Friday, March 30, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Amelia Earhart's "A Woman's Place in Science"

(Editor's note: For Women's History Month, our Friday series is focused on famous women's speeches in history.) She disappeared in 1937 and was declared dead in 1939. But pilot Amelia Earhart still captures our imaginations--even this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighted a renewed search for Earhart's plane to be done this year.

This speech was a radio broadcast speech given in 1935. Earhart, by this time, had already undertaken a grueling lecture tour after she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928; eventually, Earhart became a seasoned public speaker as part of several promotional campaigns following her record-breaking flights.

This speech, unusual in many respects, reflects her love of science and aims to connect women to it. When looking for a high school, Earhart canvassed several until she found one with a science program that suited her. At the time she made this speech, air travel had existed for about three decades. The idea of women pursuing flight, or pursuing science, was highly unusual. Yet, she made the case that women had a role to play in advancing and using science and aviation. It's a forward-thinking view, and the last point would come true, but only in wartime:
Profound and stirring as have been accomplishments in the remoter fields of pure research, it is in the home that the applications of scientific achievement have perhaps been most far-reaching, and it is through changing conditions there that women have become the greatest beneficiaries in the modern scheme....Although women as yet have not taken full advantage of its use and benefits, air travel is available to them as to men. As so often happens in introducing the new or changing the old, public acceptance depends peculiarly upon women's friendly attitude. In aviation, they are arbiters of whether or not their families shall fly, and as such, are a potent influence. And lastly, there is a place within the industry itself, for women who work.
This is a formal-sounding speech, a reflection, in part, that her topic was an uphill climb for the time. Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Pioneers can play a special role in recruiting audiences: Being a first at what you do best confers the chance for you to rally new recruits to join you. At this point in her career, Earhart had joined the faculty of Purdue University as a visiting faculty member with a focus on encouraging women to embark on careers in aviation, and this speech fits right into that mission as role-model and career coach.
  • Use contrast to shape your message: Throughout the speech, Earhart acknowledges the image of science and aviation as mechanistic, distant and mysterious, then counters with descriptors like "dramatic," "romantic" and "beauty," speaking with personal passion to draw the contrasts. Those word choices create pockets of surprise in the speech that keep listeners' attention--and are part of her attempt to persuade the listeners about an admittedly novel idea.
  • Share your sense of wonder with the audience:  Whenever scientists and lovers of science share their passions, excitement and even gee-whiz wonderment about the field, they're connecting with non-scientists in the audience effectively, on several levels. Your excitement (or disappointment or curiosity) on display will be infectious and establishes emotions to which your audience can relate, even if the scientific concepts stymie them. Here, Earhart takes the time to describe the advances of science--both at home and in flight--that make what had so recently seemed impossible a reality. If it seems familiar today, it was fresh then.
You can read the transcript of this speech or play the audio below:

Here's video of Earhart in a filmed interview, so you can get another sense of her voice and how she moved:

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.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reconsider red in your speaker wardrobe

Featured on BlogHer.comDo you favor a red jacket or suit when you speak in public? Lots of women refer to their red jackets as their "power" outfits, and prefer them for public speaking, presentations and television appearances as a way to stand out. But do they know what they're communicating?

Red makes you sexy, dumb, attractive and repellant sums up a lot of research on how red is perceived when it's worn by women. Yes, it makes you more attractive in others' eyes, but it also can signal that you're interested in sex, or stress out your observers. There are positive and negative perceptions that have been measured, most of which aren't (I'm guessing) how you want to be seen or the impact you want to have on your audience.

But I've got them beat with a reason to reconsider red: Especially on camera--whether for a web video or television--red looks like it's "bleeding" or disintegrating around the edges. That's true whether you're wearing a red jacket or red lipstick. Opt for a saturated but less vibrant color close to your face, and a dark jacket for a crisp look on camera. If you have light hair or white hair, a dark jacket will give you a better frame as well.

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, March 26, 2012

Does your conference have a harrassment code of conduct? I wish mine did

I will not forget that one of my professional groups turned its back on me when I complained about sexual harrassment at our conferences. I've held all the roles that give one some standing: host of the meeting, speaker, moderator, program committee. The people in power of late have been women. None of that helped. The year after I complained in a way that must have seemed "enough," registrants were required to check a legal disclaimer that they would not sue the organization for any reason once they had registered to attend. Some impact I have.

