Thursday, February 25, 2010

Top public speaking tips for February

February flew by, so as I pause at month's end, here are the most popular posts and tips from this month, as a Valentine for my readers:
  1. Love's in the details.  So if you want to make your storytelling compelling, pay attention to the small stuff.  This popular post, the month's favorite, tells you how with real examples.
  2. Was Valentine a myth?  I don't know, but I can tell you 4 myths you should stop spreading about women and public speaking.  See if these sound familiar--and stop them in their tracks.
  3. A valentine for women's voices.  Sarah Palin took some flack for writing speaking notes on her hand. When asked about it, Michelle Obama took the high road--and reinforced the importance of women speaking out. Watch the video.
  4. And about those love notes...  Palin's palmed notes offer us the chance to ask in this post, what's wrong with using notes?  Another popular post.
  5. Vocal valentine:  Vocal coach Kate Peters offered a few lucky readers her "voice valentine," a free assessment, in this post.  Check the comments to hear what one winner got out of her session! Two Eloquent Woman readers got to take advantage of this generous offer.
  6. Love train(ing):  This post reinforces why training's useful for speakers, with 36 ways you can use your public speaking training.  If this doesn't convince your boss, well....
  7. Recite your love poems, practice a webcast or broadcast, or just get used to teleprompting with this new digital tool: an online teleprompter into which you can enter your text and practice at your desk
  8. I love you, but:  Need to interrupt, as Madeleine Albright urges women to do in meetings? A reader requested these 7 ways to interrupt politely but effectively, another popular post.
  9. From me to you:  Based on my own workshops, I advise that if you've got lots to say, you save it for the Q&A. How to manage your content and make the audience enthused.
  10. Love for the history books.  To continue sharing great, current examples of women speakers, we celebrated Black History Month by pulling together your suggestions for today's great black women speakers.   This post includes lots of video and speech examples for you to consult.
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

7 ways to dive in with effective interruptions

On The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, reader Emily Culbertson referenced a recent post on Madeleine Albright, who urged women to "learn to interrupt," and posed the perfect follow-up question: But how? Here's what Emily wrote:
In meetings or smaller groups, what are polite but effective ways to interrupt speakers that Madeline Albright references? I agree with her that speaking up is important and waiting for permission is a problem, but I am having trouble picturing my options.
For many women, interrupting in person can feel like diving into the deep end.  Try these options in your next meeting when you feel you need to interrupt:
  1. Don't ask permission. Just say it:  Putting up your hand as if you're in class, asking the chair or prefacing your remarks with "Can I just say something?" all make for weak ways to wedge your comment into the conversation.  "Where are the data on that?" or "I don't remember asking him to do that" work better because they are simple and direct, not apologetic.
  2. Do ask.  Questions can be seen as the "polite but effective" interruption because they seek to advance the group's knowledge, so exhibit your curious side in your next meeting. You'll be even more effective if your questions are not seen as leading ones ("Isn't it true your department never gets the billings done on time?"), but as content-laden, neutral queries that move the conversation forward or settle something that's puzzling you ("How does that compare with last year's on-time record?").  Are you the presenter? Do prepare for those leading questions!
  3. Use "I" statements.  Interrupting seems dramatic enough. But when you load it down by attempting to speak for others ("We don't use that kind of measurement system here"), you're tempting others to chime in and disagree. Couch your interruption by speaking just for yourself:  "I'm not sure I agree with that last statement," or "I'd like to hear more about why you couldn't deliver on time."  You'll be on safer ground, and sound more confident.  If you must refer to the group, add a subtle "ask" verb such as "let's consider," or "why don't we..."  That's more direct than asking permission and moves the ball forward.
  4. Create a bridge to take the topic in a new direction.  "I think Fred's given us a good summary of what's in store next quarter.  But I'm more concerned about how we will do next year..."   Think of your interruptions as a bridge:  Acknowledge the last comment, then create a bridge to the topic you want to introduce, perhaps ending with a question to invite others to participate.
  5. Give us a break.   Sometimes humor softens an interruption and lightens the mood just enough to create an opening for your real question or point.  Add a punchline (done with care) to the presenter's last straight line, then follow up with what you want to say.
  6. Create a team approach, and reciprocate.  Many women collaborate unofficially in meetings by agreeing in advance (sometimes overtly, sometimes tacitly) to ask questions of one another ("I'm curious to hear what Susan has to say on this point") or to create other openings so you can get your point in. Be sure to do this for your colleagues, too.
  7. Are you invisible?  Work the room remotely.   If you're on a conference call, be sure to greet and chat with other callers on the line while you wait for everyone to join, giving them a preview of something you want to work in. "I'm really eager to find out what Joe thinks our prospects are for landing a slot at the TED conference next year," you say, and then, perhaps, they'll help you wedge that in with a helpful "Janet had a question about that. Janet?"  Failing that, work the backchannel.  Send an instant message to the chair, or to a friend in the room who can help steer her way toward opening a chance for you to ask a question.
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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Got lots to say? Save it for the Q&A

