Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Five finds for speakers in work presentations & meetings

Your most frequent "public speaking" probably takes place in work-related settings, from videoconferencing to meetings and presentations. Here are five new tools, ideas and resources that have come across my desk recently to give you an edge in work-related speaking situations:
  1. Projector phone: The newly announced Samsung Galaxy Beam smartphone might whittle your presentation kit down to size, since it includes a projector. It's an "ultra-bright 15-lumen projector which lets you project a 50-inch wide image on a wall." For those of us who lug presentation tools around, a welcome prospect.
  2. Slide options: Lifehacker asked readers for their best PowerPoint alternatives, and came up with Keynote, Google Docs, Prezi, Beamer and Impress. A good roundup with free and paid options; readers voted Keynote the winner. But before you go all slide crazy, read Cordelia Ditton's great post, "A pig's eye view of PowerPoint," in which she reminds, "You can choose whatever option you like to engage with your audience, but make sure you choose it.  Engagement with your audience is your aim.  Just because you have invested in the technology and the gizmos, it doesn’t mean that you have to use them."
  3. Videoconferencing in their future? Based on the success of video "hangouts" on Google+ and remarks by a Google exec, Business Insider wonders whether Google might be moving next into videoconferencing. Sounds like you might want to start practicing with Google+ hangouts now...and it's a free tool. If you're on a lot of videoconferences, check out the headset in this roundup of tools for mobile workers.
  4. Even more quotable: TED's new quotes feature lets you find and share quotes from TED talks easily, a real boon whether you're looking for a quote to include in your own speech, writing a speech for someone else or just wanting to share a great thought.
  5. iPad for meetings: Inc. rounded up five ways to spruce up a lousy meeting using an iPad -- although you should remember they're not magical if the meeting's truly bad.

My post on "How Rush Limbaugh is helping me celebrate Women's History Month" is nominated as one of BlogHer's "Voices of the Year 2012." Follow this link to vote--and thanks for supporting this post.

Monday, February 27, 2012

New book on introverts advises finding your public-speaking "sweet spot"

Call it a quiet but powerful statement: The most-wished-for book on right now is a book about introverts, and public speaking plays a big role in the book's effort to describe introverts' strengths.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking weaves public speaking as a theme throughout the book, talking about how cultural phenomenons like Dale Carnegie, Toastmasters, and Tony Robbins have created an "Extrovert Ideal" that makes introverts, by comparison, seen as lacking something. Cain looks at cultural influences, genetics, personality factors and free will as factors in a more complex and thorough vision of introversion. The latter quality is the secret sauce that introverts can use "to overcome our personalities," she writes, urging readers to think of themselves this way: "We are like rubber bands at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much." And to illustrate that point, she lets readers in on her own efforts to become good at public speaking, something she herself feared but now does frequently.

Cain coaches introvert readers in how to find their "sweet spot" and manage their life experiences--including presenting and public speaking--to take advantage of the power of introversion, as well as their ability to act extroverted when it too conveys an advantage. Watch Susan Cain talk about the book in the trailer below, and check out our all-in-one post for introverts on public speaking, with 6 resources. What do you think about the power of introverts?

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, February 24, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Jennifer Granholm's 2005 tribute to Rosa Parks

We've said it before: Jennifer Granholm is a rock star of public speaking. And she's had plenty of practice, in her work as state attorney general and two-term governor of Michigan, and her new job as a cable TV host. She was a Phi Beta Kappa scholar at the University of California, Berkeley before heading to Harvard Law School, but we bet she was mesmerizing even at one of her earliest jobs, as a tour guide at Universal Studios.

With a resume like this, it's safe to assume that she's given lots of different speeches in front of different audiences. (Check out her YouTube channel to see the full range of her talks.) Her excellent use of gestures and pacing, along with her genuine enthusiasm for her topics, bring life to the sort of nuts-and-bolts speeches that she gave routinely as governor. But she is also more than equal to the challenge of delivering a dramatic, deeply-felt speech, as she did at the 2005 funeral service for civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

It's a short eulogy, but she brought down the house at the Greater Grace Temple Church in Detroit, and the speech went viral shortly after the event. Parks was lauded throughout the 7-hour service by a host of dignitaries, but it was Granholm's inspirational and emotionally charged tribute that rose above the rest. What can you learn from her success?