If you recognize which meeting I'm talking about, let's find another way to connect this year, because I think I've found a good alternative. At first, I thought this tweet was just a nice reminder that women should compete as speakers at professional conferences, but there was more:

Code of conduct? Yes, indeed. Here are some excerpts and the full one is here:
SecondConf is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form. All communication should be appropriate for a professional audience including people of many different backgrounds. Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue, including talks. Attendees violating these rules may be asked to leave the conference without a refund at the sole discretion of the conference organizers. Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion; sexual images in public spaces; deliberate intimidation, stalking, or following; harassing photography or recording; sustained disruption of talks or other events; inappropriate physical contact; and unwelcome sexual attention. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately....If a participant engages in behavior that violates this code of conduct, the conference organizers may take any action they deem appropriate, including warning the offender or expulsion from the conference with no refund. If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact a member of conference staff. Conference staff will be identified at the start of each conference day.
I've seen plenty of harrassment at conferences, as a speaker, an organizer and even as a staffer. Married men prowl for liaisons while away from their wives--even if that just means their wives are down the hall at the same conference. Hands on your ass, back (and other) rubs, groping and overly cozy hugs from men are commonplace enough that women who know each other well compare notes on which men do what. And in some cases, a mix of power play with sexual overtones, goes on. "Let's go upstairs and have a threesome!" one prominent member bellowed at me while I was speaking to one of his male friends in a roomful of colleagues. When I complain to men of my acquaintance, many say reflexively, "Oh, you're not going to go and spoil things! This is how we enjoy ourselves" or "You're not talking about me, are you?" or "Well, I expect you know how to take care of yourself," or the one I hate the most, "Well, really, can you blame them?" Thanks for the help, gents, in establishing these meetings as a hostile work environment.

All of this has happened in the last 20 years, the last 10, the last 5, the last one. And so every year, I debate whether to attend conferences where this happens, and when I do attend, I spend way too much time fending off, guarding against and being watchful...instead of doing what I should be doing. The requirement to check a no-lawsuit box may have been the last straw. Why would I attend a conference that wanted to bail out of its responsibility before we even set foot in the meeting? Why is my only protective option to stay home and withhold my funds and presence?

None of the conferences I attend have such a code. Would it stop harrassment? Likely not, and in this particular group, boy, would there be grumbling and outright objection. Such a code might stop situations like a male speaker with the faceless bitch slide, or male audience members wondering in the projected Twitter feed whether they wanted to "do" the female speaker. It makes failure to support a harrassed person of any kind an offense that could be publicly questioned or addressed, and specific individuals on staff are named with phone numbers to enable easy reporting of issues.. I can imagine that women who are attendees as well as women speakers would feel more comfortable--and likely to participate--if such a code were more commonplace.

Why isn't this the standard and not the exception? Why aren't the meetings I attend doing this, and enforcing such a code? Those are my questions. What do you think about the code, and what you experience at conferences? If you organize meetings and conferences, would you consider such a code? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reporting back on coaching a dying friend for a final speech

You might recall that another speaker coach wrote to me recently asking "How do I help a dying friend with a speech about her life and illness?" and asking for help and ideas from The Eloquent Woman's readers.

Several other speaker coaches weighed in with 7 ideas and resources for preparing a speech for a dying friend,  and now the coach who requested those ideas has reported back on the results. She says:
My friend  and I were both challenged by this task, but it was pure joy  to see her pleasure when she succeeded.  I know how much she values the experience, and I can't thank you and your readers enough for your support and assistance in giving it to her. Without you it would not have been possible. I feel blessed by such generosity. Thank you all.
I add my thanks, again, as well--it is wonderful to have such a community for this kind of speaker support.

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.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Mother Jones Speaks Before Striking West Virginia Miners

(Editor's note: During Women's History Month, we're focusing on famous historic speeches by women. Here, writer Becky Ham tackles the inimitable Mother Jones. I love that the only reason we have a transcript of this speech is because the mine owners hired a stenographer, hoping to charge Jones with inciting dangerous behavior.) Taking charge of your own introduction is one way to get a speech off to a good start, so I'll let Mary Harris "Mother" Jones offer her own intro here. Once welcomed as a "great humanitarian" before a crowd gathered to hear her speak, Jones was quick to correct: "Get it straight. I'm not a humanitarian, I'm a hell-raiser!"

It was her speeches that made Mother Jones "the most dangerous woman in America"--dubbed so by a West Virginia attorney. For nearly 50 years, the labor activist traveled the country to be the voice of child mill workers, deported Mexican workers, steelworkers and most famously coal miners. After her husband and all four of her children died from yellow fever in 1867, she took up the cause of labor after she and many others lost everything in Chicago's Great Fire of 1871.

She took charge of more than her introductions. Historians believe she crafted her "Mother" persona right down her old fashioned, lace-trimmed black dresses and spectacles. She claimed to be much older than she really was, and she called her audiences "my boys," alternately hectoring them and sweet-talking them into fighting for better working conditions. The grandmotherly pose did much to free her from the era's expectations for women--particularly the expectation that they should not speak in public, and certainly not in the inflammatory tone that Jones used to rouse a crowd.

Her speeches can come across as rambling and bombastic today, but they worked well in an age without microphones or recordings, when the connection between speaker and audience was intimate. Contemporaries said the intensity of her voice almost could be felt physically. And Jones spoke with one goal in mind--to call her audience to immediate action. She used aggressive and coarse language to incite, rather than to reason. And she was not above name-calling and humor to draw a sharp line between her boys and the company men.

