Friday, October 30, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Keila Banks's "Undefinable Me"

Keila Banks began coding at age nine and gave her first tech conference keynote at age 11, so maybe she wouldn't be too impressed to learn that she joins Severn Suzuki as one of the youngest speakers in The Eloquent Woman Index. But we were impressed--along with a lot of other people, it seems--by Banks' speech at OSCON (Open Source Convention) 2015, where the 13-year old took the stage to talk about herself as the "Undefinable Me."

Standing a little self-consciously with her arms wrapped around her "LinuxChix" t-shirt, Banks talked about what it's like to be a teen black girl who codes, and all the presumptions that come with that description. The talk was only ten minutes long, but Banks found a wonderful way to build a structure into the speech that turned those ten minutes into a complete story.

She began with pictures and descriptions of her physical self and her home, asking the audience to consider their initial impressions of her from those descriptions. But then she fleshed out that image by describing a girl with parents who encouraged her early forays into tech, a girl who began to take on her own coding projects, and finally a girl who expanded her interests into things like cheerleading and track and field. Throughout the talk, she paused to ask the audience to again take stock of her with this new information in mind. Finally, it was lines like this that flew around Twitter and tech blogs just minutes after she left the stage: "What you see on the outside looking at me, and what I see on the outside looking at you, is not really what you are. Join me in being an undefinable you."

What can you learn from this famous speech--with hopefully more to come!--by Banks?
  • Watch what your body language is telling the audience. Banks' body language makes it clear that she is a little nervous up on stage, which is understandable at any age. She and other speakers can benefit from watching video of their speeches, to look for things like swaying and crossed arms. These elements of body language may convey a different message to your audience than the one coming out of your mouth, and even TED speakers can benefit from watching their talks with the sound off to spot these motions.
  • You're more fluent when you speak about what you know. It's interesting that Banks' body and vocal language become less hesitant when she starts talking about how she learned programming languages like Ruby, or talking about the sites she's developed for some of her clients. These are clearly the items in her speech that she is most knowledgeable and most passionate about, and those parts of her speech are the strongest and most fluent. When you're preparing for or deciding on the topic for a speech, consider what you know the best, and think about whether and how you could include that in your talk.
  • Don't be afraid to mix humor with serious themes. Banks' talk doesn't shy away from the racism, sexism and ageism that she can sense as a black girl in the tech world. But another part of being an "undefinable me," which she conveys so well with her upbeat speech, is expressing herself in as many different ways as she chooses. If a 13-year old girl wants to finish her talk with a slide of a popular Shia LaBeouf Internet meme, there's no one who can stand in her way.
Here's the full video of Banks' talk, below:


Need more coaching on how to be a better panel moderator? Order the new ebook The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 and available in many formats, it's a great back-pocket coach to take on stage with you in your smartphone or tablet. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

4 risks when you assume your audience knows what you know

"What if the audience already knows everything I have to say?" is a reader question from a woman speaker that we tackled in an earlier post. In the tech and academic worlds, it's every junior developer's or junior researcher's nightmare. But recently, I sat through another presentation--from a male speaker--that made me see another side to the issue. I wouldn't change my advice in the first post, but I would like to expand on it.

This particular male speaker reminded me that there are risks in assuming your audience knows everything you know--assumptions that didn't make it into my previous post. So here are the risks speakers face when they assume the audience knows what they know:
  1. You don't explain things clearly: When you assume everyone knows what you know, clarity may be sacrificed. The signs: You skip over basics (like the explanation of your program or topic), use a lot of acronyms or shorthand phrases, and omit basic reporting on your progress. Generally, if you have a Q&A session following, the questions will catch you out--if you don't lose the audience in the first place. The speaker I saw recently had to say over and over, "Yes, I generally include...." during the questions about the parts he left out this time.
  2. You exclude audience members: Audiences are not monoliths, and often, there are at least a few people (at minimum) who don't know what you know. When you skip over basics in an effort to impress the knowledgeable, you miss the chance to bring along the newcomers. The old favorite, "As we all know...." makes that risk verbal. How will we feel about you if we don't know? Speaking is all about connecting...with everyone in the audience.
  3. You miss the chance to demonstrate your own knowledge: Particularly if you're a subject-matter expert or working in a technical field, you lose the chance to display your thorough grounding in a topic when you skip over the basics or the things you are assuming we know. You may sound thin on facts and details if you skim the surface.
  4. You limit questions: Some speakers, seeking to avoid questions, may present fewer details. But speakers who assume the audience knows certain things will find they've pushed the questioners back to the basics, as in the first example above. That line of questioning, just to get to the omitted background facts, limited the discussion instead of allowing for a higher-order set of questions and answers.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Esteban Cavrico)

