Friday, October 31, 2014

17 famous speeches by British women in The Eloquent Woman Index

In my keynote speech to the UK Speechwriters Guild in 2013, I noted that the Guardian chose just three speeches by women in its list of 100 great speeches of the 20th century. The most recent was Margaret Thatcher's 1976 "Iron Lady" speech--suggesting, by omission, that it's been a long time since a British woman's given a good speech. Let me set the record straight: There are plenty of great and famous speeches by British women, and this collection of 17 speeches from The Eloquent Woman Index features nearly a dozen delivered since Thatcher's speech took place. I've got the three that made the Guardian's list, and 14 more--and that just scratches the surface.

This eclectic collection ranges from monarchs and MPs to authors, athletes and activists. Each post includes text of the speeches by these eloquent Englishwomen, along with video or audio--where available--and what you can learn from their famous speeches. I list them here in chronological order:
  1. Queen Elizabeth I's speech to the troops at Tilbury, the oldest speech in the Index, is a great example of women's words being co-opted. Of the three surviving versions, all published later by men, chances are good that none of them reflects what she said.
  2. Emmeline Pankhurst's "Freedom or Death" speech was given in the U.S., where the militant suffragette came to avoid another imprisonment and raise funds. She lays out the stakes, as she saw them, in the fight for votes for women.
  3. Nancy Astor's maiden speech in Parliament was a first for the nation. In speaking as the first woman member of Parliament, her voice stood out for many reasons, not least her distinctive tone and humor. She's the lone American in this group, an adopted daughter of England.
  4. The Virginia Woolf lectures that became "A Room of One's Own" were probably difficult to hear, and spent a lot of time suggesting that the speaker was trying to meet the expectations of her audience. But the argument she advanced--that women need income and privacy if they are to create art--still resonates.
  5. Novelist Dorothy Sayers's lecture on the "lost tools of learning" at Oxford was a return to her roots, and to the university that didn't give her a degree until well after she'd earned it. (At the time, it wasn't the custom to grant degrees to women, even if they'd done the work.) She made the case for returning to a classical education in post-World War II England.
  6. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's "Iron Lady" speech earned her that nickname, warning that Britain needed to increase its Cold War defense against a possible Soviet attack. It was the Soviets that dubbed her the "Iron Lady" after she delivered this speech.
  7. Queen Elizabeth II's tribute to Princess Diana was the monarch's first live television address, a smart move in reaching a mourning nation and world. In this post, we also include the queen's very first speech, given as a teenager on live radio in World War II, as a bookend to the modern speech.
  8. Jane Goodall's "What separates us from the apes" is a speech she gives to get audiences excited about saving apes and other wildlife. The primatologist known for living amongst the apes now spends about 300 days a year traveling and giving speeches to advance her work.
  9. Elisabeth Murdoch's speech to the UK television industry started right in by taking the industry to task for not inviting more women to speak in this prestigious annual lecture, and didn't mince words the rest of the speech, either.
  10. Tilda Swinton's "David Bowie Is..." speech put the award-winning actress in the role of Number One Fan at the opening of a museum retrospective on musician David Bowie's style.
  11. British Olympic cyclist Nicole Cook's retirement speech did not let her go gentle into that good night. Instead, she took the sport to task for its lack of funding and support for women cyclists.
  12. Sue Austin's "most mobile person" TEDMED talk had the audience rethinking what it means to be in a cage, whether that meant mental or physical limits. Her underwater dives in a wheelchair furthered the definition as she described what it felt like to get past the cage and move.
  13. Caroline Criado-Perez spoke about talking back to cyber bullies rather than being silenced by them, and used the harsh words of her attackers in her speech to make them part of the record. She's the woman who was threatened and harrassed online after her successful campaign to get a woman other than the Queen on British currency.
  14. Tanni Grey-Thompson's "shout a bit louder" on disability was a tribute speech by a current Member of Parliament to a deceased one who'd served as an important role model to her and other people with disabilities. In the process, she speaks movingly about living with society's attitudes toward people with disabilities.
  15. Classics scholar Mary Beard spoke about the "public voice of women" and took us from the first time in recorded history that a man told a woman to shut up--The Odyssey--to the present day, looking at how we see and hear (or don't) the voices of women.
  16. Home Secretary Theresa May took the British Police Federation to task in a 2014 speech that left her audience in stunned silence. This speech had a forceful job to do, pushing forward police reforms in the wake of more than a dozen scandals and investigations. After it, she surged high in the polls.
  17. Penny Mordaunt's loyal address in Parliament replied to the Queen's opening of the 2014 sessions...and represented the first time in more than a half-century that a woman had been asked to do the honors. After this speech, she was asked to join the government in a senior role. This ceremonial speech indicates she has a bright speaking future ahead.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Monroe's motivated sequence: Pitch and persuade with a capital P