One of her most famous speeches took place in 1912 at a public meeting in Charleston, West Virginia, as Kanawha County coal companies clashed with unionized miners over a new contract. Her words survive because the mine operators had hired a stenographer to take down her public remarks, with the hopes that they could be used to portray her as a violent agitator.

What can you learn from this historic speech?
  • Find a way to connect. Jones repeatedly used the words "we" and "us" as she called attention to the shared experiences she had with the miners, going to jail on their behalf, riding the rails to visit their camps, sitting with their families in times of grief. It's a tactic that establishes her right to speak in front of them and on their behalf.
  • Let your listeners guide you. Jones didn't speak from a script, but instead let a natural call-and-response develop as she moved through the speech. Watch for the places where this flow gives her the chance to get in a few extra shots against the governor and others, and where it helps her emphasize that patience and protection of property will be important weapons in the strike.
  • Add to a speech with a story. How many characters can you spot in this speech? There's the doomed Johnston boys with their meager lunch bucket, the clueless Senator Dick and the mine owner's wife with the pampered dog, to name a few. Each of their stories adds detail and emotion to the call to action.
  • Make room for a prop. Props were one of Jones' favorite speaking tools. On another occasion, she reportedly tore up a mine guard's bloody coat and tossed the pieces into the crowd. This time, it's the hat she passes to collect beer money "for the miners who came up here broke." The hat serves both as a reminder of the mine owners' stinginess and as a symbol of the miners' solidarity.
Although probably not filmed during her 100th birthday (she likely lived to only 93), we'll let this video give Jones the last words as well.

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, March 21, 2012

6 things extroverted public speakers can do for introverts

It will surprise most of the people who know me to hear that, according to official measures, I am only slightly extroverted...which is to say, not as extroverted as they think I am. But I know the reality: While I have a bit of an extroversion edge and I do get energized by being around people, I need my alone time, too. And when I have to speak on too little sleep or am otherwise off my game, in turn, I can pull from that extrovert side, but only for so long.

Knowing that has helped me figure out how to be a better speaker, but it's also helped me to pay attention to introverts in my audience so I can do a better job connecting with them. Extroverts will come find me before a talk, raise their hands (sometimes too much), volunteer to do demonstrations, answer questions to the audience. Introverts need a bit more (and sometimes less) from you. Here's my personal list of 6 things you can do for the introverts in your audience when you're the extroverted speaker.
  1. Give fair warning: Introverts benefit from and need extra time to prepare--where an extrovert would jump in and wing it, the introvert skids to a halt without time to anticipate. So clue them in early about what to expect. One of my most prized comments on a feedback form said, "Thank you for taking us outside our boxes--and for warning us early on that you were going to do that." 
  2. Provide openings: Just because people are introverted doesn't mean that they don't want to participate--from getting up in front of the room to try a public speaking exercise to just raising a hand to answer a question. But it falls to the speaker to make sure that she's not just calling on the more obvious extroverted volunteers, by taking questions from all sections of the room and staying aware and acknowledging of the quieter audience members. If you're speaking and notice someone who hasn't participated, make sure you ask what they think or whether they have a question.
  3. Provide closings: For starters, provide yourself some closings and stop talking long enough to let the introverts get a word in edgewise, since being the all-encompassing speaker can make introverts feel shut out and unable to contribute. Introverts also are great listeners...which might seem like a signal to keep talking. Don't. If you've brought an audience member up to demonstrate something, make sure to close out the experience with a thank you, round of applause for the volunteer and the closure she needs to escape back to her seat.
  4. Play to your strengths: Extroverts connect well with people, so make sure you are doing that even with the quieter audience members, using eye contact, moving around the room and other tactics to quietly let introverts know you see them, too. If you can give voice to their issues and concerns, do it--that's one of the strongest ways extroverts can give introverts a hand.
  5. Play to their strengths: If you're working on audience involvement, think through some alternatives that don't require people to get up in front of the room. What can they do in their minds, at their seats, or by turning to the person next to them? When it comes to making yourself available to audience members, do hang around so those who wouldn't question you in front of the group can approach you one-on-one afterward.
  6. Offer alternatives: I often do workshops where some participants wind up on video--and because I use ultralight cameras anyone can use, I clue in the introverts by suggesting they volunteer to operate the cameras if they don't want to be on camera. Don't be surprised if some introverts stretch themselves to be on camera, but do offer options so they don't have to do that if they don't want to.
Extroverts can benefit from realizing that they don't need to fill the silent void all the time, which is what prompted my post on 7 reasons I want you to talk less, speakers. I'm sure I don't have the market cornered here, so let me invite introverts and their friends to suggest more ways speakers who are extroverted can help the introverts in the audience. Please add your tips and advice in the comments....anonymously if you wish.

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, March 19, 2012

What have we done to the panel discussion? How would you reform it?