This week, I facilitated a workshop for scientists on communicating their research to public audiences, and asked a colleague to sit in to observe me and provide feedback (something you should do from time to time to ensure your ongoing development as a speaker).  One aspect he liked was an open-ended section, late in the day, when we were reviewing as a group short videos of some of the participants attempting to deliver messages they'd created early in the day.  The videos offered a jumping-off point for me -- and all the participants -- to share what we noticed in each video.  And those observations allowed me, as facilitator, to share more concrete tips and advice. 

So a video showing someone um-ing their way through a message let me talk about ums, why they're natural and how to replace them with time-buying phrases.  A question about "Was I gesturing too much?" let me talk about planning gestures, just as you plan what you want to say.  Another question, "What should I do with my hands?" led to a demonstration of how to avoid immobilizing your hands, something that leads to more ums and speaking stumbles.

My observer said he loved how I was able to weave so many facts into the Q&A--it made me look knowledgeable, but also reached audience members right at the moment where they were learning something new and needed to know more about the next step to take. 

For many presenters, the goal is to show what they know, and they choose to do that in their "main" speech or presentation.  But there's something to be said, I think, for leaving a lot of facts to emerge during the question-and-answer session. Even though this workshop lasts a day, I know going into it that there's no way for me to share an exhaustive knowledge base with my participants. We'll go "a mile wide and an inch deep," I tell them, and give them a good start. I could try to cram the facts into other parts of the day, but leaving them the chance to come out during the Q&A puts the participants in the driver's seat.  As the speaker, you can still look smart--and your audience can get in those questions at the time of their choosing, when your facts are most likely to hit home.

Related posts:  How to listen to audience questions

Graceful ways with Q&A

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Monday, February 15, 2010

4 myths to stop about women & public speaking

You've heard them. You may have even repeated them and believed them. But it's time to slay these 4 myths about women and public speaking. They're not only falsehoods you shouldn't repeat, they're a way to discourage women from speaking up in public -- probably the reason they came into use in the first place.
  1. Women talk more than men do.  This one has been used for years to embarrass women into silence. Reserchers note that the gap's been described as huge, with some estimates saying that women speak 20,000 words a day but men speak just 7,000. But research shows that women and men speak about the same number of words every day, on average: 16,000.  The difference? Men prefer to use "report talk" and speak publicly; women prefer "rapport talk" that builds relationships and is mainly one-on-one, according to linguist Deborah Tannen.
  2. We can't find any women qualified to be speakers (or, we only want the best speakers).  Cancer researcher and university administrator Elizabeth Travis notes that this is one way women are challenged and put on the defensive in program committee meetings.  It's not a numbers issue:  Even in professions where women dominate, they often are still in the minority as speakers on professional society conference programs, research shows.  Historically, efforts to keep women from speaking in public were blatant and noticeable; today, it may have gone underground, but it's still a barrier.
  3. Women get ignored in meetings because they aren't as good at men at speaking up.  In fact, women can be just as effective as men in communicating, yet their points are more frequently ignored--or claimed by others as their own. From a book that offers an exhaustive study of men's and women's behavior and language in meetings: "Study after study has found that, when other variables are controlled (education, expertise, etc.), women are responded to more negatively than men as measured by facial expression, gaze behavior, individual evaluations, and decision reached in task-based groups."  In this case, the myth belies an underlying attitude that's tough to shake.  Some research on how women leaders are perceived suggests that women can be competent or likeable, but not both.
  4. It's women's speaking style that sets them back--they're too emotional and not tough enough.  This myth has pushed many women in public life into mimicking a traditional male style of speaking: louder, more forceful, less emotional.  In fact, what rhetoric refers to as the "effeminate" speaking style is the one successfully employed by the U.S. presidents considered to be among the best speakers:  Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  But, as Kathleen Hall Jamieson points out, women's natural speaking style is a double-edge sword. She writes that "only a person whose credibility is firm can risk adopting a style traditionally considered weak." So as long as women are discredited as speakers, they'll ironically have a tougher time succeeding with the style that comes naturally to them.
I hope you'll start countering these myths when you see or hear them--it's a step we all can take to level the playing field for all speakers.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Practice with a teleprompter--at your desk, free

