Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In #publicspeaking confidence, does your body have a mind of its own?

When it comes to your confidence as a speaker, most of us think of it as a head game, a psychological challenge, something for which you need to "nerve up" or a challenge you can talk yourself into. Your approach to building confidence may feel like it's all in the mind, but from where I sit as a speaker coach, confidence is one of those speaking factors in which your body has a mind of its own.

I've had a lot of experience helping speakers nerve up right before they hit the stage in high-profile speaking situations like the TEDMED conference, where I'm always slightly amused to have talented physicians ask me backstage, "Denise, why is my mouth dry?" The symptoms I see when speakers lack confidence are mostly physical, byproducts of fight-or-flight syndrome. And research shows that, in many cases, what you need to do to reduce your stress and fear in a situation like public speaking involves your body as much as or more than your mind.

That's just one of the unusual approaches to building confidence that you'll get in my new half-day workshop, The Keys to Confident Public Speaking, coming up October 17. Here's what we'll cover:
  • How your body and your mind react to speaking fears, and how to check or reverse your mental and physical reactions, right on the spot. You'll learn advance tactics as well as last-minute fixes for your confidence. 
  • How your personality preferences influence your speaking fears, and how to work with them rather than against them. You'll learn what happens to your reactions under the stress of speaking, and how to make a course-correction so you're more comfortable. Your preferences also impact the way you prepare to speak, so we'll make sure you leave with the right preparation prescription for you. 
  • Practice for the tactics you're learning, so your body and your mind can remember them when you need them. Learn the speaker's secret weapons for building confidence and give them a test drive, right in the workshop. 
  • The core checklists from The Eloquent Woman blog, so you can anticipate and eliminate the major tripwires speakers experience in advance. Working with these checklists will help you go into any presentation or speech feeling calmer, more confident and more in control.
Does October seem a long way off? Keep in mind that you'll get a great early registration discount if you sign up by September 6. This workshop includes lunch, an email loaded with links and notes for you to use again and again, and all the checklists we'll be covering. I run lively and participatory workshops with plenty of time for your questions and for practice, so please do join me in October for this new session.

Monday, July 29, 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:

Friday, July 26, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Malala Yousafzai's UN speech on youth education

Less than a year after she was shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting education for girls in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai stood in front of a United Nations youth congress and delivered a 15-minute manifesto on making education a human right for all. Taking place on her 16th birthday, the speech capped a campaign that included a petition for support of education, thousands of tweets celebrating #MalalaDay, and extensive live media coverage.

Despite all the attention, however, this speech succeeds with simplicity. Just being able to deliver a speech within a year of being shot in the head would be remarkable for anyone. Yousafzai made it sing with simple, direct, unembellished language and calls to action that outlined a vision of education for all.

Now so well known that she's referred to by just her first name, so inspiring that thousands have had their photos taken holding signs that say "I am Malala," Yousafzai in this speech needed to make clear that she had come to the United Nations not about herself nor her shooting, but about a bigger cause. She did it by speaking about voices, hers on behalf of others, and the voices of others joining hers:
Malala day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights....So here I girl among many. I speak – not for myself, but for all girls and boys. I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard....
They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.  I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.
The 16-year-old proved herself a formidable and frank feminist in this speech. While her campaign is for education for all as a human right, she took the time to explain why her focus is on girls and women:
The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them....That is why they are blasting schools every day. Because they were and they are afraid of change, afraid of the equality that we will bring into our I am focusing on women's rights and girls' education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women social activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But, this time, we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women's rights rather I am focusing on women to be independent to fight for themselves.
I can hear echoes of Indira Gandhi's "What Educated Women Can Do" speech from 1974, which also is part of our Famous Speech Friday series.

