Friday, April 29, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Harriet Tubman's fable on colonizing slaves

In the run-up to the American Civil War and the discussion of whether to free the slaves, one proposal that gained some traction was repatriation or colonization--that is, sending black Americans, enslaved and free people alike, back to Africa. And in 1859, Harriet Tubman, the former slave who helped many other slaves escape on the Underground Railroad, used a speech to share her own views on the issue. It happened at a meeting of the New England Colored Citizens' Convention, where the audience had voted to condemn the proposed repatriation.

As the Boston abolitionist paper The Liberator reported, Tubman used a simple fable to counter the argument for sending black Americans back to Africa. She:
...told the story of a man who sowed onions and garlic on his land to increase his dairy productions; but he soon found the butter was strong and would not sell, and so he concluded to sow clover instead. But he soon found the wind had blown the onions and garlic all over his field. Just so, she said, the white people had got the "nigger" here to do their drudgery, and now they were trying to root 'em out and send 'em to Africa. "But," she said, "they can't do it; we're rooted here, and they can't pull us up."
A male proponent of "civilization," as it also was called, jumped on stage to challenge her remarks--a 19th century version of Kanye's "Imma let you finish" interruption of Taylor Swift, perhaps--but the audience wasn't having it. Tubman's story stuck, and got their applause.

In Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero, historian Kate Clifford Larson shares that story and also notes that Tubman was smart politically, and important as a storyteller representing black women at a time when they were rare on the speaking stage:
A great storyteller she was...She moved her audiences deeply. Plainly dressed, very short and petite, quite black-skinned, and missing front teeth, Tubman physically made a stark contrast to Sojourner Truth, one of the most famous former slave women then speaking on the antislavery lecture circuit, who was nearly six feet tall....Like Truth, however, Tubman shocked her audiences with stories of slavery and the injustices of life as a black woman. Black men dominated the antislavery lecture circuit. Tubman and Truth stood for millions of slave women whose lives were marred by emotional and physical abuse at the hands of white men.
Larson's biography of Tubman shares many insights about her public speaking--a skill of Tubman's we have largely forgotten in simplifying her memory and story. To be a woman of color who spoke in public in her time was rare, and challenge after challenge faced her as a speaker. Like Sojourner Truth, she was accused of being a man in part due to her speaking skills. In speeches like this one, she often was not introduced by her real or full name, to build up the mystery and excitement, but also taking away her identity in public, sometimes in the name of protecting her safety. Her words were often rewritten for her by biographers and reporters. Because Tubman herself could not read or write, her spoken word was both powerful and ephemeral. As Larson noted, men more often got the speaking turns on the lecture circuit, despite her unusual story and appeal. Speaking also was essential in her career, a way for Tubman to raise funds and earn an income to support her work and her family.

Today, Tubman's enjoying a revival of interest, thanks to actor Viola Davis quoting her in a 2015 Emmy Awards acceptance speech, and the recent announcement that Tubman's image will appear on the $20 bill in the U.S. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Authenticity counts: It's one thing to listen to, say, a white man talk about colonizing black Americans, and quite another to have a former slave, now a free woman, share her point of view. In this debate, authenticity held the same power it does today for a speaker. With "we're rooted here, and they can't pull us up," Tubman speaks for herself and her people in a way that can't be imitated.
  • Fables and parables work for a reason: These metaphor stories, used for centuries with illiterate audiences, are easy to understand and to remember. A short fable or parable can work far better--and faster--than a long-winded, detailed argument.
  • Choose your metaphor to do many jobs: In addition to the neat package a fable offers the speaker, this one also has the advantage of being based in nature, underscoring the idea that remaining in the U.S. was a natural course of action, as opposed to a contrived solution. Make your metaphors work by testing them first, to be sure they are accomplishing everything you need done in your speech.
A caution to women speakers wishing to quote Tubman: Do your research. Like other famous folk, many quotes are attributed to her without any evidence that she actually said them.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dial it back, speakers: When you *don't* need extra emphasis

When coaching speakers at TEDMED or for TEDx conferences, I often find myself asking them to take off a few layers of emphasis. As my fellow TEDMED coach Peter Botting likes to say, "Your delivery is like writing with all caps, bold, italic, and underscore all at the same time!"

