Friday, May 31, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: "If your dreams do not scare you..."

Focused as I am on women and speaking, this commencement speech by the powerful Ellen Johnson Sirleaf --the president of Liberia and the first female head of state in Africa--is remarkable because it details how public speaking got her into serious trouble more than once in her career.

The first time, she was a junior official in Liberia's treasury department, and at a conference, "my remarks, which challenged the status quo, landed me in my first political trouble." Harvard officials at the conference helped her land a fellowship at the university to study public administration. But on her return, giving a commencement speech at her high school alma mater, she "questioned the government's failure to address long-standing inequalities in the society. This forced me into exile and a staff position at the World Bank." Sirleaf has been jailed for speaking out, as well.

These dramatic episodes, smoothed out and made crisp for the lectern at a formal speaking event, are only hinted at in her words. Instead, you'll catch her lively and strong voice when she uses sly humor throughout, tweaking the noses of her hosts, history and herself. Recalling George Marshall's speech in the same spot where he unveiled what's now known as the Marshall Plan, she said, "He began, 'I need not tell you gentlemen'," then added "I don't know where the ladies were."

Johnson recounts her administration's accomplishments against tall odds, then tells the graduates:
The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough. If you start off with a small dream, you may not have much left when it is fulfilled because along the way, life will task your dreams and make demands on you.
    Here's what I think you can learn from this famous speech:
    • Big ideas don't need big words: Sirleaf demonstrates this tenet in the way she shares the measure of her success in building a peaceful nation: "Our seven-year-olds do not hear guns and do not have to run. They can smile again." It's an evaluative measure anyone can use, from an economist to a grandmother.
    • Mention women in many roles: It's only when you hear a strong woman like this deliver such a speech that you realize how frequently and easily she mentions women, saluting Harvard's first woman president, asking where the women were at George Marshall's commencement address, talking about moving more women into leadership roles in her country. This is decidedly not a speech that only casts women as "mothers, wives and daughters."
    • Add mirth to the mix: Sirleaf could be excused for giving a speech with an unrelenting catalog of serious issues. Instead, she pokes fun and prompts smiles throughout, not to make light of her nation or its challenges, but to take the mighty down a peg or two. It's a balancing act that makes this speech more personal and ultimately, more powerful and effective.
    You can read the text of her speech here, and watch the video below. What do you think of this famous speech?

    (Harvard University photo)
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    Wednesday, May 29, 2013

    A real life story: When we ask cancer patients to become public speakers, too

    Helen Pedersen
    I get a lot of mail here at The Eloquent Woman, but perhaps no missive so unusual as a request that came in some time ago from a speaker coach seeking help: She'd just been asked to help a dear friend who was dying of cancer to prepare a speech about her life and illness. In addition to becoming an activity that engaged readers of this blog, it gave me a new perspective on something I've seen many times in my communications career: The process of asking grateful cancer patients to become public speakers on behalf of research and care fundraising for the disease that may eventually represent the end of their stories.

    In this case, the patient was extra fortunate: She had a good friend who coaches speakers. While we withheld names to protect their privacy, now it can be told that the speaker coach was Claire Duffy of Australia, and her friend was physician Helen Pedersen, who died May 21. In that first email, Claire shared her professional and personal dilemma and asked me to ask you for help:
    I've done tough things before, and if she weren't my friend I could laugh. Black humour, irreverence...they are all tools to help make an unbearable subject bearable. But my sadness and our attachment are blocking my ability to think clearly about how to help her prepare - let alone write the script
    So I posted "How do I help a dying friend with a speech about her life?" relaying Claire's request for help from readers of this blog. Preparing a speech for a friend who's dying: 7 ideas and resources collects the responses, all from women speaker coaches in The Eloquent Woman community. Some famous, some not so well-known, some fictional, these speeches are the kind of collection I never imagined creating and that Claire never imagined needing, I'm sure. But now I'm glad they're here.

    Claire writes here about the speech that resulted, titled "Not dead yet. What are you going to do?" I think it's fitting and important that she made sure to include and publish the full text of Pederson's final speech, since not publishing our speeches is one way women speakers are effectively silencing ourselves. (Find out more about why and how you should publish your speeches here.) Really, there's no better tribute than her own words, and no better way to add to our collection. The speaking gig came about as part of a cancer fundraiser, and was made difficult by the patient-speaker herself, as Claire relates:
    Helen dreaded public speaking. It wasn’t an easy job for either of us. 
    Her first draft opened with excuses about the unseemliness of drawing attention to herself. She blamed her Presbyterian missionary grandparents. I blamed her. Self-promotion was not among her many gifts.  But at the end of our second run through, on stage in an empty hall, she straightened up, tidied her notes, and said “I can do this." And she could.
    Claire wrote last week to share news of Helen's death and to send a message to my readers. Here it is:
    It's been over two years since I asked for The Eloquent Woman's help on a speech by my terminally ill friend, Helen. Preparing that first speech was hard for each of us, but it set us up wonderfully, me for two more years of friendship, her for a new 'career' speaking about cancer. I am so grateful to you and your readers for your assistance, support and kindness, we couldn't have done it without you. Thank you.
    One reason I'm glad that Claire reached out to us for help is that the resulting collection of advice and speeches--as well as Helen's speech--might help someone else in the same position. Let's do this to honor Helen, and her coach friend Claire: If you work with a volunteer group, fundraising office, university cancer lab, medical institution or other organization involved in cancer research or patient care, please do share these posts with the organization, so they can be shared with other patients who are challenged to speak in public at a similar difficult time. We ask much of these articulate and grateful patients when we ask them to speak in public. Let's share some of the wonderful support generated by Helen's efforts as a speaker at the end of her story with those who are just beginning to tell theirs.