Yousafzai began her public speaking at 11, and by the time of her shooting, already was an accomplished and passionate speaker. In this NBC interview, her father said she was more worried about her geography homework than her speech, but Malala's Facebook update notes it is "my first major public speech." What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Honor those who brought you here today: Yousafzai added a simple warmth to this formal address by giving a nod to others. She thanked the health care professionals who helped her recover and started many lines in her speech with "dear friends" and "my fellows." She acknowledged the dignitaries and noted that she was wearing a shawl that belonged to Pakistan's first and only female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007. She named her inspirations, from Gandhi and Muhammad to Mother Teresa, and in doing so, broadened our view of her while paying tribute.
  • Use repetition to effect: Anaphora is the rhetorical device of repeating a series of words as the introduction to a list of clauses in your speech, and here, she used "we call upon" repetitively to introduce each of the seven calls to action in her manifesto. The repeated phrase makes it clear to the audience that a list is in progress, and the active verb construction gives the speech immediacy and movement.
  • Use a gesture to underscore: "One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world," the next-to-last sentence in this speech, was delivered with Yousafzai's index finger pointing straight up--and made it onto nearly every television report on the speech. The gesture underscored the simplicity of the items on her list as well as the minimal effort that changing the world would take.
You can read the full text of Malala's UN speech here, and watch the full speech in the video below. There's more about Malala in our Famous Speech Friday post about her first public statement after her shooting--made just a few months ago, that video is a reminder of how far and well her recovery has gone in just a few months. What do you think of this famous speech?


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

9 things to check if you're speaking from a text

It's perfectly fine to work from notes or a text when you speak, but when you choose to work from the written word rather than extemporaneously, you need a checklist just for that mode of speaking--because even a text is no guarantee that things won't go wrong. Here's the checklist I recommend you use when a text is your choice:
  1. Can you pronounce everything in the text? I once wrote a script for a client who neglected to tell me that she "pops" the letter P when she speaks, and wanted to avoid it if possible. (And yes, that speech was loaded with Ps.) If someone's preparing a text for you to speak from, clue them in to any pronunciation issues you may have. Practice aloud to make sure you're not going to stumble over how to say something, and make changes as needed before you get up to speak.
  2. Are you telling a personal story? Make sure it's not written down. Whether you are working with a speechwriter or writing your own text, just insert "TELL VACUUM CLEANER STORY HERE" rather than try to script something you can tell without effort. This will force you to look at the audience, helping you to connect, and it will sound less stilted.
  3. Check the format. Your working copy of a speech should look much different than the pretty version you'll publish on the web or hand out to the press. You may want to make sure that the text keeps whole paragraphs on one page, or includes notes to yourself about delivery and emphasis, or just limit the number of lines to the top half of the page to keep you from looking further and further down. Experiment with a few formats to see what works for you. 
  4. Check the type size. Likewise, you'll need to experiment with type size to see which one helps you speak smoothly. I'm fond of using a Kindle or other tablet for notes, which will allow you to adjust the type size on the fly. 
  5. Check the distance from your face to the lectern. You'd think all lecterns were standardized, but they're not--and neither is the height and vision of the speaker. It's another good reason to get on the stage and see for yourself whether you need to make adjustments, rather than wait until the last minute. Watch this cautionary tale, a video of actress Sally Field, who found that stage managers had overcompensated for her short stature, putting her too far above the place where her text had to sit.
  6. Avoid two-sided printing. Your quest to be environmentally friendly won't help you much if you drop your pages and have to reorder them quickly, or simply forget to turn the page over. Many speakers find they've left out several paragraphs in this way.
  7. If your text is on a monitor, pare it down if you can to a minimal version. You want to be able to scan keywords, not read every comma. 
  8. Give advance copies to the interpreters, the press room, the social-media team and the moderator. Think about others who might find your talk's text useful. Who's live-tweeting? Who needs time to anticipate what you will say, so they can do their job more effectively?
  9. Are you speaking in a language other than your own? If you are working from a text that's not in your first language, you need to include pauses, eye contact, body language and other non-verbal aids to understanding. "As soon as people talk to a piece of paper, they lose," says José Iturri, a senior Spanish interpreter at the European Commission, who actually puts trainees into the interpreters' booth so they can get a feel for what they're doing as speakers. Watch the video below for a taste of this training. Iturri and I both spoke at the European Speechwriters Network conference in London in May. He's an energetic and effective guide to using texts well. (Iturri also begs speakers and speechwriters to make sure the interpreter has your text in advance, a step often missed.)

