Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Should your speech quote Aristotle or Dr. Seuss? What it says about you

After U.S. Senator Ted Cruz quoted Dr. Seuss during his recent filibuster, NPR's Scott Simon observed that when politicians use quotes, they look for solid ground, saying, "The purpose of a quote in politics isn't to be interesting — and certainly not provocative. It's to tie yourself to something or someone indisputable." 

In his view, that means going for Groucho Marx rather than Karl Marx, the person to whom more of us can relate. That's a tactic that goes back to U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose speechwriter Liz Carpenter revealed it in a 2003 article on How to write a speech:
You've got to make sure that everything you write will be understood by the audience. There's a famous story about LBJ going over a draft of a speech by a new speechwriter. He was reading it aloud to [Congressman] Jake Pickle, and he got down to a quotation from Aristotle. LBJ exploded: "Aristotle? Aristotle? Those people don't know who the hell Aristotle is!" So he took out his fountain pen, crossed out "Aristotle," and wrote, "As my dear old daddy used to say . . ." Any speechwriter would say that's fair. 
Simon notes, however, that Ronald Reagan sometimes quoted Aristotle and British poets of yore in presidential speeches, noting "I'm old enough to remember them."

In our fondness to reach for these familiar voices, however, many speakers wind up attributing comments to the wrong person. I'm continually seeing people on Twitter share a supposed Nancy Reagan quote -- "A woman is like a tea bag. You don't know how strong she is until she's in hot water" -- which I thought came from Eleanor Roosevelt, but has been ascribed to many, many other speakers. This week, NPR looks at the phenomenon of Churchillian drift, the name given to misattributions of quotes the great man never said. Apparently, we like our best speakers to get the credit for all the good stuff.

What about your speeches? Are you reaching for ancient authorities, big names, or that common denominator? And are you sure you're quoting the right person?

(Photo from L.C. Nøttaasen on Flickr)

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Monday, October 28, 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, October 25, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Christine Lagarde on "dynamic resilience"

I'll just say it: There may be no better woman speaker in the world today than Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. And when she speaks as she does in this speech, she's speaking in her first second language, English, rather than her native French. She's extraordinarily fluent in both. And though her remarks focus on the tangled web of the global economy, she's clear, connected and current.

This speech, "A new global economy for a new generation," was a highlight at the World Economic Forum in Davos early in 2013. Lagarde had the role of explaining the "dynamic resilience" theme of the meeting.

From the start, she turns her text into a dynamic thing, adding and extemporizing. Faced with an opening laundry list of factors intended to describe the current global crisis in statistics, she extemporizes a repetitive riff, saying "You would expect me to say...." before each one. She's setting us up for surprise, in a speech that will point to Facebook, Twitter, gang rape in India, climate change and many other factors that impact the world economy:
So how can we successfully navigate our way into this future world? There are no easy answers. So where to begin? I think it starts with the new generation on the march—in a world that is flatter, more closely-knit, more interconnected than ever before in history.This new generation thinks differently. It is a generation weaned on immediacy, democracy, and global reach of social media. Consider the scale: Facebook and Twitter have about one billion and 500 million users respectively. If they were countries, they would be the 3rd and 4th largest nations in the world! Perhaps we can lay the groundwork for future success by embracing some of the emerging values of this new generation. Let me touch on three of these in particular: (1) greater openness; (2) stronger inclusion; (3) better accountability.
Lagarde includes empowerment of women and girls throughout her speech, using her position of power to advance women as economic engines around the world. In her introduction, she deviates from her prepared text to say, "I would like to give this moment to Malala, the daughter of Pakistan, and her sister, the daughter of India," the latter a reference to the anonymous girl who was brutally gang-raped, prompting headlines around the world. Later in the speech, she speaks of women driving 70 percent of global consumer spending, and laments that there are not more men to make the case for inclusion of women.

