Friday, December 28, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Carol Bartz's keynote at the 2010 Grace Hopper Celebration

Women working in computing and technology often have trouble seeing their gender well-represented on panels and podiums at industry conferences, but not at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women and Computing. This annual conference of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology says it is the largest gathering of women in this profession, and participants are still recalling Carol Bartz's keynote there two years ago.

At the time of this speech, Bartz was the CEO of Yahoo! and one of just two women heading Fortune 500 companies. She'd worked her way through decades of being one of just a few women in this profession, and her extemporaneous remarks describe how she fell in love with computing, starting with a job where she "was to add up the total of all the possible license plate combinations in the state of Missouri." Far from taking an inaccessible view of her own experience, Bartz is a speaker able to put the computation back into computer science in a way that any listener can grasp.

In this speech, she bridges from her experience to the audience before her by describing how the field had changed. "It isn't just from paper tape to the world of today but how we thought about the world....we were so ancient," she says. This turns out to be less of an apology for coming from the wayback time, and more of a paean to what women bring to the evolving issues of technology:
When we think about longer do we actually think about it only from the computer technologist's point of view, but we think about it from the psychologist's, the psychiatrist's, the anthropologist's, the economist's...How is technology affecting our users? How is it affecting our world? I think, finally, with this complex feeling of technology, women are going to take the leadership. It is about feeling, about making a difference in the world, and it's about using our technology for the greater good--not just making money, not just getting awards, because we, because of our brains, can change things. I think there's no greater calling than that.
Bartz is no stranger to readers of this blog, where we've covered her since she took the reins at Yahoo! and had her very first speech there dissected and analyzed by industry observers. She has been vocal about issues like women getting talked over in meetings--even at her level--and this is her second appearance on Famous Speech Friday, in part because I like her willingness to speak as a woman CEO about embracing failure. Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Surprise the audience and toss your notes: "I brought prepared remarks and I'm not gonna use them," was her opener to this speech. Her speechwriter may not have been happy, but the result is better eye contact and connection with the audience, right from the start. Like Bartz, you can do this well in a crowd you know, on an issue that's part of your ethos, and in a situation where you feel comfortable. It's like catnip for the audience, an irresistible ploy.
  • Give the group a call to action: Bartz asks the crowd to reach out to younger women to "make sure they stay in science and math, that they are inspired by numbers, that they are inspired by problem-solving, that they're just inspired by the fascinating world we live in." The message is both uplifting and grounded in something the listeners can do on a personal level, another irresistible combination.
  • Get real: Bartz reflects on meeting Yahoo! interns at the meeting and puts into real terms their goals: jobs, connections and the need to be inspired. It's one of several nice moments in which she includes experiences at this conference in her remarks, lending them immediacy and relevance at once. Because she includes more detail than the usual speaker's trite "As I was walking across your beautiful campus this morning," she lets you know she's been an actual and active participant at this gathering.
Below is the video of nearly all of this keynote speech, with a hat tip to reader Cate Huston, who suggested it to me. What do you think of this famous speech?


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The blog's top 10 public speaking posts and top 10 famous speeches of 2012

As we draw near to the end of 2012, take a look at what you--and other readers--sought the most on The Eloquent Woman this year. I've indulged in two year-end lists here: One for the practical speaking tips featured on the blog, and another list of our most popular entries in the Famous Speech Friday series, so you can see who's inspiring our readers. Without further ado, here are your favorite posts of the year:
  1. 7 secret advantages of the speaker who practices: This would gladden the heart of any speaker coach, but I'm betting this post is so popular--its traffic exceeds the total traffic of this list--because you're reminding yourself you need to practice. And I can hardly say otherwise.
  2. Launching the new Eloquent Woman Index of famous women's speeches: We launched the index of our Famous Speech Friday posts almost a year ago, and the idea caught on right away, thanks to you. I'm so glad to see this resource high on the list.
  3. 7 secret advantages of the speaker who allows extra time: Do not, repeat, do not fill the time allotted--otherwise, you'll miss out on these bonuses. And that goes no matter what the organizer tells you.
  4. 8 things I wish more speakers would post on Twitter: Not so much during, but before and after, I've got a wish list for you and that backchannel. Use it wisely, not too well.
  5. Use the Coco Chanel method to gauge what's too much in your presentation: It's the antidote to overdoing it when you speak or present, a rule of thumb I use all the time on my own presos. Best of all, it's easy to remember.
  6. 6 things extroverted speakers can do for introverts: If you get all your energy from the audience, here's how to make sure the introverts--who get their energy when they're alone--still get to enjoy your talk. This one had a large if quiet following.
  7. The growing Twitter buzz about conferences with few (or no) women speakers: In which I started keeping track of tweets from audience members about conferences with scarce numbers of women speakers. People are paying attention, and I'm keeping the evidence in a public online notebook.
  8. Instead of wincing, 8 things to look for on that video of your speech: It's the checklist I shared with the speakers I coached at TEDMED, and you can use it, too. Makes it much easier to watch that video, I promise.
  9. "How do I correct the unconscious moves that I make when I speak?" 4 tactics: This comes up all the time in training sessions, and it's one of the reasons to watch yourself on video. A useful post.
  10. Sharpen your Skype, conference call and Hangout speaking skills: 8 tools: Speakers need all the help they can get with technology, the place where most of us do our day-to-day public speaking--and these new tools were a popular read this year.
On the Famous Speech Friday front, speakers historic and contemporary crowded the most-read list this year. Here's your top 10:
  1. Evita Peron's 1951 Renunciamento: The post has video of this moving and historic speech. If you've only seen the musical version, watch and learn from the original here. It's the speech where she declined the people's wish for her to take the vice presidency of the nation.
  2. Amelia Earhart's "A Woman's Place in Science:" The historic aviator was eager to encourage women to explore the sciences and this speech shares that view. She saw women not just as air passengers, but engineers and plant workers, and we've got audio of this radio address.
  3. Emmeline Pankhurst: "Freedom or Death:" The fearless British suffragette gave this powerful speech in the U.S., where she was raising money and avoiding a jail cell. We don't often see speakers of her bravery.
  4. Aung San Suu Kyi's "Freedom from Fear" speech: Not her late Nobel acceptance speech, also given this year, this is the speech most often quoted while she was held under house arrest and forbidden from making public speaking appearances. An unusual take on the emotions of the oppressor and the oppressed, it is strong, poetic and inspiring.
  5. Jackie Kennedy's 1962 televised tour of the White House: A groundbreaking presentation on many fronts from the 32-year-old First Lady. The results beat her husband the president's ratings on television, among other records, and the post tells you how she pulled it off.
  6. Severn Suzuki's 1992 UN Earth Summit speech: 20 years ago, "the girl who silenced the world for five minutes" schooled her elders on why they need to take care of the planet, and began a public speaking career. She's a reminder that you need not be an experienced speaker to have an impact.
  7. Diana Nyad on dreams, determination and defeat: The pro swimmer spoke after failing to swim between Cuba and Florida at age 60, and turned it into a inspirational talk about how you're going to spend your life. Magical, and one I'm glad I saw in person.
  8. Viola Davis: "What keeps me in the business is hope:" Actors hate public speaking, but Viola Davis should do it more often. She turned this award acceptance into an astonishing, riveting speech about opportunity, discrimination, and persistence.
  9. Julia Gillard calls Australia's opposition leader 'misogynist:' 2012's most blistering bit of rhetoric, and one that changed the definition of misogyny in at least one dictionary, this speech is a refreshing must-watch. The outing of her opponent's psychological projection is just one of the many smart things about this speech.
  10. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on ANZAC Day: The Aussie PM hits the list twice, this time on a solemn occasion in Australia in a different kind of challenging speaking situation: at dawn on a cold day, with a military theme, on a day that marks a national heartbreak.
Stay tuned for early 2013, when we expect to reach 100 speeches in The Eloquent Woman Index! I appreciate your attention, readership, tips, ideas and contributions this year, and wish you a wonderful new year ahead.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Ida B. Wells's 1909 "This Awful Slaughter"

