Friday, March 29, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Tilda Swinton's "David Bowie Is"

"All the nicest possible freaks are here" might not seem like the right greeting to open an exhibit about your famous friend's art and work, unless you're actor Tilda Swinton and your famous friend is David Bowie. Swinton spoke last week at an opening of the "David Bowie Is" exhibit at London's Victoria & Albert Museum, a palace of design and one of my favorite places in London.

As unusual as its subject, the speech had out-of-the-ordinary parameters, factors that might happen to any speaker. The person to be saluted, David Bowie, was not present at the opening. The exhibit, which features more than 300 objects from Bowie's personal archive, spans his career--which is still active. (Swinton's featured in the video for his latest single.) So it's important to avoid sounding like his work is over, even as the speaker recalls the honoree's importance.

Perhaps due to all these factors, Swinton chose a letter as her format. Addressing herself to Bowie, she early on established both the museum and Bowie as muses in her childhood:
This was my favourite playground as a child. Medieval armour: my fantasy space wear. 
And, alongside, when I was 12 - and a square sort of kid in a Round Pond sort of childhood, not far from here - I carried a copy of Aladdin Sane around with me - a full 2 years before I the wherewithal to play it.  
The image of that gingery boney pinky whitey person on the cover with the liquid mercury collar bone was - for one particular young moonage daydreamer - the image of planetary kin, of a close imaginary cousin and companion of choice.
Swinton gave full measure to the experience of the opening in her speech. "We all have our own roots and routes to this room," she said, encompassing the entire crowd in that one sentence. But she went further, making sure the audience felt her enthusiasm for the show:
They wanted a Bowie fan to speak tonight. They could have thrown a paper napkin and hit a hundred. I'm the lucky one, standing up to speak for all my fellow freaks anxious to win the pub quiz and claim their number one most super-fan t-shirt. I want to give thanks to the Victoria and Albert Museum for indulging us so. For laying on our dream show. For showing us - look at their advance ticket sales - that, as is written along the bottom of this month's Q magazine,'why we all live in David's world now.'
What can you learn from this famous speech?

  • You can do better than pro forma remarks when speaking at an opening: Swinton's speech is nothing like the usual ribbon-cutting, grip-and-grin, I'm-so-happy-to-be-here-to-open-this-exhibit speeches you normally hear. Listen up. This is intimate, personal, detailed, funny and focused. Can you do the same when you're officiating at an event of this type?
  • Make allies and familiars of your audience and your honoree: It's all personal in this speech, as Swinton speaks directly to her friend, the honoree, about her own feelings as a fan. In doing so, she engages the audience of like-minded fans, reflecting their enthusiasm in her own. It's an encompassing speech, one that draws the listeners in with fellow feeling.
  • Take a letter: The letter format won't work for every speech, but it works here for two reasons, bridging the absence of the honoree and allowing the speaker to speak in a more intimate and personal manner. Swinton concludes by calling Bowie "Every alien's favourite cousin, certainly mine." From framing the speech as a personal letter from her to him, to the ways she refers to him with a personal perspective, Swinton makes sure the focus here is on her subject. In your tributes and testimonials, make sure it's all about your honoree--even if you don't deploy the letter format.

Read the full text of Swinton's speech here--I wish I had a video for you! What do you think of this famous speech?

(Photo (c) Dave Benett Getty Images, courtesy V&A)

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Would conference child care help more women speak and attend?

If you're at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, with a mission to convene conferences that bring together European and U.S. leaders, a dearth of women speakers and participants is a problem. "From the very beginning, we have been concerned with having a balanced room in terms of gender, age, and background to ensure a vibrant conversation that pushes past tired policy tropes," writes the Fund's communications director, Will Bohlen. "Our diversity has improved (20 percent women at the 2008 Brussels Forum, 26 percent last year), but only with great effort." The Fund does a great job documenting its conferences, and you can read about this year's just-completed Brussels Forum here.)

