Friday, August 23, 2013

Readers: Help me with my Famous Speech Friday wishlist

Nearly every week, I hear from readers who ask, "Why don't you have so-and-so's speech in The Eloquent Woman Index?" This week, I'm turning the question back to you: Which famous speeches by women do you want to see here?

I like these inquiries, because they suggest that this collection of famous speeches by women (113 so far) is a comprehensive catalog of women's speeches, and I have somehow grossly overlooked that one speech. But the Index is by no means comprehensive. In fact, longtime readers will recall that the Index, and the Famous Speech Friday series that serves as its basis, began because of the lack of such a comprehensive catalog of women's speeches. Seen from that perspective, we are only just beginning to gather steam and speeches.

Perhaps this is a good time to remind readers that the Index isn't intended to be a catalog, but a curated collection. At the same time, readers sometimes fail to check the Index. "No room for Julia Gillard?" came an inquiry on Twitter recently, after I posted the Index collection of speeches by women legislators. In fact, Gillard, when prime minister of Australia, was a head of state, not a legislator--and is one of the rare women who appears in the Index more than once. Please, check before you complain. 

Still other inquiries make interesting assumptions about the collection. I've shared before the thinking that goes into it, but let me recap my selection methods, expressed as answers to the common questions I receive:
  • "But that woman isn't famous!" That's not necessary to make it to the Index. It's the speech that needs to be famous in some way. The other criteria: It needs to be given by a woman, and ideally, touch at least in part on women's issues. After that, sky's the limit. I'm eager to see what you bring me. 
  • "But some of the speeches on your list aren't very good at all!" Perhaps so, although that's in the eye of the beholder. Speeches in the Famous Speech Friday series are never chosen as "best speeches," partly because women's speeches are so often left out of such lists. It's also true that I've been sent some beautifully written speeches by women as possibilities for the Index, but there's no evidence of their impact, delivery, reach or fame. Overall, I'm looking for variety: My audience doesn't just include professional speakers, but women in all situations, all over the world, who must speak in public sometimes; the Index reflects that variety, so that everyone can see a useful example here. Selecting a speech that models a variety of tips for everyday speakers is important to the series.
  • "Are all the speakers American?" Not by a long shot. I'm especially pleased to have speakers represented in the Index from Argentina, Australia, Burma, Canada, France, Haiti, India, Kenya, Liberia, Macedonia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and the UK. More than 30 percent of the Index speakers come from outside the U.S., and there's plenty of potential for expanding that range.
  • "Do you only pick speakers you like?" I need to see value in the speeches presented, but there are many speakers in the series with whom I do not agree. Other factors are more important to me, and I don't hesitate to reach beyond my own views to present important speakers and speeches.
  • "Must it be a formal speech?" No. Famous Speech Friday has looked at formal speeches of all kinds, as well as Q&A sessions, panel moderation, television essays and more. I do look for variety, again to provide a range of examples that any woman speaker can use.
  • "Why is so-and-so's speech missing?" There are reams of reasons that the collection is missing speeches. The most common reason is that I have nothing to work with, as in the case of speeches for which no text, video or audio can be found. The reasons they can't be found vary: Some are tied up in lawsuits, like the speeches of Rosa Parks. In the case of American author Harriet Beecher Stowe, she did several book tours--but appears in most cases to have let her husband deliver her remarks, as the era frowned upon women speaking in public (as, apparently, she did). Some were never preserved in the first place. Still others haven't made it to the accessible web and are buried in archives. This is not just an issue with speakers from history, I'm afraid. Many current speakers' riveting and well-known talks are not recorded in any form, nor published. Think about it: You give a talk that's riveting, but there's no text, no video, no media coverage, no record. Did you make a sound--at least, one that I can write about?
  • "You're missing a lot of important political speeches."  This isn't a list limited to famous political speeches. My goal is to make it possible to read about speeches in many formats, by women in many roles and age groups and locations, and on many topics. In addition, some speeches are in the queue or being held back so that I may present a wider variety. Don't worry, we'll get there. Feel free to suggest it anyway.
  • "Why didn't you cover that famous speech sooner?" I'll always reserve the right to swing into action quickly to cover a fantastic famous speech by a woman, but more often, I find the posts benefit from waiting a week or more. I'm better able to capture the true impact of a famous speech, or, if it's about a moving target, have the benefit of a fuller picture after the debate is completely over. It's The Eloquent Woman, not The Speedy Woman, after all.
Despite all those limitations and preferences, I'm especially gratified that readers of the blog lead me to so many famous speeches by women and I'm eager to keep expanding the collection. Now it's your turn: Please leave your suggestions in the comments, on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn or on Google+, and I'll research them all. Got a pointer to a video, text or audio you can share? That will get us moving forward faster on these new leads. But don't hesitate if you can't find the actual speech. I'm happy to hear the names of women speakers you'd like to see, a lead about an elusive speech, topics you want to see or any other clues. Let's build our way to 200 speeches in the Index--and please share this post on your social networks so we can cast a wide net.

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