: Making a message: Using analogy

Glue to make your message stick

Become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook

Follow the author on Twitter

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sussing out your speaker space: A checklist

Emily Culbertson posed this question some time ago: What should you know about the room in which you're speaking?  The room--especially its technology--is one of the six sets of questions in my checklist to prepare the whole speaker.  But here's a longer list of factors to consider when you're finding out about the room where you'll be speaking.  
  1. What's the size and shape of the room?  Where should I stand? Is that my only option?
  2. Will I be able to move around the room while I speak? Is there a remote and a portable microphone so I can control my technology if I move away from the front?  What's my range of motion with them--how far from the base technology can I get before sound fails or the remote stops working?  (That last question's important for speaker-phone-aided conference calls, too.)
  3. What's the seating arrangement for the audience: theater-style in rows? classroom style, in rows with chairs and tables in front of the audience? open-square? U-shape (which lets the speaker walk into the square)?  Can I move around that arrangement for better eye contact and engagement?
  4. If there's a lectern, what's on it or built into it? If a laptop is resting on it, is there room for anything else?
  5. If I need a whiteboard, easel and flipcharts or something to write on, will it be available?
  6. Is the room glass-enclosed or otherwise open to view or sound from another room?  Are there blinds or partitions to help avoid distracting views and noise?  If there's piped-in music (this happens in restaurants and other venues), can it be turned off?
  7. Where are the electrical outlets for the speaker's laptop (or other technology)? Is there wireless Internet access? Hardwired access?  Will participants be able to get online, tweet or use email?
  8. What will serve as the screen--a pull-down screen? A wall?
  9. Will I need technical support for the sound system?  Can I meet that person 1/2 hour before my talk to go over what needs to be reviewed?
Several of these items might best be answered with an emailed photo -- especially of the room shape, seating, the lectern from the speaker's viewpoint, and more.  Or, if you have access to the room ahead of time, pull out your cellphone or Flip camcorder and record your own details.

It's rare, in my experience, that you'll have accurate answers to all these questions before your presentation. That's because others will have incomplete information or make assumptions that are different from yours. (I can't tell you how many times I've arrived to find no available electrical outlets or some other fragile technology, with the organizer saying something like, "Oh, there MUST be an outlet" when, in fact, there isn't one.)  So your job is to have that plan B, C, D and perhaps E, standing ready to adapt.  That's the most important question to ask yourself about any room: What will I do if it doesn't work the way we are hoping?  Share the questions you find it useful to ask about the room in the comments.

Making a message: using analogy

Making a message memorable is like checking your looks in the mirror:  The result has to work for you and for your audience. When you're trying to get your message across, analogy's a rhetorical device you can use to help you recall what you want to say, and help your audience remember it, too--if you think it through with care ahead of time.  Here's what to keep in mind when you're drawing comparisons to make your message stick:

  • Look for analogies that carry your message through all three points:   This description of investment opportunities in a changing market builds on the well-worn phrase "that train has left the station," but carries the three points of the message forward, describing investor's uncertainty (they think the train's left), the opportunity they don't see (there's always another train coming along) and, finally, what they should be focused on (deciding when to get on board).
  • Want to convey movement through either space or time?  Use transportation analogies, like the train example above, or sports in which either the athlete or the ball are moving (think swimming laps or hitting the ball out of the park).
  • If you're describing scale and size, be careful with your measures and numbers.  Make sure they have some bearing in your audience's reality--stacking things up until they reach the moon sounds cool, but who knows what that really feels like? Check out this advice from Wall Street Journal "numbers guy" columnist Carl Bialik, who recounts some of the worst (and most effective) measures you can use in analogies.  Tip: Beware the odd comparison, like how many high-priced shoes all Americans could buy if we didn't go to war with Iraq--you'll just leave the audience members scratching their heads over that one.
  • As with most message tactics, don't overdo.  One analogy is plenty for a message--or even an entire speech.  And if you're using other rhetorical devices, like alliteration, don't use an analogy.  You'll dilute the impact, and, worst-case scenario, wind up confusing rather than cementing your points.
Related posts: Glue to make your message stick

Good speeches: Messages in threes

How to develop a message

Want to see how not to do this? Check out this post of funny, if failed, analogies.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Week 11: Stephanie approaches speaking opps

Editor's note: Stephanie's coaching this week is a behind-the-scenes task, so she has written about her progress so far on the task of the week.