What does that look and sound like? It varies depending on the speech and the speaker, but generally, it's a case of being too intense and too adamant in delivery--almost as if the speaker thinks the story lacks drama or might not catch the audience's attention. So she may add a lot more or less volume, punch key words, gesture more, wrinkle her forehead, nod her head, and move around, all at the same time.

It's true that, in public speaking, you have many options for emphasis, and there's nothing wrong with any one of these options. Members of the audience do look to the speaker to signal what we might appropriately feel at any given moment, so an expressionless delivery is not the goal. But you don't need to use the tools of emphasis all at once, and you should choose each one with care. Here, more is not necessarily better. In fact, researchers say our brains are finely tuned to sense emotion from the sound of your voice, even before the words are understood. In other words, your recipients are much more likely to sense your tone without any extra push from you.

Some speakers, particularly those who haven't spoken in a large hall or theater, or those who've relied on drama coaches for their prep, make the mistake of thinking they need their TED talk to be heard at the back of the hall, and vocalize loudly. But most of the time, you'll have a microphone and the sound engineer will be in charge of making sure you're heard. So you can whisper, if you want long as it's not in combination with all those other forms of emphasis. A talk is not a dramatic soliloquy, so don't approach it as one. Just tell us your story.

I also often work with speakers whose stories are by definition stories that wrench the gut, bring tears to the eyes, provoke out-loud laughing, or convey the gravity of the topic. In those cases, little, if any, emphasis is needed. If your talk is about such a topic, a deft hand with the emphasis will serve you well as the audience experiences the full weight of your words. Most of the time, these topics speak for themselves, conjuring so much emotion in the audience that the speaker need not gild the lily, so to speak, with additional emphasis. If you're not sure, get some independent feedback about your topic and how you've framed it. Your story may have all its emphasis built in, and then you don't need to work so hard to put it across.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by TEDxBeirut)

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking:

Friday, April 22, 2016

For #EarthDay, 9 famous speeches by women on the environment

Today, we celebrate Earth Day, and it's no surprise that women have shaped so much of the public speaking about environmental issues, given that women are more affected by climate change and related environmental impacts than men. I've pulled these nine speeches from The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women to showcase their messages about the environment, from pesticides and wildlife conservation to economic arguments for dealing with climate change.

Fittingly for a global issue, this is a global array of speakers, with women from China, France, India, Kenya, the Marshall Islands, the United States and the United Kingdom represented, and all of their messages ring true today. Click through to see video of most of these speeches, along with what you can learn from them as a speaker. I'm a proud former Deputy Associate Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in charge of communications, education and public affairs, so it's a particular pleasure for me to share this collection with you:
  1. Rachel Carson's "A New Chapter to Silent Spring" was a 1963 speech to the Garden Club of America, taking her clarion call about the effects of pesticides on human health and the environment right to the people. Her conviction about her message helped her overcome her public speaking fears and changed our environment for the better.
  2. Severn Suzuki's 1992 UN Earth Summit speech was delivered when she was just 12 years old, and she wisely kept her message in the voice of a child. "If you don't know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!" she urged the delegates.
  3. Jane Goodall's "What separates us from the chimpanzees" uses unusual tactics, from sound "props" to Shakespearian influences, to put her message of wildlife conservation across. Another scared speaker, she learned from experience the value of speaking to live audiences to get her environmental message across.
  4. Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai's hummingbird fable was a simple tale she used to convince audiences ranging from poor women in Kenya to powerful world leaders that a small volunteer effort could do much to protect important ecosystems. In her case, a campaign to reforest Kenya led to the planting of 30 million trees--and a Nobel Prize.
  5. Christine Lagarde's speech on "dynamic resilience" led the World Economic Forum in 2013. Titled "A new global economy for a new generation," the International Monetary Fund's managing director put the assembled financial titans on notice that climate change and its effects had to be central to their efforts to reshape the world's economy.
  6. Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner opened the 2014 UN Climate Summit after winning a competition to be the citizen voice at the session. She combined a short appeal to the audience with a dramatic poem based on her experiences in the Marshall Islands, creating vivid imagery to get the deliberations off to an emotional start.
  7. Katharine Hayhoe's "elevator speech" on climate change is less than 90 seconds. But in that time, the climate scientist and evangelical Christian shares how you should do it, then shows you how it's done.
  8. Vandana Shiva at the 2014 Food Matters conference is a good speaking example from this popular and well-paid speaker activist who campaigns against the use of genetically modified organisms in food. But her use of spurious data has scientists concerned about her message.
  9. Chai Jing's 'Under the Dome' documentary shares her TED-style presentation about China's pollution problems. The video went beyond viral--then was censored by the Chinese government. 
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.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