What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Work the rule of three: This speech is in three parts, focusing on openness, inclusion and accountability. The rule of three is the oldest rule of rhetoric, but it works especially well in a long, technical speech like this one. When your listeners can hear that you have an outline, they'll be more willing to follow along.
  • Make the most of metaphor: "In a flat world, there are no economic place to hide," Lagarde says, turning the global crisis into an open field. Likewise, she says "this is a world where economic hardship will be contagious and will contaminate the rest of the world, all the other regions, in next to no time." When she talks about climate change, she warns that the "next generation will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled." Not your everyday dry economic speech, this.
  • Make the audience part of your speech: The World Economic Forum audience is no ordinary group, loaded as it is with world leaders, corporate titans and technical experts. Lagarde gracefully weaves into her prepared remarks mentions of people in the audience, tying their earlier remarks to her points. It makes clear that she's a good listener as well as a good speaker, and creates strong connections during her talk.
  • Work the lectern: This is a long speech, and it needed to be a prepared speech--it's tough to maintain almost 40 minutes extemporaneously and cover all the ground Lagarde needed to cover. She makes the most of having to stay at the lectern, however, with extemporaneous adds, lots of gestures, vocal variety and colorful language. If you're in the same position, watch this video for pointers.
The text, prepared for delivery, differs in part from the address she delivered. It offers you a useful opportunity to read while you listen to this speech, so you can learn more about deviating from your text and how to make it sound smooth. You can see how Lagarde works in mentions of people in the audience, adds commentary, and even embellishes on her points. What do you think of this famous speech?

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Churchill's backchannel: Looking at his speeches through an audience lens

Ever since audience members first started tweeting their reactions during speeches, I've been hearing from alarmed speakers--and reminding them that, long before Twitter, every speech has had a backchannel of commentary from its audience. You just didn't know what they were saying.

That's long been true with historic speeches. We're left with just a text or a recording, if we're lucky, so we focus on the beautiful language. Rarely do we try to hear and see what the audience was saying, an essential part of any speech. Take Winston Churchill, whose World War II speeches sparked plenty of reaction. Until historian Richard Toye did the yeoman's work of sifting through archival material to write The Roar of the Lion: The Untold Story of Churchill's World War II Speeches, that audience backchannel was presumed to be uniformly positive--thanks to wartime propaganda and the sometimes misty lens through which we like to view this famous speaker.

Turns out that Churchill's contemporary listeners were often less charitable than we are. We have, after all, the luxury of considering his speeches decades later, without the threat of war hanging over us. Like most citizens hearing political speeches, his listeners were skeptical, worried, depressed, angry and positive by turns. They made fun of him, wondered what he was leaving out, and worried about what was coming next, just as we do today. Toye has taken the speeches off their pedestals for a moment to add needed detail and context, the kind that can only come from looking at a wide variety of written accounts, including public opinion surveys, citizens' diaries and letters, and government summaries of public reactions to the speeches. It's all here, no expletives deleted.

The details make this book a joy to read for speakers and speechwriters alike. Toye considers the political context for each speech; how it was written and who contributed ideas or input; the delivery; and how it was received. You'll learn about Churchill's early speaking influences and tactics, from memorization and mistakes to working from a text, and how they affected his later great speeches. When I'm coaching speakers, I often tell them that no one--not even Winston Churchill--is a "born speaker," and the evidence is here, along with evidence of all the work he put into his speeches. The introduction, which details how the audience reaction was ignored in book after book about Churchill, is a telling look at how much context we miss when we just read historic speeches.

Some Churchill fans have decried the book as a slam against not just the great man, but Great Britain. Does suggesting that citizens had varied views make them seem less brave or united? Toye doesn't think so, and neither do I. If anything, those doubts, humorous observations and fearful thoughts seem appropriate, and make the book highly credible.

There's much a current speechwriter can learn here, too. Toye draws our attention past the stirring rhetoric to the real gems of Churchill's speeches: The content, sharing crucial information with citizens about what to expect and what was known at critical junctures; the historical context, never more important than in that moment; and well-reasoned arguments. Who knows what modern-day Churchills we could be hearing from if you'd focus on those three factors in preparing your own speeches? Content is still king in these speeches.

 I got a preview and the chance to get to know Toye better when he spoke at the European Speechwriter Network conference, which I chaired, in Brussels in September. Roar of the Lion is now available in the U.S., and is a smart addition to your speechwriting and public speaking bookshelf. Want to dive into archival material yourself? Check out the Churchill Archive, a major resource put to good use in this fine book.