Public speaking is an important tool for the campaigner--not just those campaigning for public office, but those campaigning for a cause. And around the cusp of the 20th century, former journalist and civil rights leader Ida B. Wells was a frequent speaker against the practice of lynching, mob killings of African-Americans without due process of the law. As a black woman, however, she was an unlikely public speaker; women of all races were publicly discouraged from speaking in that era.

Despite that, Wells's anti-lynching campaign had been going on for many years, and this speech had an historic occasion as its backdrop: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's first annual conference, held in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1909. An NAACP founder, Wells was a natural choice as a speaker for this group, yet it was anything but a feel-good speech for the home crowd.

"This Awful Slaughter" has a structure in common with other Wells speeches, and Professor Karlyn Kohrs Campbell explains it in this paper on the rhetoric of black women speakers of the era:
First, as in her writings, she used evidence and argument in highly sophisticated ways, ways that prevented members of the audience from dismissing her claims as biased or untrue. Second, the speech was an insightful and sophisticated analysis of the interrelationship of sex, race, and class. Third, in contrast to the rhetorical acts of women, this speech contained no stylistic markers indicating attempts by a woman speaker to appear “womanly” in what is perceived as a male role-that of rhetor.
However, Wells tied lynching to women, directly and firmly, noting early in her speech that "crimes against women is the excuse, not the cause" of lynching. She expanded on that point, using the term by which we know the speech today, and turning the argument back on the supporters of lynching:
What is the cause of this awful slaughter? This question is answered almost daily— always the same shameless falsehood that “Negroes are lynched to protect womanhood"....This is the never-varying answer of lynchers and their apologists. All know that it is untrue. The cowardly lyncher revels in murder, then seeks to shield himself from public execration by claiming devotion to woman. But truth is mighty and the lynching record discloses the hypocrisy of the lyncher as well as his crime.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Jump right in: No thanking everyone and their brother here. Instead of the niceties, Wells's first paragraph packs several punches. It shares her three-point outline, letting the audience in on her argument, begins serving up data, and sets the stage for why her audience should care. Would that your first paragraphs did as much.
  • Use data to advantage: Wells used data cleverly. As Campbell notes, her data prevented skeptics from challenging her--after all, advocates of lynching were relying on vague emotional arguments, not numbers, to make their case. At the same time, it brought under scrutiny a practice carried out in secret, and gave weight to an emotionally charged topic. Not bad for statistics. One of the most dramatic paragraphs in the speech picks apart an argument using actual data on the reasons given for lynchings in one area. To this audience, those numbers were real people.
  • Include a call to action for the conference: When organizations meet, they typically use the occasion to make and publicize policy decisions.Wells did not miss the opportunity, offering that "it would be a beginning in the right direction if this conference can see its way clear to establish a bureau for the investigation and publication of the details of every lynching," and made clear that the goal of fact-gathering would be public information to sway both public opinion and media coverage. If you're speaking before a group's annual meeting, don't miss the chance to encourage its action on your cause. Wells did so by underscoring her use of data with a call for more data, cementing the impact of one of her core themes.
Of course, there's no video for this fine speech, but we're fortunate to have the full text. You can read more about Wells in "They Say": Ida B. Wells and the Reconstruction of Race and in Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching. And if your organization is looking for scholars on the African-American experience to speak about Wells, has a useful speakers' bureau for that purpose. What do you think of this famous speech?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Like catnip for audiences: Irresistible speaker tactics

If only your audience for a speech or presentation could be totally focused on you, oblivious to the outside world, and completely happy when it's all over. That's exactly how I'd describe cats with catnip.

The speaker's audiences, though, can be more, say, herding cats? Try these tactics that act like catnip for audiences to pack an irresistible punch in your next presentation or talk:
  1. Include the improbable: Think about all the presentations and speeches you've endured. Which ones surprised you? When the speaker can unpack a surprise, especially an improbable reality, a great contrast, an unlikely pairing or eventuality, the audience will be more likely to pay attention. 
  2. Tell a story on yourself: If you can share your embarrassment, hesitation, mistakes, missed opportunities and aha! moments, we'll feel like we've gotten to know you better. Audiences love connecting with you in this way.
  3. Show me an invisible visual: Forget the slides. Show me a picture I can see in my mind's eye--something you describe so vividly that it sticks with me--and I'll remember your talk long after the applause, and enjoy it more while it's happening.
  4. Toss your script: Sorry, speechwriters, but there's little that can be more electric to an audience than a speaker who puts her script aside. This takes planning, but when it's done right, it's a crowd-pleaser.
  5. Give it dimensions: Props can bring abstract ideas into physical reality, and if you're brave enough to wield an unusual prop, one that makes the audience suddenly think about what it would be like to hold such a thing, so much the better. Think neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor holding a human brain while she talked about her stroke, or Bill Gates opening a jar of mosquitoes during a talk about malaria. Help us think and see in three dimensions.
  6. Be quiet: Too many speakers fill up all the time allotted. The speaker who can let me hear the spaces between the sounds she's making, and who uses silence to advantage, has my full attention.
  7. Come to me: Get out from behind that lectern or get down from the podium and walk toward and into the audience. Your presence in and with the audience makes the speech come alive, more like a real conversation than a talking-to.
There's one more trick to using any of these catnip tactics: Use them with discretion. Remember, catnip is strong, so a very little of it will do.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tears while speaking: Lessons from President Obama

So many speakers--men and women--have asked me how they can avoid crying during a speech on a difficult or emotional topic that I've lost count over the years. As someone who has caught glimpses of herself  crying, I can relate. No one thinks they look good when they cry, and staying "in control" seems important when you're the speaker.