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, October 26, 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, October 23, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Eleanor Roosevelt's Pearl Harbor radio address

It was December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, bringing the United States into World War II. That evening, eager for news, millions of Americans turned on their radios to listen to...First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

While her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, would make his own famous radio address the next day, dubbing December 7 a "day that will live in infamy," it was his wife who first addressed the nation as part of a regular broadcast she made. Typically, she'd summarize the day's news and then address a subject of significance and interest to her, from whether a woman should be president to the problems of working women.

On this significant day, she rewrote the opening to make these remarks first, then interviewed her scheduled guest, a newspaper reporter turned soldier. She worked on her revised script at the same time that the President was preparing his remarks for the next day, according to a book on her historic broadcasts. She updated listeners on preparations happening at the White House and Congress that day, then turned her message to what the listeners could do:
In the meantime we, the people, are already prepared for action. For months now, the knowledge that something of this kind might happen has been hanging over our heads. And yet it seemed impossible to believe, impossible to drop the everyday things of life and feel that there was only one thing which was important: preparation to meet an enemy, no matter where he struck. That is all over now and there is no more uncertainty. We know what we have to face and we know that we are ready to face it. 
I should like to say just a word to the women in the country tonight. I have a boy at sea on a destroyer. For all I know he may be on his way to the Pacific. Two of my children are in coast cities on the Pacific. Many of you all over this country have boys in the services who will now be called upon to go into action. You have friends and families in what has suddenly become a danger zone. You cannot escape anxiety. You cannot escape a clutch of fear at your heart. And yet I hope that the certainty of what we have to meet will make you rise above these fears. 
We must go about our daily business more determined than ever to do the ordinary things as well as we can. And when we find a way to do anything more in our communities to help others to build morale, to give a feeling of security, we must do it. Whatever is asked of us, I am sure we can accomplish it. We are the free and unconquerable people of the United States of America.
On the night Roosevelt gave this address, the vast majority of American homes had radios and listenership was high that anxious evening, as the people waited for more news. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Let the echoes of freedom ring: I doubt that Roosevelt's use of "we, the people"--the familiar first words of the preamble to the U.S. constitution--was anything but intentional. It's a subtle reminder and call to action, underscoring her contention that democracy will prevail.
  • Set the tone: Americans might have expected to hear from the President on such an important matter, and here, Eleanor Roosevelt helped set the tone for her husband's remarks the next day. She encouraged listeners to focus on working to defeat the enemy and "do the ordinary things as well as we can," even if not going to fight. Reminding them that they were "free and unconquerable" also helped build a confident setting for the next day's remarks.
  • Say what people are thinking and feeling: Your audience won't always vocally share its thoughts and feelings, but one of the speaker's great privileges and opportunities is the chance to give voice to those silent witnesses. Expressing what people are thinking and feeling--particularly in a stressful or challenging time--does an important service for the audience, lending perspective and building community.
  • Use opposites to suggest forward progress: Eleanor Roosevelt used certainty and uncertainty and played them off each other in these brief remarks. Her words reflected the nation's anxieties as the war progressed before U.S. involvement, and even made those feelings an acceptable certainty: "You cannot escape anxiety. You cannot escape a clutch of fear at your heart. And yet I hope that the certainty of what we have to meet will make you rise above these fears." What a call to action, and one to which any listener could relate.
You can find a complete transcript of this radio address in The First Lady of Radio: Eleanor Roosevelt's Historic Broadcasts, and if you purchase the Kindle edition, you can hear it in the audio extras...a great opportunity to hear this outstanding speaker. You'll learn a lot about her controversial advertiser-sponsored broadcasts, how she worked on her own addresses, and the vocal coaching she got to lower her very highly pitched voice a bit. Explore this companion American Radio Works documentary about both Roosevelts' historic radio broadcasts to hear more.