Every talk or presentation has a job to do, and that job determines the content, delivery, and much more. There's no more of a workhorse presentation than the pitch, by which I mean any presentation where you're trying to persuade an audience to do something.

In some cases, that means investing in your product. In others, you want to prompt votes, donations, or even a pay raise. But you want something from this highly specialized audience. Action must follow if your pitch is to succeed. For that workhorse of a presentation, there's a workhorse of a solution in a venerable--but highly effective--rhetorical structure called Monroe's motivated sequence.

Developed in the mid-1930s by Alan Monroe at Perdue University, the sequence has five steps, or types of content, that make your pitch persuasive. In order, they are:
  1. Attention -- Pitches need strong starts, and you need to get the audience's attention with a dramatic fact, quote, story or example.
  2. Need -- This is not, as some pitch presenters think, their need. It's stating the audience's psychological need, the one which your product or service will satisfy.
  3. Satisfaction -- How will you satisfy the need to your audience's satisfaction? Again, this isn't about what would satisfy you.
  4. Visualization -- What would the world look like with your solution? Without it? Or a little of both?
  5. Action -- Tell the audience what they can do to solve the problem. That might be a traditional call to action (votes) or one that propels your solution forward (investment).
I sometimes wonder whether Monroe ever met his contemporary, American conposer Meredith Wilson, best known for his musical play The Music Man. It's set in 1912 in middle America, and a slick traveling salesman comes to town looking for a way to convince the community that it needs a boy's marching band. His plan is to sell them the instruments and band uniforms, then skip town with the money before he provides anything. To do that, in a song called "Ya Got Trouble," he walks right through Monroe's motivated sequence, from getting the townspeople's attention, to defining their psychological need to give their children a moral upbringing, to providing a band as a diversion from the less-desirable pool hall in town. The song's known for its repetition of the line about "ya got trouble/Right here in River City/With a capital T/and that rhymes with P/and that stands for Pool."

This song includes both positive and negative visualizations, and the call to action is clear as a bell. And while it's an old-school, old-fashioned pitch, you'd do well to study its example. You've never seen anyone drum up support, as it were, like this.

Today, the business world is where we see most pitches, and you can be a smart presenter by putting Monroe's to use in the boardroom. On the US television show Shark Tank, which shows some of what it's like to pitch to venture capitalists, two women engineers recently demonstrated a great pitch presentation for a toy they invented called Roominate--a doll house that girls can not only play with, but build, hack and wire to meet their own specifications. Right off the bat, the pitchers ask the women investors what they'd have thought if they could have had this kind of dollhouse as children, but keyed to their eventual career choices. It's a smart opening gambit that sets the stage for later visualization.

Shark Tank's a great show to watch if you're pitching, with plenty of good and bad examples. You'll also get a good sense of what it's like to pitch to an "audience" of investors or judges. Seth Godin just published a post titled Pitchcraft, with a series of questions that mirror the steps in Monroe's, but from the point of view of the investors/supporters/donors listening to your pitch. It's a useful, brief test to see whether your pitch will answer their questions, and an insight into what they are thinking.

