Monday, January 30, 2012

Pin that speech! The Eloquent Woman on Pinterest

Are you using Pinterest? The hot new social sharing site is still in beta and requires an invite, but it's already full of photos, videos and other resources and ideas. You use bookmarklets and buttons to "pin" visuals you like onto topical "boards" you create. Pinterest suggests some topical boards for you, and you can create your own--and follow, like or comment on others' posts, or contribute to their boards if they permit it.

The Eloquent Woman has its own board on Pinterest, with videos and links to our "Famous Speech Friday" series of famous women's speeches, as well as some regular posts from the blog. I'm still working on loading our entire collection of famous women's speeches and making sure that new additions to the series are posted each week. Please do follow The Eloquent Woman on Pinterest and create a board of the women speakers you find most useful or inspiring for your own speaking; you can follow me on Pinterest as well.. And if you're interested in other uses for Pinterest, I've got a board about that, too.

Need an invite to participate in Pinterest? Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz. I look forward to seeing you there!

Looking for famous speeches by women? Check out The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Margaret Edson's 2008 Smith College commencement address

Folks who work at universities have heard more commencement speeches than the rest of us--that's part of the job. So when reader Kathy Schuetz, a communicator at the University of Maryland, wrote to suggest Margaret Edson's 2008 commencement speech at Smith College and called it "remarkable," I took notice.

Edson, a public school teacher in Atlanta, also is the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the play Wit, about a scholar of English literature who is in the hospital and dying of ovarian cancer. (There's a current production of the play on Broadway at this writing.) Edson, herself a Smith graduate, uses the occasion to speak about what happens in classroom teaching. She uses anaphora, the rhetorical device that repeats a word or series of words at the start of a series of sentences--in this case, to tell us that classroom teaching is all about nothing, for both teachers and students:

We bring nothing into the classroom -- perhaps a text or a specimen. We carry ourselves, and whatever we have to offer you is stored within our bodies. You bring nothing into the classroom -- some gum, maybe a piece of paper and a pencil: nothing but yourselves, your breath, your bodies. Classroom teaching produces nothing. At the end of a class, we all get up and walk out. It’s as if we were never there....Classroom teaching expects nothing. There is no pecuniary relationship between teachers and students....Classroom teaching withholds nothing. I say to my young students every year, “I know how to add two numbers, but I’m not going to tell you.” And they laugh and shout, “No!” That’s so absurd, so unthinkable. What do I have that I would not give to you?
This is a speech by a lover of language, but even its eloquence is not the most remarkable thing about it: Edson never looks at her notes during this commencement address. That's because there are no notes. The speech, all 18-plus minutes of it, is entirely delivered without a script or notes of any kind. Here's what you can learn from this famous speech, which engages the audience in three ways:
  • Set up a clever contrast to make your point: Edson spends several paragraphs telling us about the "nothing" of classroom teaching, underscoring that it yields nothing tangible. Along the way, you realize that this "nothing" is yet substantial, meaningful, rewarding. Then Edson carries that line of thinking through and transitions it to the future that lies ahead for the graduates: "If you can point to something, you might lose it, or you might break it, or someone might take it from you. As long as you store it inside yourself, it’s not going anywhere -- or it’s going everywhere with you." Suddenly, that nothing sounds pretty good.
  • Sly humor suggests they're all in on the joke together: Edson builds a bond with her audience from the start, using the typical salutations to honored guests and her hosts humorously (speaking of her own class, she deadpans, "when the history of the college is written, the record will note that this class was the best looking"). She pokes fun at trite honorifics, gently, and uses an exaggerated tone to suggest she, too, finds some of the pomp a bit much. For college graduates and faculty who've heard one too many commencement addresses, it's just the right touch.
  • Speaking without notes:  Whether you use notes or not is up to you and the speaking situation--there's nothing wrong with it. But here is a lovely example of what speaking without notes can do for a speech, particularly a commencement address with a big crowd to engage. The lack of notes lets her address the audience while looking at it directly, something every audience craves. As a result, she connects with this audience in a way many commencement speakers never do. 
Read the transcript of the speech here [link corrected], and do watch the video below, listening for the words she enphasizes vocally. What do you think of this famous speech? (Photo from Smith College)

2008 Smith College Commencement Margaret Edson from Smith College on Vimeo.

Looking for famous speeches by women? Check out The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What's the big idea? What those TED-like talks are looking for

You want to give one of those big talks someday, maybe soon. An Ignite talk, a Moth presentation, a TEDx or TED talk--that kind of big talk. And there's just one thing standing between you and that goal: One big idea.