New official guide to TED talks shares the 'secret': It's all in your ideas

Recently, I was coaching a scientist who had given a short 15-minute "TED-style" talk and wanted help revising it for a high-stakes conference. It had to be shorter, just 10 minutes. So we began with his first talk, and after I watched it and read a transcript, I surprised him by saying, "You need more detail. Just when we get to the point where your idea should be clear, you skip past it. This is too simple. I want to know more." I wanted substance, not just style. He was surprised--and relieved, because he felt the same way.

Many coaches make the error of urging speakers with big, complex ideas to skip over details in order to keep things simple. In the same way, many think the key to a great TED talk is a personal story, a formulaic approach, a big inspiring ending. But in a new and definitive guide to giving TED talks--written by the head of TED, Chris Anderson--you'll find that it's your idea and nothing else that is the most important part of a TED talk. That big red dot would be nothing without your stellar content, something I've learned firsthand coaching more than 140 speakers for TEDMED and TEDx talks.

In the video released as a preview for the book, Anderson shares four essential steps you should take to build an idea in the minds of your audience:
  • limit your talk to one single idea, then focus on how to explain it properly, make it vivid.
  • give your listeners a reason to care, to make them curious and welcoming of your idea. I sometimes call this answering the "so what?" question.
  • build your idea from concepts and language your audience already understands.
  • make it worth sharing, asking who it benefits? If that answer is just you and your organization, it won't work. People will share things they see as useful to them.
In a message to the TED community sharing the new video, Anderson said:
I recorded this talk to share some of the core findings of the book. In part, we want to demolish for all time the myth that there is a TED Talk formula. There really isn’t. A key intention of the book, and this talk, is to encourage greater variety in TED Talks, both in how they're prepared and in how they're delivered.
So speakers, you heard that right: TED wants talks of greater variety in both prep and delivery. Instead of seeking a formula, seek a new way to share your big ideas. And remember, anyone who tells you they know the formula for a TED talk is lying.

The scientist I was working with wound up with a talk that actually shared more needed detail in less time than the first version, while still being well-paced. The result was a powerful talk, clear to any listener, about his powerful ideas. He truly brought his listeners along with him on the path to his idea. And that's just what your TED or TED-style talk should be aiming for, too.

You can sharpen your skills on TED talks three ways with these new resources:

I'm excited to see this official guide come forward, and recommend it to all speakers--whether you're heading for a TED conference or just emulating this popular style.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking:

Friday, April 15, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Tess Vigeland on quitting with no plan B

We've featured famous speeches by women who were fired, and some who've made amazing career changes. But this one fits a special category: A prominent radio host and reporter who quit her dream job with no plan B. And then promptly gave a speech about it.

Tess Vigeland, former host of U.S. public radio's business show, Marketplace Money, gave the speech in 2013 at the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. And the title pretty much tells you everything: "What the Hell Are You Doing?! A Serious Stare Down the Barrel of an Ordinary Life."

