Friday, November 30, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Heidi Damon faces her attacker in court

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

8 gifts to encourage your favorite public speaker

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

Friday, November 23, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

8 things I wish more speakers would post on Twitter

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: TV anchor Jennifer Livingston on her weight

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why do you blush when you're the speaker?

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 9, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here's the speech, audio-only:

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

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

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Factoring in your speaker personality when you're an introvert

Because I've taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment of my personality preferences, I know I'm an ENTJ--an extroverted, intuitive, thinking, judger. That tells me a lot about who I am as a public speaker. As someone who tilts slightly into the extrovert camp, I get energized by audiences...but only so much, since I'm not the biggest extrovert around.  (Lots of practice in front of audiences, however, has made this a stronger skill for me.) As a "thinker," I'm more analytical and less emotional. As an intuitive, I'm good at sensing an audience's mood and switching gears to meet it, and I look for possibilities in new situations.

I was reminded about why this is important to women and public speaking, thanks to this guesswork on the Myers-Briggs personality types of the 2008 presidential candidates (emphasis added):
Introversion/extraversion refer to where people get their energy. Extraverts get their energy from other people, the external world, and experiences. Introverts get their energy from themselves or their own space. Extraverts are often chatty, social and open; introverts are often quiet, reflective and contained. Introverts open up to their close friends; extraverts open up to everyone. Bill Clinton is clearly an extravert; I think Hillary is an introvert...Since 75% of the population is extraverted, extraverts are considered normal...Introverts often have to feign extraversion to succeed in the professional world; their natural style is often not valued. Much of the criticism of Hillary Clinton's authenticity is criticism of her introversion.
It's important for speakers to factor in their personality type when considering what works for them as speakers. Introverts may need to schedule some down time before and after a speech or presentation, as the experience might use up much more energy than it would for an extrovert. It's exhausting, colleagues have told me, to stretch themselves in this way. And even though I'm on the extroverted side of the spectrum, I have plenty of introvert in me. I can last a lot longer with a crowd than most introverts, but appreciate my alone time, too. For an easy read on figuring out your own (and others') Myers-Briggs types, check out Type Talk and Type Talk at Work, or check with your human resources office about taking the personality type assessment. It's often a relief to find out how your type reacts in a variety of settings--public speaking included--and to use that knowledge to make your path easier.

Another source of relief for the introverted speaker: My November 27 workshop on public speaking and presenting for introverts. I've used what we know about introverts to create a workshop that omits advice that really only works for the extroverted, using content and format considerations chosen specifically for introverts, to make this a comfortable training environment for you. It's a myth that inftroverts can't stretch to be great public speakers, and I'll give you the tactics you need to support yourself as a speaker, time and time again. Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz if you have questions or need more information about the session. And register today--registration closes November 16. I hope you'll be able to join me for this unique training opportunity!

(This post revises and expands one I published in 2008.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A reader asks: "How do I find non-trivial quotes by women on my topic?"

Do you ever get discouraged when you're seeking quotes for a presentation or speech, and all the available gems are from men? Or, more precisely, you're seeking quotes from women that suit your topic, but they just seem to be unavailable?

It's a frequent problem for women speakers. Why? Women have historically had fewer chances to speak in public, and when they have spoken, their speeches were not recorded or transcribed, many times. As one who tries to report on women and public speaking, believe me: Searching for quotes by women is not an easy task.

Perhaps that why a series of tweets caught my eye recently. I keep a search open on Twitter for The Eloquent Woman, and happened to see a mysterious tweet from Cate Huston, a software engineer at Google, and knew I needed to know more:
I went back to see Linda Carson's original tweet, shown above. @ghc is short for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference, being held just then in Baltimore. Since I happened to be online, I butted in:

Carson shared that she had been "scrolling through my own file, just got to the Davids and lost heart." Then, when I asked whether they had any requests for quotes or quote resources, Carson replied, "Non-trivial quotations on design, creative process, failure, collaboration, please!"

This turns out to be a challenge on several levels. Because women have been forbidden to speak for so much of our history, there are fewer speeches from which to quote, and in my experience, women's speeches are less likely to be saved, transcribed, videotaped or otherwise recorded. In many professions--such as computing and technology--women are scarce as speakers.

I'm going to take this challenge in two directions, offering some women-specific quotation sources as well as some sources focused on the non-trivial topics requested: design, creative process, failure and collaboration. And let me put out this call: I'd love readers to use the comments to chime in, whether you have just one quote from a woman on these topics, or a well-loved source of women's quotations.