Putting yourself and your emotions into a speech is generally good advice, since audiences can better relate to a speaker on a sad topic who seems to reflect that emotion. (Think of how you'd view someone who spoke about the death of a loved one without showing any emotion.)  But crying, once it begins, is hard to stop--like blushing. Even if your mind doesn't like it, the action is a natural response your body is making to the stress you feel. The result for speakers is an internal tug-of-war: You're supposed to be up there representing and channeling the grief or trauma of others. But it's that moment when you are most successful at summoning up the emotion and it starts leaking out of your eyes that many speakers feel "Whoops, I just let that go too far."

For all speakers who feel that way, I give you President Obama, who teared up several times yesterday in his statement about the massacre of 20 children and 6 adults in a school shooting in Connecticut. It was the second-deadliest school shooting in the history of the United States, and a time when people look to their leaders to make sense of the action and bring the nation together.

Not speaking was not an option for the president yesterday, but tearing up was--six times in just under four minutes, by my count. The tears were understandable and appropriate, connecting him with people around the world who were still trying to make sense of the tragedy and also showing a connection between the President, far away in Washington, and the children who were killed. "Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago -- these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children," he said, but it was his tears that forged the connection in that moment.

Some of you will be thinking "But I'm not the President. I can't get a pass if I cry when I speak," and that often is particularly true for women when they run for public office (check out my all-in-one post on tears while speaking for more on the topic). I think most would agree that this type of occasion confers that pass on speakers, both men and women. And if you're facing a difficult, potentially tearful, speaking role, there's much you can learn from the President about how to handle it:
  • Don't fight the feeling: Crying already indicates your body is feeling stress. Why increase that feeling by trying to fight it? Instead, pause, breathe and think, "Okay, I'm crying. That's normal. Let me breathe and try to go on." It's a much more helpful approach than arguing with yourself about why you shouldn't be doing what you can't stop doing, anyway. In this statement, for the most part, the President uses the moments when he tears up to wipe away the tear, pause, collect himself and move on.
  • Remember that tears help you tell the story: "Tears don't just telegraph our state of mind to others — they can also evoke strong emotions in the people who witness them," notes this NPR story, which looks at the evolution of tears as a signal intended to evoke empathy in those around us. No words were needed for people around the world to understand and empathize with the President when he bowed his head and stopped speaking.
  • Stick to the sheet: Writing down what you want to say will help channel and express your feelings before you get behind the microphone, and once you're up there, written remarks are a lifeline to which you can refer when it feels as if your feelings are running away with you. Note that the President refers to his written statement several times during delivery, not unusual for someone who delivers many statements in the course of a day. But in these types of situations, I'd recommend you avoid winging it and give yourself a text anchor to hang on to.
  • Use the pause: Too many speakers seem to think that fluent speaking means non-stop delivery. Pauses are important tools in everyday public speaking, but never more so than when your emotions are overwhelming. The President pauses several times in this statement, including one very long pause to collect himself. Pauses of this type can help keep you on track in a tough speaking task.
  • Use the lectern: The lectern, out of fashion in a world of TED talks, comes in handy at a time like this. While the President would be using one, anyway, in this setting, he takes advantage of it, holding the sides or resting his hands folded on it. Being able to stand behind and lean on the lectern may be just what you need during an emotional talk.
  • Toss your remarks as needed: NBC News noted last night that the President had longer remarks prepared for delivery, but decided to forego a full delivery and say what he felt he could get through; the published statement is "as delivered." You, too, should feel free to skip parts of your prepared remarks if you don't feel you can get through them--it's the speaker's prerogative, and most of the time, the audience won't be able to tell if you don't mention it.
What did you think of the President's remarks? How have you handled tears while speaking? Please share in the comments.

This post was reprinted on

Friday, December 14, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Chelsea Clinton's "Running in Heels" moderation

In Vogue's recent profile of Chelsea Clinton, Jonathan Van Meter observes Clinton in a variety of public speaking situations, from handling her duties as a correspondent for NBC News to more formal speeches. But it's her stint as the moderator for a panel about women in politics last March that he uses as a signal moment in his long profile of her:
The night before, I attended a panel Clinton moderated uptown, “Running in Heels,” about the inherent challenges facing women in elected office. She came onstage in a sleeveless leopard-print dress with an UGG on one foot and an orthopedic boot on the other and began, without ever looking at her notes, to reveal an inside-out mastery of the subject. Clinton’s public-speaking manner is one of studied mellowness, with a measured tone and cadence that is like neither her mother’s nor her father’s....When Clinton introduced Sandra Fluke, the law student whom Rush Limbaugh had just a month earlier called a “slut,” she startled everyone by saying, “She and I actually have something in common. We’ve both been attacked by Rush Limbaugh. She was 30, I was 13. In 1993 he said...‘You may know that the Clintons have a cat, Socks, in the White House. They also have a dog.’ And then he put a picture of me on the screen.” If she hadn’t had everyone’s undivided attention before, she certainly did then.
It's just a few dozen words, that story, but it galvanized the audience and became the defining moment for the panel. Nice work for a moderator, the person we sometimes forget when a panel of bright lights is fielded. Clinton offers any speaker who's moderating a panel these lessons you can use the next time you handle this speaking task:
  • Remind your audience what they've forgotten about you: Clinton's story was nearly 20 years in the past at the time she told it on this panel, long forgotten by most of her audience--which makes it a great surprise. She's also reaching back into her personal history to underscore other themes, without banging them loudly: Women in politics might also be girls living in the White House. Limbaugh's attacks on women are part of a longstanding pattern. Kids remember what you say. She states none of those things out loud, but they're in the room, hanging in the air after that one story. You might be in the same position if you're an expert of longstanding and you're moderating a panel of newcomers, for example. Take a moment to remind your listeners why you're in the moderator chair.
  • But keep it short: You're the moderator, not the panel dominator. What works here is the brevity of Clinton's reference to herself, each one chosen with care. There are not many spare words, and that helps turn this into a segue to the panelist, not a soliloquy.
  • Hand off the speaking turns to panelists with care: Right after telling that story, Clinton adds, "thankfully, I had grown up in public life and knew that having a thick skin was a survival skill."  She turns to Fluke and compliments her on not becoming disempowered after being attacked by Limbaugh and notes that Fluke used the episode to send a message about encouraging young women to speak out, "having their voices heard." By introducing a theme Fluke has consistently invoked in discussing the attack, Clinton made the path smooth for her panelist to launch into her remarks, and set up her themes for her.
  • Know your subject: This is a mega panel, with many participants, but Clinton works minus notes and with the plus of knowing the nuances about her panelists and the areas they wish to emphasize. It's part of what makes the segue to Fluke so smooth, and likely prompted Clinton to tell the story she told. She's using her knowledge--in this case, insider knowledge of a personal sort--to make the panelists' words stand out, just as a good moderator should. Do your research likewise before you moderate, so that you know your panelists' accomplishments, points of view and what's been said about them publicly, so you can use those points as needed.
Here's video of that specific moment in the panel, below, and you can go here to see the full one-hour, 23-minute video of the entire panel. What do you think of this famous speech?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