  • Get a smart start. Sometimes you need to acknowledge other speakers or thank the audience when you begin speaking, even though that may rob you of the chance to give an attention-grabbing start to your talk. Granholm deals with this in a deft twist: She recognizes the "really titled, honored guests" sharing the stage with her, but then says this speech is really for "everyone out there who doesn't have a title." It's surprising, engaging and lets her move swiftly into talking about Parks herself. She gets attention--and applause--for including those who stood in line for hours to get into the celebration, and those still waiting outside the standing-room hall. Playing to the balcony (and the line outside) works.
  • Sometimes you have to sing. Listen to how this speech sounds--without hearing any of the meaning, if you can. You'll hear Granholm drawing out words, making deliberate pauses, letting her breath come through the microphone, making consonants like "p" and "t" pop with precision, and controlling the rise and fall of her voice. She leads the audience in this way, building emotion and highlighting her key points.
  • Pick a theme that pays off. More than once, Granholm calls Parks a "warrior," and talks about fighting battles, wearing armor and winning the war. It's one idea, carried throughout a speech. And it comes with a tremendous, resounding payoff at the end when Granholm stands for a sharp military salute to "report for duty" to the civil rights struggle.

There's much more to live in this speech, from Granholm's shout-out to local neighborhoods to the infectious alliterations like "shopkeepers and streetsweepers." Take a look at the video, read the transcript, and let us know what you liked.

(Editor's note: Becky Ham wrote this post for The Eloquent Woman, and boy are we glad she found this speech for us.)

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, February 23, 2012

From the vault: 7 times to turn down a speaking gig

It might seem counterproductive to turn down speaking requests--after all, they give you a chance to promote yourself, your cause, your company or your career.  But in these cases, I'd advise you to at least take a second look or turn down the opportunity outright.  (Organizers and program chairs, listen up, lest you make these offers to your would-be speakers.)
  1. When there are too many people on one panel:   Panels of more than three people are fraught with peril for the speaker and the audience.  You've got to allow extra time for introductions and Q&A, and, knowing they have diminished time, many speakers will simply talk past the limit.  (I once had an organizer ask me to join a panel of 8, and each of us were to get 2.5 minutes to speak. No way!)  If you're tempted:  Ask yourself what value you can add in such a short time slot.
  2. When the format's prescribed too tightly:   If you prefer being able to walk around the room instead of stand behind a lectern, take questions at the top rather than the bottom of the presentation, or any other variation on the standard, be sure the organizers know that and can accommodate it. If the format's already determined for you, think through whether it really meets your needs and lets you shine.
  3. When there's not enough time to prepare:  On a few occasions--including one of my best talks--I've been asked to step in at the very last moment, and I have. (To find out how to pull this off, read "Speaker on Ice: When you need to wing it.")  I'm more concerned when the call comes in advance, but only just barely (say, 3 days before or 2 days before).  Typically, that means another speaker has cancelled, or the organizers didn't plan far enough in advance.  Do you want to give up your preparation time?  Think twice before you say yes.
  4. When the subject changes without notice or isn't clearly established:  This is a clear sign that the organizers aren't taking good care of their speaker.  I've had a few speaking invitations pegged to a specific topic, then found out it had changed after I accepted--without hearing directly from the organizers.  Be sure you take the time to reevaluate if changes are made, and feel free to say "I think you'll need to find another speaker."
  5. When the preliminary negotiations go on for longer than your talk:  You should expect to spend time talking to the organizers about how the talk will go, audiovisual equipment needs and the audience in advance. But if the logistics, location, topic, length and other basics keep changing and changing yet again, you may find it's a sign that the group's too disorganized--and disrespectful of your time.  Again, feel free to say "I think you'll need to find another speaker."
  6. When it's not your area of expertise:  Be honest and say so.  You may be a good speaker and liked by the group, but don't stretch past your knowledge base. Consider, too, that good speakers often are asked to fill in when they're not experts, just to get someone to fill in--so don't set yourself up to fail. Say no.
  7. When your schedule gets in the way of success:  You may have a clear calendar on the morning of your talk--but if you're traveling all night right before you go on, and jet lag's a problem for you, say no.  Don't pile on when you know you'll be tired, rushed or otherwise not at your best.
(This post is an update of one that appeared earlier.)