I've been coaching for a couple of organizations that have asked university researchers to make five-minute pitches in the style of Shark Tank. They're using the untraditional format to help projects compete for some grant money and to enliven the conference program, and they've asked me to do 1:1 coaching for the people planning and delivering the pitches. In many cases, these are very senior university executives, provosts and administrators--but this type of pitch is foreign to them. I've been sharing these two examples, "Ya Got Trouble" and Roominate, to illustrate the flexibility and staying power of Monroe's motivated sequence.

I recommend the sequence because it works. Your pitch will stay focused on the audience to whom you're pitching, you'll describe a problem and connect it to a solution, and you'll be able to make the "ask" appropriately. Monroe's also can help keep your pitch on time. In five minutes, using the sequence as your template, you can cover a lot of purposeful ground.

You can read the lyrics to "Ya Got Trouble" here, and do watch the master, Robert Preston, at work in the 1962 version of the musical The Music Man, below. Beyond that video is the Roominate pitch on Shark Tank. Very different, but equally good examples. Need help crafting your next pitch, or helping a group with individual pitches? Email me at eloquentwoman AT to get the prep and support you need.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by kris krüg)

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Monday, October 27, 2014

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 24, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: 1994 lecture by Miep Gies, Anne Frank's protector

I'm in Amsterdam today for the autumn conference of the European Speechwriter Network. I'm excited about the conference, and eager to see the Anne Frank house for the first time. As I do, I'll be thinking about Miep Gies, an adopted daughter of Holland.

She died at the age of 100 in 2010, and her obituary in the New York Times notes something unusual about this woman speaker: She didn't begin her speaking career until she was in her 80s, after the publication of her memoir Anne Frank Remembered. The book shared her role in hiding the Frank family from the Nazis, as well as in saving the journals and papers that became The Diary of a Young Girl, as she describes in this gripping passage from her 1994 lecture:
People sometimes call me a hero. I do not want that because I told you already that those in hiding were the bravest people. I also don't like it because people should never think that you have to be a very special person to help those who need you. I myself, am just an innocent woman, I simply had no choice. I could foresee many, many sleepless nights and a miserable life if I had refused to help the Franks. Yes, I have wept countless times when I think of my dear friends, but still I am happy that these are no tears of remorse for refusing to assist those who were in trouble. Even if help might fail, it is better to try than to do nothing....I'm grateful that I could save Anne's diary. When I found it, scattered all over the floor, I stole it. I decided to store it away in order to give it back to Anne when I should, when she should return. I wanted to see her smile, receiving the diary. I wanted to hear her say, 'Oh, Miep! My diary, wonderful!' But after a terrible time of waiting and hoping, word came that Anne had died. At that moment, I went to Otto Frank, Anne's father, the only one of the family who had survived. With the words, 'this is what Anne has left.' Can you understand how this man looked at me? Lost his wife, lost his two children...he had a diary. I pushed him out of my office. 'Please, go to your private office.' After an hour he phoned me, 'Miep, I don't want to see anyone.' My answer was, 'I have taken care of it.' Otto in turn gave the diary of Anne to the world and I feel that this was the right decision.
If you don't know Gies's story, here's an attempt to recreate the day when Frank's family was discovered and taken to the concentration camps. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Women speakers can contribute at any age: I don't know many women who'd start speaking in their eighties, but I'm glad that Gies did. It gave her a 20-year career as a speaker, something I'm sure you aren't considering when you say "it's too late to start." 
  • Find and share a different perspective: Throughout the speech, Gies talks about the perspectives of children, citing what Frank said and what she herself experienced as a child growing up in Austria and Holland--all to put the lie to some of the things parents commonly tell their children about who deserves help or blame. Similarly, she speaks frankly about being an Austrian ashamed of the atrocities committed by Germans and Austrians, and how those feelings were challenged by others. If you've got a perspective that's not among the usual suspects, it will add contrast, drama and perhaps surprise to your speech. Put it in!
  • Sometimes, speaking in your second language is a bonus: Gies delivers the lecture, which took place in America, in English, sometimes seeking help from a colleague and using simple language. She doesn't need complex sentences to describe this complex situation. The power of what happened propels this speech, no embellishments needed.
You can see the video and read the transcript here or watch the video below. Because it took place on the occasion of Gies being awarded the Wallenberg Prize, there are several introductions before her remarks begin at about the 19-minute mark. Don't miss the gem of this particular lecture: A question-and-answer session with Gies follows her remarks. What do you think of this famous speech?