(European Speechwriter Network photo)

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Monday, October 21, 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, October 18, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Leymah Gbowee's "Step out of the shadows"

Before you lean in, before you speak up, you have to step out of the shadows. That was the message that Leymah Gbowee, a Nobel Peace Prize winner from Liberia, hammered home in her 2013 commencement speech at Barnard.

Gbowee led a women's peace movement that helped end a civil war in Liberia, and you can read more about that heroic effort in her book Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War. But in this speech, she goes to war with women's tendency to support others while staying in the shadows or behind the scenes themselves.

Gbowee tells the stories of several women in this speech: An elderly woman in a small African village who lived in poverty, but earned and sent money to relatives to fuel their education and advancement, without getting public credit. A woman who had been raped, but wanted to tell her story rather than hide in shame. And Gbowee herself, who nearly failed a course because she didn't speak up in class. In each case, she underscores the need to speak for yourself rather than be a shadow, as the elderly woman described herself:
Shadow does nothing.  And as I drove away from that place, I kept thinking about how she referred to herself.  And it dawned on me that this is how all over the world, women think.  They do a lot of the work, but they never really take any credit for what they do.  Their roles in the success or the successes of all of the different things, they always try to keep in the shadows.  Growing up, most times as young women and as girls, regardless of where you come from we are socialized as women to be humble.  In very extreme cases, be seen and never heard.  In some cases, walk on tiptoes. 
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • A little sly humor never hurts: Gbowee weaves in humorous asides throughout her talk. "I have been asked to send you off with some words of wisdom.  I’ll do my best on the wisdom part.  Words you will definitely get," she warns the audience. At the start, she intones, "To God be the glory for another wonderful rainy day." It's just one example of the many sly asides with which she peppers this speech.
  • Share women's voices: The women she speaks about may have started out in the shadows, but by telling their stories, Gbowee uses her speaker platform to make sure they don't stay there. When you're the speaker, you have a particular power to highlight others' stories. So much the better if you choose stories that might not otherwise come to light. Use that microphone for good.
  • Share your own setbacks: This Nobel laureate might have rested on her laurels and failed to share her own struggles with stepping out of the shadows. But because she talked about raising her children in poverty and struggling with her education and confidence, she became a more credible speaker on her topic and created a powerful connection with her audience.
You can read the transcript here, and see the video below. Her speech starts at the 47-minute mark.What do you think of this famous speech?

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Beachcombing and the rule of three

On my way to Brussels to chair the European Speechwriters Network conference, I stopped in England and had the chance to visit speaker coach Peter Botting at his home near the beach in Sussex. Peter was coaching me for my role as the chair of the conference, but first, we had to hit the beach. With bases in London as well as on the coast, Peter says he and his clients have the best of both worlds, saying "A lunchtime walk along the Bexhill seafront has cleared the head of many a client – and me." Suddenly, the lack of a beach seemed to be a strategic disadvantage in my own speaker coaching business in Washington, DC. 

I had my own head-clearing moment on the Bexhill beach when Peter picked out three rocks for me as souvenirs from the thousands that form the collar of the coast. I'd been admiring the tapestry of rock colors covering the beach, feeling overwhelmed at the idea of describing it, so vast a collection lies there. Just as the water stretches as far as the eye can see, so do the rocks on this beach. But suddenly, I had just three rocks in my hand, and they came into focus immediately: A squared-off white stone, with many shades of white, that reminds me of the granite in my home state of Connecticut. A mottled brown stone, smooth and kidney-shaped and soothing in the palm of my hand, with a few chunks of cream and a thick vein of blue that, when wet with the salt water, looks so much more like midnight. And a black stone, smaller and yet smoother, with hints of a yellow-cream vein underneath. 