(Creative Commons licensed photo of Eleanor Roosevelt and Clementine Churchill doing a radio broadcast in 1944, from the collection of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library. I'm so very grateful when important collections make these resources easily available.)

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, October 22, 2015

On women & speaking up in meetings: Lessons after JLaw's essay

It's great that actor Jennifer Lawrence got us thinking again about women and how they (mostly don't) speak up in meetings. Lawrence wrote an essay for Lena Dunham's Lenny Letter titled Why do I make less than my male co-stars?, in which she talked about failing to negotiate more, and asked:
Could there still be a lingering habit of trying to express our opinions in a certain way that doesn’t “offend” or “scare” men?
A few weeks ago at work, I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-bullshit way; no aggression, just blunt. The man I was working with (actually, he was working for me) said, “Whoa! We’re all on the same team here!” As if I was yelling at him. I was so shocked because nothing that I said was personal, offensive, or, to be honest, wrong. All I hear and see all day are men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the same exact manner, and you would have thought I had said something offensive. 
I’m over trying to find the “adorable” way to state my opinion and still be likable! Fuck that. I don’t think I’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard.
This prompted a lot of discussion, as well as an Alexandra Petri article in the Washington Post, Famous quotes, the way a woman would have to say them in a meeting. Here's just one of the "translations" that got even more people talking:
“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” 
Woman in a Meeting: “I’m not an expert, Dave, but I feel like maybe you could accomplish more by maybe shifting your focus from asking things from the government and instead looking at things that we can all do ourselves? Just a thought. Just a thought. Take it for what it’s worth.”
These two articles rang true for many women, and when they were shared in my feeds, they came along with comments that expressed surprise that we're still talking this way, or that it's still an issue, or that it only happens sometimes, or that we women should just express ourselves without hesitation.

Just a thought: It isn't quite that simple, or it would have been happening by now.

In the wake of Lawrence's disclosure, I braced myself for the inevitable articles telling women how to negotiate better or be more confident about speaking up. I've come to hate this knee-jerk reaction when women raise legitimate issues about how they are being silenced. We shouldn't be telling women how to fix themselves, when it's society that needs the fixing. Enough leaning in and learning confidence codes. We need, instead, to learn and remind ourselves about what's really happening to women who speak and speak up--and has been happening to them, for centuries.

The author of a conversational analysis of men and women's behavior and language in meetings said this, after reviewing the research more widely:
Study after study has found that, when other variables are controlled (education, expertise, etc.), women are responded to more negatively than men as measured by facial expression, gaze behavior, individual evaluations, and decision reached in task-based groups.
Translation: We can tell by the looks on peoples' faces, where they shift their gaze, their own evaluations, and the outcome of decisions in a group that women are viewed more negatively than men when they speak in a meeting. And that's true no matter what your education level, expertise, or other factors are.

Researcher Cecelia Ford said, "I started out with an interest in finding cases of what women experience as 'having our ideas ignored,' but, after visiting and videotaping the first few workplace meetings for the study, I shifted my attention to documenting women’s evident competency in meeting interaction." [Italics added]

So the problem isn't that you are incompetent in meetings. But even when you are, you're viewed negatively for speaking up, by both men and women. This may sound depressing, but it's better than thinking there's something wrong with you. And if you lack confidence, perhaps this is why--just a sign that you're good at assessing your audience.

Rachel Dempsey's Why don't women raise their hands more? cites more research in this vein:
Studies have shown that men are more likely than women to project confidence when they're uncertain, and that women are particularly hesitant when they're being asked a question regarding a traditionally male domain.
She adds, "when you look at the cognitive biases behind gender stereotypes...women's caution comes to seem like a survival mechanism, not a weakness."

The question, however, is whether you want to survive or thrive and feel good about yourself. And in this kind of environment, the way to thrive begins with calling it what it is.