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

From the vault: So, do you start sentences with so? If so...

(Today, since the word "so" is taking a beating in others' posts, a more detailed and nuanced look at whether this is, indeed, a filler word you should omit. The original post appeared in 2010.)

The word "so" brings out strong feelings, it turns out.  A public radio host who interviews scientists, when asked what they should do differently, sees it as a repetitive distraction. He says, "Stop starting every discussion with the word ‘so.’ You ask a scientist, 'Why is the sky blue?' and they say 'So...'."  On The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, Carolyn Bledsoe chalks it up to a mental pause, a replacement for "um." She said, "the more sophisticated speaker have stopped saying ums, ers, and ahs. Instead they have started using 'and,' 'so,' 'then.' When evaluating these speakers, I remind them of sentences that became paragraphs because of these words. Instead of a period, they now need pauses."  Maria Elena Poulos came to the defense of "so," saying, "SO used correctly in a sentence or presentation can be most can connect the speaker with a direct point." And many of us wince when we hear the sing-song so that sounds like a Valley Girl attempt to advance the narrative: "So then I said he should leave. So he did..."

Who's right here?  Is "so" really the new "um" -- and is that wrong?  Turns out, they all may be right.  "So" has many uses, according to this analysis in the New York Times.  And, as with any term of art, you need to think through your intent in using "so" to make sure it's working for you and not against you:
  • As a logical connective word, which is how software engineers in Silicon Valley began using it (and, many believe, how it came to dominate the start of a sentence).   It suggests authority, and indicates an explanation is coming, which is why scientists may be using it.
  • As an empathetic connection, indicating that you've chosen what you're about to say because it's relevant to your listener, as in, "So it might be helpful to know that...."
  • As a pause to think.  If so, it's acting like an "um"--which, by the way, is a normal part of speech.  But repeating one time-buying phrase like "so" over and over causes your audience to start counting (and it's too short to buy much time to think).
To understand more about "so," check out my "all in one on ums" post, which offers more on how to replace it with time-buying phrases and why we "um" in the first place.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by rosarodoe with words added)

Monday, October 20, 2014

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 17, 2014

8 famous speeches by young women in The Eloquent Woman Index

They ranged in age from 12 to 25 when they gave these famous speeches, but each of these young women had enough impact to make it into The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women. From causes like education and the environment to personal revelations and skilled storytelling, these young women are speakers to watch. In each post, you'll find video, text and tips you can take from their outstanding speeches:
  1. Severn Suzuki's 1992 UN Earth Summit speech happened when she was just 12 years old, making her the youngest speaker in the Index. She cuts right to the point, schooling her elders who were in Rio arguing over what to do when. For her, the answers were clear.
  2. Kayla Kearney came out to her high school assembly at age 17, using the theme about talking about things that matter as the entree to sharing her difficult topic. It's a short but powerful tour de force.
  3. Sarah Kay's "Tshotsoloza" showcases this popular young storyteller's art in a spoken word piece that she created after seeing a photo in a South African museum. It's a rhythmic and mesmerizing piece, her trademark speaking style.
  4. Devon Brooks used a TEDx talk to share her sexual assault and to change the conversation about sexual violation. Just 25 when she shared her story, she made sure it would reach her peers as well as the more senior adults who can do something about her cause.
  5. Lily Myers's "Shrinking Woman" speech debuted at a spoken-word poetry slam when she was 20. It's an observant and uncomfortable insight about women and men, the space we take up, and body image.
  6. Malala Yousafzai's UN address on youth education took place on her 16th birthday. It's a decidedly feminist speech and one that went viral with her positive focus on education for girls and boys everywhere.    
  7. Malala's first public statement since her shooting is the briefest of these speeches, given when she was 15 and just a few months after the Taliban attacked her. Contrast this one with her UN speech to see her amazing progress.
  8. Rashema Melson's high school valedictory speech wowed audiences worldwide because she was at the top of her class despite living in a homeless shelter. But the speech itself is compact and compelling, demonstrating restraing and good rhetoric.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why "but all my slides are pictures" isn't a smart public speaking strategy

