Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Spring forward: Our top 10 April tips

April's a transitional time for the weather, the seasons and sometimes, for speakers. In this month of changes, here are the most sought-after tips from the Eloquent Woman blog, to help you make adjustments to your speaking skills:
  1. I took a seat in the audience for a change, to come up with this month's most popular post, "Persuade me: 21 ways speakers can." Persuasion's a key element in eloquence. What's on your list of persuasive tactics? This post got kudos from audience members and speechwriters.

  2. For novice speakers, how do you get practice without doing a big speech? I've got 4 "stepping stones" that will give you the practice you need--and let you start small, then move up in terms of length and level of difficulty, while building a reputation for good, solid delivery.

  3. Am I too old to learn good speaking skills? Age bring pluses and minuses to older speakers who've never been trained, but, in my experience, it's never too late to learn. Check out my advice on what older speakers need to keep in mind.

  4. Caring for the speaker is a job for...the speaker. Read this summary of my tips for "the healthy speaker" to make sure you're boosting your speaker-power. Then focus on your state of mind when speaking as a key element in your success. Check out Olivia Mitchell's post on varying states and how to use them to advantage, before or after you speak.

  5. Pride goeth before a fall, they say. But here's a new view from psychologists who suggest that a healthy level of pride can help you in social situations like speaking.

  6. Women still have trouble getting on the program at professional conferences. I've started to highlight speakers' bureaus that feature women speakers to raise awareness for program planners and help women speakers put themselves forward. Please, send me your entries for bureaus that collect and promote women speakers!

  7. Lucky enough to have lots of speaking gigs? Then remind yourself to cover these bases, backups and breathers when you're a frequent speaker.

  8. Young speakers have their own version of American Idol in the UK. Check out the BBC website for the show "The Speakers" for ideas, tips and advice.

  9. There's a new online "Public Speaking Community" where you can find lots of advice from this and other blogs on public speaking. Let us know how you're participating in this social network!

  10. Women, anxiety and speaking were considered in this Diane Rehm Show interview with the author of a new book on anxiety and why women differ from men in approaching it. The post mirrors topics we've discussed on the blog before, so share your reaction.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Women, anxiety & speaking considered

UPDATED: As you might expect, public speaking, needing to catch your breath when you speak, and ways anxiety can be helpful to rev up a speaker came up in this NPR interview. Plus, the author talks about why and how women are more anxious (often) than men. Audio is posted here--well worth a listen!

NPR's Diane Rehm Show this morning will feature the issue of women and anxiety in its second hour, with Jerilyn Ross, director of the Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders and CEO of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. The show's promos say the discussion will focus on whether and why women are more anxious than men, so I'll be tuning in to listen and will post links to the audio and transcripts once those are available. Ross also is the author of Triumph Over Fear: A Book of Help and Hope for People with Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Phobias and One Less Thing to Worry About: Uncommon Wisdom for Coping with Common Anxieties. You also may want to check out ADAA's site, which includes some simple self-tests for various types of anxiety disorders.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

when you're a frequent speaker

I've got a full slate of speaking engagements, already in motion, between mid-April and late May--and all over the U.S., from Oregon and New York to South Carolina and Washington, DC. Even if you're an experienced speaker, that kind of frequency can challenge--and sometimes undermine--your skill base. That's why I'm taking extra time this month to remind myself of the basics. Here's what's on my list of reminders that come in handy when you're lucky enough to be in demand as a speaker:

  • Double-check and record all your logistical arrangements: From travel arrangements to audio-visual equipment, make sure you've got your bases covered--and can carry those details with you in a PDA, thumb drive or other portable device. When it comes to slides, don't fear the triple-check: Email yourself a copy, bring it on a thumb drive and perhaps send a set to your host to make sure they're accessible when you need them. You'll have peace of mind--and the run-through to assemble all these details serves a useful purpose in making you review the arrangements.
  • Ask ahead: Even if the city isn't strange to you, ask your hosts to fork over details on the venue, the crowd, the registration numbers and even a good restaurant recommendation for dinner afterward. The more you know, the better you're prepared.
  • Know your backups: Particularly when I'm traveling and speaking, I make myself known to the hotel concierge, the local photocopying/shipping outlets, and a reliable cab driver--and travel with their phone numbers. You may need (as I have done in the past) everything from a laptop brought to your room to someone to sprint across town with new handouts. Set up the path before or on your arrival.
  • Don't forget the grace notes: Before, during and after your speech, take the time to listen to and thank the organizers--when women still have a tough time getting on programs, it's important that you reinforce good behavior in program planners. Send followup notes, advance thanks, and a kind word into the microphone.
  • Plan time for R&R: If you're pulling off multiple speeches in a few weeks, you need to take care of the speaker. Plan on extra time to rest and sleep; exercise; and some activity that involves no speaking. You can't hydrate enough. Give some thought to good nutrition, and pack a healthy backup--protein bars, herbal tea--in case breakfast isn't available early or you get caught in an airport. On your feet for a full day? Invest in a foot massage for 30 minutes at your hotel.