8 secret advantages of the seasoned speaker

You may think they're tired of listening to you. You may even find public speaking a routine activity at this point, if you've been speaking and presenting for many years. But the seasoned speaker has 8 secret advantages up her sleeve--bonuses even she may not recognize or think about. Here's your edge over the newcomers on the podium:
  1. Knowing your strengths: If you're quick with a funny one-liner off-the-cuff or able to speak precisely to the time allotted, you'll know that after many turns at the lectern...and you'll run with those strengths, again and again. In turn, that creates a base of confidence for you to work from.
  2. Knowing your weak spots: Some beginning speakers have trouble identifying what they're doing wrong, but seasoned speakers rarely do, if they're being honest. Part of experience means knowing precisely where you fall short--and ideally, having a commitment to targeting those problems.
  3. The last-minute save: Your years of long experience have prepped you well for the Hail Mary pass of public speaking, that request to fill in for another speaker at the last minute. Not only will organizers think of you, but you'll be more ready to say "Sure, no problem" when that call comes in.
  4. Flexibility like Gumby: If you've got experience speaking under all sorts of circumstances, you can manage without your slides or with a different microphone setup or under a tighter time pressure than originally booked. Practice and experience build that flexibility in speakers so you can stretch to accommodate many situations.
  5. Working the room: The more experience you have as a speaker, the more you know how to make the most of your interaction with the audience, whether it's on Twitter or in the actual room. If you're presenting, it's targeted at the decision-maker in the room. If you're persuading a crowd, you do it with gusto that builds a shared excitement. And if there's a crowd afterward, you're generous in speaking with those interested audience members.
  6. A+ in the Q&A: More seasoning usually makes for better answers during the extemporaneous portion of a presentation, both because the seasoned speaker is better prepared and less taken aback by questions, and because she knows their importance in persuading the audience. You're also more likely to cut to the chase and speak your mind--and audiences love that.
  7. Savvy sussing: You don't fall for those unprepared organizers or the panel offer where you'd be one of 15 speakers anymore. Seasoning for speakers also means you're better at evaluating speaking requests to make sure they work for you, and that you can turn down the ill-fitting speech opportunity with no regrets.
  8. A sense of self: This might be the seasoned speaker's strongest advantage: She knows who she is as a speaker, and isn't afraid to share personal details or to roll with odd or unusual situations. As a result, she's better able to connect and appear credible and confident to her listeners.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Sally Field at the 2012 Human Rights Campaign dinner

Actress Sally Field set off sparks in public-speaking circles when she spoke this fall at the Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner--for dropping an f-bomb in her speech about her son's coming out as a gay man. Those who focused on the single use of a profanity, however, missed the real impact of this speech and its humorous and emotional messages.

Field, who was accepting HRC's Ally for Equality award, was introduced by the subject of her speech, her youngest son, Sam Greisman. She had not publicly discussed his sexuality before this speech, saying in her remarks, "It's Sam's business and not mine." But in accepting an award as a visible and supportive parent of a young gay man, Field used the occasion to underscore the reason for the award: The lack of support in many families for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender children:
There are so many children who struggle to understand and embrace their sexuality in families who do not welcome them, with parents that somehow find it acceptable to shut them out their hearts and their homes, and that I find unacceptable.
Here's what you can learn from this famous speech and its lone profanity:
  • Get comfortable: Many speakers would not be comfortable enough to let the audience know they were uncomfortable, but Field begins her speech with several relaxed delays, as she decides the stage managers have over-compensated for her short height and put her too far above the microphone. So she removes her shoes, while narrating this for the audience--which eats it up, just as an audience of fans would do when getting to see a star act like a human being. She solved two problems at once, ensuring she'd be comfortable enough to speak while making sure the audience wasn't put off by the delay. But there's a real-life lesson here for organizers: Don't over-elevate the short speaker unless you know she's comfortable that way. For one thing, many speakers may have trouble reading a text if you put it too far away. Microphones can adjust, too, you know.
  • Know your role: Field's getting the award, first and foremost, as a mother, and she plays that role to the hilt with many asides and jokes aimed at her son, who winces accordingly and with good nature. But she also understands her role as a voice for the cause here, and fulfills it, simply and directly and in her own words. Many are the award recipients who ignore the reason they're given an award and use it as a platform for all the world's issues. Here, Field stuck to her assignment and the audience was rewarded.
  • If you're going to drop a profanity, know your audience and make it purposeful: "You've changed and are changing the lives of little boys and girls who realize somewhere along the way they're just different from their other brothers and sisters...and so the f**k what?" said Field, using the f-word to underscore that being gay should be no big deal. At a private, non-broadcast evening affair with an adult audience likely to appreciate the emphatic use of that word, this was a safe bet for the speaker. If you're going to do this, make sure, as Field did, that it's a judgment call, not a slip-up.
I haven't found a full text for this speech, but you can enjoy the video below. What do you think of this famous speech?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How do you emphasize points when you speak? 9 tools to underscore

Writers have highlighters. Mailers have express delivery. But what do speakers have to emphasize the points they're trying to make? The answer: At least 9 tools to underscore their arguments, data and other key points. Here's how any speaker can add emphasis:
  1. With your head: From a strong nod for yes or a shake of the head to make it clear your answer is "no," to the thoughtful side tilt, your head can speak volumes for you.
  2. With your hands: Research shows that gestures not only help you produce speech fluently, but help your audience to understand your point--even if the gesture isn't specific to the words it accompanies. So go ahead: Point, stretch, glide, zoom and otherwise move those hands to emphasize what you want to say.
  3. With your words: What is rhetoric, after all, but a series of ways to emphasize what you're saying through tactics like repetition, rhyme, alliteration, analogy and more? Make those big points gigantic, or small thoughts focused, with the right words and structure.
  4. With your voice: One of the easiest ways to underscore a word or phrase is with your voice. Use inflection, cadence or a "pop" of emphasis to make particular words stand out from the rest of the pack. Working with a script? Feel free to mark the words you wish to emphasize as a reminder.
  5. With your body: If you don't stay still behind the lectern, your body becomes one of your tools for emphasis. When a professor in the back of the room at one of my workshops asked, "What can I do if I think I'm losing the audience?" I walked toward him as I began to answer. When I reached him, I asked, "What's everyone else in the room doing right now?" He said, "Turning around to watch you." Lesson demonstrated without extra words.
  6. With pauses: A benefit for those who don't rush through their talks is the chance to use pauses to good effect. Try them at the end of a story, or at a turn in the drama you're recounting.
  7. With audience reaction: Nothing like using the human amplifiers in the room to make your point. The old call-and-response tactic ("What do we want?" "Justice!" "When do we want it?" "Now!") lets your audience get engaged...and emphasizing what you want them to remember most.
  8. With humor: A dollop of humor or a clever punchline can surprise the audience and make that point more memorable and emphatic. Just be sure humor is the appropriate way to underscore what you're saying.
  9. With volume: As long as you don't use one volume all the way through your presentation, your loudness or softness can be used to emphasize particular points. Don't underestimate low volume: It forces the audience to lean in and listen.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Heidi Damon faces her attacker in court

Just over a year ago, Heidi Damon stood up in court and said, "My name is Heidi Elizabeth Damon. I have a name. I have a name that will go on forever."