The speech--almost 40 minutes--is more like a romp than a hand-wringer. It also became a springboard for her path forward, because the audience of 3,000 included an editor from Random House. Eleven days after the speech, Vigeland had a book contract. That book became Leap: Leaving a Job with No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want, a great read that includes the speech at the start--and if you get the audiobook version, you'll hear a live recording of the speech that started it all.

Vigeland's speech is an exercise in real vulnerability. At the time of this speech (and, if you read her book, you'll find, even now), she didn't know what she was going to do. So she's doing and trying many things, and speaking openly about them here. The speech covers her feelings, how others reacted, and why this kind of independent life can be such a challenge. Near the end of the speech, she says:
But I guess what I would tell you – wherever you are on your career timeline – wherever you are in your relationship with this thing you do for a living – is that you have to give yourself permission to grieve the end of something. And sometimes you have to work really, really hard to find what’s next. I did NOT think it would be this hard. Maybe I was naïve. And maybe it’s not this hard for everybody… certainly I’m not the first one to jump without a net… and plenty of people move among jobs and careers and go from one thing to another and they’re good at all those things and they relish it. Good on ya if you’re that person! But don’t worry about it if you’re not. 
And by the way… next person who tells me to “just make it happen!” gets a punch in the face.
One of the things Vigeland discovered after this speech: She got offers to chair and moderate conferences as a paying gig, something she hadn't contemplated in her mix of career options. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • You can be a role model even when you haven't figured it all out. Maybe especially then: For everyone who thinks your public speaking must be polished, perfect, and have all the answers figured out, there's the reality that most of us in the audience need to hear more about what comes before that, when you're struggling to figure things out. Vigeland did that over and over again in this speech. No wonder it's become a well-loved peek into job and career questioning. That kind of connection can only come with real vulnerability.
  • Speaking into a microphone can be a great networking tool: As Vigelund learned, speaking to a live audience is a special kind of networking, one that landed her a book deal. The editor likely noticed the crowd's high level of engagement and Vigeland's successful speaking style, humor, and honesty. And then the talk itself became a core piece of content for her book, blog, and other vehicles. Every time you speak, you really don't know who may be listening.
  • Work with the audience when the Q&A doesn't go as planned: Early in the talk, Vigelund goes into the audience to play reporter, asking people whether they've made a leap or considered it. The first few people who respond turn out to be experts of sorts on the questions she's asking: One works to help people transition their careers, another has leapt to reporting on personal finance, just like Vigeland. She clearly didn't expect to find audience members *that* focused in her areas of expertise, but she has fun exchanges with each one, and keeps moving until she finds someone who hasn't figured it all out yet. If you're planning to incorporate Q&A into your presentation, make sure you have your own Plan B when the answers don't quite fit your vision of what was going to happen.
Watch Vigeland's speech here and below, and keep up with her current adventures at Tess Untethered. You'll find the transcript of the speech in her book, including the audience interaction, and her script for the talk is here.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

6 things you might be hiding behind as a public speaker

Playwright Harold Pinter said, "One way of looking at speech is to say it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness." Perhaps that's the origin of the lectern* and the reason why so many speakers stay tucked behind it.

