Monday, September 28, 2015

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:
I've got two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us! You get the best discount if you register by October 30, 2015.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Viola Davis at the 2015 Emmy Awards

It's official: Actor Viola Davis has taken the honor of being the woman speaker with the most Famous Speech Friday entries. Her fourth turn in our series happened this week, at the 2015 Emmy Awards honoring television programs and performers, when she became the first black woman to win the award for leading actress in a television drama.

In just over two minutes, Davis hit the audience hard with a powerful, moving speech. No words minced. No notes. No hesitation. Here's how she began:
"In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me, over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line." 
That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. 
You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. 
Davis has said before that she hates writing speeches because it makes her nervous. So this short powerhouse of a speech will also be getting on my list of famous extemporaneous speeches by women soon. Among the close to 7 million social media users discussing the Emmys on the night of the awards, Davis's speech was the most-discussed and shared moment of the evening, and the video of her speech has been viewed more than one million times in various postings.

Like many powerful public speeches by women, this one came with some backlash from a white actress, who tweeted disparaging comments about the speech and casting doubt on whether Davis has ever experienced discrimination. But most of the coverage said Davis "won the night" with this speech. What can you learn from it?
  • When it comes to acceptance speeches, be sincere, be brief, be seated: After an evening in which performers pulled out long wrinkled lists of people to thank, or talked right past the music cueing them to stop, Davis's scant two-minutes-and-change had all the more power because they were brief. It speaks to her discipline as a performer, and an understanding of how to make every word in a short speech count. Note how her list of thanked people includes the context for how they exemplify the change she is calling for, rather than just a laundry list of thanks.
  • Use a quote...well.  Many speakers substitute the words of famous people for their own in a speech. Few do it this effectively. Starting with the quote, choosing one that she could have said herself, and not identifying the speaker until after the content was spoken all added up to a powerful impact. Davis took advantage of the high attention you hold at the start of a speech, added a mystery--were these her own words?--and identified Tubman in a one-two punch of quote-wielding.
  • Share a consistent message:  Davis long ago began using her speech opportunities--no matter how brief--to speak up about Hollywood's lack of roles for women of color. This speech is no exception. It's a case of making the best possible use of your platform, something all women should do. 
  • Actually, it may not be about you: In a town full of egos, Davis spent her first three paragraphs on a class of people, not herself. Think about that the next time you have to speak to an honor you are given.
You can read the full text of the speech here, and watch it below or here. And check out Davis's previous Famous Speech Friday appearances, all equally powerful speeches:


     

I've got two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us! You get the best discount if you register by October 30, 2015.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Happily ever after? Why you shouldn't neaten up personal failure stories

"There's a problem if I talk about that."
I was working with a speaker whose speech needed to touch on a personal issue that factored into her work. It wasn't the focus of her talk, but she knew it would come up if she didn't mention it, due to her work and the audience in question.

The problem, speech-wise? "It's messy," she said, meaning she didn't have a nice, neat answer to the question. And underneath all that was a concern that she'd lose credibility with the audience.

My response? "Then be messy. Explain it just the way you explained it to me. I'll bet that many of the people in your audience also have a messy path, and that will ring especially true to them. And to everyone else, it will be clear that you're being honest about it." I also knew that her talk would be the richer for the variety.

In the world of speeches, we've long asked speakers to share--if they are willing--stories of personal failure, which are truly like catnip to audiences. But there's a catch: We want redemption at the end of the failure. We want the upside after the downside, the lesson learned, the happy release after the clenched fist of failure. It is formulaic, and works like a charm, which is why you see it everywhere, from TED talks to motivational speakers. More challenging, and more authentic, are those messy stories, the ones that don't all end happily ever after.