  • Finally, reach out to your audiences. Invite their followup questions, suggest a meetup after your talk and listen to their feedback. The chance to speak to -- and listen to -- many audiences is a gift. Use it. If you're where I'll be speaking this month, let me know!

    Speakers get their own 'American Idol?'

    Young speakers in Britain are amidst an American Idol-style competition called "The Speaker," which poses weekly challenges (be a newscaster, speak to the nation, be a tour guide, speak extemporaneously and more) and offers speaker-mentors in the form of vocal, body language and other coaches. The competition, for 14-to-18-year olds, has a great website with a special page devoted to helping you improve your speaking. Unfortunately, the ample video examples on the site won't work if you're not in the United Kingdom, so try the audio instead.

    Tuesday, April 21, 2009

    speaking is a state of mind

    If your state of mind is what's holding you back or occupying your attention when you're about to speak, check out this useful post from Olivia Mitchell's "Speaking About Presenting" blog on 8 states of mind that will make you a more compelling presenter. The states she covers are helpfully grouped into "if you're nervous" and "if you'd like to have more enthusiasm and passion." What's your state of mind before and during your speeches?

    4 stepping stones to get speaking practice

    Not ready for a keynote speech, big presentation, commencement address? Finding it hard to get booked for a speech or get on the program at a conference? No worries. If you're not ready for a prime-time slot as a speaker, but still want to get some practice, try these smaller stepping stones on your path toward public speaking:

    • Ask a question when someone else is speaking. As an audience member asking a question, you have the goal of getting the speaker to speak more, rather than yourself. You can plan your question ahead of time, whether that's hours before or while the speaker's talk is happening. Stand up, ask it, sit down and listen. Easiest speaking role ever, but also a good way to stand out--albeit briefly--at a major presentation without having to give the talk yourself.
    • Offer to be master of ceremonies or event chair: Unless you're Ellen DeGeneres hosting a major awards show, this tends to be the most scripted and brief role at an event. You'll open and welcome the group, make any housekeeping announcements, introduce presenters or speakers, thank them when they're done, perhaps note there's just time for one more question. This role offers great visibility without requiring a long talk, and you'll be thanked roundly if you limit your remarks and keep the trains running on time.
    • Step up to moderating a panel: Does this sound similar to emcee or event chair? Not really. For one thing, moderators often are treated as one of the panel and remain up front during the panelists' presentations, so this role may be a more visible practice opportunity. Moderators often are chosen for their own depth of knowledge on a topic, as well as the ability to make those speakers stay on time. Take it a bit further to show your expertise by weaving in your own observations--but do so only briefly--when making a transition from one panelist to the next. "Joe has just shared with us the first steps you take in this process, and in my experience, those are formidable. Now I'd like to ask Ann to take us to the next level: How can you excel at these tasks and advance your career?" Also remember that moderators lead the question and answer session, so you can practice moving your eye contact around the room to call on people in all areas of the space. You also can take the moderator's prerogative to sum up several identical questions, pose a question to the audience to take some heat off the panelists, or simply guide the discussion.
    • Be a panelist: Think of being a panelist as a shared-speaker role: You're only responsible for one-third (or less) of the talking. This takes extra preparation, and you should ask your moderator to organize a planning call with the other speakers, or at least a clear idea of the role she wants you to play. Panelists always wind up with Q&A sessions, and you should practice joining in an answer, or leaving others to the other panelists--there's no need for everyone on the podium to respond.

    Have you tried any or all of these steps on the way to a full-length speech? Share your experiences in the comments. If not, try each of these steps and use them to get comfortable (and noticed) as a speaker.