Longtime readers of this blog have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating: Women have had fewer opportunities to speak in our history than men have had, starting in the first century and going right up to today. Public speaking by women has been forbidden by law or strongly discouraged by society and that's still true in many places today. More recently, women's speaking up is hemmed in by shaming behaviors, talking over, and other tactics designed to silence women. After all, you can still hear women criticized as shrill--a medieval term for a woman who talks too much--in the workplace today. And you hear both men and women shaming women for speaking up, which really doesn't help. No wonder women hesitate to speak, apologize for it, chalk it up to nerves, or try to find a nicer way to say that thing. Good luck being eloquent under those conditions, ladies.

A simple way we take women out of the lineup for speaking in workplace meetings is to ask them take notes. You'll find some good workarounds for this in Ending Gender Bias: Why Richard Branson says everyone should take meeting notes, not just women. I like the whiteboard example at the end. It was passed around like a plate of hors d'oeuvres by thousands of readers on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook last week, which may suggest it's a familiar silencer for my readers.

I don't think you need to be fixed, women who speak up in meetings. But I do think we can all make a difference by:
  • having these discussions (thanks, JLaw, for getting it started this time) and being open to the idea that, yes, this is still going on,
  • reminding ourselves and other women that it's not because we need more confidence or some other fix, although these situations might well rob your confidence,
  • backing other women up in meetings and helping give them room to speak by saying things like, "Actually, I want to hear what Angela has to say" when Angela gets shut down or talked over, 
  • using your opportunity when chairing a meeting or moderating a panel to call on women as often as you call on men, and
  • expecting the backlash and countering it. 
What would *that* look like? You could try, "Yes, it's common in workplace meetings for both men and women to view women who speak up negatively--lots of research on that. But I think Angela's point is important for us to consider."  Or be even more direct and say, "You just talked over Angela and didn't let her finish. I don't ever want to see that happen again. Angela?" That last sentence is a key phrase advocated by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, who say, "To motivate women at work, we need to be explicit about our disapproval of the leadership imbalance as well as our support for female leaders." Grant's research shows that that phrase helps move the needle in women taking more opportunities to lead (which helps in turn in speaking up).

Actor Emily Blunt was quoted last week saying that she thinks talking about sexism "exacerbates the problem." The Mary Sue blog did a great job pointing out why it's important to keep sexism part of the conversation, out loud:
Talking about sexism is important for lots of reasons. We need to examine media and the industry critically in order to create these initiatives. How we frame the problem determines how we solve it. For instance, if we say that the industry is predominantly male because women aren’t interested, then we can leave the industry as is. If we say it’s because women are genetically inferior and too emotional, than we leave it as is and keep women out. If we say it’s because the industry actively discourages women by denying them opportunities and reproducing negative images, then we need to challenge these representations and uplift women who are trying to enter the industry and women currently grappling with it.
That last point is particularly important. As Gloria Steinem has said, "Whenever one person stands up and says, 'Wait a minute, this is wrong,' it helps other people to do the same." This is a problem that's been going on for centuries. I don't expect it to go away quickly. I don't think you are an exception. This happens to all women, whether they know or notice. Next time, don't be so surprised. Be ready to jump in, and understand the consequences aren't about you. Instead of worrying about changing yourself, speak up with that "wait a minute." Let's help one another speak up, eloquent women.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Red Carpet Report)

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, October 19, 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, October 16, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Jessica Mendoza calls major league baseball playoff

It's 2015, and a first has just occurred: Olympic softball medalist and sports announcer Jessica Mendoza called a nationally televised Major League Baseball (MLB) playoff game between the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros.

Calling a game in baseball, particularly in the majors, requires a variety of speaking skills. Not the least of them is a deep knowledge of the game and an understanding of a wide range of situations and tactics that may arise without notice. The ability to speak extemporaneously and with authority requires that knowledge base. A baseball fan myself, I know how nerdy we can get about plays, particularly during a playoff game. And a nationally televised playoff is, of course, broadcast live with a big audience. But the big challenge? Calling a game, at this level or almost any other, has almost exclusively been the province of men.