This week I was given the task of beginning my search for an actual speaking engagement. With all the information given to me from the previous post by Denise, you saw that I had a lot of work to do!

At this point, I've contacted three different places and am waiting to hear back from them. Even though this task appeared to be simple, it wasn't. I thought it would be easy to pick three places, but when I got started, I realized, I didn't know where I wanted to speak. There are so many options. This rose questions in my mind such as "Where do I want to speak?", "Who do I want to speak to?", and "Why do I want to speak to them?"

I started asking myself what it was that I had to share and why I felt the need to share it? I instantaneously became nervous as the phone rang on the other end. Thoughts ran through my mind like "What if they asked me something I couldn't answer? How would it make me look? Would that ruin my chances?"

Just like that, with this one task, I learned so much coupled with the extensive pointers I've been given. As I continue to look, I am now more focused than the first phone call and the first email because I've at least done it once before. Now all the advice given to me in the Week 11 post such as: have a bio or be ready to be asked or be able to answer certain questions, all make more sense to me than when I just read them without the application. This week's topic has definitely been a very productive learning experience for me! I look forward to continuing on and appreciate all the support! See you next week!

From Denise:  I'd add here that Stephanie's assignment was to focus on learning what local groups want from their speakers (and then, if she felt comfortable, to try to book a speech).  So my advice is to gather information first--you don't need to sign up to speak right away!  But when you are ready, your research and contacts will help you stand out.  As Stephanie rightly points out, this is one part of the process that you can't understand until you experience it.  She's in Florida, so if one of your groups has a speaking opportunity or advice to give, please share it in the comments!

Related posts:  Week 11: Working with program managers

Our Step Up Your Speaking contest and program

Become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook

what speakers can learn from speechwriters

I heard two speechwriters tell a crowd of communicators today some insider tips that will help any speaker to understand what goes into a good speech--and what your speechwriter may need from you to help you get there.

Independent speechwriter Jeff Porro -- who served as a judge for this blog's Step Up Your Speaking contest and has contributed other speechwriter secrets here as well -- and Ann Scholl, a speechwriter for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, shared these insights at a Capital Communicators Group luncheon today:

  • Forget having a "canned speech." Fresh is better.  It's virtually impossible to have one speech that works for every group or for several speakers. Better to use some pre-made sections or "speech inserts" that are reworked, and target the rest of the speech to the situation.  (That's different from having a core message you use--and if you have one, be sure the speechwriter has it before she starts work.)
  • The speaker and the speechwriter need to talk:  Sure, intermediaries can do some of the arrangements, but to capture your voice, the speechwriter needs to be able to talk (and listen) to you in advance.   While you're having that talk, it's important to share some personal details about yourself: Stories from your early career or childhood, an anecdote or two you can tell about the topic, your unique perspective on why your topic is so important--all those insights can mean the difference between a dry talk and an audience-pleaser.  For example, if your goal is to inspire, who inspired you?  Telling a story about that person may help you make the point you want to make about your work today.  Another help:  If you've told personal stories in other media--say, in newspaper or magazine articles--share those with the writer.
  • The writer needs to see you:  If there's any video or audio of you speaking, it'll help the writer capture your voice and learn about your style of presenting.  And if you know special issues you face as a speaker, such as words you don't want to use or don't pronounce well, now's the time to share that information so the writer can work around them.
If you're working with a speechwriter, it also helps to ask him or her what's needed and useful.  Both speechwriters emphasized that every speaker is different--so be sure to share what makes you different with that writer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Week 11: Working with program managers

