Friday, October 27, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Rep. Maxine Waters's "reclaiming my time"

In America, we started this year with a million women marching in Washington, DC, and yet more doing the same around the world. Now the same group behind the Women's March is convening a Women's Convention this weekend in Detroit, Michigan--and they're using a now-iconic line from U.S. Representative Maxine Waters as the theme, "Reclaiming my time."

The now-famous three-word phrase is part of the House of Representatives floor procedures, typically during a debate: "The gentleman who has yielded may at any time 'reclaim' his time and then the other Member must stop speaking and allow him to continue." But here, Waters was questioning a hearing witness, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, about why he had not responded to her and other members of Congress after a May 23 letter, and she didn't feel as if he was answering the question. Mnuchin objected, appealing to the committee chair, and noting that the chair had announced that Mnuchin, as a witness, was not to be interrupted.

"What he failed to tell you is that when you are on my time, I can reclaim it," Waters explained, and then asked again for the Treasury secretary to answer the question. Waters, who has served in Congress since 1991, used the rules to keep him from using up her time to speak with non-responsive answers. And as the secretary launched again into a long and not direct answer, Waters simply repeated, "Reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time," over and over--the implication being, "You're wasting my allotted time to speak, and I'm not having it." And her question never was answered. It's a great example of a common Washington tactic of obfuscating your non-answer by wrapping it in a lot of solid-sounding other details to one side of the point...and Waters saw right through it.

In the Washington Post, Christine Emba noted, "In a year studded with absurd examples of men interrupting their female colleagues, a dignified woman’s firm insistence on being heard and getting straight to business was a welcome and empowering surprise." The phrase was seized upon by women tired of mansplaining and interruptions, and took social media and traditional media coverage by storm. What can you learn from this famous speech?

  • Know the rules and procedures: You don't have to be working by House rules or Robert's Rules of Order, but it's important to know, going into your public speaking gig, what's allowed and what isn't--from you and from your audience and other speakers. The only way to use the rules to your advantage is to know them.
  • Repeat as needed: Waters kept it simple. She explained the rules to the witness, politely, and asked the question again. When he started another non-answer, she just repeated the phrase that was short and official--uttering "reclaiming my time" has actual meaning for how much time she has left to speak.
  • Stand up for your time to speak: Whether you're on a panel or get interrupted while speaking in a meeting, this is a great phrase to add to your back-pocket arsenal. Whatever you do, don't let others derail the full amount of time you should be speaking.
Watch the video of the short exchange below.


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