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Monday, July 22, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you're a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, you see these good reads, resources and ideas from
other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But I want to share the insights with all the blog's readers, so I'm summarizing that extra content 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. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

"Could have been me:" 4 lessons from Obama's remarks on Trayvon Martin

There's power afoot when a prominent public speaker takes on the persona of another. In a quiet statement that interrupted a regular news briefing Friday, President Obama did just that by speaking from his personal experience about being a black man in America, treated with suspicion as he went about his business. The remarks came at the end of a week of protests over the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who killed black teenager Trayvon Martin because he thought he posed a threat. The President's statement was so unexpected that every detail was reported, including the most powerful sentence: "[R]eading an unusually personal, handwritten statement, Mr. Obama summed up his views with a single line: 'Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago'."

When a speaker says "I am" or "I was" someone else, or "that could have been me," she wrests the example out of an objective distance and embraces it wholly. Unstated is the contention, "Whatever you think of this person, you think of me." The tactic has the element of surprise, turning assumptions on their heads. And in this case, it was the first time an American president could explain the situation of black people based on his own personal experience, a factor that made the words all the more powerful.

Interestingly, First Lady Michelle Obama recently took this same rhetorical approach in speaking about Hadiya Pendleton, a black teenage girl from Chicago who was shot and killed not long after she had performed at President Obama's inauguration with her high school band. Speaking after Pendleton's funeral, the First Lady said, "As I visited with the Pendleton family at Hadiya’s funeral, I couldn’t get over how familiar they felt to me.  Because what I realized was Hadiya’s family was just like my family.  Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her.  But I got to grow up, and go to Princeton and Harvard Law School, and have a career and a family and the most blessed life I could ever imagine."

In fact, prominent women speakers often connect their power with powerless members of their audience or constituencies: Think about Texas State Senator Wendy Davis's filibuster about access to women's health services, in which she said, "This is my life," or U.S. Representative Jackie Speier speaking about her own abortion, or U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore on her unplanned pregnancies. Taking on the persona of a specific person who is not yourself, however, adds strength and emphasis to the point that your experiences match those of the person about whom you're speaking.

There's no question Obama's words were heartfelt and powerful. Martin's parents issued a statement saying “President Obama sees himself in Trayvon and identifies with him. This is a beautiful tribute to our boy.” The tactic is not without issues, however. When Michelle Obama said "Hadiya Pendleton was me," critics called it "the height of craven narcissism." What can you learn from this strong approach to identifying with your audience?
  1. Look for unlikely matches: One of my own most persuasive presentations happened when a board member of the foundation I worked for asked me, early in the AIDS epidemic, why I was so passionate about preventing the disease. "I could be the person with AIDS," I said. "I'm at risk. This could kill me, right at the point in my life where I'm getting ready to get married and start my most productive years of work." I played the card of being an unlikely match for his assumptions about who was affected, and won that round. The President and First Lady are, at first glance, unlikely matches for these young teenagers whose lives were cut short violently; your unlikely match might be your age, experience, opinion, country of origin and more. Perhaps your speaking partner is the unlikely match, as in Phyllis Rodriguez and Aicha el-Wafi, mothers of two men affected by the September 11 attacks, but from very different points of view.
  2. Weigh what's different between "this happened to me" and "I am __________:" Speaking from your personal experience and telling your own stories is critical to authentic public speaking. But before you adopt the persona of another, think about your motivations for doing so, and what that gets you, beyond just talking about your own experience. In this case, the President wanted to reach black Americans outraged by the verdict and the fact that race was not discussed as part of the trial. His acknowledgment of what he and Martin experienced also embraced the many black Americans whom he knew had experienced the same thing--his real audience--and connected the dots between them.
  3. "I am" is more powerful than "me, too:" The "vertical pronoun" is the most powerful, and "I" statements are the ones only you can make--they're difficult for anyone else to challenge if you are willing to phrase your declaration in that way. "This happened to me, too" just doesn't carry the same weight and strength.
  4. Be sure you can embrace this comparison completely: When you say someone "could have been me" or "I am" someone else, be ready for the full and heartfelt embrace that such a statement requires. It's not a mask you're putting on, it's someone else's persona, a full-bodied--so to speak--representation of them. Yes, you're lending them the power of your place on the podium. But are you going to live up to that, and to the person you say you represent?
Video of the President's statement is below. What do you think of this speaker tactic?


