Thursday, May 27, 2010

May's top 10 tips, from speeches to small talk

May's tips cover everything from speeches and small talk to speaker credibility and how to handle high-definition cameras.  As usual, this list compiles the posts most popular with readers this month.  If you're not subscribing to the blog, check out these options, which include getting posts directly in your email or an RSS reader of your choice. Now read on for spring's top posts:

  1. Last but not least: My most recent post, on what guitar lessons are teaching me about speaking--and training, turns out to lead the pack for the month. Music to my ears!
  2. Where are those women's speeches? My list of 10 resources for finding women's speeches--and using them in yours came in at a close second. Clearly, there's a need for raising the visibility of women's speeches, so I encourage you to add your resources to the list.
  3. Tell me a story? Here's why:  6 smart things a story adds to your speech, boosting your ability to persuade and explain.
  4. What if you had to speak without your slides?  I saw a bad example of what might happen, and came up with 6 alternatives so you can avoid the same fate.
  5. We want tools: I shared what's coming across my desk in Presentations and visuals: 7 tools, tips and traps from my inbox, a post that got many thumbs-up.
  6. Weak makes a strong showing:  The 5 weakest speaker statements -- all things to avoid -- also proved popular this month.
  7. Small can be powerful:  Using small talk and empathy to present ideas focuses on ideas that help you in one-on-one negotiations, meetings and even your presentations and speeches.  It's all about relating to the audience, which also helps determine...
  8. What's credible about you as a speaker?  This popular post reminds you that it's not always your most sterling credentials, but the things you have in common with your audience. A story told on myself.
  9. Are you credible to yourself?  This guest post from Janet Clarey on Silencing my "you suck" self-talk shared her pre-speech concerns and how she banishes them, most of the time.
  10. Politeness rules, here at least.  Disagree with your audience--in a civil way got lots of readers' attention. It's another useful tool in your arsenal for handling questions and answers.
Here's another tip: I'm soon launching small-group speaker training sessions that will help you focus on message and delivery with no more than 6 participants; if you're interested, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz. We'll start in Washington, but I'm happy to bring the training to your city if enough people register.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What guitar lessons are teaching me about public speaking--and training

"You can't stop when you make a mistake," he said.  "You're pausing to think what you did wrong and how to fix it. But you've got to keep going. The pros make mistakes all the time, but they keep going."

Call it my once-a-week professional development if you want to.  It's really my guitar lesson, and I'm finding each session rich in insights about the speaker and presenter trainings I do, and what my trainees experience when they're new to public speaking or trying a new technique for the first time.

Take the stopping.  I know full well that "ums" trip lots of speakers up. The speaker's got a heightened awareness of any mistakes she makes, especially if she's nervous or not as practiced at it.  And ums serve as a verbal pause while you're trying to remember what it was you wanted to say.  They're also a normally occurring part of everyone's speech.  Nonetheless, if an um throws you off and you stop, you'll find your momentum and focus tough to recover.  Easy for me to know about public speaking, but new as a concept to learn on the guitar.  And I've learned that I'm just like anyone else: Anxious to do well, aware of how difficult the skill is to learn, not happy when I miss a note or lose the rhythm, all perfectly understandable feelings that do nothing to help me get through "Wildwood Flower" or "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" In fact, they're my biggest roadblocks.

When I was thinking through whether to take up guitar, my pal Leah Garnett of the website Music After 50 gave me great advice (she's a lifelong guitarist and jazz guitar is her passion)--and she interviewed me right before I bought a guitar and started lessons.  She asked about similarities between performing and public speaking, and I can now say from experience that I understand even better what's going through the minds of trainees who get nervous just speaking in front of only me!  Performing for my instructor is nerve-wracking enough for me for now, although he gently reminds me that my goal is to get good enough to play with other people.  Music, like speaking, needs an audience to really thrive.  Performers, whether guitarists or speakers, need to stop underestimating themselves and plunge in.  Case in point: I predicted for Leah that I wouldn't be able to handle a dreadnought, the largest acoustic guitar, but it's what I own now. It's truly a stretch, but the sound is incredible.  And in the last month, when I let go and anchor my playing with rest, practice and a willingness to risk, it sounds great--even when I miss a note.  (I also know from speaker coaching that it's the performer who notices their nervousness and mistakes, not the audience, most of the time.)  My instructor, who informed me I just got myself a hobby for life, says with confidence what I say to would-be speakers: If you practice, you will get better.

So these days, I think of my guitar instructor when I get a comment like this one from a woman who participated in one of my workshops focused on creating and delivering a message: "Thanks for making me step out of my comfort zone and for the warning that I would be expected to step out of my comfort zone. Without that discomfort, I don't think the message would have been as meaningful." 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Disagree with your audience--in a civil way. Here's how.