Mendoza's break really happened back in August, when veteran player and announcer Curt Schilling was taken off the announcer and analyst team for sharing a meme that compared extremist Muslims to Nazis. Already an analyst for ESPN, she was tapped then to take his place. At the time, the New York Times noted:
A woman calling M.L.B. games is a rarity. Suzyn Waldman started calling national and Yankees games on television in the mid-1990s before joining the Yankees’ radio booth in 2005. Gayle Gardner called a Colorado Rockies-Cincinnati Reds game in 1993. Michele Smith, also an Olympic softball champion, was a guest analyst for one game on TBS three years ago. And Jenny Cavnar, host of the Rockies’ pregame and postgame TV shows, will fill in this weekend as an analyst on the team’s radio broadcasts. 
“I want this to be more than a one-off,” Mendoza said. “If you do it just one time, you’ll never see any growth.”
Calling a baseball game doesn't yield a lot of rhetorical wonders. It's a marathon of sorts for the analysts. But the Times, following her calling of the playoff game, noted the quality of her calling content and her speed:
On Tuesday night, she showed her primary expertise in batting analysis, most notably on how the Astros’ George Springer was able to hit a double over Brett Gardner’s head: by standing far back in the batter’s box to react to Masahiro Tanaka’s splitter. But she also did good — and quick — work on pitch selection and outfield positioning.
That critic noted she'd performed so well that ESPN had "no choice" but to offer her the job permanently, despite backlash on Twitter and elsewhere about including a woman to call a playoff game. Some of the offensive tweets have since been deleted, but here's one that grudgingly acknowledges her insights:
We don't have the entire game calling for you to hear, but the video below offers a sample of the pre-game banter in the booth.

Jessica Mendoza the 1st woman to call playoffs

(ESPN photo)

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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Storytelling tips from frequent speakers and speechwriters

All of the frequent speakers and speechwriters interviewed in my Inside Voice series are storytellers--and some of them help others to tell stories, too. All that insight from these public speaking insiders is available to you here, to inspire and guide your own use of stories in your speeches, presentations and talks:
  1. TEDMED chief storytelling officer Marcus Webb insists on authenticity in storytelling--that is, a story that is deeply meaningful to the speaker. Without that, skip the story. "Better no anecdotes than a cheesy anecdote!" he says.
  2. Author Gillian Davis recommends finding your own voice, and telling your story in a way that's true to you. "You have to find the style that you’re comfortable with and own it!" she says.
  3. Speechwriter Amélie Crosson-Gooderham adds reality to stories with detail. She feels "It means taking abstract or general statements and making them specific" with real people and anecdotes, rather than numbing with numbers. When you are tempted to generalize, tell a story with specifics.
  4. Author and PR exec Liz O'Donnell, though an introvert, finds that storytelling requires connection--with an audience, and between her mind and her body when she's telling a story. "It’s been fun learning that this introvert can actually make these great connections with her audience – simply by speaking my truth," she says.
  5. Speechwriter Brian Jenner votes for surprise in your storytelling, saying it's "an important feature of any entertaining yarn." And as a humorist, if you've got a funny story to tell, he says the feedline and the punchline are essential to get right.
  6. Deloitte speechwriter Caroline Johns urges you to not lose the thread running through your story. A story with a sense of where it's going, she says, "packs a much bigger punch than a random collection of points, which is what many people seem to rely on." Her own storytelling came out of her history studies, and she says, "I love the way historians can tell completely different stories using exactly the same set of facts."
  7. Psychiatrist and author Candida Fink, MD, uses storytelling to explain complex medicine and science, and says the talk she most wants to give is "A story of brain development that may be happening atypically for many different reasons" in children and adolescents. In her line of work, storytelling has a goal to help parents and educators see that "if we just see kids as bad or defiant without figuring out what is going on with their development, we will lose them." What's your storytelling goal?

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, October 12, 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, October 9, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Mhairi Black's UK Parliament maiden speech

She's a recent university graduate, a member of the Scottish National Party seeking secession from the United Kingdom, and, as if that weren't enough, the youngest member of the UK Parliament to be elected since the 17th century. So 20-year-old Mhairi Black's maiden speech in Parliament in July was bound to attract attention. And it was even more famous once she finished, with worldwide coverage and commentary, most of it in the vein of "a star is born."

Black accomplished many things in this short, spirited speech. She spoke about the history of her constituency, a traditional part of an MP's maiden speech. She used sly humor about her predecessors' maiden speeches, and about being "the only 20-year-old in the whole of the UK that the Chancellor is prepared to help with housing," after the budget cut housing supports for those under age 21. (Housing is provided for her in London as part of her service in Parliament.) She praised her opponent and predecessor, and held out an olive branch to the Labour Party in aid of forming a stronger opposition to the current Conservative government.