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    Tuesday, May 28, 2013

    The Lady Vanishes: My International Speechwriters Conference keynote

    Hitchcock's last big UK hit before coming to US
    (Editor's note: When you advocate that women should publish their speeches, it's tough to duck the obligation when you give one yourself. My speaking style is to work extemporaneously and from notes on occasion, so I can bring you most of what I said at the International Speechwriters Conference, although this is by no means a transcript. For those who heard it in person, this version includes many useful links to the resources I cited.)

    Most people want to know: Why would you blog about women and public speaking? and if you told me 20 years ago that this would be my topic, I wouldn't have believed you myself. It started with a client. She had just had her performance review, and she was told “Your presentations aren’t sexy enough.” And that message came from the all-male board that held her job in its hands.

    If you could see her, you would see the consummate professional. She gives presentations every day in her work as a fund-raiser, and she raises millions of dollars each year for her organization. She was handling this as she needed to do, by using her own budget to seek training to "correct the problem," so that she didn't further jeopardize her position. I told her I couldn't help her make her presentations "sexy," but I thought we could do enough to make a change apparent. We did two half-days of coaching together, and midway through the second day, she burst into tears--tears of relief, it turns out. She could see that she'd be able to get through this, and that she wouldn't have to leave her job, as she had feared.

    I sensed that she’s not the only female executive experiencing this, and that led me to start The Eloquent Woman. Today, it's a popular blog on public speaking, with thousands of page views and Facebook fans and readers on every continent but the North Pole and South Pole. It drives fully 50 percent or more of my coaching business.

    When I started the blog almost six years ago, right at the start, I encountered a mystery--and it's a mystery I've been trying to solve ever since.

    Almost immediately, I started getting requests from other speaker coaches and speechwriters. And the request was always the same: "Do you have any good examples on video of famous women speakers that I can share with my clients...specifically, famous women speakers more recent than Eleanor Roosevelt and Barbara Jordan?"

    Of course, Eleanor Roosevelt was the First Lady of the United States while her husband Franklin Roosevelt was president and she guided the passage of the UN Declaration on Human Rights.

    She died in 1962. I was three years old.

    Barbara Jordan, an African-American member of the U.S. Congress in the 1970s, may not be as familiar to you, but she too is an eloquent speaker. She died in the 1990s. I was getting these questions in the 21st century.

    Surely there were more examples to be found. I set out to find them...and then I discovered that my speechwriting and coaching colleagues were correct: Good examples of women speakers--women from today--were hard to find. In many cases, good examples of women speakers in history were hard to find. 

    If I had to give this mystery a title, I would call it "The Lady Vanishes," and it's a complex tale. Today I want to take you through the clues, the motives and the solution to this mystery--and you're part of that solution.

    It turns out that we do a lot to keep women speakers invisible, and you can find the clues in the lists we keep of famous speeches. On American Rhetoric's list of the top 100 women speakers, about 30 percent are by women--but in the top 10, only Barbara Jordan is represented. So that explains why she's noticed. On The Guardian's list of the 100 top speeches of the 20th century, just three women are listed: Margaret Thatcher for "The Lady's Not for Turning," British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst for a speech she gave in America, and Virginia Woolf for the lectures that became the book A Room of One's Own. 

    ·     The most current woman speakers on those lists did their best in 1974 and 1980. I'll just remind everyone that it is 2013 today. And so the lady vanishes.

    Kathleen Hall Jamieson said, "History has many themes. One of them is that women should be quiet." From ancient times until now, we have many more clues about why we don't see women as public speakers.  Women have more often been forbidden to speak in public than men throughout history. That's been true from the first century, and it's still true today in parts of the world where public speaking is still a luxury and not a right. When women did speak, they were labeled as whores, as androgynous, even as men disguised as women, because no women could speak that well. It’s been said that public speaking could prevent women from bearing children. Even today, the president of South Korea, Park Guen-hye, is called “the neuter president” because she’s perceived as a strong woman and public speaker. So we’ve taken away the womanhood of women speakers…and so that lady vanishes.

    Today, we reduce the woman speaker to her wardrobe, particularly when female politicians are running for office. This is more subtle than banning women speakers, but it's nearly as effective. In fact, a recent study showed that women political candidates whose wardrobes were the subject of media coverage were more likely to lose than to win their campaigns.

    Hillary Clinton famously tired of coverage that only remarked on what she was wearing. When she ran for the U.S. Senate, she wore the same thing every day--a black pantsuit--to get reporters to stop the commentary. But she tired of that uniform. When she ran for President--the only woman in that race--her wardrobe often was the lead of news stories about the presidential debates, merely because she was the only person on stage not wearing a black suit. And so the lady vanishes again.