She wasn't being an egomaniac. Instead, Damon--who'd been attacked and nearly raped and killed two and a half years earlier--was shedding her "Jane Doe" status while she faced her attacker in court.

"I survived. You have simply victimized yourself. I will be free for the rest of my life. You will be a prisoner for the rest of yours," she told him in front of a courtroom full of people and cameras.

Damon later said she decided to disclose her identity and speak in court "to help other people that might not be as able to come out and talk about difficult things. If I didn't come out and put my name out there, it would be just another case of someone almost murdered, almost raped, and that it would be another story that just passes by...if I were just to go by Jane Doe, which I did for two and a half years, up to this point, I think that people would be more apt to forget."

The short statement was put together in 90 minutes, and read from a script in case she lost her nerve or train of thought, but Damon said "it's nothing to prepare for, it's been in my mind for two and half years." She reminded other speakers facing difficult topics that "it's okay to give yourself permission to many times we're so embarrassed or so worried about what people will think."

Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Your voice is a part of your identity: Damon could have submitted a written statement or saved her thoughts for therapy, and stayed anonymous and safe. But taking the risk to speak out loud and in front of cameras and witnesses underscored that speaking up can help define you as much as your name does. Are you representing yourself? Damon did, in spades.
  • Facing your nemesis makes for powerful speaking: Sometimes only one person in the audience matters. Damon's attacker grins and avoids looking at her while she makes her statement, but she confronts him with pride and strength.
  • Speak for yourself with "I" statements: No one can speak for you but you, particularly about such a violent and personal event. Using "I" is the way to start the sentences that describe how you feel. Damon does a good job avoiding all "you" accusations by alternating "I" and "you" statements that underscore the differences between herself and her attacker.
The video below includes a news report about Damon's statement, with some footage of her in court, and an interview. What do you think of this famous speech?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

From the vault: A checklist for the speaker's wardrobe

When you choose what to wear for a speaking engagement or presentation, what goes into your thinking? Too many speakers don't think about wardrobe...or choose colors they like, versus colors that work well for their coloring or for the setting, be it a speech before 1,000 people or an interview in a television studio. The setting, your movements during the talk, your technology and other factors all can affect the choices you make from your closet.

I started this list with the wardrobe questions from my popular Checklist for the whole speaker (it's a free download), then added more items to make it a comprehensive checklist focused on how your wardrobe appears when you're speaking or presenting. Once you get used to working your way through this checklist, you'll find yourself making smarter wardrobe choices for your speaking engagements and presentations automatically. And by the way, this checklist works for men and women. Here it is:
  • Are my clothes clean, pressed and mended? Are they likely or unlikely to look wrinkled after a short time? 
  • Do my clothes suit the occasion at which I'm speaking, in terms of formality, what the audience will be wearing or the event itself?
  • Do my clothes fit me?
  • Is my intended outfit comfortable, from head to toe?
  • Will my wardrobe allow me (if needed) to do things like crawl under a table to plug in a cord or reach high to point at a chart?
  • Have I rehearsed my presentation movements and gestures while wearing my intended outfit?
  • Is there anything about my outfit that will distract me? Distract my audience? If so, can I make a change? Is it worth it?
  • If I plan to gesture, have I removed rings and bracelets that may be visible or audible distractions? 
  • If I'm going to wear a lavalier mic, do I have a lapel or collar on which to clip it? Will it be easy to hide the wire under my jacket, and to clip the pack on my waistband or pocket? 
  • If I'm standing behind a lectern, or will be seated behind a skirted table, have I focused attention and color near my face?  
  • What from my outfit will be seen in that setting by the audience? For example, small jewelry might not be visible at all, and more attention will be focused on your upper torso and face.
  •  If I'm on a panel, will the table be skirted? Am I sitting in a big armchair? Have I thought about how my outfit will look when I'm seated and facing the audience?
  • If I have white hair, gray hair, light hair or no hair, am I wearing a dark suit to bring my face into focus?
  • Am I wearing a French blue color near my face (shirt, scarf or tie) -- the color that flatters all skin tones?
  • Have I inquired about the color of the background that will be behind me, so I can make sure my suit doesn't blend in--or clash?
  • If my talk is being recorded on video--whether on television or for another purpose--have I avoided wearing clothes that will appear to bleed at the edges on camera (like a red jacket), clothes that will draw the viewer's focus away from my face (like a white shirt) or clothing that will look like it's moving on its own (like a checked or plaid shirt or jacket)?
  • If I'm going to walk in and around the audience, have I considered what will be visible to someone who's seated and in front of or behind me?
Go here to download the wardrobe checklist as a PDF.

This post reprints and updates one I published in 2011. It also appeared on

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

8 gifts to encourage your favorite public speaker

Let's face it: Public speakers, for the most part, need encouragement. It takes a lot to get up and do those work presentations and keynote speeches. So why not encourage your favorite speaker, speechwriter or presenter with something that will advance her presentations and public speaking? Conference organizers and program chairs, if you book speakers throughout the year, stock up on these options. Go beyond applause and give one of these thoughtful gifts:
  1. Get something that's essential, but always missing: If I had a nickel for every time I showed up for a speaking gig and asked for a remote, only to be told "Oh, we lost it," I could retire on my earnings. You can advance your public speaking colleague's confidence as well as her slides with the gift of a combination remote-control and pointer, like this Logitech Professional Presenter R800. It's lightweight, small, easy to take with you and insurance against the missing remote problem. Bonus: She'll think of you every time she presents.
  2. Share a trove of quotes by women: This blog is among many voices urging that all speakers, male and female, quote more women when they speak. A trove of quotations for your favorite speaker or speechwriter is The Quotable Woman: The First 5,000 Years -- a reference that makes a great gift for the office team of speechwriters or for a woman speaker you wish to inspire.
  3. Serve up online assists for presenters, speakers and speechwriters:  Pen and pencil set? So last century. Instead, consider everyday online tools that will give a daily boost to speakers and speechwriters. Why not a gift certificate that lets her upgrade a free Prezi account to one of the paid versions for more functionality in zooming slide presentations or a premium account in Evernote, where she can save quotes, background material and notes as well as write speeches or record them, and save video of how she did?
  4. Think about gifts of historic proportions: It won't quite be out in time for the holidays, but you can pre-order The Penguin Book of Historic Speeches, a forthcoming compendium, or buy your speaker friend tickets to see the Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln, along with a copy of the Library of America's Lincoln : Speeches and Writings : 1859-1865, so she can get more insight into the famous man's words.
  5. Show an insider's appreciation for your introverted speaking friend: Like most personality types, introverts appreciate knowing that you understand them and their public speaking challenges--among them, the understanding that introversion doesn't keep you from being a good public speaker. Susan Cain talks about being an introvert and a speaker in the popular book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, or the audio CD version of the book.
  6. Lean toward language and delivery: Paying attention to your verb forms is one of the easiest ways to energize a speech, so I was glad to see that the book Power Verbs for Presenters: Hundreds of Verbs and Phrases to Pump Up Your Speeches and Presentations is forthcoming. Pre-order it now for delivery in February and get a nice card to that effect to give your speaking friend for the holidays. Or, for a deep dive into one of the most common speaker stumbles, share a copy of Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean, a fascinating look at something speakers do in every language.
  7. Get a specialty speaker gift: Not all public speakers are alike, and many face particular challenges.  Your scientist or engineering colleague will appreciate Designing Science Presentations: A Visual Guide to Figures, Papers, Slides, Posters, and More, which you can pre-order now for delivery right after the holidays. Is your speaker also an author? Get her ready for her book tour with Talk Up Your Book: How to Sell Your Book Through Public Speaking, Interviews, Signings, Festivals, Conferences, and More. And with Hanukkah ahead, share the resource of The Quotable Jewish Woman: Wisdom, Inspiration & Humor from the Mind and Heart.
  8. Forget stocking stuffers. Think pocket stuffers: For the speaker or presenter who wants to keep those tips close to hand for last-minute encouragement, consider a gift of the paperback Um, ah, um.: A Pocket Guide To Public Speaking, or the even more packable Kindle edition of the Pocket Guide for Presenters: Express yourself with confidence