    Sunday, April 19, 2009

    11 speaker bureaus open doors for women

    For many women focused on public speaking, half the battle is getting an invitation to speak. Getting women on the program at your community meeting, professional conference or annual gathering isn't as hard as it may seem. Even if you don't know of talented women speakers in your organization, you can consult with the vast number of women's speaker bureaus. Here's a compilation of 11 bureaus in 7 subject categories to get you started. Need more ideas? Ask the women's committee, a local university or state agency, or put out a call for submissions targeted to women speakers, to spread those opportunities around:
    1. Legal issues are covered by the American Bar Association's Women and Minority Speakers bureau is a national U.S. clearinghouse for continuing legal education speakers;

    2. For women in business, the Women's Leadership Exchange focuses on women speakers who can address business and entrepreneurial issues;

    3. Trainers, coaches and consultant speakers can be found at the Professional Woman Speakers Bureau and Outstanding Women Speakers both offer female coaches, trainers and consultants--the Professional bureau has a global team, while the Outstanding bureau focuses on U.S. and Canadian speakers;

    4. Looking for a celebrity speaker? Leading Authorities, a speaker agency, fielded a high-level team of women speakers for its Women on the World program in 2008, and the Nationwide Speakers Bureau offers a team of Women Making Headlines;

    5. For students, Campus Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress that helps young people make their voices heard, offers a women's rights speakers bureau;

    6. In health, the Spirit of Women, a hospital network devoted to advancing women's health, offers a speakers bureau to support network members in their community outreach events, and accepts applications for new speakers, and the Society for Women's Health Research offers this team of women speakers on health issues;

    7. Statewide speakers bureaus also are a great resource. On women's issues, the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women offers a team of speakers, and if estate planning, financial or investment advice for women is your topic, check out the Colorado Women's Estate Planning Council speakers bureau;.

    Remember: If you don't know where to find women speakers for your next conference or event, that doesn't mean they don't exist. Start your search with these resources and ask for more recommendations.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009

    am I too old to learn good speaking skills?

    This question--posed by a participant in one of my day-long sessions on communicating science--took me by surprise. The workshops include scientists of all ages, and the woman asking the question was indeed a senior participant who confided that she'd found speaking a big stumbling block over the years. I've trained people ranging in age from a 12-year-old to seniors in their seventies, and all of them have shaped my perspective on speaking and age. Here are my five observations:
    • The older you are, the more bad speaking habits you may need to unlearn. If you've been picking up tips here and there, but never had formal training, it's very likely that you've heard and incorporated bad advice into your routine as a speaker. The good news: this is not an insurmountable challenge, and no reason to bypass training now.
    • Older trainees know their own foibles, fears and areas of focus better. You've had more experience--even if it consists of avoiding speaking opportunities--and typically have a better sense of yourself and your preferences. If you can articulate them, a good trainer can work with you to mold them to your purpose.
    • You may be surprised at how things have changed. When I train people in using social media tools, I remind them that technology favors the late adopter, as they can benefit from new advances. That's also true of speaking styles. One senior trainee of mine was pleased to find out that his 1930s-era elocution training (which asked him to turn his Brooklyn accent into a more mainstream midwestern voice) didn't apply these days--and we used that story as an anecdote when he addressed a diverse group of 21st century teenagers to make a point about how far we've come in welcoming diversity in his profession.
    • Been avoiding speaking as a chore? Training offers fast, focused help. Training isn't magic, but it does offer a private, personalized time in which you can learn simple solutions that can help you overcome your barriers to speaking. You may have been stumbling over and over a problem for which there's a simple solution--just ask.
    • If your seniority goes beyond age, seek private training. I don't train leaders with their subordinates for a reason: Everyone needs a secure place to try and fail in training, and few people want to do that in front of their bosses--or their subordinates. Unless you are being trained with a peer group, ask for one-on-one sessions.
    I often recommend to professional societies, membership groups, university faculty and other groups that they consider instituting speaker training for early-career members, for the reverse of those reasons. But there's no reason to omit training for seniors in your professional development tracks, and plenty of evidence suggests that using your "alumni" or seniormost participants as brand evangelists is especially effective. It's never too late to learn! Check my suggestions for what to ask the trainer -- 13 good questions -- before you hire her, and contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz for more information about group or one-on-one training options.