Do you kick into defensive mode in a discussion? Find yourself feeling attacked or challenged and want to strike back, at least sometimes?  Then it's time to figure out how to civilize your responses.  Along with my 17 reasons to welcome audience questions to remind yourself why you do want questions, these 5 tactics for civil disagreement from Altitude Branding blog will help you avoid reacting, and just respond. These are particularly helpful if you face a difficult audience or have a particular challenger listening to your presentation, but in fact, these approaches can help you calm down when handling any kind of  Q&A. Here's my speaker's perspective on the 5 points:
  1. Make sure you heard correctly.  And make sure you do so with respect, rather than a "You talkin' to me?" tone. "Help me understand what you just said" is a nice neutral phrase to use.  There's a big chance you misheard or misunderstood, especially if the question is short, pointed or loaded with code words, so ask for help to break down the issue.
  2. Ask questions instead of retorting.  Sometimes it's irresistible to answer with a quick quip--but not if you are disagreeing with the questioner. So ask questions to get at her intent, and make sure they aren't leading or loaded questions.
  3. Depersonalize.  It's easy to feel like a target when you are standing up there alone, but in fact, most questions are posed to raise issues or express what someone else feels. Maybe your role is to let them do that.  This time, it's probably not about you.
  4. Listen, listen and listen again. (The original was "Read, read and read again," which works for email and social media.)  That's what asking questions of the questioner will help you do--and if you really listen to the answers, you may find out why it's not about you and information that will help you handle the questioner better than your first impulse.
  5. Call a truce.  You don't have to come to agreement, and your audience need not always agree with you--shocking but true.  Don't feel you have to bring everything to a peaceful conclusion.
Altitude Branding's piece is a good one to keep in your file on graceful ways with Q&A.

Monday, May 24, 2010

When you're seen in HD: new on-camera tips

If you appear on television or even on web videos, you should be thinking about how high-definition (HD) technology affects your appearance--and whether it's a factor.  Even the smallest ultralight camcorder, the Flip camera, has many HD camera options among its models, so you don't need to be on the networks to consider HD.

At the same time, this New York Times article on the spread of HD broadcasts notes that your local TV station may be way ahead of the networks, so it pays to ask about the technology being used if you're appearing on TV or your talk's being recorded.  (As with media interviews, the camera operator is the best person to ask.) 

You'll also find useful these tips on how to look good in HD, which include background information on assessing how the time of day affects your appearance, using available natural light and how to change your makeup for HD's sharper eye.  (In general, it's best to aim for a more natural, rather than an overly made-up look.)  Finally, remember: Regardless of the technology, few of us think we look great on video. Don't make that part of the lens you're using when assessing your video record.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Using small talk and empathy to present ideas

I've shared before that women and men actually speak about the same number of words per day (16,000), despite the myth that women talk more than men do. The difference lies in what you might call small talk.  Women prefer talking to build rapport, often one-on-one, while men like to report to a group rather than speak to one person alone.  Women also often are told--or it's implied--that being "too emotional" in the workplace and in public is a mistake, a characteristic that makes them seem weak. Yet one of the strengths of women's speaking is the ability to empathize with your audience and to be seen doing so.  The good news? You don't need to go against the grain.  Both small talk and empathy can help you present your ideas effectively.

Small talk, big gains

A lot of the speaking and presenting we do, in the workplace and elsewhere, involves negotiating.  If that describes you, check out a recent post on the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation blog, "Small Talk, Big Gains?"  It's a thoughtful discussion of how and when to introduce small talk into your discussions (and you can do the same in presentations, too) to benefit your goals. The post notes how to use cues about the context of the discussion to decide whether small talk is useful and appropriate (cues like location, whose turf it is, and more), but notes that the substance matters, too: 
Suppose that you are waiting for your counterpart in her office, and the diplomas hanging on the wall tell you that you both graduated from the same small college in New England, three years apart. In fact, you dropped your son off at the same school two weeks ago. This coincidence is likely to forge a connection, even if other factors argue against small talk. Yet complimenting your counterpart on her beautiful family based on some framed photos might be a mistake if the context does not otherwise invite small talk.
Speakers should note that small talk with organizers, the person introducing you or even audience members before your talk also can give you useful clues that can inform your content and approach to a speech or presentation, while building a connection with the audience in advance.

What Suze Orman can teach you about balancing empathy and toughness

Orman's got a signature speaking style that makes her voice instantly recognizable.  But if you push past the loud, fast-paced tone of her talking, as the Harvard Business Review did in this post, you can take home a lesson on why you don't need to choose between being a strong leader and empathetic, too.  From the article: 
We've found that exceptional leaders often defy these tradeoffs. They're demanding excellence, while being relentlessly committed to enabling their team's success. They're not motivated by being feared or loved, or by anything else that makes them the stars of their own leadership story. Their spiritual focus is to help other people to achieve their full potential.
The article recommends you look anew for 15 minutes at one of Orman's broadcasts to watch how she uses both empathy and high standards in tandem.  The author calls it the "secret sauce" of leadership.  How will you use it when you're speaking and presenting?  (A hat tip to Tactical Philanthropy for leading me to this great post.)