That's because if you're going to make the most of those 3- or 5- or 15- or 20-minute opportunities, you need to narrow your focus down to one big idea. To stay in the minds of the live audience and get liked and shared by the online audience, just one idea will do. Not 50, not 15, not even three, but one. And that's the tripping point for many would-be givers of big talks. What's the big idea? That's the question they can't answer. A big idea requires a point of view, an opinion, the ability to zero in on a target.

Close readers of the blog will recall that I advise breaking your message into three key points, as most speaker coaches do--that's because we remember things best in threes and are almost hard-wired to do so. (And that's true for both speaker and audience.) Here's the connection: You'll use your three key points to put across your big idea. They're the three reasons we should decide to do that crazy thing you just proposed, the three arguments against that popular trend, the three things you're missing when you decide to do x. But you still need to give us that big idea to move toward, even as you lay out the steps to get us there.

I know, you have lots of ideas. And lots of facts to share. And, oh, those opinions-by-the-score. I'll even let you work some of them into the three points you'll get to undergird your big idea, if you promise to just focus on one big idea for this big talk. For technical experts and scientists who are used to backing up and giving us all the background we might possibly need to grasp the big idea, this can be a particular challenge. But I promise, your audience will sit in the palm of your hand and do so more happily if you can winnow it down to one idea.

Don't forget that the audience you need to win over starts with the conference organizers, by the way. The folks who put together these high-stakes conferences want smart people who can share new thoughts and approaches...if they can focus on one big idea. Failure to focus when you are proposing a big talk, or when you're approached to give one, can mean you don't get the opportunity...or if you get up to speak and that big point doesn't come across, it may mean you won't be asked back.

Here's one example of a detail-filled talk with a wonderful big idea for cancer patients: A surgeon describes a way to make cancer tumors and nerves fluorescent so they can be surgically removed (or avoided) with more accuracy. It's worth taking the time to develop a message with your big idea in it before you pursue those big-talk opportunities--and so you're ready when the call comes. Let me know if I can help you work on that; just email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

Looking for famous speeches by women? Check out The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Preparing a speech for a friend who's dying: 7 ideas & resources

It's always instructive for a speaking coach when the shoe is on the other foot and she needs to ask for help with a speech. When a reader who also is a speaker coach wrote to ask "How do I help a dying friend with a speech about her life and illness?", she added that she was willing to cast a wide net and see whether The Eloquent Woman community had any tips or ideas to help her. "My sadness and our attachment are blocking my ability to think clearly about how to help her prepare - let alone write the script. I'll find a way to ensure my feelings don't overshadow our prep for this gig  - I want it to be her triumph."

That willingness to ask for help has yielded many offers. I'm happy to say that our fellow speaker coaches, in particular, came up with a wide range of ideas, examples and options. Since many of them are available on video, I've included them here along with the generous thoughts and ideas these coaches shared.

"Let her dear friend shine"

Janice Tomich shared this short clip from Virginia Greene's presentation at an ovarian cancer awareness event held in her honor in Vancouver over a year ago. The event presentation is combined with an interview with Greene that was used as a public service ad. I think this comes as close as any example to the situation our fellow coach and reader is facing. Tomich wrote, "Virginia Greene was a force to behold in our community who sadly passed away not long after the event. I watched and listened to her speak many times and she was a no-holds-barred spitfire of a woman who also had a lovely big heart. Interestingly, in looking over the clip, she appeared very robust, but I remember thinking at the time she was a shadow of herself."

She added, "The woman who is requesting help in how best to serve her friend has answered her own question--not to let her own feelings get in the way. Simply let her dear friend shine...her friend will guide her. As her coach and friend she just needs to be there for support."

I'll add that this example offers some practical considerations for a speaker who is terminally ill. It's fine to speak from a seated position on stage, and to have water and a box of tissues handy for the speaker. It's extraordinary enough that she is willing to speak at this stage--no need to make it into an endurance test. In this case, there appear to be large-screen monitors on stage behind her, and those might be useful if the speaker needs to stay seated, but is addressing a large room. I'd ask her, however, whether she minds having her face projected large to the room.

The partnership between vulnerability and conviction

Speaker coach Jill Foster wrote, "Is the fundraiser raising monies to find a cure for her particular illness? I'm working with that assumption here. The partnership between vulnerability and conviction comes to mind. As in: even in our most fragile or precarious moments, we have the chance to stand up to the larger battle in some way. There are no guarantees that cures will come in time for our unique purposes. But the chance to research a cure for those yet to be diagnosed is still within our reach if resolve stays on course by the greater team, researchers, volunteers, advocates. The cause still deserves attention. She can build off that truth openly and let it be context to the greater need to hold steadfast even in the face of loss....sprinkled with a few Seinfeld jokes if at all possible. But now I'm deflecting my own emotion. Blessings to her and her voice."