Friday, November 23, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Juliette Low's 1924 Girl Scouts speech

2012 is the "year of the girl," marking the centenary of Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low's 1912 founding of the Girl Scouts in the United States, a group that has grown in this country from 18 original scouts to more than 3.2 million girls and adults, with more than 59 million alumnae, myself included.

Speeches--or the records of speeches--by the founder are not as numerous as scouts are. However, notes from a speech Low gave at Mercer College in Georgia in 1924 do survive at the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah, where the Gordon family papers are kept. Coming a dozen years after she founded the first troop, inspired by Britain's Girl Guides, this speech was part of a continued effort to explain and advance the fledgling movement, and to keep its U.S. branch from veering too far from the international standards of scouting.

While the words "The Girl Scout activities are purely feminine" jump up to challenge modern eyes reading these notes, a deeper dig suggests that Low may have been attempting to answer those who might complain about young ladies engaging in projects related to housework, physical activity, outdoor adventures and other facets of the new program. Ahead of her time, she was urging careers for young women at a time when those were still a novelty. From the notes:
Scouting is the cradle of careers. It is where careers are born. For instance, a girl tries bandaging. She find she likes Red Cross work and she decides to study seriously and become a Hospital Nurse. Or, she is expert in signaling and the Morse code leads to her becoming--a Telegraph Operator. Or she goes in for social service and gets a Government job.
Today, Girl Scout cadettes may earn
a public speaking badge.

Scouting was founded before women had the vote in the U.S., but as this speech occurred just a few years after women won the right to vote nationally in 1920, Low speaks of the requirements for "citizen scouts" to learn "health, a vocation and a knowledge of the National and Local Government," including community service and voting once the Scout reaches voting age to show "she is a useful and worthy member of her community."

Herself physically active, Low's skills included "standing on her head. Once, she even stood on her head in the board room at National Headquarters to show off the new Girl Scout shoes," certainly a presentation skill that would make anyone stand out.

This dynamic speaker was not without her challenges. She was mostly deaf by her 20s, and had developed breast cancer the year before giving this speech, although she did not disclose her illness. According to the Girl Scouts' biography of Low, "Girl Scouting welcomed girls with disabilities at a time when they were excluded from many other activities. This idea seemed quite natural to Juliette, who never let deafness, back problems or cancer keep her from full participation in life." Low died in 1927.  Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Don't toss your text: The more I write Famous Speech Friday posts, the more I wish women would preserve their speeches: in text, audio, and video, and in published places where anyone may access their words. In this case, the Low family papers' donation to the historical society--and someone's instinct not to toss a bunch of speech notes--are the reasons we can read about this one speech 100 years later. What are you doing to preserve your speeches? Hint: As historians will tell you, your judgment today about whether a speech is worth saving is not what's important. Save the speech and let history judge. If you're annoyed by the lack of women to quote in your speeches, keep in mind that we need to save women's words if we're going to use them later.
  • Use your speeches to challenge assumptions: One way to grab your audience's attention in a speech is to use your time to redefine assumptions and put forward ideas that challenge the status quo. Here, Low continually describes active, engaged and even political roles for young women at a time when most of society did not encourage such behavior. By taking the long view and pushing for advancement for girls, Low was sowing seeds that have grown and borne fruit a century later in ways she could not have envisioned in 1924.
  • Don't stop speaking about your movement: This speech takes place a dozen years after Low began the Girl Scouts, yet here she is in her home state, convincing another audience about its merits. If you're leading a movement, your speaking can't stop a couple of years in. Audiences change, move, and grow, and society changes its views. If you're not represented in the public forum, your movement may get stalled. Low's persistence in speaking about the movement kept it alive in this way. 
Below is a video about Low, issued when she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier this year. I'm very grateful to Suzanne Harper of the Girl Scouts of the United States for pointing me to the resources that led to this post!

(Photo courtesy of the Girl Scouts of the United States. About the photo: "One of JGL’s favorite portraits, it was used in October 1924 issue of the American Girl magazine with The Founder’s birthday message.")

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

8 things I wish more speakers would post on Twitter

I'm a big fan of working with, not against, the Twitter backchannel during your speech. Tweets from the audience can be an invaluable heads-up for speakers about real-time issues, or just a great learning tool about how audiences react to their messages.

I don't, however, recommend you emulate this woman speaker, who "won" the backchannel by auto-posting tweets timed to her remarks, making it appear that she was live-tweeting her own speech. And you can do more than just share the date, time, location and hashtag for your talk, though those are a fine start.