In her latest book, Rising Strong, social work researcher, TED speaker, and author Brené Brown calls us all out on it. The book is about how you recover from failure, and focuses on precisely the part of the process we tend to skip over in public speaking. She points out just how little time we devote to the messy parts of our stories:
We much prefer stories about falling and rising to be inspirational and sanitized. Our culture is rife with these tales. In a thirty-minute speech, there's normally thirty seconds dedicated to "And I fought my way back," or "And then I met someone new," or, as in the case of my TEDx talk, "It was a street fight."
We like recovery stories to move quickly through the dark so we can get to the sweeping redemptive ending. I worry that this lack of honest accounts of overcoming adversity has created a Gilded Age of Failure....Don't get me wrong. I love and continue to champion the idea of understanding and accepting failure as part of any worthwhile endeavor. But embracing failure without acknowledging the real hurt and fear that it can cause, or the complex journey that underlies rising strong, is gold-plating grit. To strip failure of its real emotional consequences is to scrub the concepts of grit and resilience of the very qualities that make them both so important--toughness, doggedness, and perseverance.
Further into the book, Brown explains that it's not redemption that she wants to boot out of failure stories. She just wants us not to rush right to redemption, skipping over the messy second act of the story, the one where the hero first tries all the easy, convenient ways to get around the trouble and then realizes it's going to be harder than that. She wants the story to include how you handle adversity, even--maybe especially--if it's not terribly pretty. To illustrate this, Brown uses a personal story she was including in talks, minus the messy bits. Once she started thinking deeper and writing down those missing parts, she had a bigger, deeper, more important--and more accurate--story to tell. In the process, it became a useful metaphor on many levels and for many more storytelling purposes.

Instead of doing what Brown also calls "making failure fashionable," speakers, speaker coaches, and speechwriters all can aim for the messy, deeper part of the story. That will require plenty of trust between the speaker and the coach or speechwriter, and between the speaker and the audience. But I'd be excited to hear more talks in this vein--and I know from experience that it's better to work with these stories than to sandpaper them over to make them smooth.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Thomas Hawk)

I've got two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us! You get the best discount if you register by October 30, 2015.

Monday, September 21, 2015

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:
I've got two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us! You get the best discount if you register by October 30, 2015.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Kelley Johnson's Miss America speech on nursing

When it comes to the talent competition at the Miss America pageant, the skills on show run to lots of singing and dancing. And that was true in earlier pageants for this year's Miss Colorado, Kelley Johnson, who played piano for the talent turn.

But when she won the state title of Miss Colorado, she did so with what was dubbed a "short monologue on nursing," and she repeated that talk on national television earlier this week for the Miss America pageant. Dressed in purple scrubs, with a stethoscope hanging around her neck--a striking change from the pageant's bathing suits and ballgowns--Johnson talked about the impact she had on a patient with Alzheimer's disease--and his impact on her. The speech is so short I can include the entire transcript here for you:
Every nurse has a patient that reminds them why they became a nurse in the first place. Mine was Joe. Joe was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. He had moments with and moments without his memory, but the hardest part of the aging condition for Joe were his night terrors. He would wake up in the middle of the night screaming absolute bloody murder, but if I just went in there and held his hand for a few moments, I could usually get him to calm down.  
But then he wanted to talk. He would ask me if I could change his treatments, and I’d say, "No Joe, I can’t, I’m just a nurse. But what about my medications, can you fix those? And I’d say, no Joe, I can’t, I’m just a nurse." 
But because I couldn’t do those things for Joe, we connected on other levels. He would ask me about volleyball, we would talk about his grandbabies, and he would tease me about being the only nurse on the unit that can reach the gauze on the top shelf.  
It was a lot of laughs with Joe, but then one night, everything changed. I found him in his room, crying. And I went over to him and I lifted his head up out of his hands and I said, "Joe, I know that this is really hard, but you are not defined by this disease. You are not just Alzheimer’s, you are still Joe." And he looked right back at me, almost to look through me and said, "Nurse Kelly, then the same goes for you. Although you say it all the time, you are not just a nurse, you are my nurse, and you have changed my life because you have cared about me."  
And that’s when it hit me. Patients are people with family and friends, and I don’t want to be a nurse that ever pretends, because you’re not a room number and a diagnosis when you are in the hospital. You’re a person, very first, and Joe reminded me that day that I’m a lifesaver. I’m never going to be just a nurse.  
She didn't win the title of Miss America, but came in second. her two-minute talk was seen by more than 4.6 million people online as of this writing, and another 6.7 million on television--a bigger audience than many TED talks receive. That was in part due to her talk being mocked by the hosts of The View--all women, by the way--which resulted in its trending on Twitter as angry fellow nurses responded. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • You can have a huge impact in two minutes: Contests and pageants set time limits for these contributions, both for fairness and to move the action along. But you, too, can choose to leave your audience wanting more--the old rule from the days of vaudeville theater--and have a greater impact by limiting your time. (Some of the best TED talks, in my view, fall into the under-5-minute category.) To stay on time requires a lot of advance work, including scripting, memorizing, and practicing, but it's worth it.
  • Your platform amplifies your voice. Use it!  Johnson had a perfectly good pageant skill--playing piano--but her choice to use the time for speaking helped her stand out and amplified her message. I see lots of speakers fail to take the opportunity afforded by a big-platform opportunity, and am delighted she chose to use hers in this way.
  • Use a mirroring technique to enrich your storytelling: Johnson used one of my favorite storytelling techniques, using another character as a mirror for your viewpoint, and vice versa. That storytelling tactic adds symmetry, which is pleasing to the ear, and which also prevents the story from turning into a brag-fest.
  • Create a talk you can tell again and again: One of the wonderful qualities of a short, memorized talk is that you can use it in many settings--if you plan it right on the first go. Johnson has already used this talk to good effect in two pageants, but she also can use it as part of a longer speech, as the start of a Q&A session, in a formal presentation, and many other settings. Don't forget to write speeches that anyone can understand and appreciate. They'll do more work for you in the long run!
  • Be careful with your cadence: That last paragraph seems to be a poem and has a rhyme scheme--but delivered as it was, it was difficult to tell. Be careful about mixing up your speaking formats and cadences, and if you are about to depart from the form you are using, figure out a way to clue the audience in.
You can watch Johnson's talk here or below.