Friday, July 19, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Texas State Senator Wendy Davis's filibuster

They called it a "knife fight within the confines of Robert's Rules of Order." It was a filibuster, one coming on the final day of the Texas legislative session. And it was Wendy Davis, a state senator wearing pink sneakers, who pulled it off.

The filibuster, done purely to keep a piece of legislation from being considered or to kill it outright, goes back to ancient Rome, and is being debated as a tactic even today in the U.S. Senate. As rhetorical tools go, it's a rarely used blunt instrument that asks much of the speaker, whose goal is simply to speak long enough to delay the proceedings. Texas is one of just 13 U.S. states with legislatures permitting the tactic, and under its rules, Davis needed to stand unaided, stay on topic, and take no breaks or nourishment. Her target was delaying consideration of a restrictive anti-abortion bill that would limit reproductive health services in the state.

Many legislators attempting a filibuster will read famous speeches or long legislative proposals or the phone book aloud to kill time. But that would be a waste of a speaking platform, wouldn't it? Davis, forced to stay on topic, did so by going in the opposite direction as a speaker: The personal route. Saying "This is my life," she recounted personal stories of her own. Ann Friedman describes it:
She didn’t just rattle off statistics about how women who seek later-term abortions are often doing so as a last resort to protect their own health. She also talked about her own ectopic pregnancy, a life-threatening condition. Davis didn’t just recite talking points about how women take these decisions seriously. She read letters from dozens of women who struggled with the choice to abort a pregnancy — then follow through on that choice. Davis didn’t just explain that this bill would reduce the number of abortion providers in the state to only five far-flung locations. She calmly explained that there was a period of her life during which she could barely afford the gas money to get to and from work, let alone traverse several counties for a $500 medical procedure. She talked about being poor and uninsured and relying on Planned Parenthood.
Kathy Gill notes that, while traditional media ignored the filibuster as it was happening--something it has not done for similar filibusters by men--Davis's filibuster went viral on social media, thanks to a livestream on YouTube and live-tweeting from the capitol:
According to Twitter, the #standwithwendy hashtag was mentioned 400,000 times on Tuesday.There was no comparison between the filibuster and the Supreme Court decision on the voting rights act; Austin trumped the Beltway. With the gallery in an uproar, tweets peaked at 11.58 pm at 5,776 tweets per minute.
You can see the beginning of Davis's filibuster in the news report below. It was ruled after 11 hours that she'd gone off-topic, and she was cut off, leading to 15 minutes of booing and chanting "Let her speak! Let her speak!" by a record number of people watching in the galleries. They kept up the noise until the clock ran out on the session, effectively defeating the bill that night. (It eventually passed the Texas Senate, drawing still more protests.) I don't have a transcript of the filibuster, but there is one of the the text of her remarks at a July 1 rally after the filibuster.

And only after that did traditional media step in. Since the filibuster, backlash against Davis has been fierce, with the New York Times pointing out it wasn't as long as the record-holding stemwinder of a male politician, and Governor Rick Perry pointing out that she was a teen mother herself, saying "It's just unfortunate that she hasn't learned from her own example."

What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Put the audience into your speech: Reading from citizens' emails and letters to her office about the bill helped Davis connect with the audience in the chamber and the virtual one beyond it. One activist said, "As she was reading the testimony of all the women who weren’t allowed to testify before the committee, we all knew she was our voice. We were her and she was us." Acting as the voice of others is a sure-fire way to make sure the audience is with you.
  • Use timing to advantage: In her interview with Anderson Cooper (see video below), Davis notes that the filibuster would likely never have happened if a series of errors had not created a window for it on the last day of the session--but she seized that moment, to dramatic effect.
  • Anticipate the physical and mental strain of challenging speaking tasks:  Davis's pink Mizuno Wave running shoes, a smart tactic for someone who expected to stand for hours, gained their own fan base on filibuster day, with reviews on Amazon that now read "The next time you have to spend 13 hours on your feet without food, water or bathroom breaks, this is the shoe for you. Guaranteed to outrun patriarchy on race day." On a serious note, however, Davis says in the interview below "I underestimated how difficult it would be, both physically and mentally."
What do you think of this famous speech?