    But the biggest clue to this mystery--where are all the women speakers?--is on the podium. At conference after conference, in today's world, women are underrepresented as speakers. The World Economic Forum has a 20 percent quota for participation by women, which it has yet to meet, and Social Media Week, with events in 18 countries, has set the bar at 50 percent women speakers and participants for its events by the end of 2014.The TED conference has achieved as high as 42 percent women on the program, but more often comes in at less than that. The German Marshall Fund’s Brussels conference recently offered child care to get rid of one possible barrier to women’s participationAnd even the New Yorker magazine highlighted the problem in a cartoon that showed an all-male panel, with the moderator saying "The subject of tonight's discussion is ‘why are there no women on this panel?"

    Every good mystery hinges on a motive. Why do we seem to have a problem with women speakers? There's lots of speculation that this is really women's fault. They're shy. They don't promote themselves. They aren't qualified to speak. We couldn't find any women. There aren’t enough women speakers to go around. We don't want to be overcompensating and get too many women. These are actual things that conference organizers say when asked about the lack of women on their programs.

    But research shows a simpler reason is at work here. When you control for all other variables--such as level of education or status in the company or expertise--women are consistently viewed negatively by both men and women when they speak up in meetings. If you want more on this topic, read the excellent book "Women Speaking Up: Getting and Using Turns in Workplace Conversation" by Cecilia Ford at the University of Wisconsin

    So it's as simple as that. A long history of limiting women's ability to speak has left us with a negative view when they do speak. You see something similar in research on women negotiating for pay raises. They don't ask for them--not because they're shy or they think themselves unworthy, but because they've correctly sized up the situation and sense that both male and female managers are less likely to give a pay raise to a woman.

    Today, however, I think there's another powerful motive at play, and it involves the audience. One of the wonderful serendipitous things about Twitter is that it gives the speaker's audience a microphone...and the audience has noticed that there aren't a lot of women speakers on the program.

    For almost two years, I've been tracking tweets that mention the number or proportion of women speakers on conference programs.  

    I don't track conferences that are focused on women or women's issues, as those typically have plenty of women speakers. Some would call those conferences a ghetto for women speakers, but I'll just note that in the U.S., women's conferences are numerous because they make money and get excellent attendance. Imagine--conferences with lots of women speakers making money.

    But at other conferences all over the world, the conferees are getting the programs in advance of the conference and finding that they advertise appallingly low numbers of women speakers. 5 out of 99 speakers. No women speakers. 17 percent starts sounding like a high proportion.

    Interestingly, complaints about the lack of women speakers occur not just in professions dominated by men, like high technology, but at conferences for professions dominated by women, like nursing and library conferences. And so the lady vanishes.

    Recently, TechCrunch announced speakers for a New York conference, with a lineup that included no women speakers at all. When this was called out on Twitter by a male observer, a female executive from TechCrunch responded rather defensively, along the lines of "we do too have women speakers. We just haven't publicized them."

    And that resulted in the rejoinder: "Secret women await at the TechCrunch conference!" Again, the lady vanishes.

    I think all that activity on Twitter is a positive sign that we might be able to solve this mystery together.

    First, let me tell you that I’ve taken up the challenge on The Eloquent Woman blog. For the last two years, I’ve researched and written about a famous speech by a woman every Friday—we call that series “Famous Speech Friday.” I’ve written about historic speeches and speeches of today. The women speakers are not necessarily famous, but the speeches are. And I set myself an extra bar to reach, so wherever possible, the focus is on a speech about women’s issues in some way. I’m pleased to tell you that fully 35 percent of the speeches in this collection are from women speakers outside the U.S., including many from Europe and the U.K.

    Today, there are more than 100 speeches we’ve collected in this way in The Eloquent Woman Index, and where possible, these posts include the full text, audio and video, so that women speakers have more resources and role models. There’s an intriguing new study out that suggests that young women do better at public speaking if theysee photographs of powerful women speaking—and the photos used, by the way, were of Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton. So we need those role models.

    I think speechwriters can play a critical role in helping women speakers fulfill their potential—and in creating a more level playing field for them as speakers.

    It starts with keeping in mind what they’re faced with, including the likelihood that they won’t be well received. This is not a surprise to them, by the way, but it should prompt a smarter discussion between you and the speaker you’re working with. Knowing that it’s not her fault is vital.

    You may need to change how you write—not just for women speakers, but for all speakers. If we audited your speeches, would we find that you don’t mention women at all? That you never quote women, but only men—or more precisely, only Winston Churchill? If the lady vanishes from your speeches, you might want to put her back in. Hillary Clinton, in her first 20 weeks as U.S. Secretary of State, mentioned women more than 400 times in her speeches, so it can be done.

    When you do refer to women, are you referring to them only as “mothers, wives and daughters?” That's a favorite line for many political speechwriters. In the U.S., voters sent President Obama a petition after his last state of the union address to demand that he stop doing that very thing. Remember, the audience is watching—and in the U.S., at least, that audience is 51 percent women.

    I know many political speechwriters who opt for talking about mothers because it’s seen as safer and less controversial than speaking about women’s issues on a wider scale. But some of the most powerful women in the world are effective speakers precisely because they speak on women’s issues in personal terms. Christine Lagarde likes to say she’s spent the last 30 years with too many men in the room. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the American Supreme Court justice, describes how she gets talked over by the men in the room—and has throughout her career.