When I'm coaching executives who are using slides in their presentations, I feel as if I've heard every excuse in the book. Most of them are designed to justify an enormous number of slides--often, too many to get through in one sitting. But of late, one excuse seems to recur with frequency, and I think it's a dangerous one: "But all my slides are pictures." And no, these speakers aren't photographers for National Geographic.

I'm not a fan of all-or-nothing solutions in general, and when it comes to presentations, it's rare that they work. But what bothers me is the subtext I can hear behind that "all my slides are pictures" rationale. Often, it seems as if it's about something other than images. Think again if these real reasons are behind your embrace of an all-image slide presentation:
  1. You know I'm going to object to a large number of slides. Sadly, making all your slides pictures doesn't soften the blow of a 300-slide deck. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but 300 pictures? More like a memory blur for the audience.
  2. "I notice that those TED speakers prefer pictures in their slides." Please don't blame TED and TEDMED for your picture-mania. Many people, myself included, think that the best TED talks are those without slides. What's more, the TED Commandments for speakers don't mention slides at all (a hint, perhaps) while TEDMED's speaker guidance says "I will use visuals to enhance my words, not duplicate them." TED speakers most often use pictures for things their words can't capture, not as repetition.
  3. You have one slide for every point you want to make, and think it won't be noticed in pictures. Many coaches, seeking to make each slide simpler, advise "one point per slide." But no one advocates one slide per point, even if they are visual. Trust me, we'll still notice.
  4. You're using your slides as cue cards. Many, if not most, speakers rely on their slides as cue cards. News flash: The audience can tell that you're doing it, and visuals don't change that.
  5. You think a picture makes the point better than you can. This can be true--just not on every slide. If you think you need a picture for every moment of your message, let's work instead on your confidence in yourself as a speaker. 
  6. You can't tell me why all your slides need to be pictures. What's the real rationale? Because just having all pictures is not a rationale for a good presentation, in and of itself.
I'm not against pictures, but they are not a magic medicine to be sprayed all over your presentation. I'd much rather see you challenge yourself to use your words to create what I call invisible visuals, the word pictures that are so vivid we can see them in the mind's eye. Those are the pictures that will stick with your audience long after your talk is over.

Monday, October 13, 2014

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 10, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Kerry Washington on the risk of public speaking

No one who watches her intrigues in Scandal would be surprised to hear that actress Kerry Washington gave a speech about a speech she didn't give. Earlier this year, she used the occasion of accepting an award at the Women In Film Los Angeles Crystal + Lucy Awards to talk about the risk of public speaking, and why she--and other women--often turn down speaking gigs. This, at a ceremony where she was described as "fearless" and "bold."