Is it me, or are panel discussions in trouble? When they're done right, panels can be an inspiring source of varied ideas, sparkling discussion and crackling energy. But more often, you get panels that:
  • Have too many speakers, like the one I turned down that wanted eight speakers, each of whom would have 2.5 minutes to speak. 
  • Find moderators fumbling to introduce the speakers, manage the room or handle the questions.
  • Are just pitchfests for the speakers, who don't add value by speaking about more than what they are selling.
  • Take up too much time with slides. Some organizers--believe it or not--feel strongly that panelists by definition should not use slides, which automatically add transition time as speakers get their decks up and running.
  • Run over the speakers' time and into question time. If speakers aren't well coordinated or controlled, you can count on speakers taking more time than allotted--even if it means less time for questions.
I've even started to see the "panel keynote" rear its head, sometimes with just two panelists...which screams "We couldn't make up our minds about who should carry the message for this conference" to me, at least.

I asked readers for their pet peeves about panels. Here are some of their thoughts:
  • On Twitter, Andrea Lewicki said "When panelists are unprepared, and it's clear that one or more of them "just showed up."
  • On Facebook, Martha Denton called out "Disrespectful panelists who talk over each other, repeat what other panelists said and don't answer questions properly, instead speaking to whatever their latest push is." And Kathleen Keesling shared positive and negative feedback: "I really enjoy the discussions where conversation opens up here and there for questions and ideas. I dislike one-way lectures because I feel like I'm eavesdropping, or that it is pre-taped. Blech!"
What are your panel pet peeves--whether you're a speaker, moderator or audience member? How would you reform panel discussions? Would you forbid slides? Set time limits? Do away with them altogether? Add to our list 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, March 16, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Annie Oakley's Libel Cases

(Editor's note: For Women's History Month, our famous speeches series turns to historic women's speeches. Writer Becky Ham gives us this look at sharpshooter Annie Oakley's series of courtroom speeches, defending herself and her reputation against libelous accusations, early in the 20th century.)

"Dope Caused Her Downfall...Annie Oakley is Now in Jail...Her Appetite for Drugs Drove Her to Steal the Trousers of a Negro"

It turned out--not that William Randolph Hearst and his papers were terribly interested in looking deeper into the matter--that the woman in these lurid headlines was a burlesque dancer sometimes known as "Any Oakley," and not the country's most famous sharpshooter as reported. But similar stories around the country devastated the real Annie Oakley, or Annie Butler as she was known in 1903.

"The terrible piece...nearly killed me," she recalled. "The only thing that kept me alive was the desire to purge my character."

Character was everything to Oakley, who had made a career out of treading the thin line between besting her male competition and reassuring them that she was still the little lady. Roles were reversed in her Victorian-era marriage: She traveled the world supporting her husband with her phenomenal rifle skills and showmanship, and she taught more than 15,000 women how to shoot for self-defense. But she opposed women's suffrage, and she was so careful to maintain a demure appearance that she sewed her own modest skirts when she was the star attraction of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

Most newspapers retracted the drug story within a day, but it wasn't enough for Oakley, who embarked on a six-year courtroom tour to clear her name. And when she took aim in these speeches, "Little Sure Shot" rarely missed. Oakley won 54 out of 55 libel cases she brought against newspapers from St. Louis to Scranton.

When the trials were over, Oakley had spent more money than she had recovered from the papers. But as biographer Glenda Riley notes in The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley,Oakley had regained control over her reputation--and more importantly, her livelihood--by fighting through to the end. "Had Annie failed in her quest for what she called justice," Riley writes, "she might have never worked again. Her place in history might have been that of a money-hungry, vindictive ex-star."

So how did Oakley win over the public at the trials, and what you can you learn from her famous courtroom testimony?
  • Appearance counts. The original newspaper articles made much of "Any Oakley's" disheveled, slovenly appearance. The real Oakley's look in court went far in combating the false story before she even opened her mouth to speak. The newspapers now said she "bore the appearance of a kindly schoolteacher," with her neat dress, a black veil lifted when she took the stand and prematurely gray hair piled on her head. Then, as now, juries--a very important kind of audience--can be influenced by appearance.
  • Know when it pays to stay calm...Reporters and juries were won over by Oakley's "polished courtesy," according to biographer Shirl Kasper. Oakley's answers were delivered in a "well-modulated and low voice," even in response to questions like, "Aren't you the woman who used to shoot out here and run along and turn head over heels, allowing your skirts to fall, and you wore buckskin leggings?" Oakley coolly replied: "I beg your pardon, you're wrong. I never wore buckskin leggings, neither did I allow my skirts to fall. I am the lady who shot."
  • ...But don't be afraid to fight back. Oakley kept her cool for the most part, but her rare outbursts were memorably cutting. Pressured by aggressive defense attorneys in Charleston, she minced no words before threatening to leave the courtroom: "If the gentlemen who fought for South Carolina during the Civil War conducted their defense with as much cowardice as the defense has been conducted against one little woman in this suit, I don't wonder that they received such a sound thrashing."
Below, you'll find a reenactment of some of Oakley's courtroom speeches from the PBS American Experience program on the sharpshooter.

Oakley was also the star of a 1894 film by Thomas Edison, when Edison captured her marksmanship on a prototype movie camera. Little Sure Shot, indeed.