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

What's credible about you as a speaker?

Speakers get lots of things to shore up their credibility: the bio, your placement in the program, a nice introduction, ownership of the real estate at the front of the room, at least for a time.  But it's really up to the speaker to establish her credibility during her talk, in the information she shares and the way she presents it. 

If the group is not familiar with you or your topic is unusual/new/different from the norm, however, you may need to establish your credibility even sooner, near the start of your presentation, while audience attention is still high--and the group's still skeptical.  I knew I needed to do that with one workshop I led earlier this year.  It was one in a series of workshops for scientists in different cities about communicating with public audiences. This time, I was presenting at a lab in Princeton, New Jersey, to a group of scientists who all hold faculty positions at the Ivy League university there.

With scientific groups, I always share my unusual credentials that connect me to their work: I'm not a scientist, but I've worked with every discipline of science, at several organizations they know well and respect.  Usually that does the trick.  But I've lived in Princeton and the surrounding area, and knew a bit more about this audience.  I was expecting a tougher crowd, somewhat more skeptical than usual; the usual approach to new information is a bored-but-savvy version of been there, done that. What to do? My resume's my resume, and I can't add things to it. 

Early on the morning of the workshop, watching what used to be my local rush-hour traffic, it came to me:  The place was what we had in common. Better yet, folks who live in Princeton get particular about which township or borough you live in--Princeton itself is the name of both a larger township and the small borough within it, and you'd better bet that having lived in the borough is seen as "better," by many.  I'd done that, and lived in two nearby towns, Lawrenceville and Pennington, that also are well-loved by locals. 

So I did my usual self-introduction with my scientific experience. Not much reaction, as I expected. And then I said, "The thing you really need to know about me is that I used to live in Princeton borough, in Lawrenceville and in Pennington."  All of a sudden, dozens in the group lit up like Christmas trees and during the breaks, came over to compare notes, tell me where they lived and bring me up-to-date on neighborhood news--despite my absence for the past 20 years. It was more like a reunion than a workshop, and, for this group, "street cred" and a shared sense of place took precedence.

Next time you speak, consider whether there's something simple about you--where you're from, what your hobbies are, which way you drive to work--to which your audience can relate better than your bio. Maybe there's a little-known fact about you, a piece of trivia to pique their interest; maybe it's more mundane, but universal.  What are some facts about yourself that you've used to establish credibility with an audience?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What if you had to speak without your slides and charts?

"And this chart really tells the story," the speaker said. Maybe so, but she was 30 feet away from me, holding up an 8.5 by 11-inch sheet of paper with a graph that had more than 50 data points on it, an elaborate bar chart.

My sympathies were with her, up to the point that she decided that a lack of audiovisual equipment could be overcome with paper versions of her slides. She'd even put copies of them on each table, and they were just as unreadable up close as they were in her hands (and probably wouldn't have done too well on a large screen, but that's a point for another day). First reaction at my table: "Gosh, I hope she doesn't actually use these as slides."

It's not the first time I've seen speakers cling to their charts like a drowning woman far from shore.  On another occasion, a presentation was brought to a near-stop by a speaker who couldn't get her laptop to work with the projection system at the venue--and she seemed unable to speak extemporaneously on her topic.

There's a solid purpose for charts, graphs and other visual displays in presentations, particularly those based on data, as these were. But situations arise when charts and slides just aren't available to you, due to the type of equipment or the lack thereof, an overflow crowd or some other act of nature.  Then what?  Know your data and many ways to talk about them.  Here's a start at brainstorming other ways to get your data across when using charts isn't possible:
  1. Use the audience.  You can use audience participation to make a much more dynamic--and memorable--visual or verbal substitute for your charts.  Do a quick count, then tell the audience that if your sample were in this room, 1 person at each table would have voted "yes" on this question.  Ask people of varying heights to stand in for your bar chart while you describe the data.  Call for a show of hands to demonstrate proportions.
  2. Be the chart yourself.  You might just be able to make me "see" a chart with gestures, if it's simple and dramatic enough.  Draw in the air while you're talking, and of course, describe even more than you might otherwise.  You can draw an axis, use your hands to indicate higher or lower numbers, and more.
  3. Use props.  Look around the room for stand-ins: chairs, cellphones people can hold up, or other props that might help you represent your data points.
  4. Tell the data story yourself.  You'll need more word-pictures, more description and more talking to do this.  Tell me about the data points that surprised you, the ones you were expecting and the ones that seem like outliers.  Which were the toughest to measure? Put some drama and emotion behind the data (a tactic that works even if you do have charts to back you up), and I'm much more likely to follow and appreciate your data story.
  5. Compare with the live audience.  Yes, it's unscientific, but guaranteed to get them thinking.  Call out one of your research questions and ask the audience how it would respond...then share a result and explain it.
  6. Decide ahead of time which data you really need to know.  Many data-laden presenters like charts because all their data are in one easy-to-reference place.  But that's no reason to avoid choosing the three data points that are most important, and working to create dynamic ways to talk about them. This tactic works when you need to cut to the chase and just share the highlights, or when you may run into a technical disaster.
I don't always use slides, but when I do, I'm prepared to work without them. What do you do when slides and charts can't be used? Share your tactics and ideas in the comments.