If you're doing webcasts, planning a big speech for a big auditorium, practicing your delivery, rehearsing for a stint as a broadcast anchor or recording a video, TeleKast is a new open-source (read: free) tool you can use to put a professional quality teleprompter right on your computer, for use with Windows or Linux operating systems.  The software lets you create a script, break it into scenes or segments, add cues for the camera or the speaker and more.  It's in its alpha release, which means you may find some bugs in the software, which the makers would welcome hearing about so they can be fixed for future releases.  Here's a video that walks you through the possibilities:



When you're working with a teleprompter, you don't look at the camera--just at the script, which scrolls up so you can keep reading smoothly.  It's ideal for reading with a natural tone and while a teleprompter doesn't guarantee a no-stumble reading, it can help your delivery and take away the need to remember all your phrasings.

Get some more tips in this previous post about former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro on her initial struggles with a teleprompter and this one about why teleprompters are used at political conventions and other large gatherings -- you'll get some more tips to put to use with this new tool. And please report back on your experiences with TeleKast.  (A hat tip to Lifehacker for leading me to this post.)

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Speaker science: genetic clues to stuttering



For those who stutter, this research is big news: Three genetic mutations have been identified in the brains of people who stutter, located in the part of the brain where speech is controlled. It's not a cure, and may not be the only cause, but finding any source for stuttering is what's significant, researchers say.  From the CNN story:
Roughly 3 million people in the United States stutter, according to the National Institutes of Health. About 60 percent of those with the disorder have a family member who also stutters. The condition is most common among children, although about 1 percent of people carry the condition through adulthood, according to the Stuttering Foundation of America.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Instead of "who does she think she is?"



You might've said she should have used a paper text instead of notes on her hand. You might disagree with her words. But in all the furor over Sarah Palin's notes written on her palm--for an interview and for a speech--if you put all that aside, there was still one more layer of negative reaction: Who does she think she is?

That's a criticism often leveled at women speakers, publicly or (more often) privately.  Does she think she's better than anyone else, getting up there in front of a crowd? Speaking her opinion? Seeking the limelight?  How dare she! We have all sorts of ways to discourage women from speaking in public, be it a meeting, a small-group conversation or a formal speech, but the criticism that suggests a woman speaker is somehow out of line for getting up to speak is one of the most insidious.

That may be why I was so pleased that First Lady Michelle Obama gave us another model for how to react. When Larry King tried to get her to comment on the Palin brouhaha, she said, "I think it's wonderful to have strong female voices out there," declining to comment about Palin because she doesn't know her personally.

Can we all start saying that when women speak up?  What do you think would happen?

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Kindle Valentine: Free 2-day shipping

With Valentine's Day just ahead, I'm flooded with great offers for speakers. If you want to gift a lucky speaker an Amazon Kindle--my favorite tool not just for reading, but for storing speech texts and notes--you can have it delivered via free two-day shipping in time for Valentine's Day if you order by February 11.

Go to this link to order the Kindle under the special offer.  If you're going to order it as a gift for someone other than yourself, check the box labeled “show gifting options” before you proceed to checkout so you can add a custom gift note and send the Kindle unregistered.

