Wednesday, May 27, 2009

top women speakers? Jennifer Granholm

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm was nominated for our list of top current-day women speakers by Karl Leif Bates, who says she "rocks the house with nary a note!" Strong words for a former federal prosecutor and state attorney general! Fortunately, the governor offers a range of videos on her Facebook page and official web page.

I especially liked a speech that's typical of a governor's repertoire, and that's hard to pull off--not because it's difficult, but because it might seem too pro forma. It's a speech in which her sole job was to "announce an up to $1 billion expansion of Hemlock Semiconductor in the Saginaw Valley area, creating up to 576 jobs. Hemlock Semiconductor is the world's leading producer of polycrystalline silicon, the stuff that makes solar panels work."  It's a speech-type that requires the thanking of many people--a task that often leaves the rest of the audience impatient to hear real content--and some hopeful words about what the new funding/building/road/community center will bring to the people of the state. Shake hands, cut ribbon, smile for cameras, repeat.

And in other hands, that might be boring. But Granholm does rock the house, using three essential speaker tools--energy, gestures and vocal variety--to make the speech sing. She's by nature an enthusiastic and energetic speaker, which goes a long way toward holding your attention. That energy is underscored with well-controlled gestures and vocalizing that emphasizes key words, accomplishments and sentiments. Watch her gesturing as a tool to learn how to do it well. Granholm uses a wide range of gestures to convey movement, direction, excitement, scope. Nearly every one of them is above the lectern and well within viewing range. Then close your eyes and listen to the audio here: She varies pitch, tone, pacing and word "pops" for emphasis, throughout the speech. Her thank-you list may be the best-paced and most genuinely worded such list I've heard in a long time; she makes you feel as if she knows nearly everyone on it, and when she doesn't, she works in how she's looking forward to meeting him.

That last factor, the genuine sound of her excitement, can't be bought or taught. Speakers who can speak from real passion will always put their points across more effectively and create a stronger bond with their audiences. And that bond, that ability to persuade, is a key factor in creating an eloquent speech.


Related posts: Using gestures effectively

Women speakers in politics

About this series: One of my readers noted he was having trouble finding examples (especially on video) of top women speakers of today--plenty from the past, few from today. So I'm working to compile a list of the top 10 women speakers. Please send me your nominees! I'm looking for nominees from the present day, particularly those for which video examples can be found. You can mention your nominee and any video links in the comments below; send them to me on Twitter; or email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

top women speakers? Michelle Obama


"Communities and countries and ultimately the world are only as strong as the health of their women...part of that health includes an outstanding education." That's First Lady Michelle Obama, speaking in April 2009, at a London girls' school with a plea to them to pursue education as a path to opportunity. TED has just issued this speech as part of its "Best of the Web" series of speeches, and it gives me the chance to add Obama to our growing list of top current women speakers.

In this appearance, Obama does a mix of speaking from text and speaking extemporaneously, and it's clear that the latter is her strong suit. She's said before that her campaign stump speeches were effortless because she was telling family stories she knew well, a tool she has in common with other top women speakers and uses to effect in this speech. She also demonstrates a deft touch with her audience of young schoolgirls, tailoring her remarks on education in ways that make her seem like someone who's been in their shoes. With lines like "I thought being smart was cooler than anything in the world," describing her own school habits, she's at once leveling the gap between student and First Lady and subtly underscoring where you can go with a devotion to learning. Both factors combine to create her decidedly conversational approach--and if you're a speaker, one of the best types of feedback you can get will be "that felt more like a conversation than a lecture." Another contributor to the connection: Her willingness to share personal details and perspectives, not only about herself and her views, but those of her husband, daughters, and mother, all of whom are mentioned here.

Related posts about Michelle Obama and public speaking

About this series: One of my readers noted he was having trouble finding examples (especially on video) of top women speakers of today--plenty from the past, few from today. So I'm working to compile a list of the top 10 women speakers. Please send me your nominees! I'm looking for nominees from the present day, particularly those for which video examples can be found. You can mention your nominee and any video links in the comments below; send them to me on Twitter; or email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.