Monday, May 17, 2010

6 smart things a story adds to your speech

You've heard it's good to tell stories, and storytelling's a sought-after skill among those seeking public speaking training--but why?  Here are 6 great reasons, all of them concrete advantages that stories add to your speeches and presentations:
  1. Stories expand your point.  Stories are the ultimate example, a key part of any presentation. Try making your point, adding a relevant fact or two, then using a story to expand on it.  You may start with a universal truth, backed up by national data, and expand on it with a personal tale, bringing the large point down to a human level.
  2. Stories can add color, emotion and personal detail.  The factors that move audiences are often the small, emotive details found in stories.  And stories are an easy, natural place for you to talk about yourself, making you more approachable and likeable as a presenter.  When you're establishing a rapport with the audience, stories speed the process.
  3. Stories add drama.  You may be describing a hero's quest in your profession or the tale of woe of someone who ignored the facts and paid the price, but stories, well told, can add drama and help your presentation progress to a successful finish.
  4. You can tell stories without using notes--and look more relaxed and spontaneous.  Never waste time writing down a personal story or anecdote--the written version will never come across as well as it will if you just look at the audience and tell the story. If it's an experience you know well, you won't need notes and you'll look more confident.
  5. Stories let you instruct without lecturing:  You can push your points directly with an audience you're trying to educate--but only so far.  And if they harbor not-so-fond memories of school days, they may start squirming rather than absorb your wisdom.  But a story that anyone can relate to can carry your points for you, in a non-threatening, non-confrontational way.
  6. We're used to learning from stories.  Whether it's your mother's tales of her childhood lessons learned or parables and allegories, storytelling is an ancient method for sharing information with a broad public audience--and it survives today for a reason.  Your audience will respond positively to a good story.
UPDATE:  Voice coach and trainer Kate Peters was nice enough to reference this post in her own good one, all about "When You Must Read Aloud" -- excellent tips here!

Related posts:  Make storytelling compelling with details

A speechwriter's secrets for storytelling

Need to wing it? Tell a story

Friday, May 14, 2010

Presentations & visuals: 7 tools, tips and traps from my inbox

This week, I got all sorts of virtual tugs on my sleeve to share presentation tools, particularly about PowerPoint, a topic not often covered here on The Eloquent Woman. But so many mentions, good tips and recommendations came across my desk, I thought I'd share what's in my inbox with you:
  1. Converting PDFs to PowerPoint?  An easy-to-use tool is recommended by regular reader Sarah Glassman, who writes that she uses PowerPoint every day.  She calls this "a helpful and free online tool," and found it on, a site about conversions recommended by her students.
  2. Freepath is a new tool that lets you mix Microsoft Word documents, video, audio, live websites and PDFs with PowerPoint slides, using drag-and-drop technology.  You can find a free demo on their site to try.
  3. If you're crafting an ambitious chart for your slides, first read this post, "Imagine a Pie Chart Stomping on an Infographic Forever," and check out its showcase of bad infographics before yours get out of control.  A long and thorough post, but a worthy read.
  4. This set of 5 tips for visualizing data come from David McCandless of the website and book Information is Beautiful, via the Online Journalism blog.  Heed number 4 -- "all graphs, charts and infographics should be self-sufficient."  If you're struggling with how to explain your chart, it's not self-sufficient.
  5. But wait, you say. I don't want to dumb down my presentation.  Of course not. But clarity and simplicity aren't the same as dumbing it down, and Olivia Mitchell's recent post on the topic does a great job of breaking down the differences and showing you the right path.
  6. UnMarketing blog's 30 quick tips for speakers (now 35!) gives a frequent speaker's short but essential presentations tips, which include keeping slides in their place as just one part of what you are presenting. Good inspiration, with 5 extra tips added by readers.
  7. Okay, you've got your visuals. At a loss for just the right word?  WordFinder's a tool that can help you (as well as your crossword-solving friends) move it from the tip of your tongue to the front of your mind.
It's gratifying that Librarian By Day included this post in her weekly roundup of links she's shared on Twitter, calling The Eloquent Woman "my new favorite blog."  Thanks!
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Watch lights fade in every room: Cautions about commencement speeches

I've never given a commencement speech, but as a college senior, I judged the entries from fellow students who wanted to speak, along with a committee of faculty.  One entrant wanted to give a real downer of a speech, a doom-and-gloom scenario about all the traps waiting for us in the future.  Trouble was, he wanted to open the speech by reeling off three paragraphs of dire predictions, each one ending with Breathe deep the gathering gloom, a line from the epilogue to the Moody Blues song, "Nights in White Satin." 