I've got two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us! You get the best discount if you register by October 30, 2015.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Are you hanging on one slide for dear life? 7 fixes

Marketing guru Seth Godin recently shared this familiar scene:
I sat through an endless presentation by the CEO of a fast-growing company. He was doing fine for half an hour, but then, when his time was up, he chose to spend 45 minutes more on his final slide, haranguing and invecting, jumping from topic to topic and basically bringing the entire group to its knees in frustration.
He's not the only presenter I've heard of who does this. I've got some clients who can spend anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours on a single slide--sometimes, they never get past the title slide before their time is up. Some plan it that way, creating a graphic with just enough text to serve as one big cue card. It's the presentation equivalent of hanging onto the slide as life preserver, except that it's your audience doing the drowning. Let me throw you a line and pull you out of this bad habit with these corrective steps:
  1. Interrupt yourself: While a senator, Hubert Humphrey spoke so long that someone in the room called out, "Senator, if your watch has stopped, there’s a calendar behind you." Before that happens to you, interrupt yourself mid-stride, when you feel you are going on too long on one slide. "Let me stop here and ask if there are any questions" is a great break in the action, no matter where you are in a presentation.
  2. Take a TED-style approach to slides: TED presenters, if they use slides at all, don't use them to repeat what's coming out of their mouths, and vice versa. Slides are limited, rather than used in a one-slide-per-thought onslaught. After all, if you don't have the life preserver to begin with, you may not hang on to it so long.
  3. Get some structure: Organize your talk with a strong opening, three core points in the middle, and a strong close, a structure that can flex whether you are speaking for five minutes or an hour. Be ruthless in editing what must go into your main presentation. Memorize your outline and you're halfway there. And by all means, plan and practice your stopping point.
  4. Use the Q&A time to advantage: Omit from your formal presentation anything you are certain will be asked when question time begins--that way, you're saving space in the presentation and ensuring you'll have answers ready for expected questions. Planning Q&A is one of the best ways to keep your slides from turning into life preservers.
  5. Start or end with a focused, planned story: If you get stuck on either the title slide or the final slide, replace them with a story you've planned with care and rehearsed. Keep it short and make sure it makes your point or sets or closes the scene. The story becomes a path to move into or our of your three core points, setting the scene or drawing it to a close.
  6. Time yourself: If you routinely spend 45 minutes or more on one slide, get a friend to record your live presentation (audio or video). Use the recording or a transcript to see clearly how much time you are spending overall, and per slide. This may be the eye-opener you need to make a change.
  7. Move to a black or white slide instead: If your long-winded speech has gone beyond the slide's content, move to a black or white slide. Audiences do pay attention: If you've got a slide up that isn't in keeping with what you're saying, we'll notice. Watch this short David Pogue TED talk, which includes a great tip for easily shifting to a black or a white slide.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Owen Lin)
 
Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Monday, September 14, 2015

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:
Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Dolores Huerta at the Delano Grape strike march

When she was a little girl, Dolores Huerta was called "Seven Tongues" by her grandfather, who recognized early on that Huerta had plenty to say and no hesitation about speaking out. Now 85 years old and a grandparent herself, the legendary activist and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom is still at work as a forceful voice for women's, workers' and immigrants' rights.