Instead, there are at least 8 more fun and effective (and less controlling) ways for speakers to post about their speeches on Twitter. Here are just a few types of speaker tweets I'd like to see more often in my own Twitterstream:
    Featured on
  1. Pre-speech thinking. It might just be jitters, or thinking out loud about the issue on the table. Either way, a little public musing before your talk gets me interested and helps me understand you better. You don't have to be a superhero professional whose tweets are all "Looking forward to another exhiliarating presentation to the Rotary Club!" In fact, I'd love to see more speakers share real thoughts and feelings about their upcoming gigs. Give us some details.
  2. A call for questions. Why not use Twitter to ask the audience for its questions ahead of time--whether they plan to be in the room for your talk or are just eavesdropping online? You'll get a better sense of the crowd and your topic that way. Bonus: Everyone can see your answers, no matter where they are, and those who might miss the session can still get a question in.
  3. Something about your introducer. Speakers ignore their introducers, for the most part. Be gracious and talk about the person who'll set the stage for you, with a couple of tweets about what you have in common, how you met or why she's the right person to talk about you.
  4. Links to your book. Don't just have it on the signing table after your talk. If you're speaking about a topic related to your latest book, share links on Twitter and tell us what you'll be addressing that's covered in the book in more depth.
  5. Special discounts. If you can share a discount to that book, your next webinar or training session, or some other product related to you talk, Twitter's a great, trackable place to do so.
  6. Links to "handouts." I wish more speakers would tweet links to further reading, detailed charts or lists of tips that would have been handouts in your presentations of the past. No need to save them until after your talk--you may get smarter questions this way. It's also an excellent way to plan a talk when you want to use detail and data wisely, but not too well.
  7. Shout-outs to the live-tweeters. If you know ahead of time who'll be live-tweeting your talk, alert your followers--and send those hard-working live-tweeters some love in advance. (Don't forget to thank them afterward, either.) While you're at it, go ahead and encourage others to tweet, perhaps with pointers to those "handouts" and other background they can study in advance.
  8. Photos of the audience and the backstage scene. Show the assembled crowd as they're gathering, like this view from the stage at the Pennsylvania Women's Conference, or when the hands are in the air at Q&A. It'll help the rest of us sense the energy in the room. Likewise, some backstage or green room photos give us a sense of being there.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: TV anchor Jennifer Livingston on her weight

Our culture spends plenty of time critiquing and commenting on women and their appearance--one reason that many women hesitate to put themselves on stage or on view as speakers. Women speakers already have more to critique when it comes to appearance, because we don't dress in a uniform manner, and do dress differently from men, leaving us open to being noticed more, and more negatively. How you look feels and is personal, and negative chiding about appearance feels like a personal attack. That's why I think what happened to Jennifer Livingston resonated so strongly.

She's a television news anchor, for WKBT in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. When she got a negative, outrageous attack email about her weight from a male viewer earlier this year, she turned to the speaking platform at hand--the television cameras.

It's unusual for news anchors to editorialize or to devote an entire segment to themselves, since their role is to guide viewers through the day's news. But in this case, Livingston's outraged husband and fellow news anchor, Mike Thompson, made the email public on the station's Facebook page. Thousands of "likes" and comments flooded in, as did more emails and messages of support. Not all the comments are favorable, you'll note, but that didn't stop her from delivering a four-minute, 20-second message to viewers on the air, saying right up front that she wanted to address a community issue "that centers around me."

She quoted the message from viewer Kenneth Krause, which said, "your physical condition hasn't improved for many years." He said she was not a "suitable example" for young girls and expressing the hope that she would "reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle." Livingston said in response:
The truth is, I am overweight. But to the person who wrote that letter, do you think I don't know that? That your cruel words are pointing out something that I don't see. You don't know me, so you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside and I am much more than a number on a scale.
She went on to remind viewers that October is a month devoted to the prevention of bullying, and drew a comparison between what happened to her and what happens to children every day in online messages and encounters at school. Livingston's video message reached far beyond the LaCrosse community, getting well over 10 million views on YouTube and an avalanche of national news coverage that had her making appearances on news and entertainment programs. After the coverage, Krause defended his remarks in a statement. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Don't let attackers have the last word: Just as when the word "slut" is used to shame women into silence, fat-shaming attacks on their appearance have the same goal--whether it is to silence an individual in the workplace, or as here, a visible woman with a major public platform. So don't be silenced and play into the tactic. Your voice is the most potent weapon you can use to fight back.
  • Speak for yourself: Livingston does a great job staying focused on "I" statements, which work because no one else can speak for her. If this response only included "you" statements, it would sound too accusatory and unbalanced. Here, she uses the platform to share thoughts that only she can.
  • Broaden the scope of a personal attack: It usually doesn't feel this way, but an attack of this type is rarely about you and more likely about the person making the attack. So call it what it is. By using her situation to call attention to the wider issue of bullying, Livingston gives her audience a direct way to relate to what's happened to her--and takes it beyond weight, so that more people can appreciate what has happened. She's also naming it accurately, without having to stoop to the same type of personal attack meted out to her.
You can see the station's coverage of this episode here, with links to reactions and a news story. What do you think of this famous speech?

Introverted speakers: Check out my November 27 workshop on public speaking and presenting for introverts. Registration closes today. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

In honor of #TEDBillion, 7 great TED talks by women speakers

TED talks hit a big milestone this month: They've been viewed one billion times. The mix of an exclusive conference, top speakers, tight time constraints and provocative ideas and stories has reshaped public speaking and presenting as we know it. Those billion views are part of the secret sauce of TED, which limits live attendees but makes its talks available widely and for free.

To celebrate, TED has put together this interactive timeline speakers will want to plumb for great moments in TED talks on the way to a billion views. TED also has commissioned lists from top thinkers about their favorite TED talks, and encouraged others to share their lists on Twitter with the hashtag #TEDBillion. So a list from The Eloquent Woman seems in order, too. Here are some of my favorite TED talks by women speakers:

Jill Bolte Taylor's stroke of insight
This speech--the second-most-watched TED talk of all time, with well over 9 million views--also has a place in The Eloquent Woman Index, where you can see my Famous Speech Friday entry analyzing Bolte's talk. It's heart-rending to think of a brain scientist observing herself have a stroke, and for me, the money quote in this talk is "And in that moment, I knew I was no longer the choreographer of my life." As she speaks, the audience can't help but consider what she had to do to recover enough to give this talk. And then there's the fact that she wields an actual brain as she speaks, winning hands-down the contest for Best Prop Ever. A fearless talk that also demonstrates a high level of excellence from a scientist describing complex information in ways that move audiences emotionally.

Susan Cain, the power of introverts
TED loves the improbable concept, and this talk brims with such things: Cain, an introvert, is giving a TED talk...and it is so far the most-watched TED talk of 2012, with just over 3 million views. So the very thing an introvert dislikes, all eyes on her, is what make this talk improbable and successful, all at once. It's a great testament to the power of speakers who understand that one of their special roles is to give voice to people who don't feel they have a voice. Introverts in the audience stood and cheered at the end of this talk, and do the same every day when they watch it at their desks. Again, a speech where the audience can imagine the work it took for the speaker to stand up and give it--a kind of catnip for audiences that's so powerful, the New York Times wrote about how this introvert came to give a TED talk.

Diane Kelly on what we didn't know about penis anatomy
I got to see this one live at TEDMED, but even if I hadn't, it would have the same appeal. There's the improbable topic of penis anatomy and the task of speaking even though most of your straight lines will sound like double entendres, complete with almost nonstop audience laughter. Then you learn that Kelly, a zoologist, actually discovered something new in a field where she was told early on that there was nothing new under the sun--so this becomes a story about scientific curiousity and persistence. You will not be bored, you'll learn something, and you have to admire Kelly's ability to move from discussing that same anatomy with her son last week and talking with you about it now. Would that every speaker be able to display such composure.
Sarah Kay, If I should have a daughter
This spoken word poem demonstrates the power of using poetic language, cadence and pacing when you speak, even if you won't be delivering a poem. This talk, part of TED's commitment to including the performing arts and entertainment as well as talks, shows why audiences yearn to be entertained--they're waiting for something like this. It's also a great example of something I encourage women speakers to do, which is speaking about women's issues. No one else will do it if we don't do it.