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, February 21, 2012

Comfort zones for the nervous speaker: 5 places to go

Do you get that "nowhere to run, nowhere to hide" feeling before you start a speech or presentation? If you're stressed or nervous about that speaking gig, you might want to factor in your speaker personality type, since the introverts among us, especially, will need to be by themselves before and after a speech or presentation. But any speaker who's nervous about speaking might need to find a comfort zone right on the spot at the meeting venue. Here are five comfort zones that any speaker should be able to access to help you regroup, calm your nerves and face that audience:

  • The stall or the stairwell: Long favored by speakers as a private place where they can stretch, do some deep breathing, and generally escape the other meeting attendees, those nearby restroom stalls and stairwells offer inelegant but practical places to gather your courage. Just be sure you haven't been wired for sound in advance.
  • Your breathing: Can't say it enough, but your breathing is essential to give you energy, calm your nerves and focus your attention before a presentation. So breathe in and out deeply a dozen times before you go on. This is my favorite pre-speech comfort zone, and it's largely invisible to others, so can happen anywhere.
  • Closed eyes: Your comfort zone might need to erase all that visual stimulation before a talk. Closing your eyes for a few moments lets you retreat from the crowds without having to leave the room. Just make sure you're not facing the audience when you do this one.
  • The lectern: Lecterns are the original speakers' armor, serving as a comfort zone right on stage or at the front of the meeting room. They hide two-thirds of you physically, give you a place to keep a photo or other feel-good reminder nearby, stash your script--all of which might make you feel more in control. Not every speaker uses or needs a lectern, but if it helps you, go for it.
  • A smile: Along with breathing deeply, smiling does everything from mask those nerves to create the feel-good chemicals that can internally boost your mood and make you feel more relaxed. It also helps to counter the natural tendency of most mouths to look either flatlined or downturned when at rest. Get balance in all senses of the word and smile before you speak.

What's your comfort zone to get you ready to speak? Share it 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.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Rep. Maureen Walsh's speech on gay marriage

"I don't wax as eloquently as most of the people on the floor here, but I have allowed my heart and my mind to guide me on a lot of issues that have been before us in the legislature, and I think that sometimes that's what we have to do," she said by way of introduction. And with that, Washington State Representative Maureen Walsh began a speech that went viral, fast, in support of  the state's pending legislation permitting gay marriage--a measure that was being debated at the time, and has now been passed into law.

This was a speech full of contrasts and surprises. In supporting the legislation, Walsh--a Republican representing Walla Walla--had to break ranks with her party. She's a heterosexual, supporting the rights of homosexuals. And she said, right at the start, that she wasn't as eloquent as others in the legislature, then wowed the house and the rest of the world.

That's because Walsh dug deep to explain her support. Describing herself as a "lonely old widow," she said "When I think of my husband and I think of all the years that we had...I don't miss the sex," to some laughter. Instead, she said she misses "that incredible bond I had with that human being," underscoring that the legislation wasn't about supporting sex, but about supporting stable relationships.

She brought that sense of justice back to herself, noting that if others hadn't spoken up for women's rights, she was "not sure I would be here as a woman."  It's a heartfelt speech, one that any parent or child can relate to. Walsh, speaking of her daughter's coming out as a lesbian, said "Someday, by God, I want to throw a wedding for that kid," dismissing the term "domestic partnership" as a term "which frankly sounds like a Merry Maids franchise to me." "I was proud of myself because I didn't cry," she told a newspaper reporter later. "When I really got emotional was afterward when my daughter texted me and said, 'You rock, Mom!'" Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:

  • Personal details make your speech memorable:  Specific personal details are what make your speech one-of-a-kind. In this speech, Walsh shared a very personal perspective and details about her immediate family, making a polarized debate understandable at a basic level and giving her listeners plenty to relate to and like.
  • Speaking personally can insulate your remarks from attack: Using "I" statements will always work better for you than the more accusatory "you" statements in a debate.  After all, no one can take your feelings and personal details away from you. By making a big issue a personal one, Walsh made it more difficult for her viewpoint to be attacked.
  • The unexpected is what audiences most want, but don't get: An element of surprise in a well-worn debate is always thrown into high relief, but even in an average presentation or everyday speech, audiences crave the unexpected--the things that make us stop and think, or that delight us at a moment when we expect to be bored. 