The rest of the committee found many things to dislike about his approach--the tone, the facts, the lack of a hopeful view--but I had the winning argument for putting this speech aside:  I knew that the moment the speaker said, "Breathe deep the gathering gloom," the entire class of thousands of graduates would immediately respond with "WATCH LIGHTS FADE IN EVERY ROOM," the next line in the Moody Blues number. And then all hell would break loose.

Commencement speeches are fraught with all sorts of perils like this one. It may be the most focused audience out there--but they're not focused on you, for the most part. Commencement speakers may have the toughest job, even tougher than standing between the audience and lunch, because they're standing between seniors and graduation.  It's easy to trip up as a commencement speaker and tough to be memorable on a day that's a happy blur for most of the participants. More likely, you'll be remembered for something like getting an entire stadium to chant lyrics like our would-be speaker might have done.

Maybe that's why this time of year brings an annual parade of parodies and advice on commencement speeches.  The San Jose Mercury-News offers an approach that nods to the trite nature of most commencement speeches:  a fill-in-the-blanks "Mad Libs" style speech, with words you can choose from to fill in the blanks, leaving almost nothing to choice. This one's geared to graduates, rather than those called on to inspire them.  And faculty tips on commencement speeches -- remember, they have to sit through more than you ever will -- can be heard in this NPR 'Talk of the Nation' interview.  Students call in and share their views, too.  Politicians and Oprah don't fare well in this estimation, but Dr. Seuss and Mr. Rogers scored high. (In the Mr. Rogers example, he unified the audience and let them participate and use some of their high energy by suggesting they all sing his "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" song together.)

Have you given a commencement speech?  Sat through many?  What's your advice or best story about pitfalls and pratfalls? Share, too, any that inspired you or that remain memorable. It's a field where the speakers need all the help they can get.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The 5 weakest speaker statements

Eloquence can be defined as a persuasive mix of apt, fluent and forceful words that engage and inspire your audience.  So when speakers fritter away the force of their words and opt for weak constructions and references, you'll find me wincing in the back of the room.  If you want to shore up your signal and make sure it's getting through to your audience, catch yourself when you use these five weak speaker statements, and replace them with something stronger, more precise and more effective:
  1. "As we all know..." and its variants, "Everyone knows," "Everyone should know," and "We all enjoyed...":  These sweeping, absolute statements may stem from a desire to make the audience feel included or to create a sense of community.  Instead, they more often make the speaker sound arrogant or just plain inaccurate.  The moment you start telling the audience what it knows, feels or does, individuals who don't fit that mold will start to squirm, object or just tune out.
  2. Using yourself as the only data point to prove your assumptions:  It's human nature to turn to your own experience to explain or illustrate a point, but as any good researcher will tell you, a study where the number of subjects observed = 1 is not valid.  While this may seem to be the opposite of the grandiose statements in number 1 above, you'll often hear this used to prove an absolute, as in, "Everyone had a great time at the annual meeting. I know, because I really enjoyed..."  Make sure you use personal references and stories to illustrate a point, not to prove it, and speak for yourself.
  3. "I know [insert a boundary/rule/time limit/announced topic here], but I'm going to [do the opposite/go overtime/talk about something else]":  Speakers do "have the floor" and the mic and the attention.  Announcing and acknowledging that you are about to abuse that power immediately tells the audience you are not thinking about them--and doesn't give you a pass or permission. Instead, you've just signaled that those who were expecting an on-time, on-topic presentation can tune out, if they wish.  This is much less amusing an approach than it may seem to many speakers.
  4. Any sentence loaded with acronyms:  Even an audience familiar with your shorthand might want to hear the actual words behind the acronym. What's more, acronyms rob you of the chance to use language to persuade and move your audience. It's nearly impossible to make a call to action with acronyms--at least, not one that will have people leaping to their feet, ready to take part.  In some sense, the assumption that everyone knows what you mean is another version of saying "Everyone knows..."
  5. Time-wasters at the start:  "I was going to talk about this, but...." or "I can't tell you how pleased I am to be here today" or "As I was walking across your lovely campus this morning" might be buying you time or sound to you like a heartfelt insight, but these statements are what's commonly referred to as "throat-clearing"--the empty nonsense or obvious statements most speakers use to back into their actual remarks.  In reality, you're wasting those golden moments when the audience's attention is strongest.  Why not plunge right into your talk?
Related posts:  The 6 strongest speaker statements

Attention! Why speakers need a strong, fast start

Andrew Dlugan's very good Six Minutes blog on public speaking included this post in his roundup of the best public speaking blog posts for the week of June 12, 2010.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

10 resources for finding women's speeches--and using them in yours

I've written about women having a tough time getting on the program as speakers--but how often are they quoted in speeches?

