Monday, October 16, 2017

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

I read a lot about women and public speaking, and post my finds first on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. But I always collect them here for you on Mondays as well. Here's what I've been reading lately:
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Theresa May's interrupted speech

We've had a cascade of prominent women speakers being interrupted this year--and that's not a mistake--but UK Prime Minister Theresa May's speech at the Conservative Party conference seems to have been a big, juicy target for a grand interruption.

This was the kind of interruption planned well in advance, and carried out early in her remarks. Why? I can think of a few reasons:

  • for optimal visual treatment, so that it would play well on video and television
  • to start silencing her message early
  • for maximum disruption during the speech, enabling a mass media and social media frenzy, and
  • to force a discussion about whether her supposed poor performance during a high-profile speech indicated that she should step down as Prime Minister. 
Call it interruption as coup attempt, if you will. That's certainly what it looked like to me.

The grand interruption was done by a known "prankster," an innocent-sounding  moniker for something with such dire consequences. That became part of the spin on this incident picked up by the media. Why not heckler or interrupter? He attempted to hand May a large-format (aka suitable for cameras) British version of a "pink slip," indicating termination of employment, with the comment, "Boris [Johnson, her foreign secretary and sometime rival for the top job] asked me to give you this."

The interruption took advantage of the fact that May was already nearly hoarse with a bad cold, not helped by having had given dozens of media interviews, as you do when you're the prime minister at a party conference. The speech itself, seen as a chance to stabilize a shaky hold on power, was long--it runs to 23 pages as prepared for delivery, which makes it about an hour in length. That's ambitious for any speaker, let alone one with a bad cold going on. But the combination meant the rest of her speech was marked by sniffles, people handing her cough drops, and sometimes starting applause to give her time to recover her voice. When the lettering on the stage set behind her started to fall apart, it was just part of the larger failure metaphor that had already begun.

We've looked at other May speeches here on the blog, and there's no question that she can be a forceful and effective speaker, despite efforts to dub her "Maybot" as a mocking of her speaking style. And you may recall our analysis, done when she and Hillary Clinton were both cabinet secretaries, that we seem to spend more time talking about distractions and drowning out their messages when they are asking for something like higher public office, or here, renewed support in a current top role. So the interruption laying the groundwork for a possible coup attempt didn't surprise me in the least.

Nor did the ridiculous sexist piling on that began almost instantaneously, another sign of the very planned nature of this grand interruption. She was mocked. Words in the speech echoed those in a speech from the television show The West Wing, which speechwriters are perhaps too prone to watch on repeat. It was reported that she left the stage and went to weep in the arms of her husband, and her husband was named on the pink slip in a reference to asking him about their taxes, both sexist tropes. "Poor Theresa May" was a frequent characterization, often from those who oppose her political views. Her supposed imminent resignation had to be denied throughout the day as coup-planners and rivals emerged with biting comments. And the hyperbolic Piers Morgan dubbed it the biggest speech fiasco in political history; I challenge readers to send me real examples of that, but don't think this qualifies for anything but nastiest coup attempt.

Because of course, what this interruption did was to take her message away and silence her. It's about the coup and about silencing, not about her.

Laying aside politics and the fact that you are not, perhaps, a prime minister yourself yet, what can you learn from this famous speech?

  • It never hurts to anticipate a heckler and how to handle it: You don't need to be famous to be trolled as a woman speaker, and when in doubt, you can always use my all-time favorite debate line from Ronald Reagan: "there you go again." In this case, as the comedian who pulled off the interruption is famous for doing them to others, it would have been apt and dismissive. I'll add it's also nigh unto impossible to pull such a thing off without having thought about it in advance, so allow some prep time for just this unfortunate purpose. You'll feel and look stronger in response if it does come up.
  • Barrelling through to the end is an unfortunate measure of the speaker: This is especially true when you're the prime minister, but in general, we put a lot of unfair pressure on speakers with these unwritten rules along the lines of "the show must go on." The best you can do is know that in advance, and again, plan around it, even down to having something to say to indicate that you'll keep going if they'll settle down and listen.
  • If you're facing even a small coup attempt, some back-pocket lines and humor may help. A famous option is writer Mark Twain's "reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."
By the end of the new cycle, coup attempters were proudly outing themselves and reports began to signal admiration for May's ability to get through the experience, despite the difficulties. But the damage may have been done. 