    The novelist Ursula Leguin has given some amazing speeches, and in one of them, she shares the perfect metaphor for women speakers. She says, “We are volcanoes” and says that when women share their experiences, the truth from their perspective, that “the maps move. There are new mountains.” So don’t be a speechwriter who fears the volcano that is a woman speaker.

    There’s no better example of why this strategy works than Julia Gillard, the Australian PrimeMinister, who gave a cracking good speech in Parliament, accusing the opposition leader of misogyny--a speech so powerful, some dictionaries changed their definition of the word on the strength of that speech. It was clear she worked with a prepared text, but took advantage of some wonderful extemporaneous moments, too. It's a pointed, fiery speech and it's had 2.3 million views on YouTube, putting it at the audience level of the most-watched TED talks.

    You also might keep your eye on the volcano who is Viola Davis, the American actress. She’s a fantastic extemporaneous speaker—she says even attempting to write down remarks makes hermore nervous. And she has just bought the rights to a book about Barbara Jordan, and she intends to play her in the movie that will be made.

    Finally, the best way to make sure the lady does not vanish is to make sure your speeches are published—by you, if not by your clients. And make sure that’s particularly true for women’s speeches. As one who is looking for famous speeches by women, I can tell you that the biggest barrier I face to writing about them is the lack of documentation. Time after time, I’ll hear about a speech or speaker, only to find no text, no transcript, no video, no audio of the speech. Please don’t assume that someone else is doing this—often, they are not, and we’re losing many great role models in the process. That lack of recorded speeches is the true way the lady vanishes, for all time.

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    Monday, May 27, 2013

    The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

    Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But you won't miss a thing, since I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog for all readers to see. Here's what I shared in the week just past:
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    Sunday, May 26, 2013

    Photos from the International Speechwriting Conference in London

    Photos from the recent International Speechwriting Conference have just been posted on Flickr, and I've pulled shots of the day and some of my favorite speakers for an album on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. This was among my most enjoyable speaking gigs, and the photos will give you a sense of this lively group, the European Speechwriters Network, which will have its first conference in Brussels in September--well worth considering for speaker coaches and speechwriters.

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    Friday, May 24, 2013

    Five famous speeches by women who feared public speaking

    Jacqueline Kennedy
    According to numerous polls, you're more afraid of this than snakes. Or spiders. Or needles, enclosed spaces or heights. Thank goodness you're not likely to encounter any of these in combination with that chart-topping fear: public speaking.

    Being a nervous or fearful public speaker isn't that unusual, but a few of the speakers in The Eloquent Woman Index had the unusual task of having to confront that fear in their very public roles. Speaking became a key part of their careers, and each of them found ways to push past their nerves to succeed. Take a look at their examples below. Could any of their techniques work for you?

    1. Lady Bird Johnson prayed for smallpox before her high school graduation, so she wouldn't become valedictorian or salutatorian and have to give a speech. Now that's nervous. She didn't get sick but she did come in third, escaping the dreaded task. But her husband's vice presidency and presidency put her on stage early and often. This First Lady's 1964 whistle stop campaign tour of the southern United States put her to the test as a speaker who needed to rise above the raucous and sometimes insulting crowds, who were angry with her husband for signing civil rights legislation. One of her tips for the shy speaker: ask questions, as a way to build confidence and engage an audience.

    2. Like Johnson, Jacqueline Kennedy was forced to push past her shyness to speak on behalf of her husband in her role as First Lady. During her famous 1962 televised tour of the White House, her nerves were evident; one producer remarked on her "constricted voice." But Kennedy had prepared extensively for the speech, and she managed her nerves in part by taking pauses to collect her thoughts before each question.

    3. How about one more First Lady? It's difficult to imagine Eleanor Roosevelt as a shy speaker, after she delivered so many eloquent remarks on everything from African American civil rights to women in the workplace to her 1949 remarks on the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights. She was also the first presidential spouse to hold press conferences and speak at a national political convention. For Roosevelt, intense bouts of writing and practice were key to overcoming her fear of public speaking.

    4. Princess Diana was so terrified of public appearances when she first became part of the British royal family that the press dubbed her "Shy Di." But she knew there was no way she could avoid these appearances, and she worked with several speaking coaches to become more comfortable with public speaking. Her coaches noticed that she spoke best when she allowed herself to sound more conversational, and to speak from the heart. By the time she gave this 1997 presentation on the international ban on landmines, she had found a way to let her passionate interest guide her through a public event.

    5. We've highlighted Rachel Carson's speeches as a scientist, but she also was a notably shy speaker--so much so, one of her biggest speeches was noted in her obituary as one she'd accepted despite her fears. She called herself "scared to death" before some of her earliest environmental talks, but she also used her passion for her subject to propel her into speeches she might have otherwise avoided.

    The fearless freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this post.