But speakers, clever beings, have found many things behind which to hide. Lecterns are almost the least of it. Here are six things you might be hiding behind when you speak:
  1. Certainty: In "Without a doubt," Seth Godin notes that "Certainty is a form of hiding. It is a way of drowning out our fear, but it's also a surefire way to fail to see what's really happening around us." Are you being too sure of yourself or your facts when you speak? It is, among other things, a highly effective way of shutting down audience contributions. Is that what you're trying to do?
  2. The length of your talk: Speakers who use every second of the time allotted for their own remarks are hiding behind the clock, often as a way to avoid taking questions from the audience or to defy the organizer, chair, or moderator. If you choose to hide this way, know that it's a choice that is obvious (and annoying) to audiences and limits your own ability to grow as a speaker. Balancing the allotted time between your talk and the audience's time to speak is a better approach.
  3. Humor and throat-clearing: Throat-clearing is the technical term for all the wasted content at the start of a talk or presentation. It's where you hear or see disclaimers (see below), jokes, cartoons, pictures of the speaker's kids that have no relevance to the presentation, lots of thank-yous and acknowledgements, and comments like, "As I was walking across your beautiful campus today, I couldn't help but think what a wonderful organization this is..." All of those are screens behind which the speaker can hide while he gets comfortable with the mic and the room and the crowd. But since throat-clearing and unrelated humor can waste precious audience attention, revise your approach. Sprinkle thank-yous and acknowledgments and pertinent humor throughout your talk, and give us a strong, focused start instead.
  4. Public disclaimers: It's the apparent opposite of the overly certain speaker. The most overused of these disclaimers is "Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking," now perhaps the most trite type of throat-clearing at the start of the speech. But your disclaimer might be something else: "I'm not the expert on this, but..." or "I'm just the substitute speaker" or even "I'll be brief," a promise to the audience that you won't go on too long. You're in effect giving yourself permission to not be perfect or telling the audience not to judge you, out loud. Try saying these things to yourself, but not the audience, next time. They're not adding to your image or your talk.
  5. Your outfit: You might choose too-tall heels to give yourself powerful height, but make it impossible for you to move around the stage, a safer stance. Or you might suit up with a power jacket, lots of jewelry, a distracting pattern, or a look more conservative than usual. Nothing's wrong with any of those items unless you're using them to hide your authentic self or create a speaker who's taller, more conservative, or visually distracting or bland than you are normally. Think through why you're choosing what you're choosing. It's important to feel good about what you're wearing, and feel comfortable in it--but neither of those things involves hiding.
  6. Your slides: Even though your slides are behind you, many speakers have confided to me that they use (or over-use) slides as a means of hiding on stage. The idea, however mistaken, is that you can distract the audience visually, so they're not looking at you. Trouble is, humans like looking at other humans, particularly the ones up on the stage. Use these tips to declutter your slides, and then figure out how you're going to handle your nerves, instead. 
Those are just six of the things speakers hide behind. What else are you hiding behind? Share on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by dan-morris)

*Reminder: The lectern is what you stand behind and put your notes and water bottle on. The podium is what you stand on, aka the platform or stage, no matter what you hear at airline gates.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking:

Friday, April 8, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Emma Watson's United Nations 'feminist' speech

Sometimes, when considering famous speeches by women to put here on Famous Speech Friday, I act quickly. Other times, I wait--more by instinct than any other factor. So it was with Emma Watson's speech launching the He for She campaign at the United Nations. The speech was decidedly feminist, and went viral worldwide. But I waited.