In full: Theresa May's speech to conference

Changes to the housing and energy markets were among the key announcements in a conference speech which was interrupted by a prankster and the PM struggling not to lose her voice.

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Getting your audience physically involved in a speech or presentation

Back when the U.S. launched its war with Iraq, I was working for a nonprofit whose conference was coming up. Our board president needed to address a huge group of members, and wanted--without being too political--to somehow acknowledge the conflict, which had just begun and was much on people's minds. So I suggested a simple exercise: She could ask audience members to rise if they had different connections to the conflict: If they had served in the armed forces...had a relative who had served, or one serving now...worked for a company supplying the armed services...and so on.

It was a quiet and effective way to reflect what was already in the room and to acknowledge a contribution members were making in their personal lives, and really hit the mark. Because she asked them to stand and remain standing, by the end of the series, a majority of the room was on its feet, showing everyone the scope of how the war affected the group. And standing was a more visible acknowledgement than asking for a show of hands, and more involving.

I wish more speakers would do things to involve the audience physically in their talks. For starters, it keeps their attention focused. But there's another secret advantage to this tactic: Human brains are wired for synchronicity, and for imitating others' movements. So your audience is pre-disposed to cooperate when you ask them to participate as a group in this way.

Here are some performances and a commercial that might give you some ideas for what you can do to get an audience physically involved. Remember, these are *group* actions. You don't want to single people out, but get the whole room participating.
  1. Play the audience like an instrument: Musician Bobby McFerrin, at the World Science Festival, demonstrates how to make music using just the voices in the crowd, managing to conduct them and singing the topline melody himself. As he points out in the panel discussion following, it works all over the world, with every kind of audience. There's a link at the end to a longer discussion of what this has to do with science.
  2. Conduct the audience in singing and dancing--in their seats:  Tutu's "public waltz" gets the audience started with swaying, then arm movements that get larger and larger, then singing. It's a fantastic mix of movement and music that gets the whole audience involved (and here, you get the stage view, which includes some people moving asynchronously, but hey). A fun exercise that must have energized this crowd.
  3. Use the movement to show the crowd what it has in common: Just as my board president did, you can use physical movement to bring the crowd together in surprising ways. A great example is a commercial from TV2 Denmark on "All that we share," in which people are asked to group themselves by how they most commonly describe themselves, then asked to move into new groups based on different criteria, qualities they have in common. This wouldn't be too difficult to recreate, particularly if you are addressing a membership group or your entire organization.


Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

I read a lot about women and public speaking, and post my finds first on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. But I always collect them here for you on Mondays as well. Here's what I've been reading lately:
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz: "We Are Dying Here"

After wading through floodwaters when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz ended up knee-deep in a tweet storm by U.S. President Donald Trump. The president accused Cruz of "poor leadership" and acting "nasty" after she delivered a blunt assessment of the hurricane recovery efforts led by his administration.

"We are dying here," she said simply in her short speech to the media, delivered in a t-shirt and boots in front of a pallet of privately-donated supplies, "and I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles. So, mayday, we are in trouble."

Cruz made a direct plea to the president in her speech, asking him to "take charge" of the federal assistance plans for the island, after Cruz had listened to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke describe the federal response as "a good news story." The situation on the ground was dire, Cruz insisted, and not under control.

In her speech, she says that she is "begging" for help. What Cruz got instead was a rebuke by the U.S. commander in chief for not being as "complimentary" toward him as she was at the start of the crisis. And while that particular take on the speech was not entirely unexpected from the president, the response to Cruz illustrates a common obstacle that women speakers face: women who express anger are seen as less credible than men who do the same.