It's a common practice to quote from other's speeches, but when I read speech anthologies, I'm not surprised to find few--often the same few--women represented.  So here's a suggestion, and one we can all carry out:  Why not make an effort to quote from women's speeches in your next speech or presentation?

To help, here's a collection of resources focused on women's speeches and quotations.  I welcome your additions--please leave them in the comments or on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook:

  1. Gifts of Speech:  This is a great (and updated) database of women's speeches, from Sweet Briar College, and it offers speeches from women worldwide.  It began in 1989 "when Liz Kent, a college librarian, was asked to help a student find a speech by Gloria Steinem. Ms. Kent assumed it would be easy to locate a speech by Ms. Steinem, and was surprised when she could not find one in any of the resources available within her small college library."
  2. Infoplease's Notable Speeches and Addresses by Women has a smaller but varied list of speeches from politics, science, literature and more.
  3. The Archive of Women's Political Communication at Iowa State University has a searchable speech database that's organized by subjects from abortion to welfare. You can contribute speeches to the archive at this link.
  4. The Vincent Voice Library at Michigan State University has 40,000 hours of spoken word recordings -- not just speeches -- and you can search by topic or name of the speaker.
  5. The National Women's History Project has a "Great Speeches" page currently under construction--so write and encourage them to get it going!
  6. What If I Am a Woman? is a two-volume recording of African-American women's speeches, narrated by Ruby Dee and downloadable here on iTunes.
  7. Great Speeches by Today's Women is a series of videos. Prices may put this out of reach unless you're an educator or business.
  8. Speaking as Women: Women and Floor Speeches in the Senate is an academic paper analyzing speeches by women on the Senate floor, often about women's issues.  Published in January 2010, it's available for $30 for the downloaded version.
  9. We Shall Be Heard:  Two volumes, the first--We Shall Be Heard: Women Speakers in America--a collection of 28 women's speeches, and the second, We Shall Be Heard: An Index to Speeches by American Women 1978-1985, an index to guide your searching.
  10. Women in mathematics will find this list of "Books, Articles and Speeches of Interest to Women in Mathematics" from the Canadian Mathematical Society a useful resource. Women scientists also may want to check out the 50 must-read bloggers for women in science and engineering compiled by the National Research Council's Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Inspired by Mom: Is she in your speeches?

Yesterday was Mother's Day in the U.S., and I wondered whether mothers figure into our speeches.  I think women can be especially eloquent and powerful when speaking about women and women's issues, and I notice plenty of women working their children into their speeches--usually an effective tactic.  But do they mention Mom?  I turned to the community on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook to find out:

First, I asked: Have you ever given a speech about your Mother?  Here's what Facebook readers said:

Gaynell Bellizan: "no, but what a great idea!"

Eliza Calder: "In my mind yes...many times thought about things to say.., but unfortunately never the opportunity to do a real one."

Uldean Harris-Wright: "great idea!!!!!!!!"

Maakai L Vita: "Yes, I do that unconsciously everyday... cos she is such a wonderful person; I just can't help it. I can only imagine how a well crafted speech would look like..haaaa!"

Sarah Chaffee: "When I talk about my volunteer activities I always credit my mother for instilling that in me."

Then, sensing there were stories about mothers to be told, I asked a different way: How would you open a speech about your mother?  That really brought out some homegrown eloquence:

Katherine Nobles wrote:
"My mother always had a secret sorrow, just like her mother. Their pictures, even when they were smiling, were wistful, and the smile never touched their eyes..."
Eliza Calder wrote:
"I remember the first time I realized there might be something just a little out of the ordinary about her. Together we dragged a small table from the schoolroom about 200 yards into the woods next door. Then I had to climb up on the table, and at the top of my voice I had to recite my multiplication tables to the tall eucalyptus trees swaying in the midday heat. At 8, I did not really know, but I did suspect, she was not following the standard model for child education."
Maria Elena Poulos wrote:
"She had dark black hair, green eyes,and such a warm smile, smile that touch her eyes. That all changed if someone crossed one of her four girls, the indian came out in her and she went into defence. She was a wonderful teacher, all four girls know how to cook, fish, cast and cry to get what we want. Well the crying we made up, she did not fall for that at all."

R.I.P mom,you will never be forgotten
Now it's your turn:  Share whether you've spoken about your mother in a speech, or how you'd start a speech about your mother.  No matter your relationship, your mother's a topic that automatically includes many of the elements that make an eloquent speech: Emotion, universality (you may not be a mom, but you have to have one), history and insight--not to mention stories galore, stories you know well enough to tell without notes.  Share your thoughts here or on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook.

UPDATE:  Here are some more entries from Facebook:

Denise Vozella wrote: "My mom would say her personal motto is 'Work hard, play hard,' and she has taught us that. But I'd say a more accurate motto for her would be 'Work hard, play hard, love hard'."

Cynthia Zhai wrote: "The person in the world who loves me the most......"