In Why do so few women attend prestigious international conferences?, Bohlen walks through the Fund's decision to try a novel approach: Offering child care at one of its Brussels-based meetings:
This year, one of our early skull sessions generated an idea we hadn’t heard before: offer free on-site, licensed childcare throughout the weekend. Our targets are the mid-career professionals who are beginning to take on important jobs in the transatlantic community. The goal is to neutralize the complexity of attending a weekend conference for working parents, women or men. Despite our high hopes, only three parents have signed up. We do not consider the effort a failure, but it also is not the silver bullet we had hoped for....
Bohlen notes that there are hopeful signs for the future:
There is at least one promising sign that our diversity efforts will take root in the near future. On the sideline of our conference is a smaller effort to develop new leaders on both sides of the Atlantic—a young professional’s summit for those under 30. We expect these rising policy stars to take higher-level jobs in the future and become part of the main Brussels Forum conference. When that happens, the group will help our gender balance as well. This year, the young professionals are 44 percent female.
What about you? Would a high-level weekend conference offering child care change your view about whether to speak or attend? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see these good reads, resources and ideas from other sources that I post there, in addition to posts from the blog. I'm summarizing that extra content every week and putting it here on the blog. Here are the finds I shared in the week just past:
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Friday, March 22, 2013

6 famous speeches about voting from The Eloquent Woman Index

Women today who have trouble getting on the program at professional conferences might want to take the don't-get-mad-get-even approach that Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton took. They were delegates to an 1840 convention on fighting slavery, but found when they arrived that the women delegates weren't allowed to speak--so they came home and started a movement to seek votes and rights for women.

Voting's a recurring thread in the 100-plus speeches collected in The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches--but these six speeches don't deal only with votes for women. I've put them in chronological order, so you can see the progress being made. As with all of the speeches in the Index, each of these posts includes the text, and, where available, audio or video, as well as concrete speaking lessons you can learn from them:
  1. Susan B. Anthony's 1873 speech "Is it a crime for a U.S. citizen to vote?" came during a court case after she was indicted for voting in a presidential election long before U.S. women were allowed to do so. Anthony didn't live to see women get the vote, but she got the ball rolling in dramatic fashion with this forthright speech.
  2. Emmeline Pankhurst's "Freedom or Death" speech in 1913 brought this British suffragette to the United States, in an effort to raise money and to escape another stint in jail. The British campaign for women's votes was more violent than its sister movement in the U.S., and Pankhurst explained why in this speech, noting "you cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs."
  3. Canadian suffragette Nellie McClung's "Should Men Vote?" speech in 1914 is among my favorites for its humorous approach. She staged a mock parliament to debate whether men should get the vote, using all the arguments they made against women voting--and showing them for the empty reasoning that they were, getting lots of laughs and winning the popular vote in this round.
  4. Coming right after American women earned the right to vote in 1920, this speech by Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low in 1924 folded voting into a list of activities a Scout might be expected to do to show "she is a useful and worthy member of her community." As scouting predated women's votes in the U.S., the speech demonstrates how the movement was ready to change as women's roles in society changed.
  5. Eleanor Roosevelt urged a specific kind of vote in her nomination-saving speech at the 1940 Democratic convention. Her husband had been nominated for a controversial third term as President, but conflicting factions put that nomination in danger. Telling the delegates "this is no ordinary time," Roosevelt won her husband the convention delegates' confidence and made an historic, ringing speech to boot.
  6. Fannie Lou Hamer's televised testimony before the Democratic National Convention conference committee in 1964 laid bare the violent struggle that blacks faced in attempting to register to vote. A little less than 100 years after Susan B. Anthony's speech, and a half-century after Emmeline Pankhurst, Hamer was back to talk in unflinching terms about being jailed for seeking the opportunity to register to vote. She echoed Anthony's "Is it a crime for a U.S. citizen to vote?" by asking "Is this America?" She had the platform that none of the other five women in this post had, however: Televised live, her testimony didn't get her a seat at the convention, but pushed voting rights forward by reaching a wider audience.
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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The all-in-one on ums, and how public speakers can fix them for real


You can call it a first aid, fix-it-up kit if you want, but I get enough repeated questions about ums, uhs and other unintended speech disfluencies that I'm packing up all The Eloquent Woman's wisdom on ums and putting it here in one place for you. Ums  have come up on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook; here are some reader questions and comments about them:
  • Kelli Stevens Levey asked, "ummm, how do we stop saying "umm" and "uh" when speaking? If I think about trying to avoid it, I seem to do it even more!"
  • Sheila Shukoski Kronberg added: "Ditto to Kelli's request! I do the same thing."
  • Rosetta Cooks-Bookman agreed: "I struggle with this as well. Being in a leadership role, it's important to exude confidence in your decisions/answers. I try to deliver a clear presentation in meetings and Q&A sessions. The"umm" often finds a way to slip in :( "
  • Kathryn Susanne Wells Zukowski wanted to know "How to stop saying ah, um...to take up space while thinking. Is it totally that I am not prepared? Sometimes we have to speak imprompt and they come up."
More recently, some readers started sharing this post again on Twitter:

First off, know that ums, uhs, ahs, and all other speech disfluencies, as they're called, are normal. I'd be surprised if you had none, because they make up around 10 percent of everyone's speech.  They're just a verbal pause so you can think of what you want to say, and you can combat them with these options:
  1. Planning your message and making sure it's memorable to you is important. If you know what you want to say and have organized it in a way that's easy to remember, ums won't occur so often.  Here's how to craft a basic message, and here are tips for making it memorable.
  2. When it comes to memorable, resist the urge to tell a joke.  Turns out jokes pose a particular memory challenge, and you can read more about that here.
  3. Next, you can teach yourself to replace "ums" with what I call time-buying phrases--words that add some content, but allow you a few more seconds to think until you can get back to your point.  Here's my list of what to say (instead of um) when you don't know what to say. It's a handy list to use for Q&A and extemporaneous remarks, too.
  4. Are your ums of the visual variety? I call "visual ums" those gestures or glances that give away (to me, at least) that you're marking your place visually, rather than verbally. Repeat them enough, however, and they also can distract your audience. You can replace them with time-buying phrases, too. Video practice is what will show you these ums, so use my checklist for watching video of your speech without wincing to catch them.
  5. Make sure you're not immobilizing your hands when you speak, and that they are free to gesture. Speakers whose hands are clenched together or gripping the lectern or hidden in their pockets are more likely to stumble verbally.  Read about the science behind stumbles and how gesturing can be part of your campaign against ums.
  6. Recognize they're normal.  We interviewed with Michael Erard, author of an entire book on ums, notes that we didn't start getting self-conscious about scrubbing ums out of our speech until we were able to record our voices.  Find out just when "um" became a dirty word.
I heartily recommend Erard's great book, Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean. It's a fascinating examination of a word all speakers use.  Once you know more about ums and why you do them, as well as the alternatives above, you won't flinch so much when they come out of your mouth. And that might be the best advice of all: Consider your ums normal, and keep moving. If you don't stop for them, neither will we.

(This post expands on and updates one I published in 2010.)

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Monday, March 18, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Are you a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook? It's the fast way to see these good reads, resources and ideas from other sources that I post there, in addition to posts from the blog. I'm summarizing that extra content every week and putting it here on the blog. Here are the finds I shared in the week just past:
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Friday, March 15, 2013

6 famous extemporaneous speeches by women from The Eloquent Woman Index

Most people have at least a little case of the nerves when it comes to public speaking, so it can seem doubly impressive to watch a person speaking without notes, off-the-cuff, extemporaneously.

You may think of this as the sort of speaking you need to do only in a pinch, when technical difficulties arise or you're called upon to talk without a warning. But a look back at the speeches in The Eloquent Woman Index suggests that there may be some very good reasons for speaking without a net. Click on the speaker's name to reach the "Famous Speech Friday" post that describes the speech and what you can learn from it; where available, these posts include transcripts or texts, video or audio.

Do it to connect with your audience 

Without notes to glance at, speakers can keep strong eye contact with their audience. Studies show that audiences appreciate this, and feel more engaged with a speaker and her topic when it happens. Check out how then-Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz used this to great effect when she tossed out her prepared speech at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women and Computing.

Extemporaneous speaking can also serve as a signal that the barriers between an audience and speaker have been lowered, as in this eloquent commencement address by teacher and author Margaret Edson. Lowering these barriers is a difficult feat, especially for a speaker up in front and sometimes placed high above a large group of listeners.

No notes can sometimes mean no script for the speech, which is a good thing for speakers who rely on call-and-response to build rapport with their audiences. Self-proclaimed "hellraiser" and union activist Mother Jones shows how to both lead and follow an audience in her speech before striking West Virginia miners.