Unfortunately, Cruz's speech illustrates a few other challenges as well:
  • "Sometimes you can't play nice." In a 2014 interview, Cruz said that "politics is a rough game, and sometimes as females we are taught that you have to play nice. Sometimes you can't play nice." Her speech was blunt and forceful and deliberate, in an attempt to rouse the federal government from what she perceived as bureaucratic sluggishness. By being straightforward and "mad as hell," as she put it, she knows she is breaking a taboo about how women are allowed to act as politicians. ("So I am done being polite. I am done being politically correct," she notes.) President Trump also attempted to shame Cruz for not conforming to the niceness expected of women in public by calling her "nasty," as he did to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential debates.
  • If your speech is emotional, its content may be dismissed. It's fair to say that this is an emotional speech, in both content and delivery. There's nothing wrong with that, and Cruz's words are consistent with being a first-hand witness to literal life-and-death crises unfolding in Puerto Rico. But the coverage of Cruz's speech has leaned heavily on describing it as "emotional" or "passionate" without engaging with the content of it. It makes it all too easy for people like political consultant Alex Castellanos to describe Cruz as "desperate" and a "panicky swimmer" rather than address whether her facts about the relief effort are correct. It also makes it easier for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to characterize the speech as "an attack" on the president, rather than a call for leadership and support.
  • You may need to put the focus back on the speech, and not the speaker. It would have been simple for Cruz to fall into a back-and-forth with the president after his tweets, making the story more about his outburst than conditions in Puerto Rico. But Cruz has maintained a remarkable single-mindedness about why she gave the speech. In nearly every interview and on her very active Twitter feed, Cruz repeats the same refrain: we have one goal here, saving lives. By keeping her focus on her constituents, Cruz has managed to wrest back her speech from a political scorekeeping narrative.
You can read a transcript of the speech here, and the video below contains most of the speech as well:



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

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Stop interrupting women speakers: Another episode

Kathryn Presner of Get Speaking! encourages women to get started in public speaking, particularly in tech, with web resources and workshops. And back in July, she reported on an episode at WordCamp Ottawa that sounds awfully familiar over here at The Eloquent Woman: A woman speaker being interrupted repeatedly during her talk, and an audience intervention to get it to stop.

That's similar to what was described in our post When the male moderator won't let the lone woman panelist speak. Here's what Presner saw--and stopped:
That afternoon, a woman was giving a lightning talk, with a short amount of time to present. Smack dab in the middle of her presentation, a man piped up to voice disagreement with one of the examples she was showing. Audience conversation started rolling from there, and I could see the speaker – who’d never presented at a WordCamp before – start to look a little flustered, as her talk became completely derailed. 
I was filled with rage. I’ve never done this before, but I had to say something. 
“Let’s let her finish her talk. She only has seven minutes left, and she can take Q&A after.” 
There was a small shocked silence. I’m not sure if I imagined it, but I might have heard a few murmurs of agreement. 
The speaker finished the rest of her talk without interruption, and then took questions after. 
Afterwards, a few people – including the speaker – thanked me for calling out the interrupter.
Presner offers good tips on setting expectations about interruption at the start of your presentation, something that many speakers don't think they need to do. But if there is no moderator or chair present and you are on your own, it's not only fine but helpful to say at the start, "I'm going to take all questions at the end of the presentation, so please hold your insights and questions until then." Then when someone interrupts, anyway, you can say, "Thanks, ask that again at the end, please," and keep going. You've got the floor and the mic. 

Keep in mind, too, as you can see in this video, that women are interrupted far more than men when they are speaking, and that mansplaining often begins with an interruption. All the more reason to announce to the whole audience your set of question rules first--so the audience can help you enforce them. And you can control the gender aspects of Q&A by announcing that you will call on a woman, then a man, then a woman, in turn. It's not only a good way to make sure women get a question in, but to balance a potential onslaught of mansplainers. Yes, you need to be speaking at a gender-balanced conference but try this...it really helps.

And you bold audience members who actually want to hear the speaker who's speaking? Speak up yourselves and insist on it, and put that in your feedback forms to let the conference organizers know they may need moderators or other rules on Q&A.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Capital Ideas Edmonton)

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.