And I'm glad I did, because it wasn't until months later that we learned that Watson was advised not to use the word 'feminism' in the speech. In an interview, she said:
I was encouraged not to use the word 'feminism' because people felt that it was alienating and separating and the whole idea of the speech was to include as many people as possible. But I thought long and hard and ultimately felt that it was just the right thing to do. If women are terrified to use the word, how on earth are men supposed to start using it?
So that was the point of view from which the speech evolved. Watson targeted not only male allies, but women she calls "inadvertent feminists." You can hear it ringing again in the conclusion:
In my nervousness for this speech and in my moments of doubt, I told myself firmly, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” If you have similar doubts when opportunities are presented to you, I hope those words will be helpful. Because the reality is that if we do nothing, it will take seventy-five years, or for me to be nearly 100, before women can expect to be paid the same as men for the same work. 15.5 million girls will be married in the next 16 years as children. And at current rates, it won't be until 2086 before all rural African girls can have a secondary education. 
If you believe in equality, you might be one of those inadvertent feminists that I spoke of earlier, and for this, I applaud you. We are struggling for a uniting word, but the good news is, we have a uniting movement. It is called HeForShe. I invite you to step forward, to be seen and to ask yourself, “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
This speech, widely covered and quoted, had even more impact. Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai said that the speech caused her to reconsider feminism:
This word, feminism, it has been a very tricky word. When I heard it the first time, I heard some negative responses and some positive ones. I hesitated in saying am I a feminist or not and then after hearing your speech, when you said 'if not now, when? If not me, who?' I decided that there's no way and there's nothing wrong by calling yourself a feminist, so I am a feminist. And feminism is another word for equality.
Watson recently started a feminist book club, Our Shared Shelf, and announced she would take a year off from acting to focus on gender studies. Sometimes, the speech's impact on the speaker is even more profound than its impact on the audience. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Put yourself into it: Watson, a worldwide celebrity, puts her ordinary self into the speech, from referencing her own thought process and privilege, to couching the change in terms of when she'll be nearly 100 years old. Personalizing your speech makes the connection between you and the audience closer, and real. 
  • Talk about the speech process: Had Watson not spoken up about the advice to sand all the rough edges out of her speech, we would have lost another real example of how women's words can be taken from them in one way or another. If it happens to her, it can happen to you. She's a great example of proceeding with her message, anyway--one I hope you will follow. Persist, eloquent women, and know that your own instincts about what you want to say should generally carry the day.
  • Examine a word: A speech may be the ultimate place for us to publicly consider the words we choose and the words we use, and here, Watson does that for 'feminist,' looking at its opponents, deniers, and advocates. I'm so glad she tackled this one, at this time.
You can read the full text of her speech here, and watch the video here or below. Share this one, particularly since it nearly didn't come out this way.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Talk About the Talk: Ann Davison's remembrance of Rod Durham

(Editor's note: Ann Davison, who chairs Burson-Marsteller's U.S. public affairs and crisis practice, is a longtime colleague of mine--we served together as senior officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton Administration. More recently, Davison participated in one of my small-group workshops on Creating a TED-quality talk in January of this year. It's a workshop where I stress that, while you may never give a TED talk, you can apply that style to other speaking tasks. For these remarks rememberingr her longtime friend, Davison applied some of our workshop lessons, saying "you encouraged us to script it out and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. I also tried to think of the whole thing as a building story as opposed to 'three things I remember about Rod'." As a result, this is a moving, funny, and memorable remembrance that connects again and again with its audience. Since remembrances and eulogies are a type of public speaking many people will face, I asked Davison to write about this talk for you.)

What was your motivation for doing this talk?

It was an honor, though difficult, to deliver remarks about a best friend of 35+years who died unexpectedly. As a popular high school drama and English teacher, he had touched literally thousands of students over the years. There would be 800+ in attendance at the memorial service held in our high school auditorium and another 1000+ watching via livestream, along with local news crews.

An actor and reality TV star, Rod’s life itself was in many ways was a constant performance, and I wanted to give him my best. I could imagine him whispering, “You go girl!”

There were also two dozen or more of our high school classmates there, many I had not seen in years but Rod had stayed close to them all. I wanted to appropriately represent how they must be feeling at our shared loss.

How did you prepare? Who helped you and how?

I have always been comfortable with public speaking as it has long been a part of both my personal and professional life.  One of my earliest speeches I delivered in 11th grade with my friend at a meeting of the local school board and I’ve frankly enjoyed it ever since.  But I knew these remarks were going to be some of the most important I ever delivered, particularly for Rod’s family who needed to be comforted. I also knew other friends and family members would be speaking, so it was important to be brief while incorporating personal memories and insights.

Although I’ve usually not written out my speeches, this time I typed my complete remarks, edited them once or twice, and then got to work memorizing them. Not every word, but the flow of the stories and the key messages. I practiced out loud at least six times on my morning walk and in the car on my drive to and from work.

What challenges did you face in preparing and how did you handle them?

To be honest, the most difficult part was trying not to cry.  Once I realized that these words were not for me or about me, but a way to convey perhaps some not previously known information about Rod to those gathered and a symbol of respect for his family, I found it easier to get through. Framing it in that manner helped me manage the emotional sting.

And the more I practiced, the easier it was to get through without choking up. The day before the service I practiced in front of my mother and husband twice. We timed the remarks and I could see areas where I needed to adjust the tempo.