This September marks the 50th anniversary of the Delano Grape Strike, a five-year strike and boycott of California grape growers by the United Farm Workers (UFW), first an association and later a union that Huerta famously co-founded with labor leader César Chávez. The strike illuminated the deplorable working conditions and pay of the state's mostly Latino and migrant agricultural workers, and pushed the growers to sign their first-ever contract with the workers.

Huerta organized the national boycott against the growers, and she was everywhere as the strike progressed--from the picket lines to rally and reassure the strikers that their efforts would be rewarded, to the negotiating table where she was not always a welcome sight. Early in the UFW's talks with growers, Chávez had left the bulk of the negotiating up to Huerta, saying that her style was more persistent than his. Some of the growers saw that "persistence" in a different light, with one of them complaining that "Dolores Huerta is crazy. She is a violent woman, where most women, especially Mexican women, are peaceful and calm."

Huerta's reply? "I think women are particularly good negotiators because we have a lot of patience and no big ego trips to overcome," she said. "Women are more tenacious and that helps us a great deal."

In 1966, Huerta and her fellow organizers led a 300-mile march from Delano to the state capitol in Sacramento to focus media attention on the strike. On April 10, at a rally marking the end of the march, Huerta spoke to a crowd about the workers' determination to carry on with the strike and to chastise Governor Edmund Brown and the state legislature for "shrugging off their responsibilities" to support to the strikers' demands. 

It's not Huerta's first public address, and it certainly wouldn't be her last, but it captures a truly eloquent woman in her element. What can you learn from this historic speech?
  • Use your setting to its best effect. Huerta is speaking outside and in the breeze--watch her grab for her hat a few times. It might not seem like the ideal speaking conditions, but it provides a nice contrast to the picture she paints of the governor as absent or relying on "closed door sessions." The workers are open about their demands and open about presenting them in public, she notes repeatedly, while the state is unwilling to be open about its stance on the strike. The open-air nature of the speech also makes the workers themselves visible in Sacramento, Huerta said: "To the governor and the legislature of California we say, you cannot close your eyes and ears to our needs any longer, you cannot pretend that we do not exist, you cannot plead ignorance to our problem because we are here and we embody our needs for you."
  • If history's on your side, use it. Huerta emphasizes throughout the speech that the Delano strike and the workers' march didn't come out of nowhere. Besides recounting the numerous and futile meetings with the governor and his staff, she also leads her audience through a quick history of the California farm workers' movement and legislative efforts since 1959. It's a smart move that reaches out the national public and media, who may not have been aware of the ins-and-outs of California politics on the issue. By including this history, Huerta also makes the case that the strike is not a whim, but in fact a last resort after other avenues of negotiation had been blocked.
  • Use language to set a specific tone for your speech. There is a strong underlying theme of movement--forward and up--throughout Huerta's entire speech. (An activist calls for action, after all.) She says the workers are "on the rise," moving "step by step," undergoing "peregrination," and refusing to be "static." These phrases seem especially appropriate for a rally that began with a long march and aims to encourage listeners to be ready to go the distance to achieve the strikers' goals.
Part of the speech is captured in the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive film clip here and below, and you can read another long excerpt from it here.

Dolores Huerta & Cesar Chavez in Sacramento - San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive

(Image from the National Portrait Gallery's exhibit on Dolores Huerta. The exhibit--which features video, text, and images of Huerta's public speaking, is on through May 15, 2016.)  

Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this Famous Speech Friday.


I've got two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us! You get the best discount if you register by October 30, 2015.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

5 tips from speakers on getting past practice to great delivery

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I always recommend practice, and lots of it. But for many speakers, moving from practice to a seemingly effortless delivery is the biggest leap of all. Can you avoid sounding like a robot? Will it feel forced?