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    Wednesday, May 22, 2013

    London notebook: Lessons from speakers and speechwriters at #ESN2013

    The view from lunch with a speaker
    When you say "yes" to an invitation to speak, you hope it embraces you in return, and that's exactly what happened on my trip to London last week to give the closing keynote at the International Speechwriting Conference. As one whose biggest motivators are intellectual challenges and creativity, this conference was a perfect fit for me. I have weeks of great blog posts to come, but wanted to share these notes from my trip, particularly as they relate to my topic of women and public speaking. I think it's better than a handout:
    Finally, there's another International Speechwriting Conference coming up in September in Brussels. Brian Jenner is a thoughtful conference organizer, and if this session was any indication, you'll find the September conference loaded with great content and smart people with whom to network. I'm thankful to have had this plum speaking slot at the spring conference, and am already plotting a return visit.

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    Monday, May 20, 2013

    The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

    I'd love to see you along with the readers who are fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. That's where you can see these good reads, resources and ideas from other sources, in addition to posts from the blog. But I'm also sharing those finds right here, from the week just past, just in case you missed them:
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    Friday, May 17, 2013

    13 famous human rights speeches by women from The Eloquent Woman Index

    We've already rounded up famous speeches by women about voting rights, but women are frequent speakers on human rights of all kinds. Here's a baker's dozen of speeches on a wide range of rights--and wrongs--by women who've inspired us from the mid-19th century to this century, listed here in chronological order so you can see the progression:
    1. Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" speech is one of the most frequently quoted speeches about the rights of women and of women of color, yet even its title may have been added later by others altering her words. Even so, it's an inspiring view of human rights from the perspective of the person trampled upon.
    2. Clara Barton testified before Congress about the horrors she witnessed at the Civil War prisoner of war camp at Andersonville. An unusual speaking role in a time when women rarely spoke in public, she drew honest and graphic attention to the rights of prisoners of war.
    3. Women's rights to birth control were Margaret Sanger's campaign in the 1920s, and for her efforts to speak out on this issue, she was arrested and ignored and fought. Her focus was the children born "unwelcome, unwanted, unprepared for, unknown," a stirring bit of alliteration.
    4. Margaret Chase Smith stood up for freedom of speech in her "Declaration of Conscience," a forceful attack in the U.S. Senate against fellow Senator Joseph McCarthy's famous "witch hunts" targeting suspected Communists. Describing his chilling effect, she said, "Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America. It has been so abused by some that it is not exercised by others."
    5. Eleanor Roosevelt gave dozens of speeches on the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, a document for which she created an international consensus. I've got the speech where she described that process, along with video of one of her many talks on this important and seminal work.
    6. Betty Friedan used her final speech as president of the National Organization for Women to call for women to go on strike in 1970. And they did, with 50,000 women taking to the streets in New York City alone. "Don't iron while the strike is hot" was one slogan.
    7. Phyllis Schlafly took the opposing view on women's rights, declaring What's Wrong with Equal Rights for Women? Her contention: Women in America had never had it as good as they did in the 1970s. Not the prevailing view, but a forceful speech.
    8. Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi gave her famous "Freedom from Fear" speech in 1990, noting how oppressors use fear to control people, and how fear of losing power corrupts leaders. She was placed under house arrest to silence her for 15 of the 21 years following this famous speech.
    9. While First Lady, Hillary Clinton declared "women's rights are human rights" at a UN Conference on Women in Beijing. It took Roosevelt's work a step further, and it's far and away the most popular Famous Speech Friday post on this blog, proving it resonates even today.
    10. Lady Gaga stormed the Rome Europride festival with this speech on gay rights. For Gaga, it was a more formal speaking effort in front of a massive open-air audience, and a forceful and eloquent defense of LGBT rights.
    11. A YouTube video of Manal Al-Sharif driving a car in Saudi Arabia was a viral sensation because driving is not among the rights of women in that nation. It prompted her detention, but that didn't stop her from speaking out. In this 2011 speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum, she explains the more than two-decade fight to gain the right to drive.
    12. When actress Sally Field spoke at the Human Rights Campaign annual dinner in 2012, it was in her role as the mother of a gay son. She was honored as a parent standing up for gay rights, and used her platform for a funny, passionate and heartfelt plea to others.
    13. Washington State Representative Maureen Walsh also spoke out for gay rights in debate on a bill about gay marriage rights in her state. The parent of a lesbian, she surprised the assembly by speaking in deeply personal terms about her hopes and dreams for her children and her support for their rights.
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    Wednesday, May 15, 2013

    Working metaphors throughout a message: @rosannecash & @ivanoransky

    When I'm coaching speakers who want to use an analogy or a metaphor, most of the time, they spend a lot of time thinking about the metaphor--and then toss it away in a moment. It's a one-liner, a clever riposte, a throwaway line, sometimes.

    I much prefer to find ways to work the metaphor or analogy all the way through a talk or presentation. Not to beat it to death in a heavy-handed way, mind you, but to get the full use of it. It may seem like an intellectual exercise, but sometimes, working your way through a metaphor or analogy in a thorough way will help a speaker see holes in her argument. Analogies are useful for this purpose when you use them as a logical argument, and both analogies and metaphor can help speakers find a path toward a stirring and memorable speech. Our minds like to look for patterns, so when you work that analogy or metaphor all the way through a speech, I can almost guarantee its success rate in terms of audiences remembering what you said.