Lisa Schrager Bloch wrote: "My Jewish mother's favorite saying is 'You only have one mother'."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

8 things to look for when your speech is recorded

A longtime friend and colleague just completed a major and special speaking event, giving a sermon at his church. He told his friends about it and even shared a link to the video the church posted on its website. But when I was telling him how well he'd done, he admitted he hadn't looked at it and didn't want to--so much so, he hadn't even listened to the audio.

Any professional newscaster, actor or performer will tell you that they hate how they look and sound when recorded, so it's no surprise we ordinary mortals do, too.  But if you're lucky enough to be recorded when you speak--whether you do the recording or someone else does--you've got a golden opportunity to learn things you might never otherwise know about how you speak.  You don't have to record your speech, but if it's made available, take the opportunity.  Or rig your own Flip ultralight camcorder and take charge of your own recording.

Rather than torture yourself with how bad you think you look, focus instead on these cues and clues that would be hard to discern without help from a camera.  This list is what I look for when coaching clients:
  1. Visual "ums:"  Instead of saying "um" when you're pausing to think, you may look to one side or up or down; make a repetitive gesture over and over; or move in a pattern, if you're on your feet and away from the lectern.  Watch for those patterns--freeze-frame if you need to catch them--and work on buying yourself time to think with new phrases, or work more on your message in advance and practice.  Hint:  It helps to watch the video sooner rather than later after your talk to catch this slip-up, since you'll be better able to remember what you were thinking at the time your visual "um" occurred--and that may help you avoid repeating it next time.
  2. Invisible gestures:  You may be gesturing like a windmill, but if it's below the height of the lectern or out of camera range, all the audience will see is your body moving slightly.  That's great if you're gesturing to keep your speech fluid, since gestures help you avoid "ums" and stumbles. But if you wanted your gestures to help get your point across and hold the audience's interest, make sure we can see them.  Typically, that will mean gesturing at shoulder or chest height.
  3. A body with a mind of its own:  Some speakers planted in one place will sway from side to side, and some who like to move around wind up drilling a path into the floor as they pace back and forth, back and forth, in an unrelieved line. Either one calls for a change:  You may need to focus on keeping your core body stable, or move in different directions if you like to roam the audience.  If you are going to move your body, it's just like gesturing: Make it purposeful.
  4. How you react to interruptions:  Listen for those unexpected noises--door slams, crying babies, sneezes--during your talk.  How do you react?  It's a great chance to catch your immediate reaction, and to think through how you might handle that next time.  While you're at it, pay attention to how you react when you're asked a question; your face may give a different answer than your mouth does.
  5. Expressions that match your words:  Your face is part of your connection with the audience, but it gets confusing, at best, if you look like you're grimacing when giving praise or sad when talking about something exciting.  Since it's not at all unusual for speakers to feel disconnected from their facial expressions, video helps you focus and fix that.  Hint:  Most people's mouths, when at rest, are either flat-lined or slightly downturned, making you look bored or sad.  Smiling, even a little, corrects that natural downward turn.  You get to decide how much to smile, but smile at least somewhat.
  6. Gestures that match your words:  If you're gesturing randomly, or in ways that don't underscore what you're saying, you're inadvertently making it tougher to grasp your meaning.  Likewise, if you gesture for every word, you're missing the chance to emphasize some of them to good effect.  Try counting your gestures and putting them in two groups: purposeful and filler. Then work on cutting out the filler gestures.
  7. Your posture and body language:  Are your shoulders up around your ears, or slumped?  Do you look at ease?  You may be surprised:  Most speakers find they feel nervous, but don't look it. If you're not sure, ask a friend to watch and tell you what she thinks.
  8. Can you hear your message clearly throughout?  To find out, you may need to just listen to the audio once, then watch the video.  Do you find it hard to follow your progression? Did you forget to include a key point? Did your gestures, movement, facial expressions and props help get that across? What can you notice that will help you next time in terms of clarity and focus?
Andrew Dlugan's great Six Minutes blog included this post in his roundup of the best public speaking articles in the blogosphere for the week of June 5, 2010.  Thanks, Andrew!

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The presenter's ego

Sometimes in my workshops, I'll ask for a member of the audience to join me up front so we can remake a draft message together, with the goal of helping everyone learn that process together. Most of these volunteers are cooperative and willing to get feedback. But recently, in a group of scientists learning how to reframe technical research topics into messages suitable for non-scientists, I ran into a volunteer whose ego got in the way--literally.

"What's your topic?" I asked in front of the crowd.

"Ego," he said.  The group included scientists from many disciplines, but I didn't think I had a research psychologist in the group. "Is that an acronym?"

"No--it's about me, my ego as a presenter," he said, and began to reel off message points about his ego, why he needed it to be strong to be a presenter and why he also needed to keep it in check.