What was it like to actually give the talk? Tell us about your experience that day.

As the memorial service began, with pictures of our smiling friend all over the auditorium, I couldn’t wait to get on the stage. I wanted to tell my stories. I knew I might forget one in the process, but that would be okay.  I also knew it would be okay if I cried just a bit and decided not to worry about that.

The laughter of the audience from the very beginning gave me great confidence and energy to push through. I actually started having fun with it about two minutes in.

What else should we know?

I carried some large-typed notes and a tissue to the stage, just in case.  But because I had practiced so many times, I had no need to use either.  I surprised myself a bit with a few sound bites that had not been part of my planned remarks.  I think because I felt so comfortable with the core material, these effective one-liners emerged naturally.

The biggest lesson I learned was the value of writing out my speech, revising it, and practice-practice-practice.   In the future, I won’t let my confidence being on the stage get in the way of this kind of preparation.  It not only made delivering the remarks a better experience for me, but I believe it helped ensure the audience got what it deserved and enjoyed.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking:

Friday, April 1, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: IBM CEO Ginni Rometty at Northwestern

As the current chair, CEO and president of IBM, Virginia "Ginni" Rometty has fended off criticism of Big Blue's sinking revenues since becoming its first woman CEO in 2012. But she's also garnered praise for attempting to haul the 104-year old company out of the machine age and into the data era, with an emphasis on cloud-based computing and analytical services. Beginning as an electrical engineer and then working steadily in sales and marketing at IBM, Rometty has climbed the ladders of the tech world in a way that she hopes her company might imitate, with an eye on both the near- and far-term future.

Often named to the "most powerful" business lists in magazines like Fortune and Forbes, Rometty is also a sought-after public speaker. Her talks are mostly in industry settings like the Consumer Electronics Show, where earlier this year she talked about her company's latest technology with a little of that engineer's spark. She's also comfortable in roundtable talks and one-on-one interviews, where she's become famous for repeating the mantra, "Growth and comfort do not coexist."

As the commencement speaker at Northwestern University last spring, Rometty kept it simple and memorable, using personal stories and professional predictions to great effect. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Find a structure for your speech. This commencement address uses the venerable rule of three in its construction, with Rometty offering three vignettes from her life to illustrate her overall message to the graduates. The story of her single mother's career track, her husband's encouragement to take a promotion, and her surprise at watching IBM's Watson technology on Jeopardy! all fit into the central theme of not allowing others to define you. And by signaling ahead of time that her talk will have three examples, she builds some anticipation into the speech while the audience waits for her to reveal the third "significant other" who taught her a career lesson.
  • Stay calm after a slip of the tongue. One of the best moments of this speech comes when Rometty refers to her husband, the investor Mark A. Rometty, as "now up there," with a point of her finger toward the heavens, and then has to quickly clarify that he's still among the living in the bleachers. The speech stops for all of the laughter, and Rometty ad-libs that "he says I never mention him, and then when I do, I mess it up." It's a nice moment that ends up underscoring the very personal anecdote that comes next, when she describes how she sat down with him to discuss taking a promotion:
    He sat and listened patiently to my story, like he always does. And then he looked at me and he said one thing. He said, 'do you think a man would have answered the question that way?' He said, 'I know you. In six months you'll be ready for something else.' And you know what? He was right. And I went in the next day and I took that job.
  • Be relevant for your audience and your occasion. For every commencement, there's a danger that the speaker has been chosen just because she or he is a famous and available alumni member--without considering what the speaker might have to add to the occasion. Rometty does a deft job of delivering a speech about exactly what a graduating audience wants to hear: the future. She describes that future from a vantage point that only she possesses, as a leader in the 21st century of data and cognitive computing. The speech correctly targets her audience and promotes the leading edge of her business-what more could a CEO offer at a commencement?
Listen to the full--and short!--speech below:


(Northwestern University photo)

(Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this Famous Speech Friday post)