    Listening again recently to a 2009 Fresh Air interview with singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, I found a great example to share with my trainees as a model: her recording of the classic country song Sea Of Heartbreak, which features lyrics by Hal David and great harmonies from fellow vocalist Bruce Springsteen. The song begins this way:
    The lights in the harbor/Don't shine for me/I'm like a lost ship/Adrift on the sea. 
    Sea of heartbreak/lost love an' loneliness/Memories of your caress/so divine I wish/you were mine again, my dear/I am on this sea of tears/Sea of heartbreak. 
    How did I lose you?/Oh, where did I fail?/Why did you leave me/Always to sail?
    The song comes from Cash's album The List, and in the interview transcript, where Terry Gross asks Cash why she chose to record the song, Cash says:
    It's kind of a perfectly constructed country song. And it was on the list, so you know that gave me permission. And it embodies that longing that is in so much of country music really, really well, and beyond that, it takes a metaphor and carries it to the very end without breaking that narrative about the metaphor, without becoming kitschy, which a lot of songs do. And that's kind of perfect to me. And it's also - it makes it a bit of a period piece because you don't hear many modern songs that do that. And there's also some language in it that's not modern, you know, when he says divine and my dear. These are kind of old-school ways of talking, and I really enjoy that. So it was like stepping into a period piece. At the same time, it has the hallmark of every great song, which is that it transcends time. It has a timeless quality to it, and it feels very modern.
    I think some of that timeless quality comes from a metaphor or analogy that's so recognizable, so reflective of real-life experience and imaginings that it resonates strongly with audiences over time--and that's why speakers should think about working a metaphor or analogy all the way through a speech or presentation.

    Here's another example: Reporter Ivan Oransky, who spoke at TEDMED last year, uses the baseball movie Moneyball to explain the trend of diagnosing "preconditions," saying that medicine's looking for preconditions in the erroneous ways scouts used to look for good pitchers in baseball. He works it throughout the talk, explaining the link at the start, using a three-strikes analogy midway and bringing it home, so to speak, by tossing a baseball throughout the talk.

    Cash herself is a prolific writer of prose in addition to lyrics, and you may enjoy her book Composed: A Memoir. Do you work your metaphors and analogies all the way through your speeches? If you're confused about the differences between metaphors, analogies and similes, look here.

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    Monday, May 13, 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. You can keep up with the pack right here, with the finds I shared in the week just past:
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    Friday, May 10, 2013

    8 famous commencement speeches from eloquent women

    Cue the Pomp and Circumstance, it's that time of year again. Commencement is the start of something new, yes, but we're often stuck listening to the same old tired speeches in celebration. Can you remember your commencement speakers, or any memorable speakers at the graduations you've attended?

    Admittedly, the commencement speech is a tough gig. Speakers want to be inspiring, and to avoid  cliches. They want to be broadly appealing to a diverse-age audience, but not so broadly appealing that every line they deliver has lost its bite. And they want to be memorable, but they're speaking at an event that rarely changes from year to year.

    With all that in mind, we've compiled a list of commencement speakers from The Eloquent Woman Index who managed to meet these challenges, in ways that pleased the people who heard them live and that echoed long after the graduates shuffled off the stage.

    1. Carol Bartz's 2012 commencement speech at the University of Wisconsin, Madison was full of plain speaking from the ex-CEO of Yahoo!, including jokes to bridge the gap between parents and students. She also decided to talk about the importance of failure--an unusual and memorable topic at an event held to celebrate success.

    2. Viola Davis' 2012 speech at Providence College was full of the deep emotion and dramatic flair that you might expect from the Tony Award-winning actress. But a speech that included a scene from The Exorcist as a way to encourage graduates to find their authentic selves? Maybe not so expected.

    3. Also in 2012, teacher and author Margaret Edson spoke beautifully at Smith College. Her speech, along with several other commencement speeches in the Index, used gentle humor to take the pomp out of the day's events. She also spoke without notes, allowing her to look out at her audience and establish a strong and instant rapport with them.

    4. Nora Ephron's 1996 commencement address at Wellesley College is a terrific example of how humor and deft language can give new life to a standard speech. The journalist and screenwriter spoke directly about the year's top stories, from O.J. Simpson to Hillary Clinton. That's somewhat daring in a commencement speech, to be so topical when the occasion itself is so timeless. But I bet the graduates appreciated hearing where they fit into a moment in time.

    5. and 6. Ursula K. Le Guin's commencement speeches at Mills College in 1983 and at Bryn Mawr in 1986 are some of the most poetic calls to action for women that you'll ever hear. The Bryn Mawr speech, in particular, has been considered among the 10 most memorable commencement speeches.

    7. Before "lean in" became a buzzword and a best-selling book, Sheryl Sandberg was exploring the idea in a 2011 commencement speech at Barnard College. The Facebook COO was especially good at reaching out to today's mixed audience of graduates, speaking not just to the obstacles facing women in their 20s, but also those facing women earning their mid-life degrees.

    8. When Maria Shriver spoke at the 2012 University of California Annenberg School graduation, she urged students to consider "the power of the pause." Like Carol Bartz, she chose a topic that was memorable because it strayed away from the usual gung-ho, march-to-the-future rhetoric that graduates are accustomed to hearing.

    (Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this post.)