Tackling sensitive subjects in interview format

Kate Peters recommended to the public radio series Story Corps, in which people interview one another about their lives in their own words. She found this example from René Foreman, who survived cancer of the esophagus and now speaks with an electrolarynx, interviewed by her daughter Michelle. Foreman says“I am happier now without my voice than I've ever been with my voice.” That opens up a wonderful option for this situation: Perhaps, instead of writing a speech, our reader can interview her friend on stage. I think that's a smart option that would require less work for the interviewee in terms of preparation, yet would let her voice and message come through. The Story Corps interviews offer a wonderful example of how to ask the questions and handle the reactions that follow.

Tackling the talk as a 'last lecture'

The late Randy Pausch is famous in the United States for "The Last Lecture," a tour de force of a talk that played off of the conceit in academe, where professors give a lecture as if it were their last one, summing up what they know and believe--but in this case, Pausch was dying when he gave this lecture. Speaker coach Nancy Duarte wrote that this one is her favorite, and it was the first one I thought of to suggest to our fellow coach--but because she's not based in the U.S., this was a new example to her. Since the friend who will be giving the speech is a physician, the concept of a lecture might make the speech easier to pull off. A caution: Pausch's energetic delivery--at one point, he drops to the floor and does push-ups--may not be as helpful an example for someone who's not feeling as well as he did when he gave this talk.  His motivation was to leave a record for his young children, something that summed up his life, work and philosophy, and that may be the motivation this speaker needs.

Dying doesn't mean you have to be trite.

I shared this clip from Sex and the City in which Samantha, the public relations rep who's fighting breast cancer is asked to speak at a fundraiser. But it goes wrong in many ways. The PR pro in her has written the type of speech a disconnected speechwriter would write, full of platitudes and trite observations about breast cancer ("If you want to see the face of breast cancer, look around you. It's the woman next to you at the drycleaner..."). But Samantha-the-patient is sweating profusely, a side effect of the drugs she's taking, and uncomfortable under the wig she's wearing because she lost her hair and still wants to look stylish. Finally, she pulls off the wig, mid-speech--and so do all the other women like her in the audience, making her point better than that speech ever could. From this, I take a couple of lessons and ideas. One is that your audience at a fundraiser might well include people like you, who are ill or dying, so don't assume that everyone at a fundraiser is there just to give money. The other is that when faced with these big moments in life and death, we often fall back on platitudes. But your own particular details and observations will always be more compelling. Just tell us what it feels like, what you regret, what you wish for, in your own way...even if that means showing us something ignoble.

If you can't say it out loud, flash cards are an option

This video also came immediately to mind. Ben Breedlove, a young YouTube blogger who gave relationship advice to his peers via online video, made this two-part video using flash cards to explain his heart condition and the different times in his young life when he cheated death. Breedlove died shortly after making this video, on Christmas Day 2011.  It's a quiet and poignant, at times funny, message that turned out to be his last "speech."

The irony of death is not lost on the dying

I include this, the opening from the play Wit, as something our coach can use with her friend to acknowledge the ironies that come with terminal illness--the play is about a professor of poetry who has ovarian cancer and has to move from being a researcher to being the subject of research herself.  "It is not my intention to give away the plot, but I think I die at the end," she says. If your friend chooses to address these ironies in her speech, that also can be an effective approach--it's black humor, but a type that points out how ill-prepared we all are for what lies ahead.

I'm so grateful to all the coaches who responded to create this collection of options for helping someone who's dying prepare a significant's the Internet equivalent of bringing over a casserole during a challenging time, and I'm honored that this blog has been the delivery system for all these great ideas about how to handle a true speaking challenge.

Looking for famous speeches by women? Check out The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Jane Fonda's TEDxWomen talk on "Life's Third Act"

"We're living, on average today, 34 years longer than our great-grandparents did. Think about that," Fonda told the TEDxWomen event in 2011. "That's an entire second adult lifetime that's been added to our lifespan." She uses her talk to discuss her current passion: How we use that "third act," the last three decades of your life, not only to improve your life, but to create a cultural shift.