In Washington's case, it wasn't just a speaking gig, it was the chance to speak at TEDxWomen. She used the invitation phone call from conference director Pat Mitchell to explain:
She called and said, ‘I’m going to be running TED Women and I would love for you to speak.’ And I said, ‘You know, gosh, you know what, Pat, I really appreciate the invitation, but I just don’t know really what I would say, I’m not sure what my story would be, I think I should decline, and maybe when I’m ready I’ll come do that.’ And Pat said to me, ‘Kerry, I’ve worked with TED for a really long time. No man has ever said to me, I’m not ready to speak, but for TED Women you are part of a long list of women who have denied me by saying they’re not ready.’ And I realized that what that meant is that we as women put ourselves in this situation of feeling like we can’t take a risk, like in order to step out there we have to be perfect, because we’re scared that if we don’t say the right thing, or do the right thing, that we’ll reflect poorly on ourselves and our community, whether that community be women, people of color, both.
So sometimes, we don’t step out there. And I’m telling on myself, because I didn’t [speak], even after Pat said to me, ‘This is so unfortunate, this is so wrong, women have to feel comfortable speaking out and stepping up, and standing in their light, and owning their voice.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re right. Good luck.’ I don’t do that often, but when I do, I know that it’s not good for me, and it’s not good for other women. 
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Personal experience, used judiciously, can make a speech sing: Not every minute of your personal story can be included in short remarks, nor should it be. And not every speech needs a personal story. But used judiciously, a personal moment can make a speech sing. In this case, it works because it's something the audience could not have seen or known previously, making it more surprising. 
  • Be real: Adding to that surprise was the ending: She knew it would be better to say yes, and she still turned down that TED talk. You may not be getting offers to do TED talks, but I'll bet you've turned down at least one speaking opportunity that you knew you should have said yes to. That becomes the fulcrum for her message, and it's a strong one--much more effective than if she'd decided to do the talk, because the rest of us can relate to it.
  • Share an unlikely call to action:  Washington could have urged women simply to do more public speaking, but her call to action gets to those inner actions and feelings that come before you say 'yes' to a speaking gig: "We need to be willing to be uncomfortable, to be flawed, to be imperfect, to own our voice, to step into our light, so that we can continue to inspire other people and employ other people, and make room for more and more voices and presence." It's a two-step call -- we need to do this, so that we can do that -- and a more complex version of the form.
You can read the speech on BuzzFeed, which helped this one go viral. Unfortunately, it's the only record of the remarks on women and speaking. The video below is just part of this speech, focusing on her tribute to Shonda Rhimes. What do you think of this famous speech?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Sam Javanrouh)

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

From the vault: Via Coco Chanel, what's "too much" in a presentation

(Editor's note: This 2012 post is always timely and a good reminder when you're working on slide presentations.)

I nearly fell into that night-before-your-presentation trap a couple of weeks ago. You know this feeling: You're reviewing your slides and rehearsing what you'll say against them, and then decide to throw in one more tactic, one more audience interaction, one more slide or video.

In this case, I almost upended the order of my presentation so I could make use of a tactic that has worked well before. It even fit with my topic. Fortunately, I stopped myself, thinking, "Remember Coco."

That's Coco Chanel, the epitome of elegance, who's said to have advised women "Before you head out the door, take one thing off" from among the accessories you've put on. It's advice that speakers would be wise to consider, lest their presentations start looking like a Christmas tree, decked out from top to bottom. There's a temptation to think that just one more thing will "make" the presentation, when in fact it might detract from your impact.

When gauging what's too much in your presentation, you might need to remove:
  • Slide jewelry, like animations, transitions, bullets, videos and sound, or too many charts, pictures and graphics. Pile on those cone charts and shadings only if you want us to start counting how many times you've done that.
  • Audience stylings, like putting questions upfront, taking polls of the audience or using volunteers to demonstrate key points. At some point, you may look as if you're distracting us from a lack of content.
  • Technology tinsel, from laser pointers to slick videos. You may dazzle us, but will we remember your point?
  • Language lightshows, such as using an alliteration with an analogy with a story. Too many rhetorical devices make us think about your machinery, not your point. Be confident in your content, and don't deck it out with boughs of holly.
Have you seen presenters who piled on the equivalent of too many necklaces? Share your pet peeves about presenters overdoing it in the comments.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by rosarodoe with words added)

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Monday, October 6, 2014

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:
If you found this post useful, please subscribe or make a one-time donation to help support the thousands of hours that go into researching and curating this content for you. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Nancy Astor's "maiden speech" in Parliament

Nancy Astor wasn't the first woman elected to the British Parliament. She wasn't even British. She lacked ties to the suffragette movement. But the American was the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons, and her "maiden speech" was a 1920 debate about restrictions on alcohol.