Three rocks, and the rhetorical "rule of three" popped into my head. This isn't surprising when you have two speaker coaches in close proximity--at some point, we'd already discussed how we talk about the rule of three with our training clients and whether we consider it useful. We agreed it's an especially smart tool for remembering what you want to say, and I find it effective when working with clients who are subject-matter experts or scientists with details compiled over a lifetime of research. Many scientists and experts default to telling all they know in chronological order, starting at the beginning of time and proceeding forward, just to be sure the listener is fully educated in the subject at hand. It's the verbal equivalent of a beach covered in thousands of rocks as far as the eye can see, assembled because they're not sure the listener will understand the subject without all the background details, or because they dread someone saying, "But you didn't mention...."

Pulling just three things out of that swath of verbal stones--three arguments to make your case to the VC, three factors the CEO should use in making a decision, three events that led to your new invention, three findings that convinced you a new discovery was around the corner--helps you organize your thoughts. But more important is the way the rule of three helps your audience see and hear your points faster and remember them longer. In conversation or a media interview, sharing three options in your answer lets your listener or the reporter take a turn, saying, "That second piece of data you mentioned about college students--talk more about that," giving you a guide to what your audience cares about. You can create a rhythm around your three points if you wish, a rhetorical pattern that can help you make people listen and applaud. And best of all, instead of carrying an entire beach's worth of ideas in your head, you can more readily remember the three rocks you've plucked from the shore for us to examine together.

When I travel these days, I look for experiences, not souvenirs. But these were souvenirs that live up to the original meaning of the French word, which means "to remember." The three rocks from Bexhill-on-Sea are sitting on my desk as I write this, making it easy for me to remember that walk on the beach. This afternoon, I'm going to put them in my pocket and take them to a coaching session with a client who's preparing a TED-style talk, where they'll serve as a visual and tactile way to explain the rule of three memorably. Thanks, Peter, for sharing the beach and these rocky reminders of the rule of three with me!

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Monday, October 14, 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, October 11, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: British Olympic cyclist Nicole Cook's retirement speech

Because she isn't Lance Armstrong, you may not have noticed British cyclist Nicole Cook's retirement speech back in January. In fact, it occurred in the same week that Armstrong sat down with Oprah Winfrey for a "tell all" interview. Her London press conference to make the announcement didn't even yield video of her speaking, but the speech was powerful enough to be reprinted in full in The Guardian and in Cycling News.

Cook's statement came at a time when cycling was getting the highest level of visibility, not for the magic of the sport, but for the excesses of cyclists found to have taken performance-enhancing drugs. Her approach is fierce and fearless as she talks about standing up to teammates who were doping themselves in order to protect her reputation, and in her indictment of doping athletes. "I am appalled that so many men bleat on about the fact that the pressures were too great. Too great for what? This is not doing 71 mph on the motorway when the legal limit is 70. This is stealing somebody else's livelihood. It is theft just as much as putting your hand in a purse or wallet and taking money is theft....When Lance "cries" on Oprah later this week and she passes him a tissue, spare a thought for all of those genuine people who walked away with no reward – just shattered dreams. Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances."

With three themes--the difficulty she faced as a woman cyclist, the doping scandals, and the need for future protections for girls and women in the sport--Cook balances often damning revelations about the sport's governance, fellow riders and sponsors with support and praise for those who did the right thing. She holds up examples of cyclists who didn't use drugs, thanks officials for admitting they erred in excluding her from races, and offers thanks to the dedicated family, friends and organizers who helped her career move forward against all odds. But she does not stint in sharing her challenges, drawing clear pictures with well-chosen detail, as in this story about winning a race without much support:
Again the BCF and the lottery funded coaching structure was embarrassed that I won and beat the funded riders on their expensive equipment and resources, on my cheap bike. They had a British Cycling Team car and back up. I had dad on his bike with a saddlebag of energy bars and drinks to hand out!! 
What they did not know was that in the weeks before, I had spent the summer riding over the Grand Cols, including over the highest road ever taken by the Tour — the Cime de La Bonnette at over 2700m. I had ridden over this with mum, dad and my brother. I had put the hard work in and in my world, hard work counts for an awful lot.
What can you learn from this famous speech?

