Monday, December 29, 2008

exhibit: Americans who tell the truth

When you're defining what it means to be eloquent, those who use their platforms to speak truth to power often come to mind--few speaking tools are as powerful as the bravery of a speaker who says the unpopular, but true, point. If you're in or near Geneva, Illinois, this month and next, you'll have a chance to see an art exhibits and events based on portraits from the book Americans Who Tell the Truth, a personal collection of favorites by Maine artist Robert Shetterly. Among the 50 men and women featured are Eleanor Roosevelt, Sojourner Truth, Emma Goldman and Molly Ivins. The Geneva History Center's hours are here, and a special series of performances--films, lectures and even a tea with impersonators of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton--can be found here.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dorothy Sarnoff dies at 94

Dorothy Sarnoff, a longtime speaker coach in New York City, has died at age 94. She began her coaching career after asking a women's fashion magazine editor why no advice was provided to women on vocal quality. Her first efforts at coaching went where women were--in Alexander's department store in New York City. Here's the lede of her obituary in today's New York Times, which captures her talents:
Sweaty palms, nervous laughter, a Brooklyn accent, panic-induced silences. These were just a few of the image blemishes addressed by Dorothy Sarnoff, an opera singer and Broadway star who had a much bigger second career as one of the first, and most influential, image consultants, coaxing stageworthy performances from business executives preparing a big speech, ambassadors on their way to foreign assignments and writers heading out on book tours
Sarnoff took an optimist's approach to training, focusing on bringing out the best in would-be speakers. Her three books on speaking are no longer in print: Speech Can Change Your Life, Never Be Nervous Again and Make the Most of Your Best: A Complete Program for Presenting Yourself and Your Ideas With Confidence and Authority , but you can find used copies of these classics.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Rosa Parks: Speak for yourself

In the celebration of Kwanzaa, today's focus is Kujichagulia, or self-determination, "to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves." It underscores why speaking in public can be such a powerful tool for the speaker. It reminds me of Rosa Parks, a woman whose actions spoke loudly to millions--but who, ironically, often was passed over as a speaker during the American civil rights movement. Famous for refusing to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, for a white rider, Parks often had her story interpreted for her, as Gail Collins notes in America's Women:
The legend that built up around the incident...was that Parks, a simple woman exhausted from a hard day at work, took her stand because she was tired. In truth, she had been moving toward that moment of defiance all her life. "The only tired I was, was tired of giving in," she explained later.
Parks later was present for two key civil rights moments in which she was denied the opportunity to speak: The rally just before her own trial for the bus incident, and later, at the rally following the 1963 march on Washington, the site of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Collins notes, of the mass meeting held just before her trial, where the yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery was started:
Rosa Parks was given a standing ovation, but she was not given a chance to speak on a night in which virtually every black man in Montgomery wanted a moment in the spotlight. "You've said enough," one of the leaders assured her....[at the march] instead of marching with the male leaders, up front where the TV cameras and newspaper reporters were recording every minute of the event, [the women] were directed to walk with those men's wives. There was not a single woman scheduled to speak at the march, and when the lone woman on the 19-member planning committee protested, the organizers threw together a last-minute "Tribute to Women" in which A. Philip Randolph introduced Parks and other dignitaries...while they sat there silently..."Nowadays, women wouldn't stand for being kept so much in the background, but back then women's rights hadn't become a popular cause yet," said Parks later.
Parks did go on to tell her own side of her story in Rosa Parks: My Story, and historian Douglas Brinkley tackles it in Rosa Parks: A Life. We're coming up on an important confluence of anniversaries that will resonate with her life, in the Lincoln bicentennial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and the inauguration of Barack Obama as president. Will black women have a voice in the speeches that honor those occasions?
Getting on the program has long been an issue for women, and one moment in Parks's story underscores once more the importance of having women involved in the programming decisions when speakers are being scheduled. Celebrate Kwanzaa--and Parks--by deciding to speak for yourself this year, whenever your story needs to be heard.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

what to do when you're losing the audience

I just trained a group of nearly 100 scientists in speaker skills and message development for public audiences, at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. The daylong training allows for plenty of questions, and I'm always eager to hear what speakers and would-be speakers have on their minds. We spent a lot of time talking about the need to start with your audience's needs, and the limited attention spans of modern audiences. So it was not a surprise when one participant asked, "What do you do if you're losing your audience's attention?" Here are some of my suggestions:
  • Get out into the audience: Walking into the audience accomplishes all sorts of things that can help speakers before they lose the audience. It puts you on their level, makes you more accessible and humanizes you. Better yet, it almost instantly forces people to follow you--especially if you walk around. Audiences tune out when they think they know what to expect; if you move out from behind the lectern and come down the aisle, there's no telling what will happen.