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, March 14, 2012

Julia Louis-Dreyfus's role as "Veep" on HBO pokes fun at public speaking

Public speaking's a big part of the job for the Vice President of the United States and so it features a lot in "Veep," a new HBO series debuting in April that stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a vice president who is
"simultaneously overlooked and over scrutinized... with hilarious results."  You'll see the public speaking right away in the trailer, below, where her speech gets red-penciled by aides until she can only say "What's left here? I've got "hello," and I've got prepositions."  Looks like a must for speechwriters, speakers and anyone who's still hoping for a woman in one of the two top offices in the U.S. government. What do you think about this new show?

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, March 13, 2012

Updates from the blog: Lists, networks and more

On the blog and The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, I've been making visible and not-so-visible changes. Here's an update for you:

  • New lists for new information options:  I've created a series of special mailing lists so you can be sure to get the updates you want about upcoming workshops, training options for groups and individuals, ebooks and more. In some cases, I've created specific waitlists for specific workshops, or you can ask for information on all upcoming workshops. And of course, you can sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators. Use this link to see all your information options and sign up for the lists you prefer.
  • New publishing network: I'm proud to say that The Eloquent Woman is now part of the BlogHer Publishing Network. On the blog, you'll see ads from the BlogHer Network, along with links to other women's blogs in the network. I'm going to BlogHer 2012, this coming August in New York City, so let me know if you'll be at the conference, too.
  • New Facebook timeline:  The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, nearly 2,700 readers strong, has converted to the new timeline look for pages, a cleaner design. (I've included the cover photo for this iteration here in the post, so you'll recognize it when you see it on the page.) Already a fan? Then please share the page with your Facebook friends.

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, March 12, 2012

The introverted speaker at TED: Susan Cain

I've told you before about Susan Cain's book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking,but last month, she took it one step further, giving a TED 2012 talk about introverts. Since Cain writes in the book about being an introvert who has to do a lot of public speaking, this is a bold step--and one I think you'll enjoy watching. For one thing, it demonstrates how well a self-described introvert can tackle what some think of as the most daunting public speaking task, a TED talk. For another, you'll learn a lot about introverts, and that's a good thing for both extroverts and for introverts. What do you think about this talk?

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, March 7, 2012

How Rush Limbaugh is helping me celebrate Women's History Month

I have to confess: I struggle with Women's History Month. Every year when March rolls around, I'm reminded how tough it is to write about an issue like women and public speaking when, as Kathleen Hall Jamieson so succinctly put it, "History has many themes. One of them is that women should be quiet." Not a great start for a post celebrating the month, but true.

As a result, it's tough to explain to incredulous readers of today just what women have been up against through the centuries when it comes to speaking their minds--it just doesn't seem real or relevant. A lot of tactics to stop women from speaking in public have gone underground, coded and covered up, so they're less obvious.

But this Women's History Month, Rush Limbaugh brought obvious back. The month was ushered in by Limbaugh excoriating Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke at length as a "whore" and a "slut" for testifying about the health benefits of contraceptives before a congressional committee.

He did me an enormous favor. Using the word "whore" when a woman speaks in public, or questioning her status based on sex to silence her, is a tradition that goes back to ancient times. By keeping that tradition alive and kicking right here in the 21st century, he's given me a timely and compelling reason to look back on the history. Really, I couldn't have done better myself.

The speaker-as-whore label is just one of many tools used over the centuries to keep women quiet. Depending on the century or the nation you lived in, a woman who spoke "too much" in public--"too much" being "at all" in many cases--might have to wear the painful scold's bridle, a device that would leave your tongue bleeding if you tried to speak, and be displayed in public with it locked over your head and face. You might be put in the stocks, dunked in the lake, or even hung or burned at the stake. Today, in the U.S., we don't see those physical forms of punishment for women who speak in public, but that whore label still gets plenty of use and repetition. I'd say it's the most enduring of the historic tools for silencing women, based on sheer years of use.

Linking women's speech with sex, morals and reproduction goes all the way back to the days of Aristotle, when women were forbidden to speak in the public marketplace because it was believed that speaking interfered with their ability to reproduce. And if you're not going to get married and reproduce, you must be either a whore or an androgynous being, or maybe you're a man masquerading as a woman--or so the thinking went. You were, so to speak, a fluke. As early as the first century in Rome, "Effective female speakers....were labelled androgynes by their admirers," Jamieson notes.

Centuries later, as Gail Collins notes in her book America's Women, "pro-slavery hecklers claimed [Sojourner] Truth was really a man--an accusation frequently thrown at women who spoke in public." (That's a twofer, by the way: The accusation at once negates a woman's skill and sexuality, and praises men's speaking skills.) In Truth's case, the hecklers wanted her to bare her breasts to a group of women to prove she was not a man. Instead, she bared them to the entire assembly of men and women to prove her hecklers wrong and put the shame back on them at the same time.