At this point, we were way off topic, and I knew this was an attempt to get attention--he was a climate scientist, and this wasn't about his research.  So after a short acknowledgement that you need a good balance between confidence and humility, I asked him to stand down so that others who wanted to work on the workshop's stated goals could do so.  Later, during the lunch break, a handful of participants came up to me, one by one, to thank me for keeping him from dominating the proceedings--apparently, he's known for grabbing the spotlight in this way.

Here's the conundrum for speakers:  Some would-be speakers lack the confidence to speak at all, some have learned the skills and motivation they need to do so, and yet a third group puts ego front and center, dominating the proceedings.  You've seen this if you've ever heard a speaker use up all the time allotted, go overboard with negative statements, argue back with every questioner, or announce that he's very likely going to go over the time limit because he has so many important things to say.  I've seen big-ego speakers come to panel discussions with bios four times as long as the other participants, or insisting that they get to show three videos in addition to their five-minute talk, when the other speakers are stickinig to the limits.

I often say there are two kinds of clients--those who need to be pushed toward the microphone and those who need to be pulled away from it. There's not much a trainer can do with the latter, unless that speaker is willing to change. Often, speakers with big egos don't seek training, as they don't wish to be challenged.

The downside lies with the audience (which rarely likes to get taken off-topic in such a way) and with other speakers who lack confidence, who may be discouraged or even actually bullied into silence by such a dominant speaker. Those of us who chair, facilitate or moderate panels, meetings and presentations need to stay alert and manage situations before they get out of hand and affect the rest of the audience or the other speakers.  If you work with such a person, a good guide to setting boundaries is Why Is It Always About You? : The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism, a practical guide that will help you learn to spot the big-ego presenter early on.

What do you think about speakers whose egos are on display? Where do you strike the balance between confident and over-confident?

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Guest post: Silencing my "you suck" self-talk

(Editor's note: I found this post of Janet Clarey's on Facebook, and asked to post it here because it's a wonderful perspective on introverts and public speaking, as well as overcoming the self-critic lurking within most of us when we get up to speak. Who do we think we are? Janet's found some new ways to figure that out.  Her Facebook profile says she's a "Former corporate cubicle dweller. Now work virtually from my home office. I blog professionally about the social web, research and write about learning technologies, present, teach, and (sometimes) attend graduate school at Syracuse University. I'm a 40-something Mom shuttling kids around with my AWESOME husband of 20 years."  Enjoy this good read and leave your comments below.)

I brought three books with me for my flights to Atlanta and then to Australia. The first one I read was Self-Promotion for Introverts. I flipped the book over whenever I set it down (including when it sat on the front seat of my rental car) because I really dislike the “self-promotion” in the title and didn’t want anyone to see it. If I saw someone with it I’d look to see if they really had an L on their forehead – you know as in ‘LOSER.’

The presentation section I read in great detail and I think it was one of two reasons my talk went well.

I made more eye contact. I loosened up by silencing the “you suck” backchannel in my brain. And I did that with music and dance. Seriously.

Music always has a profound effect on my mood and when possible, I try to listen to something I like prior to speaking. My choices are usually rock/hard rock. Probably not the best choice for me because I don’t need to get going, I need to chillax (chill out + relax = chillax). That genre isn’t really conducive to dance unless head-banging is dance to you.

I’ve tried self-talk before. You know, like Alec Baldwin’s character Jack Donaghy psych-up speech on the TV show 30 Rock. (Just do it. Is it in you? I’m lovin it.) Humor helps sometimes. Not always. Normally I act more like the Tina Fey character in this snippet.

(Note: the following videos in this post are not safe for work if you work at a lame company)

Anyway, this time, I did something different with music and I have my lovely daughter to thank (her playlist on my iPod is literally “my lovely daughter.” She must have known that would draw a smile).

The iPod often appears in the bathroom so one day I decided to turn it on while I showered. My daughter’s favorite genres are quite different than my own. I picked one of her short playlists. Empire State of Mind and Watcha Say really made me feel good and I found myself dancing in the shower (apologies for THAT visual).

Anyway, I played Empire State of Mind prior to my presentation and just wanted to get up on that stage and grind it out. Who knew? The words don’t mean much to me (the JayZ part anyway is rap w/ ‘n’ bombs and stuff) but it did the trick.

Perhaps a fluke, but I think it also brought out my real voice and not the voice I think I should project when presenting. In my mind the delivery for a presentation for CLOs would be very corporate, tight-lipped, ultra professional and laced with buzz words.

That’s not me. I kind of think I look like that Michael Bolton character on Office Space when he’s rapping. Embarrassing. Oddly, not so with Slipknot in the minivan which is actually more lame. It’s messed up.

So, the attendees – mostly CLOs – seemed cool with stories about my kids, my use of PG-13 profanity, humor, etc. So they seemed to like my style but better yet, I was OK with my style and I actually felt comfortable on stage. Hope it’s not a fluke (says the self-talk).

Try NOT to dance in the shower with this one…I can’t.