I think it pays to remember the Great Irony of Public Speaking: It's the speakers who practice who look as if they are speaking without effort, and those who wing it risk looking unprepared and inartful. Here are 5 tips from frequent speakers who've conquered big stages, making that leap look easy, from our Talk About the Talk series:
  1. Freeze that script early, then don't sweat the small omissions: "I froze [my script] on the Tuesday, before giving it on the Thursday...I wasn’t word perfect. I changed the first line and I missed out some of the jokes," says Dr. Lucy Rogers, who spoke at space debris at InspireFest. "However, when I was on stage, I relaxed. The audience were friendly, laughed at my jokes, and I felt encouraged by them. Even the “casual saunter” back to the lectern to refer to my notes wasn’t as embarrassing as I thought it would be. Note to self: freeze the speech longer in advance to give yourself chance to learn it."
  2. Let go: Speaker coach Caroline Goyder, who took the stage at TEDxBrixton, says, "If you’ve done the work climbing the mountain, when you get to the top, relax, enjoy the view. Make the day of the talk easy, clear. Do what you need to do to feel at your most relaxed so you can walk out on stage and make relaxed easy conversation with the audience."
  3. Make adjustments to avoid sounding rehearsed. Mostly, slow down: "Moving beyond memorization was the most significant challenge," says Resa Lewiss, MD, a TEDMED speaker. "The people who know me best could tell that I wasn’t me when I would practice for them. I sounded memorized and I struggled with moving beyond this--with not sounding rehearsed." I worked with Lewiss backstage at TEDMED, and she says "the work we did together less than 24 hours before my go live was transformative. You offered content to cut, pace to slow and pointed directions for my walk. That evening, I practiced more with a few TEDMED attendee friends. They made me slow down e-v-e-n more than was comfortable for me. When I was at my slowest in speed, they said it was the best take I had done. You had told me – s-l-o-w down."
  4. Make sure your practice mimics reality: Lisa Lamkins, a nonprofit healthcare executive who spoke at the Align health quality summit, relied on her practice. "That served me well when I froze and it just came out of my memory banks to rescue me." Her pro tip: "Give a few practice speeches in front of real live people – your coworkers, your kids, your yoga group, whatever. Getting a feel for audience reactions might have helped me with timing and with conjuring up the vision of a friendly face when I couldn’t see the audience."
  5. Enjoy the story you're telling: Margot Bolon, a health communicator who gave a maid of honor's speech at her friend's wedding, says that having fun with her speech about the bride and groom helped her when her microphone died: "Luckily, it was at a moment that only built up the drama—before I got to the part about the third date," says Bolon, who hammed it up while waiting for a working mic. "By the time the mike cut out, I was so enjoying my delivery that I didn’t let it faze me. I really delighted in describing a small, illustrative slice of my best friend’s relationship."
I'll add my own tip: The trick to delivering a talk that's relaxed (even if you have rehearsed it over and over) is to approach it as if you were with a group of friends, out socializing, and about to tell them a story that you're really excited to share. Keeping it personal and intimate, even if only in your mind, makes a big difference in making that leap from practice to delivery.

I've got two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us! You get the best discount if you register by October 30, 2015.

Monday, September 7, 2015

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:
I've got two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us! You get the best discount if you register by October 30, 2015.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on likability

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is already one of my favorite women speakers: Her fierce TEDx talk, We Should All Be Feminists, is part of our Famous Speech Friday series. But when I heard about this speech, delivered as she accepted an award from the writing and mentoring program Girls Write Now in May, I knew she'd be on my blog again.

Never one to mince words or dodge the big points, Adichie used this short five-minute speech to give lavish praise to Girls Write Now and to the other speakers on the program, taking her time to make her observations thoughtful, vivid, and funny--and encouraging. But then she directed her comments to the girls doing the writing, the core of the program:
....I teach a writing workshop in Nigeria in every year and what I say to my students, and what I say mostly to the female students is, "forget about likability".

I think that's what our society teaches young girls and I think it's also something that's quite difficult for even older women, self-confessed feminists, to shrug off, is that idea that likability is an essential part of the space you occupy in the world. That you're supposed to twist yourself into shapes to make yourself likable. That you're supposed to kind of hold back sometimes, pull back, don't quite say, don't be too pushy because you have to be likable.

And I say that is bullshit. And so what I want to say to the young girls is, forget about likability. If you start off thinking about being likable, you're not going to tell your story honestly. Because you're going to be so concerned with not offending. And that's going to ruin your story. So forget about likability. And also the world is such a wonderful, diverse, multi-faceted place, that there's somebody who's going to like you. You don't need to twist yourself into shapes.
My recent post Did I just get public speaking advice? Shade? Or a virtual "shut up?" included an example of a young woman speaker urged to be more likable, and if that's happened to you, this speech is a great pep talk. It got plenty of buzz in the weeks following the awards. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Refute with an absolute: Adichie here wants to refute thoroughly the idea that girls should try to be likable, and by saying, "And I say that is bullshit," she uses a forceful, short, and powerful absolute to do the job. In the same way that a brief "Absolutely not!" would refute an specious idea better than several long sputtering sentences, her brevity is wielded as a cudgel and it's all the more powerful.
  • Reflect the realities: There's solid research to show that people think women can be competent or likable, but not both--in other words, if you're competent, we don't like you, and if we like you, you must not be competent. Talking about that phenomenon, and how to handle it by ignoring the yen to be liked, takes it out of the realm of the not-noticed and into the forefront, where we can all start dealing with it. And for women listening to this speech, it helps them to realize that criticism about likability isn't really about them.
  • Use a strong metaphor: Metaphors, when well-chosen, light up your mind's eye with a vivid image, and here, Adichie's choice of "twist yourself into shapes" does wonders in four words. That neat, short metaphor is worth its weight in gold, and gets her point across quickly and with force.
Watch the video here or below. This is Adichie's second appearance on Famous Speech Friday. Check out her TEDxEuston talk, "We Should All Be Feminists."