The talk is based on a theme carried through in her book, Prime Time: Love, health, sex, fitness, friendship, spirit--making the most of all of your life. Fonda--now 74 herself--emphasizes in this talk that  some studies suggest that people in their third acts are even happier than they were at other stages of life. "As I was approaching my late 40s, I would wake up in the morning and my first six thoughts would all be negative," Fonda said, noting that she comes "from a long line of depressives." She added that "now that I am smack-dab in the middle of my own third act, I realize: I have never been happier." Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Empathy plus data: Telling stories on herself without self-congratulation or self-deprecation, Fonda manages to weave her own experience into the speech without making it all about her. She balances personal anecdotes with an empathetic approach, speaking about issues that she herself faced, but without mentioning herself. Instead, she couches them as issues anyone might face. Finally, Fonda's done her research, finding data points to reinforce her stories and the empathy. The combination sings.
  • Using notes without reading: Many actors use notes for public speaking and abhor the extemporaneous--they're used to lines they learn in advance in their work. I don't know Fonda's preference, but here, she uses a written text, yet you don't see the top of her head much during this talk--because she refers to her text, but doesn't read it straight through. As a result, she's better able to connect with her audience. Notice, too, that while she stays at the lectern, she looks all around the audience: down in front, up in back, and to either side, another must if you are going to remain stationary on the stage. (By the way, it doesn't hurt that Fonda's already written a book on the same lines as this talk. She knows the messages she wants to convey, and that helps her avoid reading.)
  • Quiet delivery with great vocal variety: "It helps us become what we might have been" she says, with a suggestive, knowing, sidelong look at the audience. Fonda doesn't speak above a normal volume level, but uses outstanding variety in her inflections, tone and emphasis throughout this talk, hitting a wide range of low, middle and high notes, pausing and pacing, and making her voice an essential tool. 
Here's a video of Fonda's TEDxWomen talk. What do you think of this famous speech?

Looking for famous speeches by women? Check out The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

It's 2012, and women are still having trouble getting on the program as speakers

Forget a seat at the table, for the moment. I'm seeing plenty of evidence, still, that women are having trouble getting a place on the podium, as speakers at public gatherings, professional conferences and other forums.

The most notable example right now is in Israel. At a conference on gynecology, women were barred from speaking--or as feminist writer Katha Pollitt put it, "Men discuss vaginas while women can only watch." Eight speakers reportedly cancelled their appearances. The ban was prompted by ultra-Orthodox Jews, who follow rules that forbid women from speaking public or sitting with men in meetings or worship. The New York Times dubbed it a "seismic rift over the role of women," and noted the recent example is just part of a larger debate there:
Public discourse in Israel is suddenly dominated by a new, high-toned Hebrew phrase, “hadarat nashim,” or the exclusion of women....All of this seems anomalous to most people in a country where five young women just graduated from the air force’s prestigious pilots course and a woman presides over the Supreme Court. But each side in this dispute is waging a vigorous public campaign. The New Israel Fund, which advocates for equality and democracy, organized singalongs and concerts featuring women in Jerusalem and put up posters of women’s faces under the slogan, “Women should be seen and heard.” The Israel Medical Association asserted last week that its members should boycott events that exclude women from speaking on stages. Religious authorities said liberal groups were waging a war of hatred against a pious sector that wanted only to be left in peace.
We can get outraged over this extreme example, but keeping women speakers off the program is happening elsewhere--just quietly. Here are some examples that have come across my line of vision in the past week:
  • At the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference, "...  it’s been, again, a disappointing year for female involvement as speakers, in a conference where women make up at least half the audience and half the volunteers (but usually more)," reports Muslimah Media Watch. The post has been noting the issue of women speakers for several years.
  • TED 2012's lineup includes just 16 women out of 55 presenters, points out @cvharquail on Twitter, echoing a persistent criticism of the well-watched conference.
  • The Wall Street Green Trading Summit boasted on Twitter that it has "the most women speakers of any energy and environmental conference this year." That would be 11 women speakers out of 51 total.
  • Emerging Technologies for the Enterprise in Philadelphia has only 2 speaker of 40 who are women thus far, points out this observer.
  • The Techriti 2012 conference in India will feature speaker Deborah Berebichez, who tweeted that she was "honored" to speak there, "but I do wish there were more women speakers." That might be due to the fact that she is the lone woman speaker of a dozen speakers at this conference.
  • Edinburgh-based iOS developer Matt Gemmell, after attending several tech conferences with few women speakers, offers a list of suggestions for same.
The silver lining here, if there is one: Women and men are starting to report the gender balance in speaker lineups at conferences. Now we just need to work on giving women the microphone. Have you noticed women in the minority as speakers at your professional conferences? Let me know in the comments.