But the core of her speech was a personal story from her constituency:
Before I was elected I volunteered for a charitable organisation and there was a gentleman who I grew very fond of. He was one of these guys who has been battered by life in every way imaginable. You name it, he’s been through it. And he used to come in to get food from this charity, and it was the only food that he had access to and it was the only meal he would get. And I sat with him and he told me about his fear of going to the Job Centre. He said “I’ve heard the stories Mhairi, they try and trick you out, they’ll tell you you’re a liar. I’m not a liar Mhairi, I’m not.” And I told him “It’s OK, calm down. Go, be honest, it’ll be fine.” 
I then didn’t see him for about two or three weeks. I did get very worried, and when he finally did come back in I said to him “how did you get on?”
And without saying a word he burst into tears. That grown man standing in front of a 20-year-old crying his eyes out, because what had happened to him was the money that he would normally use to pay for his travel to come to the charity to get his food he decided that in order to afford to get to the Job Centre he would save that money. Because of this, he didn’t eat for five days, he didn’t drink. When he was on the bus on the way to the Job Centre he fainted due to exhaustion and dehydration. He was 15 minutes later for the Job Centre and he was sanctioned for 13 weeks. 
Now, when the Chancellor spoke in his budget about fixing the roof while the sun is shining, I would have to ask on who is the sun shining? When he spoke about benefits not supporting certain kinds of lifestyles, is that the kind of lifestyle that he was talking about?
The video of this maiden speech made another kind of history, pulling in more than 10 million views. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Every story has a job to do: One of the biggest mistakes speakers can make in telling stories lies in failing to understand that they have a job to do--otherwise, they're just random diversions. Black used the story above to set up and lead into a direct critique of the budget proposals and cast them in terms of real people and real needs from her constituency. That's something any MP needs to get good at doing.
  • Strike more than one note: There are many views balanced in this short speech, and while Black leaves no question about her point of view, she adds acknowledgments, olive branches, praise, and outreach to those who don't agree with her views. The partisan who can also be a diplomat and collaborator can go far in elected office, and she seems to have that figured out early in her career.
  • Use your age to advantage: Far from hoping to hide her youth, Black embraced it and used it to score a point about housing cuts with humor and a fresh perspective. Whatever your age, use it to your advantage when you're speaking. It's part of who you are, and we want to know more about you.
Read the full text of Black's maiden speech here, and watch the video 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, October 8, 2015

5 speakers share what writing a script did for their talks

I hang out with speechwriters, but for many of my coaching clients, the idea of using written remarks or a script for their speeches just doesn't occur to them. But using a script has a variety of advantages, from helping you stay on time and regulate your speaking speed to ensuring that you don't forget the important things you want to say.

Whether you memorize it and fly without a text in front of you, or cling to the script, writing out your remarks is an important exercise, worth trying if you normally wing it from your slides. Here are five speakers featured on the blog with more insights on what writing out a script did for their big talks:
  • A huge difference: Gillian Davis, co-author of First-Time Leader: Foundational Tools for Inspiring and Enabling Your New Team, says it's important for presenters to write out a draft. "I took this from Denise’s talk at the Fabian Womens Network in London and applied it immediately. It made a huge difference to my delivery. Having, and practicing, your speech allows you to ensure your key points get across, when are good times to take questions, and to give you an indication of length so you stay within your allocated time. 
  • The task requires it: Resa Lewiss, MD, says of her 2014 TEDMED talk, "Truth be told, this was the first time I wrote a speech out as literally word for word as the task required. Memorizing my talk wasn’t difficult; however moving beyond memorization was the most significant challenge."
  • The speech had a purpose: Lucy Rogers, PhD, also says that writing a script "was new for me... By writing the script I made it tighter, put more rhetorical devices and quotes in than I would have in my “normal” way of picturing stories." And after she delivered her InspireFest talk, she says, "Because I wrote the speech out, the rhetorical devices and word pictures were much stronger. The speech I feel had a purpose and a call to arms." But she adds a cautionary "Note to self: freeze the speech longer in advance to give yourself chance to learn it."
  • A lifesaver: Lisa Lamkins says "Giving a “TED-like” talk was so different and a little daunting... I really wanted to shine so I did all the prep Denise suggested – wrote out my speech word for word which is a struggle because I NEVER do that. After I got the written version edited to where I wanted it, I recorded myself reading it.  Then I started practicing it out loud." The scripting and practice later saved her when she froze and forgot: "The words came out, albeit not with the same smoothness and easy delivery that I had practiced a thousand times. But they came."
  • A speech re-shaper: In Make your talk better with practice and memorization, I shared TED speaker Alexis Madrigal's observations about what working with a script and attempting to memorize it did for the content. He says, "All the live practice began to reshape the talk itself. Every difficult phrasing got changed or cut. Other people’s direct quotes were the hardest to memorize, so I cut some of those, too. At one point, I had to recite a series of strange computer-generated phrases, which I would not recommend putting in your memorized talk. Without semantic meaning, strings of words are so, so hard to remember." And that's something that will be hard to realize until you write it down.