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 2015 Girls Write Now Awards Speech

I've got two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us! You get the best discount if you register by October 30, 2015.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Reader Q&A: What if the audience already knows everything I have to say?

In the webinar I did earlier this year with the editors of Technically Speaking (@techspeakdigest on Twitter) one participant said, "I am a junior developer. I am not too nervous about actually delivering the talk, but my main block when applying to speak is that the audience will 'already know' what I am talking about...is it common for people to feel that and how would you deal with it?"

I've certainly heard this before from junior and senior speakers, most often those in academic circles--so much emphasis is placed on narrowing you Ph.D. research to a wedge no one else has occupied that it sometimes carries over into the business of giving a talk or presentation. And even if you don't come from that world, you may be worried that you're not "the expert" in your field, the person who knows more than anyone else can know.

To which I always say, "You don't need to be THE expert. You just need to be AN expert."

Worrying that your audience will already know what you are speaking about has many layers for the public speaker. There's a presumption that, knowing all, your audience will be immediately bored or unimpressed by your talk. And in an elliptical way, it also may be a way of expressing the fear of getting a question to which you don't know the answer: If the audience already knows everything you're going to say, won't they ask questions that push well past that limitation?

But before you jump to those assumptions, the reality is both more mundane and delightful. Audiences may know your topic well, but be looking for a different perspective--yours. The smartest people I know, include some Nobel laureates, go to talks hoping to learn something new to them, not necessarily new to all. And even if we're closely familiar with the type of work you do, you can make it unique by highlighting your particular experience and perspective.

Here are a few more tips to plan your talk so that you avoid this mental trap:
  1. Work on your nerves and your confidence: Second-guessing yourself in this way won't help either one. Instead, try some of my easy, evidence-based ways to work on your public speaking nerves, and submit that proposal to speak. Especially useful when you fear your audience will be evaluating you is power posing, but any of these tactics will work.
  2. Beat them by being more thoughtful: Via Swiss Miss blog, I love this Frank Chimero quote. It's about design, but could work for any speaker on any topic: “If you can’t draw as well as someone, or use the software as well, or if you do not have as much money to buy supplies, or if you do not have access to the tools they have, beat them by being more thoughtful. Thoughtfulness is free and burns on time and empathy.”
  3. Remind us all of what we don't know: Some of the best talks I've heard have been those that remind us of all the things we don't know in a particular area. In this way, your topic becomes the great equalizer between you and the audience.
  4. Don't discount your own stories: Facts are facts, but instead of numbing the audience with numbers and data, why not share your stories related to your topic? In addition to being personal, they add the unknown and unique to your presentation.
  5. Use "I" statements: Don't couch your conclusions or observations with "we" (as in "as we all know") statements. Instead, speak only for yourself. "In my experience," "what I've observed," and "my own thinking is" will help you focus your remarks and make it clear you are sharing your own perspective.
  6. Know that you don't need to know everything:  Learning how to say "I don't know" with ease--try "I wish I knew that"--is a skill every smart speaker should have. Check out my 7 tactics for losing your fear of Q&A for more ideas.
  7. Consider what makes you unique: Shift your focus from trying to be smarter than everyone else to what makes you unusual. It might be your age, gender, experience (life or work), interests, location, and more. Highlighting what makes your perspective unusual helps you differentiate yourself so you're not trying to compete with the crowd.
You also could try a creative approach to being an "expert of nothing," the title of this talk by Jessie Char at NSConference. Thanks to Technically Speaking for the pointer to this talk. It's a clever, deep, fun look at what's behind this feeling.


Expert of Nothing - Jessie Char from NSConference on Vimeo.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Medialab Katowice)

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