In a delicious 1956 BBC interview, Astor recalls those difficult days as the first female parliamentarian. The other members "would rather have had a rattlesnake than me" in the House of Commons, she said. Recalling how many MPs simply refused to speak to her, she shares that Winston Churchill later told her "we hoped to freeze you out," a tactic still in play in many boardrooms today. And she says he told her, "When you entered the House of Commons, I felt as if a woman had entered my bathroom and I had nothing to protect myself with except a sponge." The interview's worth a listen for many reasons, including her mimicry of Churchill.

Astor faced the same issues many public-speaking women today face in public life. She dressed in a type of uniform, avoiding fashionable clothing to keep her clothing out of the discussion, something Hillary Clinton would do decades later. She was the subject of suggestive remarks, including one in this very first debate, when Sir John Rees, alluding to her well-known objections to drinking, ends his remarks by saying, ""I do not doubt that a rod is in pickle for me when I sit down, but I will accept the chastisement with resignation and am indeed ready to kiss the rod."

Known for her wit and for giving as good as she got when it came to verbal fisticuffs, Astor holds her own in this debate, defending her well-known and ill-appreciated views against alcohol consumption with data, anecdotes and arguments that take her fellow members' views into account. Her opening indicates the unsteady ground on which she stood, yet mocks mildly the distress of the members at her presence. From the debate transcript:
I shall not begin by craving the indulgence of the House. I am only too conscious of the indulgence and the courtesy of the House. I know that it was very difficult for some hon. Members to receive the first lady M.P. into the House. [HON. MEMBERS: “Not at all!”] It was almost as difficult for some of them as it was for the lady M.P. herself to come in.
Although mid-debate, she said, "How I wish that I was really an orator. I would like to tell you about drink," she demonstrates good debate skills, countering arguments with data, observation and appeals to emotion. She summed up her position in the straightforward style that characterized her speaking, adding a reminder to her fellow members:
I do not think the country is really ripe for prohibition, but I am certain it is ripe for drastic drink reforms. [HON. Members: “No!”] I know what I am talking about, and you must remember that women have got a vote now and we mean to use it, and use it wisely, not for the benefit of any section of society, but for the benefit of the whole. I want to see what the Government is going to do... 
As historian Richard Toye notes in The Aftermath of Suffrage: Women, Gender, and Politics in Britain, 1918-1945, "No biography of an MP would be complete without an account of his or her maiden speech," and this one was a first not just for the speaker, but for the nation. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Acknowledge the tension: When you know that your presence causes tension, talk about it in your remarks. Voicing the audience's thoughts takes away some of the tension, for you and for those listening. Another way to look at this: Say it about yourself, before letting anyone else characterize the tension for you.
  • Have and express your opinion: Too often, speakers in controversial situations go to great lengths to avoid expressing strong opinions--and the result is always a forgettable set of remarks. You may not be debating a rule, but make sure we know where you stand on your topic.
  • Talk about the unseen audience: Astor, with few ties to the fight for women's votes, did not uniformly adopt women's issues. Nonetheless, as Toye notes, Astor received a "flood of women from across Britain who considered her to be ‘their’ MP."  But in this first debate, she uses the unseen audience of women to good effect, speaking directly about their potential power. As the only woman in the chamber, she would be difficult to counter when she chose to speak about her fellow women. 
I've been enjoying reading The Aftermath of Suffrage, edited by Toye and Julie Gottlieb. It includes a host of data on, among other things, early women MPs and their share of speaking in committees in Parliament.