Here's how I use the Kindle for speaking:
  • To store PDF or Word files of my speeches, notes or talking points. It's small and light enough to be a real space- and weight-saver when you travel, or if you are giving several talks on one trip.
  • To adjust type size automatically for any speaking situation. You have a choice of font sizes, and because the Kindle isn't backlit, it's easier to read from.
  • To carry source material--books, blogs, articles, newspapers--and bookmark it or annotate it for future use in speeches.
  • To keep from shuffling or dropping papers when I speak.  The smaller 6" Kindle is just a bit larger than a large file card, and can be held with one hand or propped up on a lectern. Either size Kindle means you'll never drop a page again.
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Get a free 30-minute voice appraisal

Kate Peters, vocal coach and author of the Kate's Voice blog, is offering 8 lucky readers the chance for a 30-minute "voice valentine" appraisal of your voice, a great resource for speakers who want to improve their presence and vocal quality. Here's what you get, from her blog:
A 30-minute session on the phone with me. I will listen to your voice, and evaluate how you use it, based on vocal image, vocal health, and considering any specific vocal issues you may be experiencing. I’ll also make recommendations for ways to improve or expand your voice. This is a $100 value. Although I’m offering this as a Valentine special, the offer is also open to those who want help with their voices for public speaking, teaching, training, work or singing, or if you just want to create a better voice. So if you have been looking to get some voice help and haven’t known where to start or if you have been thinking about contacting me, this is your chance.
Readers, take advantage of this offer, only available to the first 8 responders to her post. Instructions for contacting her are at the link above. Kate's the author of our recent guest posts on assessing and improving your vocal image. Please let us know if you're one of the successful entrants!

Will public speaking boost your employability?

The Glass Hammer, a blog for women in finance, puts public speaking at the top of its recent list of 5 ways to increase your employability.  From the article:
Speak at an industry conference about a project or initiative you have worked on – no one will know more about it than you and case studies are a perennial favourite on the conference circuit....If that still sounds too scary then start small with a talk at your local professional institute branch. Or offer your services to a women’s network – they would love to hear about your career journey. If you are just starting out, talk to university groups about how you landed your finance job.
If you're going to tackle speaking as part of your job search--whether you're looking for a change or currently unemployed--I'd add a few more tips to make sure you get the most benefit from your forays at the lectern:
  1. Network before and after your speech:  That means spending time talking to the organizers before and after, to plan your talk and to get feedback and let them know you'd like to speak again.  On the day of your talk or presentation, get there early enough to talk to audience members one-on-one and stay late to network after you've spoken.  Ask for a list of attendees, and collect business cards and follow up.
  2. Set up a web resources page for your audiences:  Post or share your slides, recommended reading on your topic, your resume or biography, and any other materials you want attendees to have. Make sure you have a tracking system to measure traffic before and after your talk.  Add links to your online profiles and resume.
  3. Publicize your speeches and presentations:  Share the names of the groups, your talk title, number of attendees or any other useful details on your own website, your online social-media profiles and your resume.
Not sure you want to start with a major speech?  Try these 4 stepping stones to get public speaking practice with briefer opportunities that are just as visible.

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The Eloquent Woman joins BlogHer

I'm happy to say that The Eloquent Woman blog is now part of BlogHer, the community for women who blog. You'll find a link to The Eloquent Woman here on BlogHer's directory of blogs--a great resource if you're looking for more blogs relevant to women.  It's just another way to widen our circles to reach more women with news about public speaking.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Palin's hand-written notes: For speakers

Your political views aside, Sarah Palin's use of notes written in the palm of her hand over the weekend--caught by cameras--adds a whole new layer to our discussion of whether you need notes or not when you speak.

This Los Angeles Times columnist hits the nail on the head for most speakers:
Most of us need some help when we speak in public. In high school, I competed in extemporaneous speaking, an event in which you had to analyze a current-affairs topic for eight minutes without much preparation. The rules allowed you to use an index card with a maximum of 50 words of notes, but my teammates and I prided ourselves on our ability to wing it without a card. (This worked against me at one speech tournament, when a judge ranked me last because a performance as smooth as mine "had to be memorized.")
The columnist notes he needs fewer notes today, as an adult, when he speaks.

