Friday, October 30, 2009

Keep it short--REALLY short

Let's face it, no one ever liked a long acceptance speech from an award winner--and now that audience attention spans are getting shorter and more cluttered with information, prize ceremonies are following suit. First, the Webby Awards for websites and blogs asked winners to limit themselves to no more than five word acceptance speeches. Now, the Mass High Tech awards asked winners to accept with what amounts to a Twitter speech--no more than 140 characters. The price for exceeding that limit: $1 per character, with the proceeds to go to a charity, which of course prompted some speakers to wax even more eloquent.

This tactic works well for a variety of reasons. It pokes fun at a part of the ceremony that audiences dread, making it part inside joke, part game--and it challenges the speakers to give crisper, tighter remarks. How might you use this as a speaker or organizer?
  • Copy this idea for your next award ceremony. Ask winners for a headline, a 10-word acceptance for your 10th anniversary, a tweet-length remark, five words that capture why they got into the profession or the question they still wish they could answer. (Do specify a word limit, though, and announce it to the audience.)
  • Use it for a panel discussion. Why put the audience through a panel that keeps answering questions with, "As Bill just said...." or "If I can just add to that...."? Tell the panelists they need to confine answers to five words and make a game out of the Q&A portion.
  • Use it to introduce speakers. Ask moderators or introducers (at a ceremony, panel or conference) to intro the speakers with five keywords everyone should know about them...or ask speakers to submit five word or 140-character bios.
  • Make the audience play. Ask for questions that are five words, 10 words or 140 characters long. It's a great way to engage audience members already on Twitter, which will count characters for them.

Share your ideas for keeping speaking roles short in the comments!

Tip or treat: October's top 10 tips

Readers chose the tips and treats they found on this blog in October, and I'm happy to share them with you in this monthly roundup of our most popular posts:
  1. Should you use or lose the lectern? The focus of week 7 of our Step Up Your Speaking online coaching included this popular post with 3 video examples of women speakers demonstrating best practices, with or without a lectern. You can see online trainee Stephanie Benoit's thoughts on speakers and lecterns here.
  2. Delivering her mother's eulogy was the challenge faced by one of The Eloquent Woman's fans on Facebook--and readers responded with their tips and advice.
  3. How can I work on making eye contact? Stephanie asked in week 6 of our online coaching, and I responded with ways eye contact can get a speaker off-track.
  4. Ignite! -- a speaking competition organized in cities around the U.S. -- inspired me to visit the Baltimore session held this month, and I featured two women speakers in this well-read post. One, a first-time speaker, is working on a guest post about her experience. Stay tuned!
  5. To show Stephanie ways to connect with her audience, part of week 8 of our coaching, I took a tour of the FDR Memorial in Washington as inspiration for ways to better reach your listeners.
  6. When did "um" become a dirty word? Michael Erard, author of the book , traces how speech disfluencies like um and uh went from normal to disparaged in this interview with our blog.
  7. Do bullet points work in your slides? We featured a post from presentation blogger Olivia Mitchell that walks through the science of how audiences perceive bullets--and the answer is probably not as well as you think.
  8. Using a prop to emphasize your point can underscore your message in a powerful way. This popular post gives you a video of a doctor discussing the H1N1 flu virus and its availability to see a great example, plus our tips.
  9. The Eloquent Woman celebrated its 2-year anniversary in October with this roundup of our all-time-most-popular posts --a bagful of extra treats this month.
  10. Prepping for a speech is like packing a suitcase, the focus of week 9 of my coaching with Stephanie. Getting ready without overpreparing is one of her top priorities, and this post packs a suitcase-full of tips.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Week 9: Prep: like packing a suitcase

When is preparing for a speech like packing a suitcase? Every time you make the trip, I say. In this week's online coaching, Stephanie asked for tips on preparation, which is her third coaching priority. Both Stephanie and I are traveling this week--she's going to a women's empowerment conference, and I led a communications skills workshop for scientists--so it's timely to share these tips I've packed for her on preparing for a speech:

  1. Use a checklist to focus on the traveler, not just the suitcase: Like many speakers, Stephanie's concerned about preparing content, but I believe she--and you--should step back and consider how to prepare the whole speaker, from body and mind to technology and tactics. Use my checklist to prepare the whole speaker to work through what you need to consider. Tip: The first few times you use this, you may want to download it and write down your answers. Like any packing list, this checklist makes sure you don't forget essentials.
  2. Don't overpack! Focus so you pack only what you need: There's nothing worse than hauling around all the things you thought you'd need...but didn't. I recommend focusing by developing a three-point message, as we reviewed in week 2. Remember, you can announce to the audience that you'll be focusing your remarks, to make sure they don't expect you to cover every aspect (and they don't even want you to do that).
  3. Pack with flexibility in mind. Far better to pack three versatile pieces--the three parts of the message you've developed--than a fixed outline when you're packing your speaking 'suitcase.' Stephanie asked how she could prepare, but remain flexible to accommodate something in the moment. A three-point message lets you do that: You can rearrange the points, spend more time on one than the other two, or take time to divert for a moment, then return to the final point. The trick is to using some basic tactics or "glue" to make your message stick, so you that you remember your outline well enough to divert from it and then return.
  4. Preview what you're packing with practice. You might well test out what you're going to pack before a trip--no sense bringing the pants that don't fit, right? It's the same with speaker preparation. Practice and preview your remarks, your wardrobe, and your technology, so you can choose what to leave behind and what to take with you. There's no need to pack things "just in case" when you've already tested what you'll actually need.
  5. But stop trying things on over and over. If you can never decide what to pack--or what to do in your presentation--and find that overpreparation is a nervous habit, focus on solving that instead of your preparation. My four tips for those who overprepare for speeches will give you ways to tackle the nerves and convince yourself you're ready. If you want to do something before the speech, I'd rather see you use your energy developing a message and practicing it than worrying whether you got everything jammed into the case.
  6. Take something out. Rather than pack all your facts into your slides and your remarks, take some out of the speaking suitcase you're toting around. Save a few facts to weave into your answers--and remember, if you don't cover every item, you'll be leaving room for your audience to contribute, engage and wonder.

Here's hoping these tips help Stephanie--and you--prepare for the next stop on your speaking journey. Please share your tips for speaker preparation in the comments.

Related posts: Week 9: Stephanie focuses on preparation

A checklist to prepare the whole speaker

Developing a message

Glue to make your message stick from week 2

4 tips if you overprepare for speeches

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

When did "um" become a dirty word?

You’ve probably heard that it’s best to ban “um” and “uh” from your public speaking, but those dreaded pause fillers weren’t always forbidden words. In one of the most fascinating chapters of his book Um…Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, And What They Mean, Michael Erard traces the history of um from invisible noise to “unsanitary speech.”

Um hasn’t been a dirty word for very long, Erard found. Up until the 19th century, great orators barely gave the ums and uhs a mention when they laid out the rules of a good speech. But in 1888, Thomas Edison showed how he could faithfully record a person’s voice using his “perfected phonograph”---and suddenly Americans were asking themselves, “do I really sound like that?” Without a face to look at, the ums in speech became more striking. And with the explosion of radio, speakers discarded the loud, bombastic voices they had used to reach live audiences and replaced them with smooth, uninterrupted patter. Erard spoke about the unsanitary um in a recent interview with the Eloquent Woman:

Eloquent Woman: Do we know if "um" speech became less acceptable in other countries when radio and other recorded speech became more accessible?

Michael Erard: Unfortunately, I have no idea but would love to find out. I recently came across a document for preparing U.S. government officials appearing on Arabic-language television; there is not a single mention of disfluency [such as saying,”um”]. This is notable because it suggests that there are so many other cultural and linguistic factors to master and worry about, and of course, that those audiences don't share the aesthetic of umlessness.

EW: When voice recording began, was it speakers or their audiences that drove the new trend toward umless speech?

ME: The lines between speakers and audiences were considerably fuzzy...early adopters of the phonograph, for instance, could use their machines to listen and to record their voices, either in arcades or at home. As for radio, early broadcasters had small internal audiences of radiophiles, early adopters, and investors, all of whom became influential before socially and geographically wider audiences were built.

So there was ample opportunity -- there are decades between the invention of phonography and rise of commercial radio -- for the seeds of a vague discomfort to be planted in small groups who both produced speech and listened to it, and who would ultimately create the standards at the same time they were adapting their own speech production.

What emerged could be called a culture of dictation...that there should be a match, or coordination, between what one says and how that is written. This culture would have taken a while to emerge.

EW: So who was behind this culture of dictation?
ME: My argument assumes…that taste-makers, gatekeepers, broadcasters, teachers, and the like were the origins of umlessness, and that listeners or audiences wouldn't have natively attended to filled pauses. In other words, people didn't show up asking [Toastmasters founder] Ralph Smedley to create a public speaking group that would clean up American speaking. Smedley and others came up with a program that included the prescription "don't say um" because it was clear, direct item in a recipe for eloquence which could be replicated with a wide number of people from many backgrounds. Maybe it was a pet peeve of theirs.