These days, apparently, you demand that the offending woman speaker make a sex video and post it online, as Limbaugh did. But whether they're merely accused of being whores or more proof is demanded, the message to women is clear: You can be eloquent but not fertile, or a public speaker but not a lady, a mother or even a "real" woman.

Haven't heard the "whore" accusation recently yourself?  Elizabeth Warren, currently a candidate for the Massachusetts state senate, was called a whore by a heckler in November. A Democratic congressman called a female lobbyist a "K Street whore" in 2009.  Hillary Clinton nutcrackers were manufactured and sold during her 2008 presidential campaign, and we had a long discussion about her cleavage that suggested she was being suggestive. And don't forget those photoshopped Sarah-Palin-pinup photos, still easily found online.

Even the Republican National Committee featured Palin on its website in a photo taken from behind as she spoke at its convention, and from the knees down, so all you saw were her her legs and her high heels (see photo at left). Because that's what we're all interested in when a woman is running for Vice President of the United States, isn't it? Let's look at her legs, shall we, instead of listening to what she has to say.

This isn't just a risk for political women, who by definition do a lot of public speaking. Others who speak publicly or just sit in the audience also come in for this kind of treatment:
Danah Boyd described it this way, squarely from the speaker's point of view: 
....what's with the folks who think it's cool to objectify speakers and talk about them as sexual objects? The worst part of backchannels for me is being forced to remember that there are always guys out there who simply see me as a fuckable object. Sure, writing crass crap on public whiteboards is funny... if you're 12. But why why why spend thousands of dollars to publicly objectify women just because you can? This is the part that makes me angry....I don't want to be objectified when I'm speaking - either as a talking head or a sexual toy. I want to inspire, to invite you to think, to spark creative thoughts in your head. 
Maureen Dowd wrote this week from her own experience about a similar attack, giving us a sense of what it feels like:
As a woman who has been viciously slashed by Rush Limbaugh, I can tell you, it’s no fun. At first you think, if he objects to the substance of what you’re saying, why can’t he just object to the substance of what you’re saying? Why go after you in the most personal and humiliating way? still cringe at the thought that your mom might hear the ugly things he said.
I know why: To get you to be quiet. Even if you go on speaking, you've wasted time wondering about this out-of-left-field attack. His hope is that you absorb the shame he's pasting all over your reputation. If it happens enough, you might get discouraged and stop. Or other women might get discouraged and stop speaking publicly, since nuclear terms like these have a fantastic ripple effect. It really doesn't  matter what your viewpoint, political bent or perspective are. You don't need to be speaking about sex, or having sex. You can be any age, speaking on any topic. If you're a woman and your speaking is seen as a threat, you run the risk of having sex used as a silencer.

Why such a blunt tool to stop a woman from speaking? Jamieson notes that speaking historically was seen as much more dangerous an activity than, say, writing, because it was available to anyone, regardless of her education or status. Anyone can open her mouth and speak. Writing takes access to education, time and space to learn a skill--the "room of one's own" that Virginia Woolf described, or today, a blogging conference. So the powerful tool to take away from women is the most accessible one, their ability to speak, and to speak up for themselves.

Today, this kind of attack is typically more subtle and coded, and even this week, Limbaugh has attacked another woman, but done so by flinging the epithets "single," "authorette" and "over-educated" at her. Coded or open, I believe that the enduring practice of accusing or implying that women speakers are whores helps to explain why women speakers are relatively scarce in our history. Why, in boardrooms around the world today, women are told they are being shrill--shrille is a medieval term--or get talked over, or get their ideas taken and repeated later to great acclaim. Why so many professional conferences take place with no women speakers, or as few as 10 percent, with almost no repercussions of any strength. At some level, women know that when they open their mouths to speak, there's a more than good chance that they will be seen as "too far out there" or unseemly, or attacked and ogled for doing so. They may not be trying to silence you by asking that you bare your breasts these days, but they can undress you with their eyes, demand a sex tape or use the Twitter feed to speculate about raping you.

In our world and heritage, it's assumed that women can be silenced, because that has been more the norm than the exception in our history. Sometimes, I think that even women forget that the women who led the effort to secure votes for women in the United States did so after they were forbidden to speak at an international anti-slavery conference to which they were delegates. To them, it was the right to speak that was worth fighting for; the vote was a way to ensure it. To women around the world in oppressive regimes, the idea of public speaking may not even be a dream, let alone a reality, and yet it's a power any woman has in her own throat.

So know your history, ladies. Do as Sandra Fluke has done and call it what it is: An attempt to silence you.  Know and stop repeating the equally persistent myths that men and women keep spreading about women and public speaking. Every time you hear someone say that women speak more than men do, you are hearing a well-worn echo of the "too much" that led to persecuting women for speaking in days of yore. It's a tamer, toned-down way to shame you into being silent. Remind yourself that you're entitled to speaking your own views, thoughts, opinions and dreams. Keep on speaking, and reinforce other women who speak, or want to do so. Perhaps then the most consistent part of the history of women and public speaking won't be the use of the word "whore."