  • Don't delay your actual announcement: This speech was a statement given at a press conference, with a purposeful audience of reporters there to get the story. While Cook had plenty of commentary to make, she delivered the news in the second sentence, while indicating the nature of her remarks to come: "I am here to announce my retirement and in one sense that is a simple thing to say and a simple story, but given that the sport I have given my life to has become more 'fantastic' than any soap opera...I thought it appropriate to share with you some of my experiences and, importantly some ideas for the future." Don't forget the purpose of your speech and bury the news.
  • Use detail to make it real: Cook doesn't speak in generalities about doping. Instead, she speaks of opening the fridge in the team house and finding the drugs there. When she speaks about winning a race without support, we can see her dad on his bike with that saddlebag of energy bars, so different from the well-funded team support car. Judicious details make these stories pop and stick in our memories.
  • Don't hold back: If you can't say it when you're retiring, well, when can you say it? There's not an ounce of sugar-coating in this statement, helping it to stand in high relief against the Armstrong spin-control efforts going on in the same week as this statement. Cook takes the role of witness to history in her sport, assuming a duty in the task that keeps this statement from being too sensational or self-promotional.

Oh, how I wish I had this one on video, but do read the full text. You'll learn much about how poorly supported women's sports are, and come away with admiration for Cook's persistent over her 11-year career. Special thanks to London reader Lucy Gregg for pointing me to this speech--I appreciate the chance to share this find-of-a-speech with all of you.

(Photo from jenscer's photostream on Flickr)

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

When you're tempted to turn down a speaking gig: For women

I was corresponding recently with a reader--one who works as a professional communicator--who shared this: 
I did get a speaking request recently that I turned down. Have you written a post about why women say no? The organization asked me to speak in an area where I did not feel qualified. In hindsight, I'm wondering if I should have pivoted and said 'I would like to speak about A instead of B, if you are still interested, I'd be delighted'.
I can relate, and I suspect many of you can, too. I just finished chairing a conference at which I'd been the previous keynote speaker, but before all that, I said no to the organizer two or three times. Feeling qualified wasn't the problem for me so much as distance, as the conferences were in the UK and Europe. But there's a shared situation here: Whether it's distance or perceived qualifications, the calendar or child care, the press of other business at home and work, perceived good manners or impostor syndrome, some of us are turning down speaking gigs perhaps too quickly. In my case, the keynote speech and the chairmanship that followed were two of my very best speaking experiences in a long career of public speaking. Had I continued to say no, I'd have missed out on those rich and productive experiences and networks, and everything that comes with them.

I'm going to ask you to help by saying "yes" first the next time you are asked to speak. Let's make sure that women saying "no" isn't the reason we see so few women speakers on the program at conferences.

I haven't blogged from this perspective for a simple reason: Too often, women's lack of presence in a sphere of public life is blamed on the women, an easy dodge men can make to excuse underground or coded discrimination. But I also know plenty of qualified women who turn down speaking gigs for reasons that can be surmounted, or at least, reasons that don't stop men from saying "yes" when the invitation comes in. And I want to change that.

Qualifications are among those reasons. Men of my acquaintance rarely turn down invitations to speak, and often seek them actively. Are they always qualified? Absolutely not. Are they all speakers of perfection? Not even close. Do they say "yes" to speaking invitations anyway? You bet they do, and they chase them. Do the audiences love them? Not necessarily, but by the time the audience finds that out, it's too late to do anything about it, except on the feedback forms. Mary Kopczynski looked at this after attending a hedge funds summit where 49 percent of the attendees were women and there was a lone female panelist. The organizers told her that male administrative assistants had volunteered to speak, but almost no women--and the women she spoke with about it, senior and seasoned though they are, pleaded their lack of qualifications.

Kopczynski suggests you rephrase "I'm not qualified" as "Yes," next time, and I agree. I'm not suggesting you attempt to deliver a keynote on theoretical physics when you are a marketing director with no science background. But I wonder whether women speakers have considered what organizers are really looking for? Too often, I think we hear "qualifications" as "the top thinker in this field with all the experience anyone could want, and someone who can answer any question on the topic with ease." If that were the real definition, there would be a lot of conferences going out of business, and silent microphones.