If you're serious about public speaking, at some point you'll be working with a program manager--the person who arranges events and speakers--to get yourself on a program. Stephanie's a beginning speaker who needs to establish herself with the people who can invite her to speak, but every speaker needs a working relationship with program managers to ensure the success of a talk or presentation. These are the people who make your speech happen, from inviting the crowd to overseeing the logistics and making sure your topic is one that's welcome.
It's also important to get to know program managers from a variety of groups, organizations, clubs and companies, to ensure that you have wider opportunities to speak. Want to get speaking invitations? Send the manager, board or committee an email or a letter with your bio and a summary of the topics on which you can speak, and indicate your desire to be a speaker for a future event.
Here are 18 questions to ask a speaker program manager to help you land a speaking slot--and to make the most of it once you get it:
About the program manager:
  1. What are your priorities when you choose a speaker for this group?
  2. Are you interested in finding new speakers?
  3. What are 3 topics you wish you could find speakers to address?
  4. I'd like to be on your list of potential speakers. What information would you like to see about me as a speaker (bio, video, topics, etc.)?
About the group and its speakers:
  1. Tell me about your group as an audience. What are your members looking for? What don't they want to hear?
  2. What kinds of presentations work well for your group?
  3. What topics and speakers have you heard from so far this year?
  4. What formats do you prefer (single keynote speaker, panels?
  5. Have you asked your members about their thoughts or questions on this topic? May I see that information before I speak?
About the format:
  1. Tell me about the event: How many speakers will there be altogether? What's the flow or order of events? Is this speech part of a larger meeting? What's on the full agenda?
  2. Am I the only speaker? If not, am I on a panel? Moderating? Followed by another group of speakers?
  3. What are your goals for this event (if you're being asked to speak at a specific event and on a specific topic)? How did you arrive at this topic?
  4. How much time will I have to speak? How much time do you want to allow for questions?
  5. What will happen before and after I speak? Do you want me to stay longer or show up earlier?
About the logistics:
  1. Tell me about the room's size and shape, and how it will be set up.
  2. What equipment is available? (Be ready to share your equipment needs.)
  3. Are there any limits to the technology, room space or other logistics that I should know about?
  4. Who is managing the audio-visual equipment? May I speak with that person?
You also need to be ready to offer a few ideas about topics on which you want to speak, and to discuss them. Be prepared for the program organizer to ask whether you'll cover specific topics of interest to the group, and be honest about which of them you can handle and which you won't cover. If you have a website or blog, be sure to share information on it about the groups you've spoken to and the types of topics on which you speak. (On my blogs, I use the tag Graveline speaking engagements to share information about upcoming talks, topics, and even e-handouts for talks I've given, for example.)

Finally, be prepared with information about yourself: A short biography that highlights your expertise and experience; a suite of introductions so the organizer can introduce you to the audience; and, if you have it, video or audio of yourself speaking. Check out the links below for more information.

Homework for Stephanie: I'd like you to think of three groups you want to approach--a local club, women's organization, church or professional group--and make some calls or check their websites to find out who arranges programs and signs up speakers. Then send those three people an email or make a phone call to introduce yourself as a beginning speaker who'd like to be considered. Ask them some of the questions from the first 2 sets of questions above--about the program manager, and about the group and its speakers--and keep notes. Then follow up with some information about yourself. Feel free to include links to your videos on this blog! Report back to us when you've made some attempts and tell us how it went.

Related posts: 4 stepping stones to get speaking practice
Writing a suite of introductions for a speaker
Take charge of your introduction
Practices for panelists: 7 paths to success
5 ways experienced speakers can get back in the saddle
Check The Eloquent Woman on Facebook for the video that accompanies this post!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The naked speaker: How to present naked

Editor's note: Marion Chapsal coaches and trains business executives in presentation and leadership skills, and blogs about those topics. We're connected on Twitter, and I asked her for permission to repost this very good article from her blog last week.

By naked, I mean without the whole set of classy and sleeky Powerpoint slides, latest projector, remote control, laser pointer, giant screen with latest videos and dolby stereo....This post was triggered by reading the brilliant article written by Martin Shovel, "What Power Point can't show you" in Creativity Works Blog.

What happens when technology fails?Commenting on Twitter last week about Peter Senge 's performance, without Power Point, here are the reactions I got from Angie Chaplin, Leadership Speaker and Trainer:

Recently, I had to facilitate a TeamBuilding seminar for International MBAs. I had designed a very “Zen like” short and sleek, design & chic PowerPoint with pictures purchased in iStock photos, few words, big fonts, very “Steve Jobs” styled…(without the black turtleneck, though).