Read more here:
Here's the video of this famous speech. What do you think of it?

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, February 16, 2012

5 ways speakers can steer clear of overstatements

Are all your programs major? All your research extensive? All your senior officials probing and sought-after? Does "everyone know" about your issue? Those are overstatements. Now, get over it--by making sure you edit overstatements out of your speech or presentation, or stop yourself mid-delivery, if need be. As a listener, I'm more likely to find you credible as a speaker if overstatements don't pepper your talk. Here are 5 ways to steer clear of them:
  • Monitor those adjectives and adverbs:  Overstatements ride the coattails of adjectives and adverbs.  If the conference is especially exciting, the speakers notable and widely recognized and even the auditorium seats are the most comfortable you can imagine, I'll be looking for unicorns in the lobby of your next meeting. Don't let your desire to create a positive atmosphere make you unbelievable.
  • Get a sense of what you're reaching for:  When you're announcing something new or describing something you've worked hard on, there's a yen to make everything a breakthrough, a major advance or a significant step. If you're feeling some pressure--internal or external--to make something sound better, stop and figure out why, and whether that makes sense. Overreaching with your descriptions might make you sound defensive, unrealistic or just a braggart.
  • Find another word:  See if some variety--either in new terms or a rewritten sentence structure--can help you dig out of the overstatement ditch you're about to fall into.  A good rule of thumb: Don't reuse accolades.  Once you've described one program as "ground-breaking," that's it.
  • Temper, temper:  Could, may and might are useful tools to keep you from the verb forms that lead to self-destructive overstatement.  Referring to a new study that could prove useful hedges your bets better than one that claims to have completely solved the problem. It's one of the true good uses for a passive verb form.
  • Says who?  Ask yourself that question after every claim in your sentence. What would your staunchest critics say about your overstatement?  A neutral source?  If you can't prove it, don't use it.  And if someone can disprove it, time for a rewrite. 
(Editor's note: I've adapted this post from the don't get caught blog, where it first appeared, to make it applicable to speakers.)

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, February 14, 2012

Does she or doesn't she have trouble getting asked to speak at conferences?

"Speaking Opportunities Abound for Women Business Leaders, Finds Annual Weber Shandwick Study on Top Executive Conferences," said the press release headline. Color me surprised, since I see a continual drumbeat of reactions disclosing the opposite, namely, that women in all professions--including those dominated by women--continue to have trouble achieving coveted spots on the podium as speakers at professional conferences.

A deeper dig past the headline, however, told me this news story wasn't really out of sync with reality--just describing a very narrow slice of it. From the Weber Shandwick press release, the scope of the December 2011 study and its key findings:
...the firm examined the speaking engagements of the world's top women business leaders, based on Fortune's 2011 Most Powerful Women list (50 women executives who are U.S.-based and 50 women who are not U.S.-based). The majority of women (69 percent) on the list spoke at one or more conferences in 2011. On average, these top-ranking women spoke at 2.7 conferences over the course of 12 months. U.S.- and non-U.S. based women were nearly just as likely to speak, confirming that women all over the globe recognize the value of conference visibility....The leading speaking forums in 2011 for these top women executives included Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit, The World Economic Forum/Davos, India-US CEO Forum, Women Corporate Director's Global Institute, the Paley Center for Media International Council Summit and the APEC Women and the Economy Summit.
Not surprising, and not enlightening

Is is surprising that someone like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg gets invited to speak at one or more conferences in a year? I think not. Nor is it suprising that women on the Fortune 2011 Most Powerful Women list speak at, wait for it, Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit. Also not included in this analysis, but the question I think more women executives and audience members would like to know: What was the proportion of women speakers on those programs? Were they lonely tokens, or surrounded by lots of women speakers (other than at conferences focused on women)?

I did find surprising the fact that Weber Shandwick put out the study during a time when I'm seeing so many people complaining about the lack of women speakers and the gender imbalance on so many professional conference agendas. At one of the conferences it includes in its survey, the World Economic Forum in Davos, women speakers were "either a minority or not represented at all" -- and that's after the Forum instituted a quota for women's participation. Some observers are noticing the lack of women speakers when they get the meeting agendas in advance, others when they sit through panel after panel with too few women on them. Some go to a series of conferences and react to things like the lack of women keynote speakers.  Some tackle a lack of women speakers in their industry as this SEO blog did, by suggesting women they'd love to see as speakers, and one of those speakers commented with the feedback she was given: that women don't get rated as well as male speakers do. But nowhere else (except at conferences by and for women) do I see people talking about speaking roles abounding for women.