Astor, a witty and talkative woman, has had many--perhaps too many--quips attributed to her without documentation over the decades. In effect, we might think of that as another way of silencing or editing her, changing how she will be seen in history, just as happened with the famous speeches of Sojourner Truth and Queen Elizabeth I, among many other women. Highlighting her sharp tongue plays into many centuries-old tropes about women being nags, shrill and talking too much, all ways of attempting to embarrass them into silence. Thankfully, debates in Parliament are well-documented (although, as Toye points out, male MPs' lewd comments about women in the chamber were rarely reported in the press). You can read a transcript of the entire debate as well as a transcript of her campaign leaflet, and listen to the BBC interview.

(Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

I'll be thinking of Nancy Astor when I speak in Parliament later this month, to the Fabian Women's Network, on what goes into a TED-quality talk. Register here to join us in London on 30 October!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Speakers of heart: A workshop in Amsterdam, a talk in London

My heart is racing ahead to the end of this month, when I'll be speaking and meeting with speechwriters and with women speakers in Amsterdam and in London--and I hope you'll join me.

My topics this month are women and public speaking, and TED talks. Both are dear to me, but fraught with tension, emotion, and challenges for speakers. TED talks, asking as they do that speakers be vulnerable and share personal stories, involve putting yourself "out there" even more so than a usual speech. And for women, knowing that they're likely to be viewed negatively when they speak, by both men and women, makes the uphill climb toward a speech even steeper. Knowing your're being judged might make you think twice about sharing what's in your heart.

But I've learned something from coaching lots of TEDMED and TEDx talks: The best ones are given by people of heart. For the coach, that means I get to listen in on not just the emotional tone of what goes into the talk, but all the emotions the speaker is going through before, during and afterward. Many of the speakers I've coached have confided great difficulties they were struggling with alongside the talk, from extreme nervousness to a serious illness or disability. Sometimes, those difficulties are part of the speech: The talk may recall the not-far-off death of a parent or their own near-death, or another trauma.

Speakers of heart bring much onto the stage you don't see, but it all contributes to what they do there. We talk a lot about "authenticity" in public speaking, but these folks are the real deal. And getting you to that point is an underlying theme in my talk and workshop this month.

In Amsterdam, I'm leading another session of my workshop Be The Eloquent Woman on 23 October, as a pre-conference session of the European Speechwriters Network autumn conference on 24 October. I've designed the workshop as a subversive session that doesn't urge women to lean in, get a confidence code or otherwise fix themselves. But we do talk about the context in which women speakers find themselves, again and again, as well as tactics you can use to continue speaking with great content, confidence and credibility. You can register for the workshop, the conference, or both. The conference is targeted to both speechwriters and business communicators. Americans traveling from the U.S. can get an extra discount of €200 with the code "eloquentwoman" entered at registration. I'm looking forward to seeing colleagues and friends at the conference, and hope to meet you there, too.

Previous participants have attended this workshop in London and Washington, and you can get a sense of what they had to say here. I love it when participants end the workshop saying they're now excited about public speaking!

In London, I'm returning to speak to the Fabian Women's Network on what goes into a TED-quality talk. Since I coach TEDMED and TEDx speakers, I often hear clients asking for help delivering a "TED-like" talk--usually a signal they don't want to follow all the rules of a proper TED talk. But that means you won't get all the advantages a well-done TED talk conveys.

Since more and more speakers are trying TEDx talks--more than 9,000 TEDx events have been organized locally around the world so far--you may as well learn how to achieve TED quality in such a talk. I'm looking forward to joining FWN again, and fair warning: This free event requires registration and seats are already filling. The fact that we're meeting in Parliament, a sweeping setting, doesn't hurt. Check out the notes from my last talk to the Fabian Women's Network, and get registered today.

What's in your heart when you speak? Bring it to one of these sessions....

(Creative Commons licensed Amsterdam photo from MorBCN. London photo via Shutterstock.)