Looking for famous speeches by women? Check out The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tipsters: Can you contribute to Famous Speech Friday? Here's how

If you like our Famous Speech Friday series and want to see more of it, I welcome your suggestions and contributions. Every FSF post winds up in The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, already a popular resource for speakers, speechwriters and even conferences looking for women speakers...or inspiration.

To get in on the action, you can:
  • Share suggestions for speeches for the series,
  • Propose a guest post, or
  • Point us to a similar post elsewhere.
Every Famous Speech Friday post meets certain criteria, so when you suggest an idea or propose a guest post for the series, here's what we will want to see:
  • Why the speech is famous: Whether it went viral on YouTube or changed the way a nation behaved, tell us what makes this a famous speech. It's not enough that the speech was delivered; we want women's speeches that are influential or that had a major impact.
  • That it's a speech: Whether the remarks are extemporaneous or planned, we want speeches for this series, rather than interviews, presentations or soliloquies. Within that limitation, however, we've covered almost every kind of speech: keynotes, eulogies, introductions, storytelling, awards acceptances and more.
  • Lessons for other speakers: Every Famous Speech Friday example includes three lessons that any speaker can take from the famous speech, so we're looking for speeches that include words, delivery techniques and more that's useful to speakers today.
  • Video, audio and transcripts: It's not possible to have these for every famous speech, particularly our historic examples. But where available, we strive for examples that offer readers access to how the speech was delivered--audio and video--as well as the text.
You can submit ideas to me via Twitter, on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, or via email at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz. Some of our best posts in the series have come from contributors. I'm looking forward to your ideas and proposals!

Looking for famous speeches by women? Check out The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"How do I help a dying friend with a speech about her life and illness?"

Readers, today we need your help for a fellow reader and speaker coach who has written to me with a speech challenge unlike any she has faced before. Here is what she wrote:
I have been given a tough assignment. A good friend is terminally ill. She's smart, gentle, warm and quiet. She's not a speaker, and she's the wisest and kindest person I know. She's still up and about but may not be for long. She has asked me to help her with a speech for a big fundraiser. I've done tough things before,  and if she weren't my friend I could laugh. Black humour, irreverence...they are all tools to help make an unbearable subject bearable. But my sadness and our attachment are blocking my ability to think clearly about how to help her prepare - let alone write the script. I'll find a way to ensure my feelings don't overshadow our prep for this gig  - I want it to be her triumph. If you or anyone else have any tips or experience to help me navigate this particularly tricky professional path, I'd be most grateful.
Have you had to help a friend in this situation, or given this kind of speech yourself? What advice, tips or experiences do you have that will help this fellow reader coach her friend and write the speech of a lifetime? Can you point us to examples of other speakers facing the same situation? Please share your ideas and help in the comments.

Looking for great speeches by women? Try The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Actress Viola Davis: "What keeps me in the business is hope"

I keep a search open on Twitter for "eloquent woman," and recently, @bevysmith's tweet showed up, saying "I'm a student of Viola Davis speeches, she is the most eloquent woman." A recent example happened at ELLE magazine's Women in Hollywood awards last October. For Davis, the night started when someone on the red carpet asked the star of The Help what set her apart from everyone else there.

"Well, I'm black," she replied.

A little while later, when she rose to accept her award, Davis delivered an extemporaneous speech of more than 10 minutes that brought the house to its feet--and continued to mince no words. She included that anecdote and much more. Davis revealed in a Vanity Fair interview that The Help was her first leading role, and in this speech, she holds her own as well as any leading actor.

"I don't have a speech prepared, by the way," she warned the audience. "I hate writing speeches--it makes me more nervous." So she begins with what she knows so well it needs no script, and takes the audience back to her childhood games with her sister Delores. They'd dress up and play with an air tea set and pretend to be famous Hollywood actresses leading glamorous lives, even though they lived in a threadbare apartment in deep poverty in Rhode Island. "The game would always inevitably end with us beating the shit out of each other," Davis said, noting that they both came back to earth realizing they really lived on welfare

From those childhood dreams, Davis makes a smooth transition, suggesting that she became an actor to continue "staying in the game" of imagination. But her remarks take a serious turn as she addresses a topic not often confronted via a microphone: The paucity of roles for black actors. "Frankly, what keeps me in the business, seriously, is not always the love of my work....sometimes I really don't love it....What keeps me in the business is hope, and that's the hope that women of color are also a part of the narrative, that our stories are just as potent, because we also have the power of transformation. We also have the power to be quirky, and sexy, and different, funny, heartfelt and all of those things."