[This post has been nominated for BlogHer's "Voices of the Year" 2012 competition. Follow this link to vote--and thanks for supporting this post.]

(If you want a great, short rundown of the history of women and public speaking, seek out chapter four in Kathleen Hall Jamieson's book Eloquence in an Electronic Age : The Transformation of Political Speechmaking.)

(Photo from Gage Skidmore's photostream on Flickr.)

In honor of Women's History Month, look for our Famous Speech Friday posts, which will all feature historic speeches this month. Looking for more 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, March 5, 2012

From the vault: When the last-minute speaker needs to wing it

(Editor's note: This post from 2009 recounts a speech that still has audience members coming up to me, years later, to say how much they enjoyed it. I haven't changed much, but fortunately, the procedure described here is no longer so widely recommended.)

If you hang around long enough, someday, someone will come up to you and say, "The speaker just let us know she's sick and won't be coming. Can you fill in?" These aren't words you dread so much as simply fail to expect. If your plans were to be a happy audience member that day, those words bring an end to your vision for carefree luncheon, dinner or event.

This happened to me a few years ago on the day of the annual Washington Women in Public Relations "PR Woman of the Year" award luncheon. I'd won the award the year before, and I'd been asked to present the award to this year's winner. This is a plum assignment, and doesn't require saying much more than, "...and the winner is." And I was already speaking that day, on a panel discussion in the morning. But as our panel left the podium, one of my assistants came rushing up with a cell phone. "They want you to fill in--the keynote speaker is sick."

I had a cab ride and a half-hour of reception time to mull remarks and adjust to the new luncheon scenario. For someone whose personality type likes to plan ahead, this is not fun. My colleague Kate came by and suggested--given the group's focus on women in public relations--"was there any time in your career where being a woman in PR was significant to your success?" Normally, I'd have said no--but then it came to me. I had one example, just one, and a risky one, because it involved talking about a surgical procedure used to ease childbirth for women. At a luncheon speech. I'm just saying. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I used the luncheon opening talks to mull my hasty remarks. And then I was called forward. Let me break it down for you as I now see it in hindsight, and in the form of tips, while I share the story with you:

  • I started by taking a poll of the audience. In this case, I knew I was going to talk about childbirth at a luncheon, so I wanted to edge into the topic. "Let me ask you a few questions before I begin. How many of you are married? How many are single? How many have children? How many have grandchildren? How many don't have children?" In a room filled primarily with women, but also with men, this allowed me to check my assumptions about who'd understand the story I was about to tell.
  • I took the real-life situation of the day and put it into my talk. "I was struggling to come up with what to talk to you about, when Kate asked me whether there was a time when being a woman made a difference in my ability to do public relations well. I like to think it doesn't make a difference, but there was just one time when it did, so let me share that."
  • I explained where I came out on the poll so the audience understood my perspective."I asked you whether you had children. I don't, but early in my journalism career, I edited a magazine for new parents. I wanted to see how many of you might be familiar with a surgical procedure, an episiotomy, because it's part of my story." That got a buzz of reaction, so I could tell I had, shall we say, an informed audience.
  • Given my risky topic, I made sure they knew I wouldn't talk about the procedure much. People were eating lunch, after all. "This is a luncheon, so I'm not going to go into the details. But it's important to know that episiotomies are among the most-frequently recommended surgical procedures for women in childbirth, because--as the doctors tell their patients--they make childbirth easier. But they are also painful and add to your recovery time. At the magazine I edited, the topic of episiotomies always drew lots of reader reaction. Ladies, am I right?" Heads were nodding. Here I knew the odds were high they'd agree. People were giggling, and I learned at this point I could have a little fun with this.
  • I brought it back to our shared topic, women and public relations. "So fast forward in my career. I'd moved to public relations and was working for a major scientific journal, and the organization decided to launch a second journal, only about clinical trials. They're popular with the media, as they offer the chance to learn about new treatments for all sorts of diseases and conditions. We had several important reporters eager to see the first studies coming out from the new journal. And, because of my own earlier work in journalism, I was excited to see that the first major study we would publish was about...episiotomies."
  • I shared data and drama. "I was excited because millions of women give birth every year in the U.S., so childbirth issues clearly impact a lot of people--not just mothers, but the families around them. And this study had a surprising conclusion. I knew episiotomies were widely prescribed and done at that time. So imagine how I reacted when I learned that the procedure had never been comprehensively studied before. What's more, the study we were about to publish had all the right conditions--a large sample size, a 10-year scope, irrefutable findings--and found that, all things being equal, an episiotomy makes little to no difference in ensuring an easier delivery."
  • I pulled the story back to the PR focus. The room was buzzing with surprise, and I used that to push forward. "I've done a lot of work communicating scientific topics and this one had all the hallmarks of a good story. I had a wire-service reporter eager to see the first of our published studies. Now, I have to say that I don't tend to hover over reporters considering stories--I like them to stand on their merits. So I don't call to ask whether they received the information, and this reporter typically would call me right back if he was interested. But he didn't call. Five minutes, 10 minutes went by. So I picked up the phone and said "Whaddaya think?" And he said, "Honestly, I just didn't think this was all that important." At this point, whether you had children or did public relations, I'd put forward something for everyone. You could be horrified about the research or about the reporter's reaction, or both.
  • I brought it full circle for a big finish. "I tried explaining the merits again, but he wasn't buying it. So I said, 'Fred, I seem to recall you and your wife have kids, am I right? Do me a favor and call her, tell her about the research in your own words. Don't go by what I'm telling you. And then if you have any women in that newsroom, gather an odd number of them and tell them the same thing. You want to do the story or not, fine with me. But just call me when you've done that--I'm curious to hear what they say.' Five minutes later, he called and said, "I'll do the story--just make them stop yelling at me!" At this point, the room erupted in laughter and applause--the real reward for a story with a beginning, middle and end.
  • As I look back on it, starting with an audience poll and concluding with the reporter doing a poll of his own added a nice symmetry to the talk...but I can't honestly say that was aforethought. I was delighted to turn then to announcing my successor, the day's winner. What did I learn that would really help you when you're tapped to speak at the last minute?
    • When backed into a speaking corner, stick with the familiar. I'd told that story many times in smaller settings, so I knew it by heart--and knew it got good reactions. I didn't have time to write notes, and didn't need them, because I knew my own story.
    • I knew the audience would be willing to cut me some slack. As a member, a former award winner and a recognized speaker in the group, I had some advantages, but none greater than the sympathy folks have for the recently-pressed-into-service speaker.
    • I didn't try to replicate the talk I was replacing. No way, no how. In fact, I erred on the side of short, funny and informal.
    • I spoke only to my own experience. I'm not a parent, but I had relevant experience in my professions around the topic and focused on them.
    • I stuck to topics that mirrored the event, women and public relations, and that focus helped me be brief, relevant and cogent.
    That worked for me. What's worked for you when you've had to speak with little to no preparation time? Share your story 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, March 2, 2012