Does she or doesn't she?

So does she or doesn't she have trouble getting on the program? We don't have good data on the proportion of women speakers at all professional conferences--no one is keeping track that I've found. Weber Shandwick's interest lies in making its clients look good and in attracting new clients, and a positive-trend study, even one that scratches the surface of an issue, can help in doing that. But there's a drumbeat out there reflecting what audience members are seeing, and you can see it in this series of tweets I've been saving in recent weeks. I've put a sampler of them together as a slideshow, below, so take a look. What's the situation in your profession? Do you see speaking opportunities abounding for women or remaining scarce? Do you decide whether to attend based on gender balance on the program?

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, February 10, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Gabrielle Giffords's resignation from Congress

When you're a public official who's already captured the nation's attention, and you decide to resign, a speech is called for. But what if speaking isn't really all that possible for you, physically?

That was the challenge for U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head and spent a year recovering before she decided to resign from Congress to focus on her recovery. Until that point, she had been demonstrating that her ability to speak, among other skills, was returning. And in resigning, she spoke about speaking on behalf of her  constituents, one of an elected representative's most important public roles.“I don’t remember much from that horrible day, but I will never forget the trust you placed in me to be your voice. Thank you for your prayers and for giving me time to recover. I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week,” she said in a video message to her constituents.

Given the limits on her ability to speak, what would have been Giffords' resignation speech was broken into two parts: The video message, which was widely released online, and the reading of a resignation letter on the House floor; both are embedded below. For the reading of the letter, Giffords' friend and colleague Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz did the honors with Giffords standing by her side on the House floor, surrounded by the Arizona delegation. Before her resignation was read into the record, the House--in a rare show of bipartisan agreement--unanimously approved legislation she had proposed to fight drug trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Members of Congress were moved to tears during the reading of Giffords's letter, as was its reader. "From my first steps and my first words after being shot to my current physical and speech therapy, I have given all of myself to be able to walk back onto the House floor this year to represent  Arizona's 8th Congressional District. However, today I know that now is not the time. I have more work to do on my recovery before I can again serve in elected office," Giffords said in the letter. What can you learn from this famous speech?

  • When you can't speak, ask someone to be your voice: You don't have to go through what Giffords did to ask a surrogate to speak for you. Whether you are overcome with emotion at a funeral, unable to face the crowds and the press corps after a court appearance, or unable to speak physically, you still may find it important to have a voice. So borrow one. In Giffords's case, the speaker-surrogate had to be another member of Congress in order to speak from the floor; in your case, you should choose a trusted friend, colleague or family member.
  • Know your limits: Even the best vocalizer shouldn't speak too long, but when your health is a factor, keeping your remarks short is smart. In this case, Giffords speaks only briefly in the video message, leaving a more detailed message for the reading of her resignation letter. Your audience will understand and appreciate the effort, no matter how brief.
  • When words really matter: When brevity is a must, every word counts. If your spoken words can only be a few sentences, what will you say? What are you able to say? What can someone else say for you? What can be left unsaid? All those are the questions you need to consider in such a situation.
  • Be forthright in speaking to your abilities: Relearning speech has been a major hurdle and accomplishment for Giffords, and this twinned "speech" makes plenty of references to her condition and ability--in part, because it's a reason for her resignation, and on the minds of her listeners. But referencing speech and speaking allows her to reference being a voice for the people and her efforts to recover. In so doing, Giffords reminds us all that one of the primary jobs of an elected representative is public speaking--not only with her words, but her effort to speak them.
Giffords's video message and the reading of her resignation letter are in separate videos, below. What do you think of this famous speech?