Davis tells stories about her mother and grandmother, and tells the audience of Hollywood insiders that "Those are the stories I want to see on the screen." She continues with a gentle rant that ties her story and that issue together, noting how important it was to her to see actress Cicely Tyson in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman:
I believe and I really hope that we have the imagination, that we have the courage to bring those stories to life, because I want to do for other young women of color what Cicely Tyson did to me in that apartment with the slats showing underneath the plaster, and the bad plumbing, and no phone, and hardly any food, and rats....she allowed me to have the visual of what it means to dream....she threw me a rope. That's what we do as actors....we throw other people the rope.
Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Extemporaneous doesn't have to mean disorganized: There's as much an arc in this speech as there would be if the best scribes had labored over it, from childhood dreams to adult realities to turning that dream into an industry challenge. Rooted in personal stories, Davis doesn't need notes to recall her details, and so was able to focus on a map in her head for this inspiring talk. Think, at a minimum, about where you want to start, where you want to end up and what you want the audience focused on at the end.
  • Not mincing words makes for a great speech: The more noble and lofty and ten-dollar your words, the less we connect with them. If Davis had used that red carpet moment to talk about the "overall racial disparities we see in the industry" instead of just saying, "Well, I'm black," you'd be able to hear the yawns from here. Concrete words connect
  • Use that invisible visual. Davis had an invisible tea set to play with, and made masterful use here of what I call "the invisible visual," the one your audience doesn't need a picture to see. She does that by sharing specific descriptions of her childhood home, what she and her sister wore, what "poverty" boiled down to in their lives, from bad plumbing to crumbling plaster. By the time she's done, that movie's playing in your head, and will stay there for a long time.
What do you think of this famous speech? Share your reactions in the comments, please.

Looking for famous speeches by women? Check out The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Gearing up for that really big talk: 6 smart speaker considerations

Congratulations! You've been asked to give a big, high-profile talk, that career-changing speaking opportunity you've been waiting for.

Now what? Big talks--whether the "big" part is the impact of your words, the size of the audience or the prestige of the venue--deserve a higher level of planning on the part of the smart speaker. Here are a half-dozen considerations I'd recommend if you're going to be featured in one of those finer gigs:
  1. Is it the hall that's big? If you're not used to facing a crowd of hundreds or thousands, it makes sense to get some practice time or at least a few minutes to stand on the actual stage where you'll be presenting, in advance. Can't do that? Try to find a similar hall in which to practice before you get there. For a big space, you may need to move more or in a larger area on stage, use grander gestures or figure out a new way to connect with the audience, and all that takes practice and preparation. The more time you can physically get used to a big speaking space, the less it will throw you off when you're actually speaking. Don't just practice on the stage, either. Sit in the audience in different locations and stand at the back of the room, so you can see what your audience will see.
  2. Is it the audience that's big? That might mean the audience in the room, in which case it's important to understand from the organizers whether you'll be projected on video monitors, how your sound will work, and any other factors that can help or hurt you in reaching a large group. Knowing where and how you will enter and exit the stage are important factors for you to anticipate, too--entering from the audience, for example, means you'll be seen in motion before you ever start to speak. Don't forget that other "big" audience if your talk is being recorded: The one on the Internet. Take the time to plan your gestures, vocalizing and facial expressions, as well as your wardrobe, so they work in the hall, on a big screen and on the small screen. Video practice is a must, in that case. If you need to adjust what you're wearing, for example, that's tough to do last-minute.
  3. Talk to the technicians: Knowing the likely color of the background against which you'll be speaking, understanding how your "confidence monitor" and remote will work, sharing what colors you're wearing: All those are smart topics to discuss with the tech team in advance. Depending on your answers, you may need to let them light you differently due to your wardrobe, or use a special cue to toggle between video and slides. Ask, listen and adjust--in advance.
  4. Listen to the organizers: I can't count the number of speakers I've coached before big talks who think that they are the Grand Exception to what the organizers told them. "I know they said 15 minutes, but I'm just going to keep talking" and "No one in the audience really needs to use that mic, so I'll just repeat the questions to the panel" can be recipes for disaster. Listen, instead, to what organizers want--certainly those who invited you, as well as what other organizers say. TED curator Chris Anderson has shared such insights,  and your conference organizers will have plenty to share, too. Remember, these are the people who can invite you back again. No need for you to shoulder their responsibilities and reinvent the wheel. Ask, and listen.
  5. Speak to the speakers:  Other speakers who've already taken the plunge at your big event are a great resource, and you know they'll be able to share the behind-the-scenes experience firsthand. The TED blog recently shared a roundup of blog posts from speakers at TEDx events detailing what it feels like to give a TEDx talk. Ask the organizers if they can connect you to previous speakers.
  6. Invest in coaching: If not now, when? Even experienced speakers can benefit from coaching that's specific to a really big talk, since speaking at a TED conference or mega-convention just isn't the same as lecturing or giving a high-stakes business presentation. You'll need a mix of eloquence, entertainment, poise and impact specific to this important gig. And if, as many top speaking opportunities do, yours comes with a strict time limit, a good speaker coach can show you how to make the most of every word. And before you invest, ask the organizers whether coaching is available to you through them. More conferences are making this available to speakers, but few can offer it to all speakers. Ask for help early, at the time you are invited, to help your organizers plan--and before some other speaker gets the help.
If you're looking for prep help or coaching before your next really big talk, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz for more information.