  • Gesture: Judiciously used, a gesture that underscores a point can have the same effect in a smaller way. Look for the points of emphasis in your speech and determine whether a well-timed gesture can bring the audience back.

  • Get the audience involved: Instead of lecturing at them, take an instant poll--don't tell them your point, ask them what they think and take the measure of the room. Audiences, more and more, want participation, not passive listening. Engage them by asking questions and commenting on the results, or ask them what their experience has been. You'll learn something about them and you'll get their attention.

Those all are better than overemphasizing your point, increasing your volume or showing your panic--unfortunate reactions I've seen from speakers who fear their audience is slipping away. The best technique? Plan a speech designed to do all these things from the start, and avoid the problem entirely.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Presentations: How-to planning guide

Olivia Mitchell, speaker trainer and author of the Speaking About Presenting blog, has a great offer for readers of The Eloquent Woman: A how-to guide on planning your presentations, free if you sign up for her newsletter. I always recommend that speakers start by thinking about their audiences, and this guide walks you through the process of thinking about what your audience will want to know and how to answer those questions--a process that results in a well-planned presentation. Mitchell's newsletter offers regular tips that will help you make the most of the guide.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

is your audience mumbling? or is it you?

In the "Well" blog today at the New York Times, instructor Grace Lim talks about how she assumed everyone around her--from her spouse to her lecture classes--was mumbling. Here's just one example she relates:
In the large auditorium where I teach one of my classes, I constantly stop my students midsentence so I can run up and down the aisles to get within hearing distance.
Turns out, of course, that she needed hearing aids. The column takes a humorous and heartfelt look at what it feels like to go from not hearing much of anything to hearing even the smallest sounds, such a revelation that Lim began announcing her new aids to all and sundry. And apparently, she's not the only speaker in her department who needs them:
At my department’s holiday party, I sat between two longtime professors.
“Look, I have hearing aids!” I greeted them. Then I told them how tough it had been to hear my students.
One of them nodded. “I can’t hear my students,” she said. “They all mumble.”
Read this one if you--or a fellow speaker--complains about your audiences, and take Lim's advice: Be a healthy speaker and get your hearing checked!

getting started as a speaker

For many speakers, gettting started is the hardest part--and I don't mean the first few paragraphs of your talk, but simply making the commitment to accept an invitation or look for one. Social media guru and blogger Chris Brogan this week offered ways to get started as a speaker that include solid tips on making connections, asking for speaker fees and even demonstrating your skills without having to give a speech. (My favorite: recording yourself on video, easy to do with your laptop and/or a Flip Video MinoHD Camcorder, for which you can handily buy a small desktop flexible tripod.) Check out Brogan's tips to see whether they can help you get started!

Friday, December 5, 2008

makeup tips from Twitter

Makeup's another double-edged sword for women speakers--men don't need to worry about it, in general. Yet there are myriad ways makeup can help make your face more visible whether you're on stage or on television, and ways it can trip you up as well. If you're unsure of what to do, seeking out a professional makeup artist for a consultation is the best way to address the issue. A private session will let you discuss the various venues in which you speak (be sure to note whether you expect to be recorded on video or appear on television) and let you get specific advice on products and techniques. And now, you can get a makeup tip a day by following New York City makeup artist Dara Klein on Twitter -- a free resource that will get you started. Check your local listings for a makeup artist near you. It's a worthwhile investment that will build your confidence and add a professional touch.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

the opposite of cool: speaker anxiety

I wrote recently about regulating your emotions so you can appear to stay cool during stressful events like public speaking, but that's only one half of the equation for women who are anxious or fearful about speaking. The Harvard Women's Health Watch newsletter's December issue includes a lead article on social anxiety disorder (a $3.95 download) -- one form of which involves specific anxiety around limited situations like public speaking, which may need more attention.

According to the article, specific social anxiety is less prevalent than the more generalized social anxiety, and primarily an issue if your work requires you to perform in public, and the symptoms may include:

...a racing heart, dry mouth, shaky voice, blushing, trembling, sweating, and nausea. In specific social anxiety, fear that people will notice these symptoms may impair performance, leading to a downward spiral in which worsening performance reinforces worsening anticipatory anxiety.
The article notes that about 12 percent of U.S. adults will go through a social phobia at some time during their lifetimes (near 28 million people currently) -- but 2/3 of them, or nearly 20 million, will be women. It's also "the third most prevalent psychiatric disorder, behind substance abuse and depression, and the most common anxiety disorder." So if you've been wondering whether women fear situations like public speaking more, here's your evidence.