For quotes from women speakers:
For non-trivial quotes about creativity, design, failure and collaboration:
  • Start with the above sources: One of my favorite failure quotes from the Eloquent Woman Index comes from former Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz: "I have a saying that I have used at my companies. Fail. Fast. Forward. Take risks. Fail. You're not going to get hurt by that. Try and figure it out as quickly as possible that it is not the right thing. That's the fast part. And move forward. Fail. Fast. Forward." Wherever possible, speeches in the Index include a link to a transcript, so you can choose the quotes that work best for you.
  • Look for creative thinkers outside your field: You may work in programming or architecture, so look outside your box at dancers, artists, writers--all of whom write about creativity. Dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp's book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life is a favorite with visual artists, for example--she writes of starting with an empty room, just as visual artists might begin with a blank canvas. Creativity's what you have in common, so look for creative women in all fields to fuel your quote folders. Likewise, consider looking at fashion designers for interesting quotes you can apply to programming design. Sounds frivolous, but may yield just what you're looking for. My most popular post on designing a slide presentation is built on a Coco Chanel quote.
  • Look for the new breed of creative thinkers who collect quotes:  I could send you to repositories like, where you can find and search through Bartlett's Quotations, among other references, but they're over-populated with quotes from men. Instead try the new breed of quote-mongers. Maria Popova, the maestra behind Brain Pickings blog--a great source on creativity, among other topic--now has a quote machine called Literary Jukebox, a blog that daily quotes a favorite book and pairs it with a musical recording. Popova also blogs at Exp.lore, with threads on creativity and innovation, science and technology, and art and design, each one loaded with quotes, many from women. Also in this vein, check out Letters of Note, which collects and publishes unusual correspondence on its blog. The Improvised Life is fond of sharing quotes, creative mashups and beautiful inspirations that are not at all trivial.
  • Don't see enough quotes from women in other collections? Let the compilers know what you want to see. Pepper them with emails and tweets, just like you did here. Ask. If you belong to a professional society with a women's committee, or one made up of women, make that a project so that your profession's women are represented with their best quotes. (Historians in your field will be great partners in this project.) And if you have a great collection, consider putting it online to share with the rest of us--I'd love a heads-up about your best online collections of quotes by women.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Michelle Obama at the 2012 Democratic National Convention

(Editor's note: Right after this speech, freelance writer Walker Wooding emailed me to say how much he thought this speech resonated--so I asked him to share his thoughts with you for our Famous Speech Friday series. Here's his take.) 

Storytelling can turn an invitation to speak into an invitation to engage. First Lady Michelle Obama provided an example of this when she recently spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Sure, like some Democrats, and like some Republicans in their convention the prior week, she touched on political character and on partisan concerns. Her speech, however, epitomized the touch of personal connection. That connection began with immersing the audience into her world, illustrating life as a mother, a wife, and eyewitness to President Barack Obama as a father, a husband, and a man. She connected that world to the world of millions of Americans with the power of story.

Stories are our DNA. They carry from one generation to the next our beliefs, struggles, and dreams. So when a number of folks sat down, tuned in, or clicked on for Michelle Obama’s speech given that September Tuesday night in Charlotte, N.C., they found themselves captured with a story. That’s what engagement is, a moving dialogue that moves us, connecting what the speaker wants to say to what she wants the audience to think, feel, or do. The key to this speech was matching the message to the moment, which, according to Twitter’s blog, peaked at 28,003 Tweets per minute at its conclusion.

For a blueprint of capturing the moment, let’s look at three of the four qualities the late Ted Sorensen, President John F. Kennedy’s speechwriter, said characterizes a memorable speech—clarity, charity, brevity, and levity. Here’s what you can learn from the First Lady's example of speaking to engage:

Clarity—to clearly set out a road map for the audience. Michelle Obama championed examples of the American spirit. She proclaimed how struggle doesn’t change that spirit but defines it. She explained how becoming First Lady hasn’t changed who she is but has made her stronger in her most important role, a mother. She laid out the theme of her husband’s bid for reelection—to stay the course in a struggle to help Americans with their struggles in achieving their quests. Parallelism, the technique of using similar ideas in a balanced construction, helped the First Lady frame the President’s drive to make it possible for everyone to fulfill their lives. “Barack knows the American Dream because he’s lived it...and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love.”

Charity—to praise the audience for what they’re contributing. Here, the First Lady credited people for paving the way for others to attain their aspirations. For example, she honored members of the military for their sacrifice. She also gave voice to everyday people who, in their own ways, also suit up, gear up, and get after it. “We get there because of folks like my Dad...folks like Barack’s and women who said to themselves, ‘I may not have a chance to fulfill my dreams, but maybe my children will...maybe my grandchildren will.’ So many of us stand here tonight because of their sacrifice, and longing, and steadfast love...because time and again, they swallowed their fears and doubts and did what was hard.”

Levity—to endear yourself to the crowd. The First Lady unified her chronicles about love, family, and ambitions with emotion and body language that resonated with some of the audience. It resonated with me, too. For a moment, I forgot that she was speaking at a political convention. In that moment, I remembered growing up in New Jersey. There, I often sat with my mom and her four sisters congregating in the kitchen or living room. That was their convention center, their town hall, to signify about living, loving, and looking to the future for their children. “And I say all of this tonight not just as First Lady...and not just as a wife. You see, at the end of the day, my most important title is still ‘mom-in-chief.’ My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world. But today, I have none of those worries from four years ago about whether Barack and I were doing what’s best for our girls.” In the end, Michelle Obama’s speech was much more than about her or about the President. It was a story much about love and about struggle. Both involve character, commitment, and courage—just some of the makings of what it takes to prevail in the pursuit of our dreams.

A link to the transcript is above and the video is below. What do you think of this famous speech?

(Photo from Barack Obama's stream on Flickr)