(White House photo of Giffords with President Obama at the State of the Union 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, February 9, 2012

My Fantastic 5: Resources & role models for public speakers

My inbox is jammed with great reads, resources and role models for women involved in public speaking. If you explore them all, you'll find great examples, free resources, speaking opportunity and wonderful speakers from who you can learn. Think of them as the superheroes of your speaking week:
  1. The secrets of Thatcher's voice: NPR's Fresh Air did this smashing interview with Oscar nominee Meryl Streep about her recent role as Margaret Thatcher. In it, Streep speaks extensively about using her voice to create a role and how Thatcher spoke--including how the Prime Minister figured out how to keep men from interrupting her. An insightful and engaging listen.
  2. Free access to great health/medical/science speakers: TEDMED 2012, set for April 10-13 in Washington, DC, will make available live simulcasts of its main-hall sessions for free. The Association of American Medical Colleges is sponsoring simulcasts for "the nation's medical students, resident physicians, faculty, staff and the leadership of America's medical schools, teaching hospitals and health systems, and academic and scientific socieities represented by the AAMC." Siemens is sponsoring "TEDMEDLive Simulcasts to additional qualified non-profits in the world of health and medicine, including key foundations, professional associations, and others." Here's how to apply for the live simulcast at your organization.
  3. The eyes and ears have it: Psychotactics Zingers blog gives you an easy way to tell whether your audience has had enough: Look at their eyes and their ears. They're your cue to stop talking and let the audience take a break or get more involved.
  4. TED's waiting for you: The TED conference, which experimented with live open auditions late last year, will now let prospective speakers audition. It's a great way to break into a high-profile speaking opportunity. Find out more about how to audition for TED here.
  5. Woman takes top speaker honors in the UK: The UK Speechwriters' Guild is giving its Business Communicator of the Year Award to Gillian Tett, the US Managing Editor of the Financial Times. The judges noted that Tett "had the courage to speak out about what was going wrong in the financial system and the skill to explain how it happened. She makes simple analogies everyone can understand (comparing derivatives to sausages). She tells stories involving human beings acting at specific times in specific places. She self-deprecatingly refers to herself as a ‘hippy’ in a world of mathematics and astrophysics geeks and despite working in a world overflowing with acronyms, she avoids them deftly.” The Guild holds its spring conference on February 23 in London. Here's a video so you can get a sense of Tett's speaking style:

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, February 7, 2012

The dynamic prop: 6 questions for speakers to ask

Blame it on Bill Gates: In 2009, during a TED talk about his foundation's work to eradicate malaria, he opened a gigantic jar while delivering this part of this talk. From the transcript:
But, malaria — even the million deaths a year caused by malaria greatly understate its impact. Over 200 million people at any one time are suffering from it. It means that you can’t get the economies in these areas going because it just holds things back so much. Now, malaria is of course transmitted by mosquitoes. I brought some here, just so you could experience this. We’ll let those roam around the auditorium a little bit. (Laughter) There’s no reason only poor people should have the experience. (Laughter) (Applause) Those mosquitoes are not infected.
TED saw a surge in Twitter activity around this talk and this tactic, which must have had more than a few audience members itching in their seats. And Gates isn't the only high-profile speaker to use a dynamic prop. Also among my favorites:
  • Neuroeconomist Paul Zak sprayed the TED stage with oxytocin from a syringe while discussing the link between this hormone and feelings of trust and morality. Just a squirt, mind you; and
  • At TEDMED, engineer and beat-boxer Nate Ball sat on stage while a laryngoscope was put down this throat to give the audience an up-close view of his vocal chords while he improvised a beat; an fMRI gave the audience a view of what the improvisation did to his brain at the same time.
That last one is elaborate and best left to professionals, but your profession may have its own version of something just as complicated to demonstrate--or, like Bill Gates, you may want to go with a low-tech, high-impact option. Either way, here are the 6 questions to ask if you want to be a strategic speaker when a dynamic prop is among your options:
  1. What's the desired effect on your listeners? Do you want to puzzle them--and keep the puzzle going till the end of your talk? Create the kind of uncomfortable suspense that worked in Gates's talk? Make an abstract concept like a hormone or an unseen thing like the back of your throat concrete? Think through the effect on your audience. I have to admit that seeing the laryngoscope go up Ball's nostril and into his throat made me shiver involuntarily at TEDMED; a physician next to me leaned over and said, "That doesn't hurt as  much as it looks like it does." It's not a bad thing to make the audience uncomfortable if that's part of your plan and understanding. 
  2. How recognizable is it? If you're wielding something that the audience doesn't recognize, you'll need to spend extra time in your presentation explaining it. Factor in extra time for the hard-to-discern prop, or consider whether you need it.
  3. Can you edit your use of the prop? By no means should you use more than one prop (unless you host a children's live-television show, that is). But even if you only have one, make sure it's not taking up all the time of your talk. That squirt of oxytocin took a moment, but conveyed a more palpable sense of the hormone, and the idea of spreading trust. Even the most elaborate prop in our examples--the laryngoscope--does not dominate the talk. Make sure you are not upstaged by your devices.
  4. Is it quick and easy to operate? Props require practice, in part to make sure they don't take up too much time. If your prop takes time and effort to operate, get a partner to help, or ditch the prop.
  5. What might go wrong? In Nate Ball's video, below, physician Charles Limb is enlisted to help with the demo. But as Limb describes, he discovered he wasn't licensed to perform a laryngoscopy in California, where TEDMED took place. Fortunately, a qualified physician from the state also was a speaker, and stepped in to help. Think through your own prop, its use and preparation, its travel needs and all the other things that can go wrong. How would you do the talk if it suddenly weren't available?
  6. What do setup and cleanup look like? If your prop explodes, breaks into pieces on purpose, sheds a liquid, or requires elaborate preparations to get it onstage, take the time to talk to the conference or talk organizer, audio-visual crew or stagehands well in advance. Can you get rehearsal time for a run-through with all hands on deck? Will you be distracted right before you begin speaking by an over-wrought setup?
Here are the three talks mentioned in this post, on video. What do you think of these props and how they're used?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Diana Nyad on dreams, determination and defeat