The article goes on to recommend cognitive behavioral therapy -- to learn your fears and habitual thoughts, to help you face your fears, and to learn coping skills -- and/or anxiety medications. A speaker trainer can help you practice, but a therapist may be more helpful at getting to the root issues with this anxiety. You can find qualified therapists at the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, and information on support groups and other resources at the Social Anxiety Association. Chalk it up to protecting the health of the speaker!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

what about toastmasters?

Olivia Mitchell at the well-done Speaking about Presenting blog tackles the question of whether you should consider Toastmasters to learn speaking and presenting skills--and how to get the most out of it if you do.

Mitchell--who says she became a confident speaker through Toastmasters--recommends the program, as I do, especially for people who want to build confidence, practice skills, and do so in a genial feedback setting at low cost. Mitchell makes the distinction, however, that Toastmasters doesn't go far enough for business presentation skills and message development (the latter is a core skill if you want to make your presentations memorable, and want to speak extemporaneously). And because she feels Toastmasters doesn't offer experienced speakers enough to further hone their skills, she offers tips for longstanding members who want to keep learning more.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

where to catch me next

While the details for registration aren't yet available online, I'll be speaking to the Tech Council of Maryland on January 15 about how to use social media for professional networking -- something every would-be speaker should consider -- and to the Capital Communicators Group in Washington, DC, also early in 2009, on social media as a communications tool. Stay tuned for details!

speaker/audience senior moments?

When I train speakers -- especially when they're learning extemporaneous speaking -- I emphasize that the core message of any speech or presentation needs to be memorable for both the speaker and the audience. The goal: you shouldn't lose your train of thought and the audience should be able to recall what you said. In today's Wall Street Journal, Robert Lee Hotz reports on research that shows why that may be more difficult as we age. He notes:
At the slightest interruption -- an irritating ring tone, an insistent email alert or the hushed conversation in the adjacent office cubicle -- our thoughts can plunge into the mental underbrush like hounds snuffling after the wrong scent...our inability to ignore irrelevant intrusions as we grow older may arise from a basic breakdown of internal brain communications involving memory, attention span and mental focus starting in middle age, researchers have discovered.
The article notes that, while men's brains shrink faster than do women's, which affects your ability to learn and remember, it doesn't take a sustained amount of interruption for anyone's aging train of thought to get off track:
In experiments testing how well people of different ages could recall faces and landscapes, [researchers] found that among older people, the brain was slightly slower -- 200 milliseconds or so -- to ignore irrelevant test information.... During that momentary lapse, we can forget a new name, misplace our keys or lose our train of thought.
What to do? Researchers in the article offer hope for retraining your brain as you age through "proper diet, cardiovascular exercise and formal education," and a sidebar points you to this brain-exercise from NPR on "Remembering Faces," which tests your distractability. It also recommends two books by Harvard neuroscientist Daniel Schacter: The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers and Searching For Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past. Working on composing a memorable message helps, too -- if you're an older speaker, taking more time to practice and prepare makes sense. For the audience, while you can't control their rates of aging or mental distractability, you may need to focus on eliminating as many distractions as possible, asking them to turn off cell phones, closing doors to keep hallway noise from entering, and more.

Buy The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers

Buy Searching For Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past

Monday, December 1, 2008

can famous speeches boost eloquence?

When you can't access training, afford a speechwriter, or come up with a great idea, using existing famous speeches as a jumping-off point is one of my favorite practice methods. You can read a speech for rhetorical flourishes, analyze what made it powerful, and even read it aloud to practice your delivery skills.

I'm a big fan of the American Rhetoric website, where you can search text, audio and video of famous speakers and find a host of other resources (like figures of speech and examples of how to use them). Now, Michael Eidenmuller, Ph.D., founder of the site and an associate professor of speech communication at the University of Texas at Tyler, shares secrets you can learn from great speeches in Great Speeches For Better Speaking. Two women are featured among the six major speeches analyzed in the book, which says you can:
  • Use Mary Fisher's special rhetorical tactics to sway even the toughest audience
The book includes an audio CD so you can learn by listening to the speeches for their full effect. The site is frequently updated, and includes General Ann Dunwoody's speech at the ceremony promoting her to four-star general November 14.

Buy Great Speeches For Better Speaking