    Monday, April 13, 2009

    tips for the healthy speaker

    I once trained a young woman speaker who fainted during the training--not because she was frightened, but because she hadn't had breakfast that day and was working on more than 12 hours without nourishment. I'll tell you what I told her: The speaker's first job is to take care of the speaker's health, because no one else will do that for you. National Women's Health Week kicks off its 10th anniversary celebration next month on Mother's Day, May 10, but I want you speaker-ready by then. So here are my best tips for ensuring that the healthy speaker is you:

    What else do you want to know about speaker health? From what shoes to wear to core exercises to help your posture, I'm ready to tackle your questions about mind or body health considerations for public speakers. Leave your questions in the comments, or email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

    Tuesday, April 7, 2009

    Persuade me: 21 ways speakers can

    I'm a frequent speaker, but for every time I speak, I spend 10 times as an audience member. And like most audience members, I have a list of what works when speakers are trying to persuade me. Here's my list of 21 speaker tactics that persuade me to listen and even agree with your points:

    1. Look at me. More than once, and hold my gaze a bit while you're at it.
    2. Let me share an idea.
    3. Let me ask a question--and not just when you're finished. Then answer it.
    4. Voice the questions I (or others) have, even if you don't agree with or answer them.
    5. Don't just preach at me: Tell me about the experiences that shape your perspective.
    6. Smile at me. More than once, and especially when someone is grilling you.
    7. Acknowledge the difficulties your audience may be facing, even if you don't agree with them or experience them yourself.
    8. Credit your competitors, opposition or enemies with something good.
    9. Don't skip over, dismiss or ignore audience questions and issues. Address them.
    10. Respond, but don't react to audience bullies. I'd rather see you keep your composure and handle them evenly.
    11. Don't be afraid to disagree, respectfully and with data on your side.
    12. Assume your audience is smart and come prepared. Know your stuff.
    13. Assume your audience includes beginners, but don't talk down to us.
    14. Tell me why you're excited and passionate about your topic.
    15. Spend less time talking than you're allotted.
    16. Share a professional secret you know that may make all the difference in my take on the issue.
    17. Tell me the three toughest questions to answer on your topic--especially if no one knows the answers yet. That helps me look ahead.
    18. Don't just interact with the vocal audience members. Speak to and encourage those who don't speak to you in front of the group.
    19. Make me laugh--in recognition, with the group and without being mean about it. Don't make fun at the expense of an audience member or opponent.
    20. Don't be a know-it-all. I'll be more swayed by what you know if you admit what you don't know...or tell me what you wish you knew (see #17).
    21. Plan ahead. Know what you want me to take away, and make it easy for me to remember it by focusing your talk on those key messages.

    Persuasion comes up again and again when people define eloquence. What's on your list of what makes a speaker persuasive?

    should pride go into your speaker toolkit?

    Today's New York Times science section looks at times when pride becomes a useful emotion, rather than 'going before a fall.' Here's what I gleaned from the article that may be useful in your speaker's toolkit:
    • Pride can help you thrive in a tough spot: The article quotes David DeSteno, a psychologist at Northeastern University: “...we are finding that pride is centrally important not just for surviving physical danger but for thriving in difficult social circumstances, in ways that are not at all obvious.” Psychologists suggest you make this a "social strategy" you use when facing such situations, which might include your next speech.
    • Pride sends a strong, nearly universal signal to your audience: Despite other differences in how audiences in different cultures view body language, such as eye contact, the look of pride is remarkably consistent across cultures, the article notes. It also conveys power. Psychologist Jessica L. Tracy of the University of British Columbia, who's studied this effect, notes, "It’s the strongest status signal we know of among the emotions; stronger than a happy expression, contentment, anything.” Your viewers will associate a look of pride with higher status and importance.
    • Pride is catching--in you and with your audience: The article describes experiments in which participants were praised and encouraged. They reported feeling proud, and others interacting with them ranked them as more likeable and dominant in a group exercise. The researchers note that this didn't come off as arrogance, an important detail if you're concerned about looking too full of yourself. A little pride, apparently, goes a long way.

    Friday, April 3, 2009

    a speechwriter's blog takes our tips

    A hat tip to speechwriter Jeff Porro, who gave a plug to this blog on his "Tough Talk for Hard Times," about speeches CEOs are giving in this difficult economy. Jeff analyzes CEO speeches of the day and talks about effective speechwriting turns of phrase and other techniques. (He's also been a guest on this blog.) Find out more about Jeff here, and look for him on Twitter, where he's also posting his insights. Thanks, Jeff!

    Wednesday, April 1, 2009

    new resource: public speaking community

    Here's a new resource for speakers: Public Speaking Community, motto "one speech at a time," is a new online community for "people who want to become better public speakers." I'm delighted to say that this blog is among those featured on the new site, which also includes a question-and-answer section where you can crowd-source solutions to your speaking issues, as well as video and lots of advice from public-speaking bloggers, all in one place. As with any online community, this one will work best if you participate. Check it out!