I was lucky enough to see this talk in person at TEDMED 2011, and I've been waiting for the chance to bring it to readers of The Eloquent Woman ever since. Alone on a stage, Diana Nyad told us the story of how she decided at age 60 to attempt again the one major swim that had eluded her, the more than 100-mile, 70-hour swim from Cuba to Florida.

The story is one of dreams, determination, and ultimately, defeat--and how she handled it. The first half of this talk describes the dream and her motivation, as well as the preparations she made. And because no one in the audience had likely tried such a swim, she shared details that brought alive what it might be like to try, in effect putting the audience in her place. "You're swimming with the fogged goggles. You're swimming at 60 strokes a minute, so you're never really focused on anything, you don't see well.  You've got tight bathing caps over your ears trying to keep the heat of the head--that's where the hypothermia starts--so you don't hear very well. You're really left alone with your own thoughts."

I mentioned she was alone on stage, but throughout this talk, Nyad referenced others: her mother, the team of medics and crew and CNN-ers along for the swim. And then there were those thoughts. Part of her preparation was to help her stick to 60 strokes per minute, and avoid boredom. "I had a playlist in my head of 65 songs... I couldn't wait to get into the dark in the middle of the night, because that's when Neil Young comes out. And it's odd isn't it you think you'd be singing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah out in the majesty of the ocean, not songs about heroin addiction in New York City. But no, for some reason, I couldn't wait to get into the dark of the night and start singing, "I heard you knockin' at my cellar door/I love you baby and I want some more/Oh, the damage done." She sings those lines, swimming with her arms as she does.

Just before the midpoint, the swim--and this talk--take a turn as Nyad confronts the one thing she couldn't prepare for: Box jellyfish attacks she endured, not once but twice, from a sea creature that's not supposed to be in those waters. Burning sensations, paralysis, cramped breathing, convulsions followed, and more swimming. By the time she admits, "This body couldn't make it," you're feeling wrung out, yourself.  And just like the swim, it doesn't end with the attacks. Nyad brings the talk home by pulling it back to the audience, asking the people listening to consider their dreams. Here's what you can learn from this famous talk:
  • Physicality can move the viewer through your narrative:  As an athlete, Nyad moves with prowess through water. On stage? Just as smooth. In fact, she makes an art form out of it--and any speaker can learn from her. Watch her "swim" through the air, facing the audience directly, as if we're a jellyfish in her path. Watch her stalk the stage, pausing for effect. Watch her hands show you the scars from her swim. You won't want to look away. Nyad needs no prop. She's a classic example of how the speaker can use gesture and movement to hold attention throughout a story. 
  • Don't just dive in and hope for the best. Training is critical: This is a story that took place over many months; even the swim in it took days. Yet Nyad's talk clocks in at 16 minutes and 42 seconds, more than a minute shy of the 18 minute limit for TEDMED talks. This was not a talk thrown together, but one planned, edited, and rehearsed as much as her moves in a long-distance swim. She doesn't just dive in and hope for the best. Her training here makes the "swim" of a speech seem effortless.
  • Leave them thinking:  As she turns away from her defeat, Nyad opens it back up to the audience. "I wouldn't mind if every one of you came up on this stage, tonight, and told us how you've gotten over the big disappointments of your lives, because we'll all had them, haven't we? We've all had a heartache. So my journey now is to find some sort of grace in the face of this defeat," she says. She leaves the audience thinking about that by concluding with a paraphrase of poet Mary Oliver, the same question that got her back into the water in the first place: "What is it you're doing with this one wild and precious life of yours?"
Here's the video of this famous speech, and reader Maryn McKenna prompts me to include a link to the poem Nyad quotes. What do you think of the speech? Share your impressions in the comments.