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My summer reads on public speaking and women speakers

This summer, I have more reasons than ever to be dipping into great books about public speaking and about women speakers. I've started work on my own book on women and public speaking, and am researching and writing several magazine articles on public speaking topics right now. I'm chairing the European Speechwriters Network conference in Brussels in September, and want to get a handle on the speakers through their books. And I've given some of these books on speaking as gifts, or received them myself. Here's a look at the unusual shelf of 12 books that I've assembled as part of my reading on public speaking this summer:
  1. Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean by Michael Erard is among my all-time favorite books on public speaking. Erard's done the research behind this tiny space-filling word that appears all over the world, looking at why it's ubiquitous and why we keep trying to eradicate it from our speaking. It has long been a staple on my reference shelf, and I've been turning to it again this summer.
  2. The Biteback Dictionary of Humorous Political Quotations is by Fred Metcalf, who's among the speakers I'll be chairing at the Brussels conference. Anything that mixes humor with politics works for me. As Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan said, "A voter laughing is half yours..."
  3. The Passage to Europe: How a Continent Became a Union is not about speaking per se. But author Luuk van Middelaar,  speechwriter to the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, is another speaker at the Brussels conference. His book uses perspectives of key players in the formation of the EU, including Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel, so I expect to find some gems there. Perhaps a future Famous Speech Friday?
  4. Friedman's Fables is another longtime favorite. Written by psychologist Edwin Friedman, these fables are intended to share new perspectives on relationships and how we handle challenges, but they're a rich model for speakers and storytellers as well. I gave this to a fellow speaker and speechwriter this summer, and he shared this apt quote from the book: "Communication does not depend on syntax, or eloquence, or rhetoric, or articulation but on the emotional context  in which the message is being heard." This book is like honey for the ear.
  5. The Roar of the Lion: The Untold Story of Churchill's World War II Speeches is from another conference speaker, Richard Toye. It won't be published until November 1, so this will really be on my autumn list, but I'm looking forward to what is billed as the "first systematic, archive based examination of Churchill's World War II rhetoric as a whole." I'll get the preview at the conference in September.
  6. Women Who Run with the Wolves by Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes was given to me this summer by one of my coaching clients as a source of storytelling about women. It's loaded with stories, fables and fairytales, another set of good examples and frameworks for speaking and writing about women. I'm listening to this in audiobook form so I can catch the vocal cadence that goes into the telling of these tales.
  7. The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients by Irvin Yalom, MD, was given to me by another speaker coach and speechwriter. Coaching speakers is not therapy, but I see many parallels between the two. Yalom's advice to therapists includes "let the patient matter to you," something that echoes my efforts to get out of the way and let the speaker be authentic. I'm enjoying digging in to this unlikely book to inform my public speaking training and coaching.
  8. The Lyceum and Public Culture in the Nineteenth-Century United States looks at the lyceum lecture system of the 1820s to 1880s in the U.S.--the original speaking tours. This wasn't a time in which women were frequent speakers, though there were some exceptions. I'm eager to delve into more of the history of Anna Dickinson, a frequent lecturer on the circuit and a famous woman speaker you'll be seeing on the blog sometime soon.
  9. Available Means: An Anthology of Women's Rhetoric(s) is a reference work I'm glad to have on my shelf this summer. It collects speeches and rhetoric from women ranging from ancient Rome to the present day. Since examples of women's speeches are sometimes hard to find, this was a must for me.
  10. Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need to Know about Making Speeches and Presentations by Max Atkinson has long been on my virtual bookshelf. This summer, I'm turning to it again for articles I'm writing about the impact of technology on public speech, and some upcoming posts for the blog on taking turns in conversations and meetings, a big issue for women speakers in the workplace. Atkinson, based in the UK, also is speaking at the Brussels conference in September.
  11. Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President by Harold Holzer is another longtime favorite. It's not often that you can dig into an entire book about one speech. I've turned back to this meaty work for an article I'm writing, and because we're in the middle of the Civil War 150th anniversary. I waited until after seeing the movie Lincoln before picking this one up again.
  12. 10 Steps to Writing a Vital Speech: The Definitive Guide to Professional Speechwriting by Fletcher Dean and David Murray is designed for the person who isn't sure how to tackle writing a speech. Murray, editor of Vital Speeches of the Day, will be returning to the Brussels speechwriters' conference as a speaker, and the VSOTD website includes the feed from The Eloquent Woman. The conference also includes a one-day workshop on the nuts and bolts of speechwriting, led by Martin Shovel and Martha Leyton.
That's a lot of reading. Can't summer be longer? I hope you enjoy some of my summer bookshelf.