I was very proud and eager to “make my show," I had rehearsed and prepared carefully.

I had not anticipated I would spill my coffee on my laptop, the day before, ruining my unsaved ppt. (The laptop, a brand new MacBook, is still alive with a mouse and keyboard transplant). Oh, lala! Désastre! Malédiction! (28 days later, it resurrected. I'm a Reborn Mac Believer, now.)

When I showed up the next morning, after a night trying to bring back my bonniemac to life,apart from my high stage of internal panic and lack of sleep,I had in fact all the presentation ready in my mind and was completely available for the participants.

I felt myself "naked".

Like in naked truth. Simply, naturally...naked.

I told them many stories, I listened to them and asked them plenty of questions, I was more flexible and available than if I had sticked to my initial plan, which was, more secretly, to make a Marion show. Of course, I had integrated the components of the presentation and was in fact making it “Live”. It was the best presentation ever. I felt free, natural, spontaneous, close to my audience and gave them more space too.

Why do I think Peter Senge is a naked speaker?

Watch this very short (2.40 min) video "Closing Circle."

He's speaking with simplicity, he's open and aware of others. Very natural. He's standing in the middle of a circle and telling us a story.

This is called "presence".


If you really have to use PowerPoint, preparing with visual aids, ppt slides and even better mixing with mindmaps, can be a fantastic way to get sharp and ready . Ready to do without, too...

It enables you to anticipate and structure your presentation, to think about the illustrations you might want to use. Then you use homeopatic dose.

You hand pick the best quality slides, the “wow” effect illustrations. That’s all.

You rehearse and rehearse, and eliminate. You “prune.”

It’s a great discipline and framework, from which one has to free oneself and move out of the ppt box.

It’s a means and should be used with only one question in mind: What added value is it bringing to my audience?

A wonderful way to do this is to embrace the Magical Story Frog Prince.You tell stories, you ask for stories from your participants, you make an imaginary fire and warm yourself around!

As Terrence Gargiulo says “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a Story is worth a thousand pictures.” Visit his site Making Stories, and his blog.

I agree with Marion: Speakers should evaluate their tools and props with this post in mind. Are they really adding value? Would engaging the audience directly add value? Thanks, Marion, for sharing this thoughtful discussion with The Eloquent Woman's readers.

speaker situation: contest winner

Ever wonder how you'd fare if you were suddenly thrust into the public spotlight--but were uncomfortable with public speaking? That's a theme of The Ungarnished Truth: A Cooking Contest Memoirby Ellie Matthews, a winner of the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Just reading the introduction, where she describes getting called to be on The Oprah Winfrey Show, sets up her discomfort with getting put on the spot--and her reserve allows her the perspective to notice her feelings during all the very public presentations that followed her win. Check out this winning memoir of a speaking situation that many women face.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Week 10: What to think about appearance

In week 10 of our Step Up Your Speaking program, I asked Stephanie to try on an outfit she might wear for a speech and to share her thoughts about appearance, which you can see in this video. She did what many women speakers do: Chose an appropriate, neat and attractive outfit--and played it safe, running right up the middle of the wide range of wardrobe choices she might have made. And when you're starting out as a speaker, that's one way to go. For starters, your comfort level will be higher if you're wearing an outfit that's not distracting to you or your audience.

An advantage and disadvantage that women face as speakers is the wide range of wardrobe choices they can (or have to) make. How can Stephanie and any other woman speaker figure out how to make those choices? I think that's where we'll focus this week's coaching. Here's my best advice on deciding on your appearance as a speaker:

  1. Cover the basics first: Whatever you wear needs to fit you, be clean and accommodate all the movements you might make as a speaker, whether you're reaching high to point at a chart or crawling under the lectern to adjust an electrical plug. See the list of basic questions in my checklist for the whole speaker to cover these issues when choosing what to wear.
  2. Consider color: The ability to wear a wide range of colors is an advantage of women's wardrobes, but it also calls more attention to you visually in ways that may be uncomfortable (as Hillary Clinton found out during one of the presidential campaign debates when her coral jacket stood out among the black suits of her male competitors--and became the subject of jokes by the end of the debate). Don't let that put you off, and do use color as a way to focus eyes on you.
  3. Ensure the speaker's comfort: I taught a day-long workshop on communications skills yesterday to more than 100 scientists, and you can bet my wardrobe choices included flat shoes with great support. No matter how attractive your outfit, if it makes you, the speaker uncomfortable in any way, don't wear it. It's not worth the distraction--and you have more important things to focus on, like your comfort.
  4. Ensure the audience is focused on the right part of your speech: If your jewelry, the fit (or lack thereof) of your clothing or any aspect of your appearance distracts your audience, you'll only have succeeded in focusing them on how you look, rather than what you are saying. If you gesture a lot, that might mean removing rings before you speak, since they become more noticeable when your hands are moving. Check my list of things to remove before speaking for more ideas.
  5. Consider how you want to be seen: A suit or dress--or more formal attire--isn't always a must for a woman speaker. Consider your audience and think about how you want to be seen, what overall image you want to project, and then match the clothing to fit that type of presence. For example, if I'm leading a long-format workshop with a group that's going to be casually dressed, I won't wear a suit--that might be too intimidating. Instead, I'll aim to look approachable and down-to-earth, in pants and a sweater or unconstructed jacket, for example. Use the variety in women's wardrobe choices to your advantage in this way, and remember that being able to take command of the room doesn't always require that suit of armor.
  6. It's not just about the clothes. Your smile, eye contact, confidence, and content all matter more than your clothes--but clothes, jewelry and other appearance issues can subtract from those more important qualities. Make sure they complement, rather than distract us from, who you are and what you have to say.

I hope Stephanie and you find these considerations helpful. If you've found that appearance issues have tripped you up--or helped you create an advantage as a speaker--let us know about it in the comments. We welcome your tips and experiences!

Related posts: What does your speaker wardrobe say?

The double-edged sword of fashion

Image: another double-edged sword

4 things to remove before speaking

A checklist for the whole speaker (with 6 questions about wardrobe and more about intent)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Jennifer Cohen's very public first talk

I saw Jennifer Cohen give a talk at Ignite! Baltimore recently--and while her topic, "Fired: Four Times," was immediately compelling, just from the title, I got even more enthusiastic when I spoke to her afterward and found out that (aside from teaching), this was her first real public speech. It's a tall order for a first talk: You get 5 minutes and 20 slides, with the charge to "make a difference," and your slides are advanced every 15 seconds, no matter what. I asked Jennifer to contribute a guest post to describe the experience. While you're reading, keep in mind that this is a first-timer's experience. I think there's a lot to learn from it! A final note: Ignite! will be posting does not have video of all the talks from this session and I'll so I'm sadly unable to add the video of Jennifer's talk as soon as it's available.

I was checking the Twitterstream one day and saw an interesting tweet directing me to Ignite! I really liked the concept of having five minutes to discuss anything, so I thought about what I would say in five minutes. I thought long and hard…five minutes to make a difference, what could I possibly say that could bring something to someone?

I decided I had a great topic and would share my trials and tribulations of being fired four times (plus I was looking for speaking opportunities for practice and to put myself out there). So I submitted my proposal for my five minute inspirational presentation about being fired four times and how I was still standing on my own two feet.

It was accepted!

Then I realized the true challenge of having five minutes…there would also be a 20 slide presentation to accompany the slide. The 20 slides would automatically rotate every 15 seconds. Crap.

As the deadline approached, I became nervous because it was down to the wire and I waited until the last minute to gather my thoughts. Although it was a personal story and I knew I could tell it with my eyes closed, I had to find a theme for 20 slides and coordinate my speech!

It was the true definition of the old saying “To speak for an hour, you can prepare for five minutes. To speak for five minutes, it will take an hour.” Well this took about four hours just to outline.

I wrote my speech in slides. I created the slides, then went back to tweak my presentation, making it more and more informal and tried to insert quick one-liners. I made the slide deadline and had four days to practice and perfect. Due to other obligations, I only used about three of the 96 hours.

Two hours before the presentation, I panicked! Was I prepared? I never practiced in front of anyone else, was I prepared to speak in front of a few others? What if I got flustered and stumbled? I decided I didn’t want to do it. Then I realized I drove two hours to get there and if I didn’t do it, I would have to tell everyone I chickened out. That was not going to happen.