(White House photo)

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, October 5, 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, October 2, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Carly Fiorina's post-9/11 speech

In late 2001, nearly every public speaker in America had to at least consider whether to alter a speech planned before, but delivered after, the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center in the U.S. That attack changed every aspect of context. Words, jokes, and previously acceptable phrases all came under closer scrutiny. Speakers found they had another job to do, by inspiring, reflecting, grieving, or ennobling our understanding of the events of the day. In many cases, audiences were gathering for the first time in a group since the attacks, an opportunity to bring them together to make sense of things.

The then-CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina also faced this speaker's challenge. For a speech titled "Technology, Business and Our Way of Life: What's Next," delivered in Minneapolis just over two weeks after the attacks, she spends part of the opening talking about, and apparently laying aside, her intended topics. Much of the speech reads to me as one she might have indeed planned to give, but a careful read shows that its eventual theme is woven with care throughout.

This speech is getting better known, 14 years later, for its ending, and because Fiorina is now running for the presidency of the United States. It has already been dredged up in the 2015 presidential campaign as a potential problem for Fiorina. That's because the ending includes a clever piece of storytelling:
There was once a civilization that was the greatest in the world. 
It was able to create a continental super-state that stretched from ocean to ocean, and from northern climes to tropics and deserts. Within its dominion lived hundreds of millions of people, of different creeds and ethnic origins. 
One of its languages became the universal language of much of the world, the bridge between the peoples of a hundred lands. Its armies were made up of people of many nationalities, and its military protection allowed a degree of peace and prosperity that had never been known. The reach of this civilization’s commerce extended from Latin America to China, and everywhere in between. 
She goes on to describe this civilization, then reveals that it is none other than the Islamic world between 800 and 1600. Critics of this ending suggest that Americans can't tolerate any praise of the Islamic world, an idea I don't think holds up under scrutiny. But much will be made of it, nonetheless: Just this week, a poll in North Carolina found that 72 percent of Republican respondent feel a Muslim can't be president of the United States.

I see this less as a skeleton in Fiorina's closet than an almost-tempest in a teapot. Many American speakers, in the days following the attacks, found ways to speak with respect rather than hate about Islamic people. One such example is the joint talk from Phyllis Rodriguez and Aicha el-Wafi featured in The Eloquent Woman Index, whose sons were involved on that day in very different ways. What can you learn from this speech?
  • When you represent a global entity, speak globally: Fiorina's speech, taken as a whole, reflects her position as CEO of a global company. After the World Trade Center attacks, she could have struck an "America First" tone, but chose to broaden her reach to encompass many parts of the globe.
  • Aim for higher ground: "We’re living in an era that's defined by the power of ideas, the power of connections to knowledge, to information. Smart people reside everywhere in the world - all kinds of people and smart people brimming with ideas that have yet to be heard." If you read this speech closely, you'll find her message consistent throughout, not just a surprise at the end.
  • Put people first: Your audience, whatever they are in their day jobs or at that particular event, are people. Address all of them. For a corporate CEO's speech, this one is loaded with humanity, and a good example for others, with lines like "Concern for the security of our employees who are of Middle Eastern descent or who practice the Muslim religion here in the US and abroad." 
I'll be curious to see whether this speech really becomes the skeleton in the closet it's predicted to be. It feels elevated and more noble than a faux pas, and Fiorina has expressed views on the current campaign trail that are consistent with this talk. There's no video of this speech, but you can see the full text here on HP's website.