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Monday, July 15, 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, July 12, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Tech pioneer Grace Hopper explains nanoseconds

"Sometimes there are people who appear to be all 'Navy' but when you reach inside, you find a 'Pirate' dying to be released. One such person was Grace Hopper," wrote former Apple senior vice president Jay Elliott in his book The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation. And that's the impact that Hopper, a pioneering computer scientist, had on the many audiences to whom she lectured in the last years of her life, as a goodwill ambassador for Digital Equipment Corporation.

Long before these talks, Hopper had blazed a pirate-like path in the fledgling field of computing. With a Ph.D. in mathematics earned in 1934, she enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II. She helped to create COBOL, one of the first programming languages, pushing for it to more closely resemble English than machine code language, and often came up with simple terms for computer processes. We get the word "debugging" from her, prompted by a real moth that had to be removed from a computer.

She's also credited with coming up with the terms "nanoseconds" and "picoseconds." Described as a lively and irreverent speaker, Hopper explained nanoseconds in most of these lectures. One appreciation describes the demo:
The “nanoseconds” she handed out were lengths of wire, cut to not quite 12 inches in length, equal to the distance traveled by electromagnetic waves along the wire in the space of a nanosecond–one billionth of a second. In teaching efficient programming methods, Rear Admiral Hopper wanted to make sure her students would not waste nanoseconds. Occasionally, to make the demonstration even more powerful, she would bring to class an entire “microsecond”–a coil of wire nearly 1,000 feet long that the rear admiral, herself tough and wiry, would brandish with a sweeping gesture and a steady wrist.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Use recurring audience questions to shape your talks: Hopper started explaining nanoseconds in response to recurring questions from military leaders about why it took satellites so long to relay information, then incorporated this demo into her talks, knowing it would likely come up again. It's a smart tactic that too few speakers employ.
  • Be authentic: "I didn't know what a billion was. I don't think most of those men downtown know what a billion is, either. And if you don't know what a billion is, how on earth do you know what a billionth is?" I know plenty of scientists and engineers who would die before admitting they didn't know what a billion was (let alone a mathematician). Not Hopper, who looks smarter than ever by admitting it's a tough concept to understand. She even shared the wire  "nanoseconds" with the crowd, encouraging their use to explain the concept to family and friends. 
  • Test your analogies before you put them into use: Here, Hopper does a simple and smart thing: She describes with mathematical precision her demonstration prop, "A piece of wire which would represent the maximum distance that electricity could travel in a billionth of a second." Then she shows them a coil of wire that represents a microsecond, as a comparator, putting the first wire into perspective that anyone can see. In that sentence, despite the fact that she's describing a hard-to-grasp concept of speed, the most difficult word is "billionth," the word she's defining with the demonstration. Hopper proves yet again that big ideas don't need big words. 
  • Wear your authority with ease: She came up in a time when women in her field were the exceptions, not the rule, and they certainly weren't in charge much. So in these late-in-life lectures, she donned her Navy uniform and spoke in a straightforward tone that suggests she knows what she's talking about. Using deft humor and poking at established authorities ("those men downtown") just underscores her firm footing. 

Many things are named in Hopper's honor, but here at The Eloquent Woman, we are especially fond of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology--in no small part because the conference features numerous women speakers and shares their speeches on YouTube. It's a rich resource for women speakers, and we look to this fitting legacy of Hopper's for great speech examples from women in tech.

I'm grateful to Google software engineer Cate Huston, a regular reader of Famous Speech Friday who asked some time ago, "How about an FSF on Grace Hopper?" and helpfully pointed me to the video. Thanks, Cate!

(Photo of Grace Hopper at the UNIVAC keyboard--yes, that's a computer--in 1960, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.)