I went up to give my presentation where the organizer promptly told me there were 500 people in the crowd. I instantly felt my body temperature rise. 500?! I thought there were only going to be about 50! Eeeek!

It was my turn.

I brought my notes with me so I would have something in my hand and something to reference if I started floundering.

I introduced myself and the five-minute clock started ticking.

I spoke slide-by-slide and told my personal story with passion. I knew what I wanted to say and added my own spin while I was in the flow. The laughs and nods from the crowd served as instant validation, but I was hoping they couldn’t see my knees knocking, hands shaking and hear my voice fumbling.

When it was over, I exited the stage…and almost fell off. My legs felt so weak, but I was relieved and excited! I walked over to my business partner who had the biggest smile I’d ever seen on his face! I nailed it!

Then came the best part of the night…Audience members approached me during the intermissions to say I was inspiring and to thank me for sharing my story. No one said I looked nervous or messed up; they just thanked me and congratulated me on a job well done.

It was exciting and it felt great to accomplish the goal I set when deciding to seize the opportunity! If I made one person feel inspired, positive or excited, it was worth it.

The connections and people I met that night were great. The experience gave me confidence to continue to inspire and to seek out additional opportunities to make a difference through the gift I was given…The gift of speaking.

-Jennifer Cohen
Something Creative LLC

Related posts: Pushing yourself to speak: Ignite!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Week 10: About your appearance

This week, our coaching focuses on appearance: wardrobe, makeup, jewelry and -- most important -- the overall image or presence you want to convey. In this video, Stephanie shares her initial thoughts about appearance and asks you some questions: What's important? She rightly notes that it's in part about the audience to whom you're speaking, and the context for your talk. I've called appearance issues the double-edged swords for women speakers, because they can work for or against you. What do you think? What have you encountered?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Stephanie gets tips at Essence conference

Last week, Stephanie Benoit went to the Essence Magazine Empowerment Conference in Chicago, and I suggested she take her Flip camcorderand interview attendees to get their tips on improving her public speaking. You'll recall that among Stephanie's goals is creating a women's empowerment conference of her own. She put the interviews together into a "movie" format with titles, something that's easy to do with the software built into the Flip camcorders. And I noticed that some of her interview subjects called her confident, which is a wonderful reflection of her progress in our Step Up Your Speaking online coaching. Thanks, Stephanie, for being our reporter on the scene! If readers have suggestions, ideas or encouragement for Stephanie, please leave them in the comments.

This week, our coaching will look at what I call the double-edged swords of speaking for women, all of which have to do with appearance: Wardrobe, jewelry, and most important, the image or presence you convey, which goes beyond your outfit. They're all areas that can give women a great advantage--or trip them up. Here's some reading for you--and Stephanie--to do while we put this week's coaching posts together.

Related posts: What does your speaker wardrobe say?

The double-edged sword of fashion

Image: another double-edged sword

4 things to remove before speaking

A checklist for the whole speaker (with 6 questions about wardrobe and more about intent)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

speaking up for introverts

Today's New York Times includes a column by Nancy Ancowitz, a former Wall Street marketing executive turned business coach, who describes how she learned about how to put her introverted personality to best advantage, particularly when speaking up in work settings: in meetings, in putting herself and her accomplishments forward, and in more effective use of one-on-one relationships. This should sound familiar if you're introverted, but called upon to speak or speak out in the workplace:

I learned that introverts prefer to think before they speak, while extroverts tend to think as they speak. I also learned what energizes introverts (solo activities) versus extroverts (social activities). While I’m not typically shy, or socially anxious, and I thoroughly enjoy people — in doses — I catch my breath during my quiet time.

For introverted speakers who want to use their type to advantage, she recommends:
What does that look like on Monday morning? They prepare well for meetings and negotiations; they’ve done their reflective thinking in advance. They also schedule down time in order to recharge. And they seek out allies as trusted sounding boards and champions who can help spread the word about their quiet strengths.
All those tips work just as well when the introverted speaker is giving a presentation or speech to a larger audience.

Related posts: Factor in your speaker personality type

How Lady Bird Johnson went from shy speaker to shining