    Famous Speech Friday: Jackie Kennedy's 1962 televised tour of the White House

    (Editor's note: It's Women's History Month, so this month, all of our Famous Speech Fridays will look back to historic famous speeches by women.) Fifty years ago on Valentine's Day 1962, major U.S. television networks aired an unprecedented public speaking tour de force by a woman, when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy led a televised tour of the White House and its just-completed $2 million renovations. Her audience: 56 million Americans viewing at home, making it the most-watched television program ever, at the time. Her script: Nonexistent. Advance rehearsal time with the cameras and reporter's question: Only on the day of taping, when "we would go to a room and sort of talk it over, and she would tell us what she wanted to do, and then we'd just — we'd shoot it, and then the next room," according to the CBS producer in charge of the production, interviewed recently by On The Media. She was 32 years old.

    Kennedy, who shot the entire tour in one day from 11am to 7pm with the CBS crew a month ahead of its airing, belied some signs of nervousness, according to the producers, who noted her speaking voice was different than usual:
    There's nothing more than cues for her to speak, "And now, Mrs. Kennedy, can we go to the next room" and that sort of thing....she was not a professional. Her voice was a little constricted....It was not her normal speaking voice. But that's where the tension was shown, but not that much....It was astonishing, how much she knew.
    She might well have been nervous, since she'd originally thought she'd write a coffee-table book about the renovations and leave it at that. But President Kennedy, convinced of the power of television, encouraged her to do it as a TV show--one that outstripped his own ratings, as it turned out. She later won an Emmy for the program. Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
    • Preparation lets you take the ball and run with it: This tour--an hour on television in its finished form, but an eight-hour tour in reality--couldn't have happened without all the time Kennedy spent with the curators and renovation committee, learning about the provenance of individual pieces of furniture, or which Presidents had made which changes to the house. No teleprompter, no cue cards, no handwritten notes were used here, because she already knew her subject well. If that's not a case for knowing your topic before you speak, I don't know what is.
    • Pauses and silences can keep you on track: The clip below is full of pauses and silences on Kennedy's part. She does the right thing when she answers questions by pausing, answering and stopping--that lets the interviewer get a word in edgewise, but also ensures that she doesn't go rambling on too long. And for a nervous speaker, pauses help you to collect your thoughts and your emotions before you continue, a smart speaking strategy.
    • Tours are a speaker's test: Leading a tour may be one of the most challenging extemporaneous speaking opportunities you'll ever have. You need to know your subject, be ready for questions to pop up out of sequence with what you're showing, keep the tour moving, and remember your details to make the tour more than a dry recitation of facts. Here, Kennedy's enthusiasm for the project shines through as she describes the sad state of some artifacts or the stories behind others, a reminder that your listeners can't be interested in a tour if the guide herself is bored by it.
    Today, this type of program is more dynamic, in color, faster-paced....and more routine. But this tour, unprecedented as it was, set the tone for what was to come. I've posted a short excerpt below that includes some of the good examples noted here. 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.