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    Wednesday, May 8, 2013

    Why memorizing your talk is like memorizing lyrics on your favorite album

    As speaking tactics go, memorizing an entire talk is among the most difficult. So who wouldn't want an easier way to anticipate it? In a recent interview with Studio 360, actor Tom Hanks talks about starring in a Broadway play, Lucky Guy, and the challenges of memorizing lines and performing them live on stage, instead of the cuts and takes and retakes he's used to when making films.

    But Hanks thinks that the process of memorizing your lines is no different than, say, they way you memorized all the lyrics to songs on your favorite album when you were a teenager.

    His own favorite? Bruce Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town, laden with long songs and memorable but complex lyrics.

    That tactic is similar to one of my 6 stealth ways to find time to practice, specifically the one in which you record yourself giving your speech or presentation and then listen to it over and over again--on your iPod when you run, in your car when you're commuting--until you know it by heart. Yes, you won't like the recorded sound of your voice. Yes, you should try it anyway.

    Here's the interview for you to listen to. Do you agree with Hanks?

    (Photo from Virginia Manso's stream on Flickr)

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    Monday, May 6, 2013

    The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

    Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But you won't miss a thing, since I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog for all readers to see. Here's what I shared in the week just past:
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    Friday, May 3, 2013

    Famous Speech Friday: Indira Gandhi's "What Educated Women Can Do"

    The third Prime Minister of India, first elected in 1966 and again in 1980 until her assassination, Indira Gandhi was a force formidable and the only woman to serve as India's leader.

    Given at the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Indraprastha College for Women in 1974, Gandhi's speech on "What Educated Women Can Do" is not just a politician's boosterish speech for a popular cause. Gandhi herself understood the spotty educational opportunities women faced in India. Wikipedia notes that her own education consisted primarily of home tutoring, and that her university education was upended by the need to care for her mother. It likely didn't help that she stopped and started her university education a few times in both India and England.

    As a result, this speech decades later took the listeners back to her own childhood, as she noted how unusual it was for girls to leave the house, let alone get an education:
    I remember what used to happen here. I still remember the days when living in old Delhi even as a small child of seven or eight. I had to go out in a doli (carriage) if I left the house. We just did not walk. Girls did not walk in the streets. First, you had your sari with which you covered your head, then you had another shawl or something with which you covered your hand and all the body, then you had a white shawl, with which every thing was covered again although your face was open fortunately. Then you were in the doli, which again was covered by another cloth. And this was in a family or community which did not observe purdah of any kind at all.
    Later, she turned to some educating of her own, asking the educated women in her audience to broaden their world view about India and help turn its public image around. It's a call to action that I suspect she knew would also help women to speak out in situations of all kinds:
    I do not know how many of you know that the countries of Western Europe and Japan import 41 per cent of their food needs, whereas India imports just under two per cent. Yet, somehow we ourselves project an image that India is out with the begging bowl. And naturally when we ourselves say it, other people will say it much louder and much stronger. It is true, of course, that our two per cent is pretty big because we are a very big country and we have a far bigger population than almost any country in the world with the exception of China. We have to see and you, the educated women, because it is great privilege for you to have higher education, you have to try and see our problems in the perspective of what has happened here in this country and what is happening all over the world.
    What can you learn from this famous speech?
    • Share your perspective: Gandhi uses this speech to disclose her perspective that the people of India were contributing to the nation's image around the world, then used data to debunk the going image--at one defusing the practice and arming her listeners with a new weapon to use when they encountered the myths. When people ask you to share your "wisdom" with the crowd, this is an effective way to do it. 
    • When you're the leader, be generous with your personal perspective: If you think it's tough today to find women speakers on the program, it was even more the case in India in the 1970s. So this female prime minister shares stories of her own upbringing and even addresses visible objects of curiousity to the women she's addressing, like her decision to cut her long hair in defiance of tradition. These personal details close the distance between the public figure and the audience, and allow the audience to relate to its leader.
    • Don't let your hosts off the hook: Gandhi saves her congratulations on the school's anniversary for her closing lines (something I wish more speakers would do instead of front-loading them). But she by no means sticks to platitudes, nor does she let them off the hook for future achievements: "This college has had a high reputation but we must always see that we do better than those who were there before us," she says. It's a call to action, wrapped in a congratulatory note, and one important to a national leader hoping to affect change on a great scale.
    Once again, I'm caught wishing we had a video of this fine speech, but here's the text for you to examine. You can read more about her life in Indira Gandhi: Daughter of India. What do you think of this famous speech?

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    Wednesday, May 1, 2013

    Instead of wincing: 10 things to look for on that video of your speech, updated

    (Editor's note: I've updated this post annually since it first appeared in 2010, and I promised to post it this week for the many speakers I worked with at TEDMED 2013--they'll be seeing video of their talks in about a month, and wanted to know what to look for. This is the advice I share with trainees in all my public speaking workshops when we do video practice, and it's a great tool to help you spot problems, see what you did right, and make improvements, based on your own video.)

    A longtime friend and colleague just completed a major and special speaking event, giving a sermon at his church. But when I was telling him how well he'd done on the video, he admitted he hadn't looked at it and didn't want to--so much so, he hadn't even listened to the audio.