Looking for famous speeches by women? Check out The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Stroke victim who's learning to speak again by singing vows public speaking career

Lots of singers who also are public speakers and presenters will tell you they see a strong connection between singing and speaking. But so do the medical professionals who work with stroke victims to help them regain the power of speech.

NPR reporter Richard Knox dove into the science behind how singing can help patients relearn speaking after a stroke. Noting that we've known for more than a century that a stroke can leave you speechless yet still able to sing, he looked at "what may be the first rigorous trial of singing therapy." This former public speaker is one of the subjects:

Debra Meyerson, 54, is a volunteer in that study. Her aphasia is a cruel twist of fate. Meyerson is an expert in gender and race relations who was a dynamic and popular speaker before her stroke. After a year of conventional speech therapy, she couldn't speak more than a word or two....By next Labor Day — the second anniversary of her stroke — Meyerson wants to start public speaking again, this time as an advocate for better stroke care.
This story offers a fascinating breakdown of the components we take for granted as speakers--components that are lost to strokes and must be brought back, one part at a time, from the motor nerves that help you sense the rhythms of speech, to the tonal qualities in inflection, to how fast you are able to download what you're trying to say from your brain to your mouth.

I'll have an eye open for that speech Debra Meyerson is planning to give--I have a hunch it's perfect for our Famous Speech Friday series, don't you agree? You can hear the audio of this exciting story here.

Looking for famous speeches by women? Check out The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Launching the new Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches

A year ago, The Eloquent Woman blog launched a new weekly feature called "Famous Speech Friday," designed to answer a question I kept getting from speakers, trainees and speaker coaches: "Where can I find examples of great women's speeches?" Often, the questioners would add that they could only find examples from long-past speeches from the most famous of now-dead women speakers, like Eleanor Roosevelt or Barbara Jordan. And many lists of important speeches only feature a handful of famous talks by women.

Not anymore. One year and 46 famous women's speeches later, we've got everything from Eleanor Roosevelt to Lady Gaga, among many others. Now I've collected all of them to create in one place The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, an index that will grow as our Famous Speech Friday series continues.

Here's a flavor of what you'll find in the index:

  • Women speakers from many locations and many topics: Women from the U.S., Canada, England, France, Haiti and Kenya were featured, and their topics range from war, business, the environment and equal rights to cancer, orgasm, gender identity and family. All of them rock the house in their own way.
  • Women  in a wide range of roles: There are First Ladies, presidential candidates, governors, members of Congress, a prime minister, an international banker, business executives, religious crusaders, cancer and stroke survivors, government agency heads, activists, feminists and anti-feminists, writers, actresses, singers, royalty, women who are old, young, black, white, Native American, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, liberal,  and conservative. 
  • The types of speeches also vary widely, with commencement addresses, eulogies, political stump speeches, lectures, tributes, awards acceptances, keynotes, congressional testimony, international declarations, TED talks, mock debates, convention speeches, speeches to interest groups, legal arguments, assessments of women's progress in professions, evocative fables and rousing union speeches on our roster.

I set a special goal for these speeches, looking for examples that not only hold good lessons for today's speakers--each example has at least three lessons for you--but also speeches that reflect women speaking about women's issues, at least in part. Wherever possible, we've provided links to the text or a transcript, along with audio or video of the speech or one like it.

It's not easy committing to a weekly series, particularly when the sources of information are scattered and sketchy; for much of our history, women were discouraged from speaking publicly, and the records of their talks were not preserved and made available. For that reason, I am grateful to the many historians, historic sites, government and university archives, women's studies programs and other sources of excellent information. Links to their offerings are in  each post, and I welcome hearing from other sources of information on famous women's speeches of today and yesterday. And hear me, those of you with women speakers today: Please transcribe and record their speeches and make them publicly available!

