Sunday, February 8, 2009

clowning around: public speaking fear

Here's a great performance to educate and entertain young audiences about public speaking fears: Circus INcognitus, written and performed by clown Jamie Adkins. It's coming in March to Washington, DC's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Here's their description of the program:
He's a clown with something to say--but can't quite get it out! Beginning with an empty stage and a single microphone, shy clown Jamie Adkins musters the courage to face what he fears most: speaking in public. Over the next hour, he uses everyday objects, discarded props, and acrobatic feats to create his very own one-man vaudeville act, with hilarious results! Whether on the ground, on a ladder, or on a high wire, new challenges face Jamie every step of the way, but for every problem there's always a solution. The New York Times says "this dexterous clown walks a daffy line"--showing why you should never give up when all goes wrong. Because you'll never know what you can do until you try! Age 5 and up.
Adkins seems to like clowning around nearly wordlessly with situations where words become a problem, as in here, where he performed on Broadway about writer's block. Go here for tickets and more information about the performances, which take place March 27-29, with some shows already sold out. Take a young girl with you and use this as a chance to talk about public speaking fears, and to encourage her, as a woman, to tackle public speaking.

michelle obama speaks and 'tongues wag'

For the past two years or more, Michelle Obama's been making thousands of speeches and informal remarks in public appearances on the campaign trail. As First Lady, her remarks have more weight--despite the fact that she has no official role. Even so, I didn't expect to see coverage like the story in today's New York Times, calling into question her speeches to employees of two federal agencies where she reiterated priorities of her husband's administration. These were contrasted with what are considered more traditional First Lady duties: lunches, parenting of her daughters, and other social activities.

From here inside the Beltway, there's no question that local audiences are excited about seeing and hearing from the Obamas, and the idea of anyone reiterating policy priorities from what must be highly vetted talking points is hardly cause for alarm. So why does a First Lady's speaking -- in 2009 -- occasion such notice? Comparing a policy speech to social lunches and suggesting that the speech is somehow risky and out-0f-line is ridiculous in this day. Even the article's title ('Mom-in-Chief' Touches on Policy, and Tongues Wag') uses a tired term suggesting female gossip, when, in fact, the "pro" and "con" observations in the article come from two established female authorities, a scholar of first ladies from Rutgers University and a co-director of the National Women's Law Center.

Missed in this coverage: Obama's an excellent woman speaker, playing an important and often-overlooked role in cheering on career government workers at a time when more work lies ahead. My wish for future coverage: Go ahead and keep the spotlight on her--but don't make her seem like an exotic, out-of-place example, so that women seeking to do more of their own public speaking feel encouraged, rather than called out for odd behavior. (Photo of Michelle Obama's portrait in the First Ladies exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History by aka_lusi from Flickr.)