So let's clear things up: Notes are fine, if they help your confidence. And it's fine if the audience can see you holding cards, a text or even a Kindle, which can help you avoid shuffling and losing pages.  But writing notes on your palm might suggest that you wanted to hide your notes even more than usual, especially for a high-profile speaker like Palin.  There's no shame in using notes, so why seek to conceal them?  I think she could have avoided the controversy and seemed more down-to-earth working from a text that wasn't hidden. Share your thoughts on how you like to roll--notes or not--in the comments.

Related posts:  Should you use notes--or not?

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Today's top black women speakers: your list

Last year, another speaker coach asked me to help find video examples of today's top women speakers, because he was having trouble finding examples to share with trainees that were of current, rather than historic women speakers.  This year, for Black History Month, I asked readers on Facebook and Twitter to help me crowd-source a list of today's top black women speakers, to give us current role models and examples.  Here's the list you made, with video or speech excerpts where available.  Please add your favorites in the comments!

Tara Leigh Tappert recommended "my friend Ramona Austin, who is the curator at the Barron Gallery at Old Dominion University in Virginia. She is both an eloquent woman and speaker."  If there are videos, photos or speeches she's given that we can share on this blog, please share the links in the comments!

Elizabeth Schuit Crum and Stephanie Lanier both suggested First Lady Michelle Obama.  She's a poised and personable speaker, and you can go here to read about how she scored a win while introducing her husband at the Democratic National Convention.  It's a great speech, one that relies on stories she knows well and has told over and over again--one key to speaking smoothly without notes.  Check out the speech below:


Jeanette Raine thought of political adviser and pundit Donna Brazileand said, she is "very poised and on top of it." She's worked on Capitol Hill and was the first black woman to manage a presidential campaign, been an educator and a pundit.  Here's an excerpt from a speech in which she talks about her nephew, a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, who was inspired by President Obama to study harder and become an honor student. Notice how, even from a lectern, she looks at and engages her audience in all parts of the hall.  You can read her book Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in America for more inspiration.



Jeannette also gave "many, many thumbs up to Maya Angelou!"  I agree.  Check out these posts on how Angelou uses hope and humor on the college lecture circuit to customize her speeches, and on an hour-long interview she did about her inspirational book for women, Letter to My Daughter. The interview demonstrates her speaking skills, and I give you ideas about what to listen for.

Ginger Pinholster recommended two women in science. "Of course I'd have to vote for Shirley Ann Jackson and Shirley Malcom, champions of science, technology and science education," she wrote on Twitter. PhysicistShirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, serves on a variety of corporate boards and government panels as well as overseeing RPI. Many of her speeches involve building the scientific infrastructure and workforce of the U.S. to expand innovation and research. Here's an excerpt from a recent speech she gave on innovation and infrastructure at the Detroit Economic Club:


Shirley Malcom, director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's programs in education and human resources, spoke about how science inspired her as a young black child growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, when she accepted a medal from the National Academy of Sciences years later.  She said:
It wasn’t clear what you did with science and math even if you liked them. For African Americans and women the options in the South in the 1950’s were limited. So you just went to college if you could and trusted that you’d find out later what you could do with what you learned. So that’s what we did…and when conditions changed and we were presented with a wider range of options, we seized them. I stand here today only because I eventually began to imagine myself as a scientist and only because my mentors looked at me and imagined the same thing. Making the improbable happen begins with imagining something different.
She then uses "imagine" to help propel the speech forward with a vision for science education.  Read the full text of her speech here.

Beth Schacter recommended astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to go into space. But she's also a dancer and art collector, as well as a scientist. Much of her post-space career has focused on science education, and this TED talk recommended by Beth looks at teaching arts and sciences together. Listen to how she uses her voice inflection, tone and cadence to emphasize her points:



Angelica Simmons suggested motivational speaker Patricia Russell-McCloud, and in this video for American Airlines, McCloud applies her inspirational thoughts to a topic many women can appreciate: "juggling it all."