Instead, I hear organizers talk about people who would be a draw--for example, someone who comes from far away and is rarely available. Organizers are keen to find good speakers, speakers who will start and end on time, include time for questions, and who know how to engage the audience, which is why so many of them increasingly look for video of you speaking, or reviews of your talks. They look for variety, believe it or not, and that variety might lie in gender and ethnic diversity, topics, or even the style of speech and speaker. Some conferences look to balance hands-on skills-building with inspirational talks, big-picture lectures and lively ask-the-expert sessions. Trends and data might need balancing with more emotional, expressive talks. Panels need relief with keynotes or TED-style talks, plenary sessions with breakouts. If you're not a prima donna speaker, so much the better. You'll be welcomed as a relief.

Content is important, but your qualifications might have nothing to do with your resume, and everything to do with your location, speaking style, and more. I've even heard a few smart women check out a list of speakers in development and say to themselves, "They don't have enough women on the program. That gives me an advantage."

And to answer my reader's original question, yes, go ahead and pivot to ask whether another topic might work. But be prepared for the organizer to have done her homework and prefer the original topic--in which case, say yes, anyway. Try it. You'll never learn and grow as a speaker if you don't try new things.

Do you turn down speaking gigs because you don't feel qualified? Why? Share your perspective in the comments.

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Monday, October 7, 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, October 4, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Jutta Bojsen-Møller's victory for votes speech

(Editor's note: When I asked readers recently for suggestions for Famous Speech Friday posts, it resulted in our first post about a Danish woman speaker. Karoline Henriques not only found this speech and suggested it, but translated it into English as well--above and beyond the call for a reader contribution. Henriques is originally from Denmark, but lives and works in Israel. She's a lover of words, a grassroots feminist and opinionates happily @KarolineHq. Many thanks, Karoline!)

In June 1915, the Danish parliament ratified a new Constitution that fully enfranchised women, people working as servants and other economically marginalised groups. One of the central groups in the fight for women’s suffrage was the Danish Women's Society, which had spearheaded an important victory in 1908 when women obtained political franchise for local elections. The Chairwoman of the Danish Women’s Society at that time was Jutta Bojsen-Møller (1837-1927). She stepped down in 1910, but continued her involvement in the cause, and being perceived as the mother figure of the movement, she delivered moving celebratory speech the day after the change in the Constitution in 1915.

In her short speech, she outlines how women went from not being citizens, to now having the right to vote, and how in the future they will greatly influence the world. At the time, she was 78 years old and her “elder statesman” standing adds gravitas to the air of authority with which her own experiences infuse her words. Bojsen-Møller simultaneously says ‘thank you’ and ‘can we please get to work now’, declaring in her speech women’s dedication to taking on the responsibilities that come with the right to vote.

The speech is in Danish, and a small but charming element runs the risk of being lost in translation: During the reading of the legislation on the day before the speech, Bojsen-Møller was present in Parliament. When it was clear that the law would pass, she cheered from the gallery, and other women followed her lead. This moment seems to be referenced in the text, exemplifying the elated sense of victory: “the new Constitution was ratified by all parties - We had to cheer”.