Do it to tell your personal stories

Plenty of good speakers draw on personal experiences when they talk, but those experiences can sometimes sound flat when they're crafted and planned out in the same way that a less intimate speech might be. If it's your story, you might do better to tell it off the cuff, so that it comes out in your own unvarnished words. Actor Viola Davis did this at ELLE magazine's 2011 Women in Hollywood awards, as she talked about the childhood games that led to her career. Another plus for her: Davis said that speaking with notes actually makes her more nervous.

Kayla Kearney, who at 17 years old came out as a lesbian at a high school assembly, is another speaker who chose to tell a personal story without notes. She was in control and able to speak so powerfully in part because she chose a topic that she had considered over and over, and didn't need notes to get in the way of the telling.

Do it because you can

The idea of speaking without a speech might have scared First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy when she gave her historic televised tour of the White House on Valentine's Day 1962. And the producers did notice her nerves and elevated voice on camera. But they were also astonished by her vast recall of details about each room on the tour. Her preparation for the talk came from the hundreds of hours she had spent guiding the White House renovation, and it was that intensive knowledge that showed up on camera as well.

Do these famous speeches inspire you to be a little more extemporaneous in your next talk? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

(Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this post.)

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

5 books of women's history through the eyes & voices of speakers

It's Women's History Month, a great time for women speakers to draw inspiration from speakers of the past. Try these unusual books about women speakers, which offer you insights, examples, quote sources and more:
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Monday, March 11, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit


Readers who are fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see these good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. Want to keep up with them? Here are the finds I shared in the week just past:

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Friday, March 8, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Queen Elizabeth I to the troops at Tilbury

This speech is beloved of speechwriters and lovers of rhetoric. But are we in love with the real thing? Reportedly given by Queen Elizabeth I to British troops stationed at Tilbury in 1588 as they awaited an invasion of the Spanish Armada, it's brief yet powerful, a speech designed for the field.

For me, this speech illustrates many of the issues I face in bringing forward famous speeches by women. Even though it was given by a monarch at the peak of her powers -- in 1588, Elizabeth was 55 years old -- there's not a definitive version from which to work. Three versions are available, with the one written down closest to the date of the event in verse, and the other prose versions in letters recalling the event decades later. You might look at that as an abundance, a reflection of Elizabeth's rank, but the lack of a definitive record is what keeps so many women's speeches from being quoted, analyzed and used as models.

In this speech, as in so many things, Elizabeth was forging an unusual path for a woman. And the speech is best known for the lines that make that unusual path clear:
I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.
It happened hundreds of years ago and much has changed. So what can you learn and use from this famous speech?
  • It always pays to rally the troops: Too many leaders forget that troops thrive on rallying remarks from the leader. In this case, Elizabeth's "I myself will take up arms" says "I'm with you" in real terms. Have you done that with your "troops" lately?
  • An apology is still the foot in the door that lets women speak boldly: "I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman" may be the most eloquent apology from a woman daring to speak up and tell a group of men what to do. It's also a smart speaker tactic: Tackling the obvious thought on the minds of the audience, and disproving it. Today, we often decry women for apologizing too much, even though research shows the genders differ in what they consider needs an apology. Yet verbal apology is still the path-smoother for women who want to speak up in the workplace, where data show that both men and women view women negatively when they voice their thoughts. Men and women have long used apologies ("I'm sorry, were you in this seat?") as a way to signal good intent, not necessarily self-blame. "Permit me to point out...." and "allow me to say..." are longstanding phrases for introducing difficult, even stinging commentary, and no one listening really thinks the speaker is begging for permission. From that perspective, apologizing first and talking next works--and now you can start thinking of it as a royal foot-in-the-door.
  • For an authentic speaker, the most powerful pronoun is the vertical one: In the version I work from here, that famous royal "we" is deployed just once, making formal a promise of payment for the troops' service. Otherwise, she speaks for herself with "I" statements, which are at once stronger, more personal, and more authentic. No one can speak for you but yourself, and an "I" statement is a strong way to do that, even today.
Even if we don't know whether these are her words, Elizabeth I was a truly eloquent woman. In the debates over whether someone else might have written Shakespeare's works, analysis showed that only the writings of this queen came close to his, and even she was eventually ruled out.