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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Use your public speaking skills 36 ways

Sure, developing public speaking skills can help you deliver a big speech or major presentation. But you can put these workhorse skills to use in these 36 additional ways, in settings that range from everyday life to unusual situations. Will this list help you make the case--to yourself or to your boss--for seeking out training to hone your skills?

Formal speaking situations:
  1. Testifying in court
  2. Arguing for a change in policies before your city or county council
  3. Testifying before the Congress or a state legislature
  4. Debating (in a meeting, or in a formal debate)
  5. Presiding over a ceremony--awards, graduations, and more
  6. Asking a question of a political candidate in a public forum
  7. Making a formal motion to change a procedure or law
  8. Asking for a raise or increase in your budget
Positive but important speaking situations:
  1. Chairing a meeting
  2. Presenting an award
  3. Honoring a friend or colleague on a special occasion
  4. Speaking up in favor of a colleague's point or project
  5. Rallying your team to a cause or effort
  6. Thanking a mentor, senior colleague or a good work effort
  7. Accepting thanks, an award or other recognition
Negative but important speaking situations:
  1. Delivering a eulogy
  2. Sharing bad news with a work team
  3. Fielding questions from hecklers
  4. Fielding questions from a hostile or upset crowd
  5. Advocating a less popular point of view
Family situations:
  1. Explaining what you do for a living to the uninitiated (which would be most of us)
  2. Handling questions about your personal life

Everyday work situations:
  1. Conference calls
  2. Webinars
  3. Podcasts
  4. Presentations to your boss or board
  5. Presentations to clients
  6. Negotiations (for raises, deals and more)
  7. Talking and listening to customers
  8. Working with clients
  9. Explaining your product or service
Discussion and chat
  1. Framing and telling a story to illustrate your point
  2. Anticipating what your friend will want to say or hear
  3. Focusing a discussion on just a few points
  4. Speaking so you can be understood and appreciated by people of all ages and backgrounds
  5. Making your point clear
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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Make storytelling compelling with details

Telling a story can be a powerful way to engage your audience, breathe life into a speech or presentation, get away from jargon to explain a complex point, or persuade your listeners.  But if you want the telling to be compelling, you need to sweat the details.

And not just any details.  An effective story includes details that are:
  1. Visual:  Jacqueline Novogratz opens her speech on global humanitarian aid with a story about a funny-looking sweater she wore at age 12. She describes it in detail:  The blue sweater "had fuzzy zebras walking across the stomach, and Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru were kind of right across the chest, that were also fuzzy. And I wore it whenever I could, thinking it was the most fabulous thing I owned."  That's the picture you have in mind when she recounts seeing the sweater more than a decade later on a child in Rwanda.  Go here to watch Novogratz tell the story.
  2. Symbolic:  Rockefeller University president and geneticist Paul Nurse, in "Discussing Family Trees in School Can Be Dangerous," shares a secret from his own family genetics--a story in which he shares how he found out who his real mother was.  Go here to listen to the audio of Nurse telling this story and wait for the description of the family photos his sister always kept on her bedside table. The photos put the family secret in plain sight for decades, and allowed her to acknowledge something she couldn't say publicly.  Nurse doesn't have to tell you those two things about the photos; he lets you connect the dots yourself.  I think of those photos whenever I think of this talk.
  3. Surprising:  Penn State president President Graham Spanier just gave a speech called "What I Can Learn From Sleeping in the Residence Halls."  That may sound surprising enough, but wait--there's more. In this interview, he recounts one story about how he wound up in the women's showers in a dorm--and what he learned:
The first time I ever stayed in the residence halls was the first year I was president in 1995. I had lunch with eight women. I asked them, 'If you were president of Penn State what is one thing you would change?' One woman said, "Shower hooks. There are no shower hooks in the showers. When we bring our robes we have to put them on the floor.' I said, 'Show me.' We looked and, sure enough, there were no hooks. Within two weeks they all had them. It was a little thing, but it showed you can learn a lot by listening to students.
A funny sweater. Photos on a bedside table. Shower hooks.  Because they're visual, symbolic and surprising, all of these details stick with the audience.  What will your story details be?

Related posts: Paul Nurse: Tell a story on yourself

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