(Photo from KlickPharma's photostream on Flickr)

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, February 1, 2012

Readers & I share small speaker confidence-boosters

I think of speaker confidence as a muscle, something you have to train over time to make it strong and resilient. But readers of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook reminded me that sometimes, just like a muscle, a quick move or two at the last minute also provides that rocket-boost for your bravery. I asked readers: "What's something small you do to boost your confidence when you're going to speak or present in public (before, during or after)?" And most of their responses fell into the "before" category--sometimes with seconds to go:

    • Beth Cruisin B Skwarecki I have a 2 second mini-visualization: The audience is staring at me. I smile!
      Yesterday at 2:07pm · 

    • Shayla Phillips-mcpherson music...get my vocal cords relaxed or use a song as my anthem...
      Yesterday at 2:20pm · 

    • Bronwyn Ritchie smile. remind myself I'm prepared
      Yesterday at 6:08pm · 

    • Sandra Vandenhoff Slow down breathing.
      23 hours ago · 

    • Jeannette Shields pray....a lot!!!!
      20 hours ago · 

    • Claire Duffy I recently asked my friends the same question. "arrive early enough to go through it in the foyer" was one good response.
      17 hours ago · 

    • Cherisa Zafft Play something with a good beat that makes me happy. When I begin a speech happy, the audience can tell!
      9 hours ago · 

My list? I agree with the readers--getting yourself in the mood, feeling prepared right before you go on, and smiling at the audience all help me rev up and feel confident right before I talk. But over time, I've also learned that working on confidence in between speaking gigs also helps me call on it at a moment's notice. Here are my longer-term exercises for the confidence muscle:
  1. Figure out what's getting under your skin, and address it. If you can identify what's undermining your confidence, you can find a way to deal with it. Make a list of your worst confidence-busters, then make a plan for each one. Work one at a time, master the problem and the fix, then move on to another.
  2. Stop your inner critic from talking. Henry Ford said it best: "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're probably right." Those are good odds, so think you can. 
  3. Practice. Where would you rather mess up as a speaker? I'd rather mess up in a practice session than during a real speech, any day. That way, I can figure out what trips me up and fix it--and go into my presentation knowing I've already slayed the worst dragons. One of the great ironies of speaking is that the speakers who look the most extemporaneous are the ones who've practiced the most. How much should you practice? Until you'd rather dig a ditch.
  4. Start small. If you haven't spoken up in a meeting, plan ahead and figure out where you can dive in, then speak up. Hint: Asking a question makes it easier to interrupt and join the discussion, or practice disagreeing in a productive way.  Do it again. If you haven't done a presentation, start by doing it for one colleague to see if you can make your case. Then do it for two more people. Then a small roomful. 
  5. Start short.  A short stint speaking is always easier than a long one when you're aiming to build your confidence. (It's over faster, for one thing.) Try one of my 4 stepping stones to get speaking practice, all short opportunities that will help you get real-time practice before you try a stem-winder of a speech.
  6. Smile. The readers have it right: Whether you play an anthem, do a meditation that ends with a smile at the audience, or just do something that makes you happy, a smile will engage your audience and spread the chemicals that signal your body to relax and feel good. It's the easiest way to boost your bravery--think of it as a one-second charge forward.
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.