The political message stands at the core of the text, but she establishes an almost poetic frame as she repeatedly returns to a metaphor speaking of trees persevering in their journey towards the top of the mountain.
Trees that in the face of great adversity, most strikingly from the mountain itself, finally – through small steps forward – covered the mountain, and when they at length lifted their heads over the top of the mountain and look around, exclaimed “Ah! It is a gift to arrive."
But now that we have arrived at the top of the mountain, and look around (as little trees), what do we see: The entire world is an inferno of fire, horrors and misery.  Claudius, in ‘Wandsbecker Bote’, says: “War, war – thankfully I am not to blame.” Yes, we can also say that thankfully we are not to blame, and yet I must say – like Bjørnson – “For we would rather that the land burned down than that it fell.” 
But it should not lead to its fall, and we hope that now – now that we are included, and also will have a part in what happens in the country – that there will be another way to settle strife than to kill each other and burn the land.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • When you speak, speak: Her style flows briskly, with long sentences and little variation in the vocabulary. This makes it sound at times almost like an extempore speech, especially in the passages where she is exhilarated: “But now, now we must rejoice, now the sunbeam has returned, and with greater truth than the first time, since now all women and all servants have been included, so that we now in truth can sing: This day – the 5th of June 1915 – will be celebrated by the blue flowers of the field and by the Danish women”. However, the clear structure of the metaphors and the sharp focus indicate that the speaker had planned what she wanted to say. The oratorical style draws the audience in, making it clear that they are being directly addressed and not merely having a paper read to them.
  • Build bridges to opponents: Bojsen-Møller and her movement won the battle as well as the war. But she ends with a strong call for unity as the nation moves forward with the new Constitution. She does so by both acknowledging the opposition (“It is probably the women who are the happiest with the new Constitution”), and clearly appealing to shared values, namely God, King and country. These are also traditional conservative values, and she references them implicitly and explicitly, quoting famous theologians as well as male opinion makers and her own father; speaking respectfully of the late king who signed the first Constitution; and mentioning God when saying women “are sinners just like the men.” Again and again she emphasises that this great day is for Denmark as a whole, and that what matters now is the country. The very last sentence reads like a prayer “King of kings, only you can guard the land of our fathers.”
  • Use the setting: The physical surroundings in which a speech is delivered matter, and can help you illustrate abstract points if you mention the setting to your audience, and provide them with your own interpretation. The ceremonial genre of speeches is an especially good format to play on the blurred lines between the conceptual space your words create and the actual space in which you deliver them. Bojsen-Møller mentions “this mountain”, the present locality, several times, and uses a story of another mountain as a metaphor when she speaks of the struggle to climb the mountain and achieve the goal: “the new Constitution was ratified.” After the speech, the audience had to walk up the steep hill, in the heat of June, wearing their festive – and heavy – clothes. Bojsen-Møller’s words and imagery of labouring to ascend would very likely have echoed in their ears, reminding them of the political struggle that had just been won. This way, the words’ meaning transcended the speech itself.
Read the full text of the speech here, as translated by Karoline. We're entering the 100th anniversary of many voting rights laws, so the suffragists' words will be more frequently seen here on the blog.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

@DrSalGainsbury asks: "No, seriously. What if the room is silent during Q&A?"

A couple of weeks ago, Ragan Communications reprinted my post on a common speaker's concern: What if nobody asks a question? I took the approach I usually take with issues speakers raise about what might happen during a talk or presentation: If you can anticipate it, you can plan a way to deal with it. It's a win-win. You feel better prepared, and you'll have a tactic ready when the moment arises.

But getting no questions is a strong fear for many presenters, sometimes based on experience. So when Dr. Sally Gainsbury tweeted "Good tips for prevention--but what should you do in the moment?" I decided to take another swing at it, this time focused on that occasion when you haven't planned ahead. Here's what I recommend you do in the moment when you can hear crickets more than the audience:
  1. Wait a minute.  Sometimes it takes time for an audience to warm up to its part of the speaker-audience exchange. Some speakers have that effect, making the audience think, so let them think. Pause and smile and scan the room before you assume there are no questions. Then ask again.
  2. Invite questions in a more specific way.  "I'm especially curious to hear from those of you who disagree with me, as well as those who feel the same way" or "I know there are other pros in the field here tonight. Perhaps one of them can add some perspective?" create an opening for a particular type of question or feedback. 
  3. Ask a question of your own. If you've been overly thorough, you may have left the impression there's nothing left to ask--but I'll bet you have a few questions of your own about your topic. So put them out there. "One thing I've wondered about all this is [insert your question]? Can any of you enlighten me?"
  4. Ask the audience a question. This is the perfect time to get the ball rolling yourself. How many people disagreed with you? How many agree? Whose mind was changed? Who's going to leave the room and act on this information, and how?
  5. Invite one-on-one questions. Not every audience is loaded with extroverts. If you're not getting public questions, audience members may be holding back for a reason like a controversial topic or a fear of speaking in front of a group. If it's clear no one will step forward, say, "Let me thank you all again for your attention. I'll be here if anyone wants to ask me questions one-on-one" and sit down.
Let me also invite readers: What do you do when there aren't any questions? I'll sit down now and let you share.