    He has that in common with the best in the business: Any professional newscaster, actor or performer will tell you that they hate how they look and sound when recorded, so it's no surprise we ordinary mortals do, too. New research suggests that if you hate the sound of your own voice, there may be a physiological reason for that. As a coach, I see it differently: If you're lucky enough to be recorded when you speak--whether you do the recording or someone else does--you've got a golden opportunity to learn things you might never otherwise know about how you speak.  If a video is made available to you, take the opportunity. Or rig your own ultralight camcorder or a pal with a smartphone, and take charge of your own recording.

    Rather than torture yourself with how bad you think you look, focus instead on these cues and clues that would be hard to discern without help from a camera. This list is what I coach my clients to look for when viewing video of their speaking, whether it's in practice or the real deal:
    1. Visual "ums:"  Instead of saying "um" when you're pausing to think, you may look to one side or up or down; make a repetitive gesture over and over; or move in a pattern, if you're on your feet and away from the lectern. It might be putting a hand to your face, a wink, a grimace. Watch for those patterns--freeze-frame if you need to catch them--and work on buying yourself time to think with new phrases, or work more on your message in advance and practice. It helps to watch the video sooner rather than later after your talk to catch this slip-up, since you'll be better able to remember what you were thinking at the time your visual "um" occurred--and that may help you avoid repeating it next time. Often, the visual "um" happens when you haven't quite got your message down, or forgot something you wanted to include, just like a verbal "um."
    2. Invisible gestures:  You may be gesturing like a windmill, but if it's below the height of the lectern or out of camera range, all the audience will see is your body moving slightly. That's great if you're gesturing to keep your speech fluid, since gestures help you avoid "ums" and stumbles. But if you wanted your gestures to help get your point across and hold the audience's interest, make sure we can see them.  Typically, that will mean gesturing at shoulder or chest height. Practice will make that more comfortable for you.
    3. A body with a mind of its own:  Some speakers planted in one place will sway from side to side, and some who like to move around wind up drilling a path into the floor as they pace back and forth, back and forth, in an unrelieved line. Either one calls for a change:  You may need to focus on keeping your core body stable, or move in different directions if you like to roam the audience. If you are going to move your body, vary the pattern--think triangle, rather than straight line--and plan places in the talk where you pause verbally and stop physically, to break up repetitive moves. 
    4. How you react to interruptions:  Listen for those unexpected noises--door slams, crying babies, audience laughter, applause, sneezes--during your talk. How do you react?  It's a great chance to catch your immediate reaction, and to think through how you might handle that next time.  While you're at it, pay attention to how you react when you're asked a question; your face may give a different answer than your mouth does, showing apprehension, for example, when you don't need to do so. And when you get applause, you have two choices: Talking right through it, a forceful tactic called "surfing the applause," or pausing to let it happen. Knowing your unforced reactions helps you plan better for the next time the interruptions happen.
    5. Expressions that match your words:  Your face is part of your connection with the audience, but it gets confusing, at best, if you look like you're grimacing when giving praise or sad when talking about something exciting.  Since it's not at all unusual for speakers to feel disconnected from their facial expressions, video helps you focus and fix that. Most people's mouths, when at rest, are either flat-lined or slightly downturned, making you look bored or sad.  Smiling, even a little, corrects that natural downward turn.  You get to decide how much to smile, but smile at least somewhat.
    6. Gesturing. Yes, it's a good thing: Gestures are good for both speaker and audience, helping your brain form language fluently and helping the audience understand you, even if the gesture is random and doesn't match your word. Think of gestures as a condiment: If you gesture for every word, you're missing the chance to emphasize some of them to good effect.  Try counting your gestures on the video, watching for the repetitive single gesture that could be a visual "um." If you're not gesturing, or immobilizing your hands in your pockets, you may observe on the video that your speech is less fluent.
    7. Your posture and body language:  Are your shoulders up around your ears, or slumped?  Are you leaning in one direction? Are your arms crossed in a defensive posture? Is your head down when you should be looking up at the audience? Turn off the sound for this review, and see what your body language says.
    8. Do you really look nervous? Do you look at ease? You may be surprised:  Most speakers find they feel nervous, but don't look as if they are. If you're not sure, ask a friend to watch and tell you what she thinks, but 99.9 percent of the time, the audience can't tell that you're nervous. Many TEDMED speakers told me this was the tip that helped them "nerve up" the most before going on stage, so keep it in mind for next time.
    9. Can you hear your message clearly throughout?  To find out, you may need to just listen to the audio once, then watch the video.  Do you find it hard to follow your progression? Did you forget to include a key point? Did your gestures, movement, facial expressions and props help get that across? What can you notice that will help you next time in terms of clarity and focus?
    10. What did you do that was wonderful? You may need some outside perspective on this, but try looking for your successes in the video. Did you nail a great laugh line, pause with effect, gesture with aplomb? What did the audience like and react to positively? Did you stay on time? Take the time to note what went well, so you can make a point of doing it again--and so you know you can focus on another skill the next time you practice.
    There's an even better reason to embrace that video: More and more, conference organizers tell me that video of you speaking to an audience is what they're looking for before they extend an invitation to join the program. Once you've reviewed your video, don't hide it! Share it on social networks, repost it to your blog or website, and send a link to it when you are seeking a speaking gig in the future.

    (Photo of Deborah Estrin speaking at TEDMED 2013 via TEDMED)

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