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

12 ways to diversify conferences with @NoWomenSpeakers

Since I started the @NoWomenSpeakers Twitter account to share examples of conference programs featuring few or no women speakers, the debate seems to be heating up again--and the reactions often repeat a familiar complaint that puts the blame back on the women speakers themselves: "We're asking women speakers to speak, but they're turning down the invitations!" It's a frustrated throw-up-your-hands type of response that I hear from both male and female organizers. And often, it's where the discussion ends. This would be tough to study, but I'll bet many organizers stop trying after too many turndowns.

Last month, the debate got a little more data in the form of a study about invitations to women speakers at an evolutionary biology conference, which noted that "in 2011, 50% of women declined an invitation to speak compared to 26% of men." Instead of throwing up her hands at this news, Professor Athene Donald starts to tease out the more complicated reasons women don't accept speaking invitations on the Royal Society blog. The comments thread on Donald's own blog shares some real-life perspectives on why women in science aren't accepting speaking gigs.

My own suspicion is that many women speakers don't accept or seek speaking gigs for the same reason many women don't ask for pay raises: They've assessed the likelihood that they will succeed, and have correctly predicted that both men and women are more likely to turn down their application than accept it.

I'd like to take the discussion further and give conference organizers the successful tactics and examples from others who have struggled with this issue, which we've been covering for several years here on The Eloquent Woman. Here are a dozen concrete ways to diversify your conference and help women speakers accept invitations for public speaking gigs:
  1. Establish an anti-harrassment code of conduct for your conference and publicize it: Before you assume the problem is limited to child care or that women aren't interested in speaking, take this step. No woman wants to speak in a harrassing environment at a meeting, and that harrassment may be invisible to organizers, or very public. You'll find an excellent model at the link, so you need not start from scratch. It's simple: Harrassing behavior won't be tolerated and those who conduct themselves in that manner will be asked to leave the meeting. It's not enough to have such a policy. You must make it widely known for it to work as a recruitment tool for both women speakers and attendees. Don't think you have a harrassment problem? Great. No reason not to put the policy in place, then.
  2. Survey your attendees and speakers: Much of the discussion around this issue centers on individual and anecdotal experience, or research based on data that doesn't include the voices of women speakers. Before you start making assumptions about why and whether women are turning down speaking invitations, try collecting data from your speakers and from your attendees (and membership, if that's relevant). What would they need to help them say "yes?" What's prompting the "no?" Have they noticed a lack of women speakers? You may be surprised at the answers. Keep an open mind.
  3. Try a blind selection process: Sarah Milstein and Eric Ries co-host the Lean Startup Conference, and took it from a meeting with almost no women or people of color on the program to one with 40 percent women speakers and 25 percent speakers of color. At the link, you'll find out precisely how they did that using "meritocratic selection. It’s not a game of quotas; it’s quite the opposite. Indeed, we picked the speakers we thought had the best stories and would be the most engaging presenters. We didn’t rule out any candidates for being white or men, and we didn’t favor women or people of color. Instead, we used a handful of principles to guide us: transparent process, blind selection, proactive outreach and enlisting help." Another great model to try.
  4. Emphasize women's attendance and speaker participation levels: More conferences, hearing the Twitter drumbeat of disatisfied attendees, are starting to publicize the percentage or number of women speaking at their sessions. It's a simple way to let women speakers know of your interest in presenting them, and to share your track record. I'd love to see more conferences report their diversity results in this way. Send them to @NoWomenSpeakers on Twitter.
  5. Don't program "women's panels" or other speaking ghettos: I've been asked many times to sit on a panel on "women's issues in..." whatever the conference topic was, and told outright that this panel was there to "make up for" an imbalance in the speaking roster. I'll explore this idea more in a future post, but organizers, please: Integrate women across all panels, don't put them into a corner. In Why I won't speak at women-only events, Belinda Parmar tackles these women's issues panels and notes something organizers should keep in mind: The audience doesn't always like them, either. 
  6. Offer training and coaching: Throughout history, women have collectively had fewer chances than men to speak in public, and we tend to make women who do speak publicly invisible in a variety of subtle but effective ways. Why not offer training and coaching for women speakers, or would-be women speakers? It's a great way to boost their skill and confidence levels and to identify good speakers for the next conference. I coach many organizations' speakers, sometimes at their annual conferences or board meetings, and there's no better way to send the signal that you're serious about getting women to speak.