Jane Fonda on life's third act
Here's another talk that is in The Eloquent Woman Index, and you can read my analysis of it in this Famous Speech Friday post on Fonda's TEDWomen talk. I love the ease with which Fonda tackles the topic of aging, an ease that draws the audience in and encourages listening. Sprinkled with humor and personal observations as well as data, this is a hopeful talk. You'll learn much from just closing your eyes and listening to Fonda's vocal inflections, which do more than any slide or prop to keep the audience engaged.

Jessi Arrington, wearing nothing new
This designer and blogger got up in front of the TEDActive audience to proclaim that all she packed for the conference were seven pairs of underpants, and bought the rest of her clothes at thrift stores, then proceeds to show them the outfits she developed from inexpensive options that also help her reduce her impact on the environment. This has many sources of appeal: frugality, environmental activism, color, design and shopping. A merry speech that insists upon delighting and amusing the audience, this talk also uses slides appropriately--to show things Arrington can't show on stage (like the underwear) and to illustrate her words, since the visuals are integral to the talk. Thrift dressing never looked so good--there's that improbable concept again.

Diana Nyad, extreme swimming with the world's most dangerous jellyfish
I got to see this one in person, too, and even though it came at the end of a long day, this was more a journey than a talk, and we were along for an amazing ride and story. Nyad takes her time with this, a pacing that's essential for a tale with so many facets, and yet she brings it in at less than 17 minutes. That's not a miracle as much as it is a paean to practice, and it's clear that Nyad trained for this talk the way she trains for her swims. This speech also is part of The Eloquent Woman Index and, as noted in my Famous Speech Friday post on Nyad's talk, this is a talk that left the audience thinking at the very end--the ideal tactic for a speaker who wants to be what's talked about over dinner. The box jellyfish attacks give this speech sting, but the aspirational values make it sing.

If you have other TED favorites by women speakers, please add to this list in the comments.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why do you blush when you're the speaker?

I have more than one friend or client who tells me that she starts to blush, turning beet red in the face, when she begins a speech, presentation or talk. If this has happened to you, it can be among the most mortifying of public speaking experiences.

In part, that's because you can sense there's nothing you can do about it, and you're right: Blushing is an uncontrollable physiological response to stress, a physical manifestation of fight-or-flight syndrome. It's also a social way that your body demonstrates an apology, typically for some kind of bad social behavior, and that works with the audience--it's a credible way to say, "I know I just did something wrong," as you'll see in the smart video below that summarizes the science behind blushing.

Trouble is, you shouldn't be apologizing for speaking, so take some time to think about whether that's what is prompting the red-faced reaction. Are you feeling unsure of your authority to speak? Worried about insulting a prominent member of the audience? Anticipating that your biggest critic, also sitting there, will rip apart your logic? All that might bring on the blushing, or you might just have a typical case of the public speaking nerves, perfectly normal.

While you can't stop blushing while it is happening, you can prepare better. That might mean preparation to banish your nerves and find your comfort zone before your presentation, or preparation for the tough Q-and-A that will follow your talk, perhaps by getting ready with questions for your questioners. You can think through challenges to your logic and come up with answers that respond, rather than react, to your critics (just as you might do for a tough media interview). Just the act of preparing will make you feel better when the time comes to speak.

Watch the video so you'll understand just how natural (and uniquely human blushing is. A hat tip to the wonderful Brain Pickings blog, which pointed me to this video:

Friday, November 9, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Phyllis Diller on comedy at the 92nd St. Y

Phyllis Diller used to joke that she had had so much plastic surgery that God wouldn't recognize her at the pearly gates. The groundbreaking female comic never met a nip and tuck she didn't like, but surely she would've been known in heaven as on earth for her wicked drawling jokes and her cackle of a laugh. And that's just the way she wanted it.

She called herself ugly, and backed that up with a closet full of fright wigs, garish makeup and shapeless dresses. But the truth was that she was so good-looking that Playboy canceled her 1960s gag centerfold when the photos came back. She said the editors found her too sexy for the feature to work. And when Diller died earlier this year at age 95, Joan Rivers tweeted that "The only tragedy is that Phyllis Diller was the last from an era that insisted a woman had to look funny in order to be funny."

Diller went to work as a comic at her first husband's urging, hoping that comedy would relieve the strain on their household finances. She started by performing at PTA meetings, local civic clubs, veterans hospitals and local radio programs. She sang a little, played the piano and told a few jokes. She said later that she mined the Dear Abby column for material. Her trademark laugh arose during her early comedy club gigs, as a sign of nerves that she couldn't suppress.

In 1992, she spoke about her life in comedy at New York City's 92nd St. Y, in a rollicking "lecture" (listen to it here or below) that interspersed joke sets with her own views on death, religion, aging and happiness. Not exactly the topics that you think might trigger 12 laughs a minute (as was her serious goal on stage), but these weighty themes always found a place in Diller's act. "My definition of comedy," she told her audience, "is tragedy revisited."

What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Learn from a comic, and vary your timing. Comics use timing in such a way that the tempo and pauses in a monologue work just as hard as the words themselves to get a laugh. In this lecture, Diller delivers rapid-fire clusters of jokes, where the laughs are simple but the humor comes from how many riffs there are in a row. She tells other, more subtle jokes with a long pause at the end, to let the funny sink in. And she deploys that laugh almost as a transition, signaling the end of a topic before moving on. Pauses and variations in your speech can help your audience follow your train of thought, even if you're not moving toward a punchline.
  • Stay flexible within your format. Diller admits at the end of this speech that she really isn't any good at giving lectures, and therefore she didn't deliver one. She can get away with making a stand-up routine out of the event because of who she is and what her audience expects. But it's a good reminder that there's no right or wrong way to give a speech. If you listen to lots of public speakers, you'll realize that not all successful lectures sound the same, and there's not one ideal model to imitate. Together with experience and practice, these observations can help you develop your own successful speaking style.
  • Watch (and take notes) and learn. From the start, Diller was almost scientific about her stand-up. She used a cigarette holder in her act even though she didn't smoke, because she and a drama coach she had hired decided that it gave her a funny posture on stage. Twelve laughs a minute was a metric that she derived after years of watching audiences respond to her act and others. Her observations also told her that jokes end best when the last word has an explosive consonant, like "pop" or "shot." Listen to how often she applies these rules in this lecture, and remember that these are the details she said she practiced every day while working.
One more glimpse of how seriously this funny woman took her craft: Here's a clip of Diller showing off her infamous "gag file," which cataloged thousands of her jokes during her 50-year career.

And here's the speech, audio-only:

(Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this Famous Speech Friday post.)

Introverted speakers: Check out my November 27 workshop on public speaking and presenting for introverts. Registration is open until November 16 or when all seats are filled.