(Creative Commons licensed photo of Fiorina speaking in 2015 by Mark Nozell)

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, October 1, 2015

Using a workshop to build a better talk

Can a workshop really help you to build a better talk?

Some participants come to my public speaking workshops to try me out and see whether they'd like 1:1 coaching, or a customized training for their group. Some come hoping to learn a few tactics for elevating their current public speaking approaches. And some come in the middle of preparations for a specific talk, something they are working on at the time or will be in the near future.

It's that last category of participant that often makes the most progress. Having a firm appointment to give a talk sharpens your mind wonderfully for any training or coaching you get before the day of delivery. I'm happy to say that many of my workshop participants report success with talks they were building at the time of the workshop. Here are just two examples:

Using a workshop as a springboard to return to speaking

Cate Huston attended two of my workshops when she was planning a return to speaking. She'd been harrassed on Twitter while speaking, and took a two-year hiatus. When she finally did sign up to speak again, fear struck: "It loomed closer and I became more, and more anxious....I took the main thing within my control seriously – how prepared I was. I gave two internal practise talks, both went well. I published my notes on my blog. Denise, of The Eloquent Woman, ran two UK events, I attended both (12)." She gave that talk, then another, then another. And now organizers approach her after her talks, seeding the next opportunity. 

During my workshop on women and speaking, I asked participants to give me one word that, for them, defined the term "eloquent." It's a way for participants to share what they are aspiring to be as speakers, since it's always good to have a goal in mind (whether you have a talk planned or not). Defining what eloquence means to you helps give shape to that goal.

On LinkedIn, Cate shared the results of her talks, and how this exercise particularly resonated later on: "My talks were extremely well received, something which I attribute significantly to Denise’s help," she wrote. "In the workshop, I defined what eloquent meant to me as 'poised,' which is exactly the word a conference organiser used to describe me on stage."

Using a workshop to prep for a big talk

Lucy Rogers attended my workshop on creating a TED-quality talk. It's designed for people aiming for a TED or TEDx conference, or those interested in adapting the TED style of speaking for everyday presentations. We went through the mechanics of preparing such a talk, from scripting and memorizing to delivering it, and teamed up participants to hone their content and make it suit the form. In this workshop, most of the participants had the goal of giving a TED or TED-like talk, and came to the workshop with ideas about their topics and audiences.

Lucy went on to speak at InspireFest in Dublin, giving a talk on space debris, using the workshop tactics (and even a fellow worskhop participant) to develop it. In her "Talk About the Talk" post about her experience, Lucy Rogers said, "Immediately after the talk I had some great feedback – both on twitter and in real life. I even got asked if I had given it as a TED talk – and that I should. I was really chuffed by this - I was aiming for the “TED Quality” talk that Denise had highlighted in her workshop." Lucy shared what worked and what didn't work, along with her script, in the post linked above, so you may benefit from her experience.

2 new workshops ahead

In the end, whether a workshop can help you build a better talk depends on many factors: Your intention, your preparation, and your participation...and doing more work after the workshop, in most cases.

I'm bringing my workshop on Creating a TED-Quality Talk to Washington, DC, in January 2016. The workshop will repeat, with a session on January 14, and an identical session on January 28. I'm limiting participation to just 5 people per session so there will be plenty of opportunity for hands-on work and discussion, as well as your specific questions. You'll get the benefit of my experience coaching more than 100 people for talks given on the TEDMED stage, on TEDx stages around the world, and on TED.com--and many more people who've given talks in the style of TED after our coaching. All registration closes December 31, or when all seats are filled--and they are filling--but you'll get a 25 percent discount if you register by October 30.

I love both Cate's and Lucy's examples, because the workshop participants got some independent (and unwitting) feedback that mirrored what we'd talked about and learned in the workshop--that must have felt great!  Come join us in January and find a way to shape your own good future feedback on a new style of speaking.