You can read the text of the speech here, and read about the different versions here. And as befits a speech with many interpretations, here's a film version that imagines how it might have happened, with an emphasis on the imagination part:


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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Seth Godin on what makes a good question from the audience

Ever wonder why some people ask questions when you invite them from the group after your remarks are done, and others wait to gather around you at the end of your speech before posing their questions? Marketing and Internet thought leader Seth Godin shared an insight on those particular audience moments during a recent interview on On Being, a public radio program. Here's how his thoughts on questions emerged, from the interview transcript:
Ms. Tippett: I mean, one of the points you make about this new world we inhabit and the need and also the opportunity for each of us to be artists is that it's precisely when you are doing something that no one has done before that you are not going to get the loudest applause. Right? That you will not get picked. And that then requires us to develop some different kinds of internal resources. Right? I mean, how do we internally have faith in what we care about? 
Mr. Godin: Yeah. Exactly. And that's where the discernment comes. You know, so when I give a talk — at the end you'll say, are there any questions? And the only people who are raising their hand are raising their hand because they think they have a question the group wants to hear. They think that they have something to contribute. Now what's fascinating about it is five minutes after we're done, everyone has a question. Right? 
Ms. Tippett: Right. Right. Right. 
Mr. Godin: Because now it's safe to ask your question because you're not going to be judged on the question that you're going to ask. But the people who do ask a question have demonstrated to themselves that they have good enough judgment to be able to put something into the world that hasn't been said before. That's what makes it a good question. And that practice is something that we should learn and we should teach our kids, and we should teach our colleagues how to do it.
In the unedited interview, which doesn't come with a transcript, Godin touches on how we have discouraged women in particular from speaking up or speaking publicly. It's part of a discussion of themes in his latest book, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?

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Monday, March 4, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Are you a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook? It's the fast way to see these good reads, resources and ideas from other sources that I post there, in addition to posts from the blog. I'm summarizing that extra content every week and putting it here on the blog. Here are the finds I shared in the week just past:
If you found this post useful, please subscribe or make a one-time donation to help support the thousands of hours that go into researching and curating this content for you. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

6 famous speeches by women scientists from The Eloquent Woman Index

Rachel Carson
We have several scientists starring in The Eloquent Woman Index of more than 100 famous speeches by women, and it's a group that shows just how difficult--and rewarding--public speaking can be.

Many of these women were pioneers in their fields, and had to speak a little louder to be heard in occupations that were typically dominated by men. Rachel Carson, for instance, was attacked for being "too hysterical" when she first spoke about the dangers of pesticides, and engineer Sheila Widnall knows what it's like to be called "Mrs." rather than "Professor." And like all scientists, they've faced the formidable problem of sharing their technical expertise with a non-technical audience.

But pioneers can be passionate, and unafraid to share their own sense of wonder in a way that makes science more accessible to everyone. And the technical barrier? That just means that you get to use the coolest props. Check out Carson's recordings of clicking shrimp, Jane Goodall's stuffed monkey, and Jill Bolte Taylor's human brain. If Diane Kelly's description of the penis as a "reinforced water balloon" isn't the perfect example of an invisible visual, I don't know what is.

Here are six speeches by scientists that we love, all included in the Index. Clicking on the links will take you to the "Famous Speech Friday" posts for each one, where you can learn more about the speech and, where available, read the text, listen to audio or watch video.
  • Not so silent: A reluctant public speaker, Rachel Carson took her environmental message directly to the public when she gave her "A New Chapter to Silent Spring" speech.
  • Flights of more than fancy: Amelia Earhart and Sally Ride both used their roles as media-beloved pioneers to advocate for a larger role for women in science, by sharing the wonder of flight with many listeners who had never left the ground--or orbit.
  • A hoot and a holler: The Welsh storyteller in Jane Goodall comes out in nearly every one of her passionate, vivid speeches, where she's not above greeting (and startling) her audiences with an enthusiastic chimpanzee pant-hoot to kick things off.
  • Anatomy and the TED talk: The TED conferences have been a wonderful showcase for women scientists, and Diane Kelly's frank, funny and highly educational TEDMED talk about penis anatomy is one of the best. Neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor's intensely personal account of her own stroke is one of the most-watched TED talks of all time.
  • Don't call her Mrs.: Sheila Widnall's speech at the southeast region meeting of the National Academy of Engineering is a classic, focusing on the everyday barriers faced by women scientists and engineers.
If you have a favorite speech by a woman scientist or a famous speech on science delivered by a woman, let us know in the comments.

Freelance science writer Becky Ham contributed this post.

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