Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"It was me who was dinner:" simple power

Why are some speakers more eloquent and powerful than others? In some cases, it's because their voices haven't been heard before. They may have risen above shyness, social taboos, a disability--or enforced silence. Such is the case with a group of women from the Congo, speaking out for the first time about the rape culture there--called the worst sexual violence in the world by the United Nations. The victims' words are so powerful that reporter Jeffrey Gettleman begins a recent New York Times article with the start of one such speech, and its impact comes reeling off the page:
Honorata Kizende looked out at the audience and began with a simple, declarative sentence.

“There was no dinner,” she said.

“It was me who was dinner. Me, because they kicked me roughly to the ground, and they ripped off all my clothes, and between the two of them, they held my feet. One took my left foot, one took my right, and the same with my arms, and between the two of them they proceeded to rape me. Then all five of them raped me.”
Helping Congolese rape victims to speak out in front of local audiences is one facet of a larger effort to change the culture, along with increased criminal prosecutions, legal clinics and special police units. The speaking serves several purposes, raising awareness locally and internationally, as well as helping the women recover their confidence as well as their voices in a country "where women tend to be beaten down anyway," according to the article. (Embedded in the online article is a video showing one event where women were encouraged to speak, so you can watch this amazing tale unfold.)

For every person who comes to this site after searching for "how to be eloquent," these speeches are models of simplicity--and all the more powerful for the lack of flowery rhetoric which would be superfluous here. It's the cold, hard facts, dramatic enough in their own right, that cut through the culture of ignoring the problem. Concrete and sticky, these words demand that you listen: "There was no dinner. It was me who was dinner." The next time you're searching for an elaborate turn of phrase, consider "simple power," and see whether you can transform your speech into something this extraordinary.

Advice to Palin: "Lose the wink"

A hat tip to my most loyal readers, my parents, who sent a link to McClatchy Newspapers' columnist Diane Stafford piece urging Sarah Palin to "lose the wink" as a negative precedent for professional women seeking to present themselves effectively. Stafford notes:
This isn't about party politics or ideology. It's about professional presentation. Female candidates — for the corner office or political office — face a different scrutiny than men. Women have to work harder to break sexist stereotypes...Many professional women also are disappointed to hear a public figure speak in a "valley girl" delivery, the manner of speech in which the voice rises at the ends of sentences...That's not good when a woman is trying to project competence.
I've heard women on all sides of the political spectrum wonder aloud or express concerns about both of this year's prominent women candidates, Palin and Sen. Hillary Clinton -- much as I often hear women critique another woman speaker at professional conferences. In politics as in public speaking, part of the concern stems from a sense that women have historically had fewer opportunities to speak and often aren't taken seriously as speakers, adding to the pressure on women speakers to "make good" and represent the gender well. (The double-edged sword here: I've seen plenty of women decry other women speakers, in circumstances where they wish they'd had the opportunity--as if one women gaining access to an audience damages other women's chances.) In Palin's case, far from attracting women to the campaign, her efforts seem to have attracted more men and raised concerns from more women. What do you experience when you speak? (Photo of Palin from McCain-Palin campaign website.)

The Eloquent Woman gets magnetic poetry

In 2009, The Eloquent Woman blog will launch training workshops focused on public-speaking skills for women--and to promote the blog and the workshops, we now have our own custom version of magnetic poetry, shown here. The keywords focus on desirable skills and attributes of women speakers, and include a special message: I'm asking my boss for training today! We'll give away a free set of these special magnets to the person who asks the best question about women and public speaking in the comments below. Ask about skills you need, issues you face, inspiration for women speakers...we'll answer the questions and let you know the winner by November 1. For more information on our forthcoming workshops, or on training for groups and individuals, contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.