I have made a permanent page on the blog for the index, so that, as we continue the Famous Speech Friday series, the list will continue to grow and serve as a ready reference. I welcome your suggestions for future famous speech examples by women, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz...but first, go take a look at your new reference, The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, and please pass it around. Who's your favorite so far on the list?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

4 quick ways to review that talk you just gave

I always recommend taking the time to review your last speech, talk or presentation thoroughly--reviewing a video if you have one or thinking about three things you'd correct next time. But sometimes you'll want to take stock soon after you speak, so here is a quartet of quick things to review right after you've spoken:
  1. How do you feel? Go beyond feeling relief that it's over. Did it seem easy this time? Tougher crowd? Are you feeling less nervous now that you've tried something new? Enjoying good reactions? Surprised? Upset? Your immediate reactions are worth thinking about and perhaps recording, so you can reflect on them and learn from them.
  2. What did you notice, and when did it happen? Did the audience fall silent at some point? Did they laugh or react at a particular line? When did you start feeling comfortable, or uncomfortable? Did something fall flat? Pinpointing your first impressions and taking the time to recall when the events occurred during your presentation can help you get to the root of your successes, or mistakes you don't want to repeat. Then you can decide whether the cause was something you can change, or something over which you have no control in the moment.
  3. What were you thinking when something went wrong? Often, when I'm reviewing a talk or a video with a client, she'll point out an error. "What were you thinking just then?" I'll ask. If it's something she can recall, we often can target something specific for correction. If you can do this quickly after a talk, you may be able to identify distractions, feelings of fear, or other factors that you can correct next time...and you'll better understand how they trip you up.
  4. What did you hear? Sure, there are plenty of people who'll just say, "I enjoyed your speech." But if you get specific feedback, or just a general sense of the audience's reactions, both are worth noting quickly, so you can use them to plan ahead for next time. Don't forget to check for reactions on Twitter and other social networks, where your listeners may have recorded their reactions.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Actress Margo Martindale on having a lower speaking voice

Actresses spend as much or more time thinking about their voices as speakers do, and actress Margo Martindale--featured in such movies as Million Dollar Baby and Secretariat -- has a low voice to ponder. In this interview with NPR's Fresh Air, Martindale talks about using her voice to convey power in her role in the FX series Justified. Host Terry Gross asks her to talk about her unusual vocalizing skills. From the transcript:
GROSS: I think one of your great tools is your voice. You have a really deep voice that you can make even deeper in roles like "Justified." You can bring your voice from really, like, deep within. 
(Soundbite of laughter) 
GROSS: And I have to say that this is at a time when a lot of women speak in much higher voices and when - often our voices get more trapped in our throats, you know, for woman. So I'd like you to talk a little bit about your voice and using how deep and full it can be in a role like your role on "Justified," where you have to express power. You have to convey - you've got the power. 
Ms. MARTINDALE: Sometimes I worry that my voice is too mmmm, buzzy, too round, that when I'm on stage, I really have to lift my voice. I have to put it in another spot so that you can hear me because sometimes when you're down in this thing, you can't hear the enunciation as well. 
I remember it when I was in high school, the biology said to his - my favorite teacher, Mr. Billy Gwinn(ph), said to the students: Now, listen to Margo Martindale's voice. Now she's probably got male genes in her. Of course, I thought what in the hell is that? Thank you Mr. Gwinn.(Soundbite of laughter) 
Ms. MARTINDALE: Oh, boy. My voice is lower than - I have one - both of my brothers, but one of them is not with me anymore, but my voice is lower than their voices. Texas men usually have a little bit higher voices like that. But my mine's lower than - my mother had a very low voice, too. So I don't know. I - sometimes I feel that it is a plus, and something I think that it gets in my way, my voice. 
GROSS: Why does it get in your way sometimes? 
Ms. MARTINDALE: And maybe "Justified" has changed that for me in my head. Sometimes I think I have to pretty it up, girlify(ph) it, make it more - make it a little sweeter, a little softer, a little more - you know, have a little more - because everybody I talk to on the phone said yeah, yes sir, no sir. This is a woman. I've said this is a woman, I must say it maybe 2,500 times in my life. And I get really pissy about it.
It's worth a listen to the Fresh Air interview with Martindale so you can hear her voice for yourself, and the clip that spurred this conversation, where she gives a speech in Justified. In the video below, she accepts an Emmy for the role--although her excitement takes her voice higher at first.

It's important to note that many women may be speaking too low, and need to think through whether they're straining their vocal cords in doing so. For others, it's just natural. Do you grapple with a lower-than-usual woman's voice? Is it a plus or a minus for you?