  7. Offer child care, but don't stop there: It alarms me that this debate often begins and ends with child care as the answer to all ills. That in itself tells you a lot about how women speakers are seen. Not all women speakers need child care, including some parents; for other women, it's the major barrier. To find out what works and doesn't work for your attendees and speakers, you'll need that survey data, won't you? The German Marshall Fund has experimented with providing child care at a conference with mixed results, but you also may want to consider rethinking your cancellation policy or other processes that don't support women speakers of all kinds, including those with children.
  8. Share more information on travel and social options: Women who are traveling alone for a speaking gig in a new city need other kinds of information in advance, about the area in which the conference is being held, what else is nearby and what you have organized for speakers in terms of social events. Think safety, as well as social options. How can you make women speakers more comfortable with saying "yes" to your invitation?
  9. Rethink your conference schedule: Many commenters on Athene Donald's post mention child care in the context of the school year--they are reluctant to upend their children's schedules during that time. It made me think that business conferences are likely still locked into a set of scheduling assumptions from the 1950s, when one could assume that women would be staying home to care for the family during the school year, rather than giving speeches. If you haven't reconsidered whether your meeting schedule works for both men and women, use that survey to find out their preferences about what times of year you should convene them. Often, the timing has little to do with the attendees and speakers, and if that's the case, can we fault speakers for saying no?
  10. Set a quota or goal: “Personally, I don’t like quotas,” says Viviane Reding, the top justice official for the European Union. “But I like what the quotas do. Quotas open the way to equality and they break through the glass ceiling.” She was speaking of corporate board diversity, but many major meetings have set public quotas for women's participation as attendees and speakers, including the World Economic Forum at Davos. You can't set the quota and forget it, however--this only works in concert with other efforts, and many conference have found it difficult to meet their own quotas.
  11. Don't participate in conferences that bar or omit women speakers: We'd all do well to keep in mind that there are still conferences being held which ban women from speaking, even in 2013. It's disheartening that, in response to a call for male speakers to pledge that they wouldn't participate in panels with no women, the pledge signup was spammed by misogynistic comments and fake signatories, and had to be shut down. More meaningful than any pledge form would be asking, every time, about the gender and ethnic diversity on the panels and conferences to which you are invited to speak. The more potential speakers inquire about it, the more you'll drive home the point.
  12. Ask them and keep asking: Don't ask and give up. Don't accept the potential woman speaker's recommendations for someone else to speak. Say "I want you to speak and what can we do to make that happen?" Not, as one organizer recently asked me, "I can't imagine what it would take to get you  to speak, and we have no budget, anyway," which let me know he was asking me to do something I would normally be paid to do, and didn't intend to offer anything. That was an easy "no." One clever organizer kept after me for three years and when I did say yes, it was one of the best speaking experiences of my career. Persist.
TED curator June Cohen, perplexed by the low percentage of women speakers suggested for TEDx events, gave this talk at TEDxUniversity during the TEDGlobal conference this summer, sharing lots of data about what TED sees: Fewer women suggested, fewer saying yes to invitations, and more. She recommends ways organizers can better "smoke out" women speakers, and urges persistence, too:

I can and do ask organizers to make sure I am not the lone female on the program--and offer my help to get them there. While I'm aware that I can be a role model, I don't want to be a token, and I've backed out of speaking gigs where it became apparent that I was the latter and not the former. At the same time, I know I can use my influence to get more women on the podium. I hope this list of options helps to get the issue past the blame and hand-wringing and on to some proven tactics.

You can help, too: Please share this post widely on social media, and get it directly to the people organizing the conferences that you attend, and to other women who are potential speakers.

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Monday, July 8, 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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Monday, July 1, 2013

Closed for the week

In this first week of July 2013, the blog is taking a short hiatus for some routine maintenance and work on special features coming in the weeks and months ahead. Don't worry: The Eloquent Woman will be back this time next week, on July 8, with the information, ideas and inspiration you need to improve your public speaking and presenting. Thanks so much for reading and sharing the blog!