I'm amused the lengths to which defenders of Toastmasters-style umlessness will go to insist about the naturalness of "um" as a distracter, but there's nothing natural about it -- the distraction is a cultural and historical artifact. It only seems "natural" because it's so embedded in our culture.

EW: So what values did those taste-makers associate with um?

ME: One, it was perceived as a Britishism, which a robust American would want to avoid. Two, it wasted people's time, or was perceived as wasting their time. From a commercial advantage, it would have cut time for advertising. Three, it was considered rude -- maybe because of reasons one and two, maybe because of the additional elite distaste.

EW: Are tastes changing when it comes to um? I’ve read that some speakers are being encouraged to sound more natural and less fluent to connect with their audiences.

ME: I recently heard Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on the radio expressing sadness over the beating of a 16 year-old in Chicago, and I have to say, he didn't sound genuinely sad, outraged, or shocked. It was umless, pauseless, fully fluent. He sounded as if he was reading -- as if his outrage was scripted… the requisite, ritualistic expression of a human emotion by an institution's human spokesperson, but not the genuine interaction between one human and other humans. I think people should talk like people -- why would we want to sound like machines?

I do think we are witnessing a change in the aesthetic of spoken interaction that isn't just about allowing "um" but opens the possibility of a much wider array of stylistic phenomena that happens when humans connect with humans. You see this in the rise of new media (blogs, podcasts, YouTube… You see it in the rising popularity of improv comedy classes as a venue for presentation training. I've done an intro class twice, and at least 50% of the people were there to improve work performance in corporate settings

In the afterword of the paperback version of Um..., I wrote this:
Perhaps the most important point is this: people tell stories about verbal blunders that reflect their vision of what the human self should be like. For someone who believes that the self is beset with hidden struggle, blunders point to that struggle. For someone who thinks that the self should be self-controlled, regulated, and efficient, blunders point to that failure. For someone who thinks that the self should be engaged, authentic, spontaneous, interactive, verbal blunders will be evidence of those qualities.
Freelance writer Becky Ham interviewed Michael, to whom we give many thanks for taking the time to speak with us about the history of um -- especially as he finishes up Babel No More, his new book about language “superlearners,” (and awaits the arrival of a new family member). You can follow him on Twitter to hear more about his latest projects.

Monday, October 26, 2009

speaking challenge: delivering a eulogy

"How do you give your mother's eulogy?" was the question posted on the discussion board at The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. New fan Mary Roe Eubanks asked for advice, and you responded. Here are some of the tips readers shared:

  • "Try to find a theme or ethic that defined the person's life and build the eulogy around it. For example, was family most important to the deceased? Did he or she have a great sense of humor?" suggested Shenice Ferguson. She also suggested keeping track of the details: "Write down details of the person's life, major awards or recognition he or she received, names of family members, and special memories that family members share. Ask if the family would like you to say anything specific during the eulogy."
  • "Try to tell some things that no one else knows about your mom," suggested Marti Sladek, who shared that she delivered a eulogy for her father. "Not a dark secret, of course, but perhaps a passion talent or or favorite joke or movie or crush or place she loved that she didn't talk about much. Not the stuff that is already widespread public knowledge or appeared in the newspaper. (I mentioned that my Dad wrote poetry, which hardly anybody knew because he never published or talked about it.)" She also said, "do not even try to 'be strong' or not cry. Letting your emotion show is just fine, even if you have to take a break or a breath."

My suggestions: Don't feel as if you need to detail every accomplishment--keeping your remarks brief may help you get through them--but do focus on telling a personal story that evokes something you want to share about your mother, ideally a story that involves you. Two great recent examples from the funeral of Senator Ted Kennedy came from the eulogy delivered by his son, Ted Kennedy, Jr., who told this very personal story--one that only he could tell:

When I was 12 years old, I was diagnosed with bone cancer. And a few months after I lost my leg, there was a heavy snowfall over my childhood home outside of Washington D.C. And my father went to the garage to get the old Flexible Flyer, and asked me if I wanted to go sledding down the steep driveway. And I was trying to get used to my new artificial leg. And the hill was covered with ice and snow. And it wasn't easy for me to walk. And the hill was very slick. And as I struggled to walk, I slipped and I fell on the ice. And I started to cry and I said, I can't do this. I said, I'll never be able to climb up that hill. And he lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget, he said, I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can't do. We're going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.

Caroline Kennedy struck a similar theme at Senator Kennedy's memorial service the night before--a telling story about how her uncle encouraged her in public speaking: of my part-time jobs has been introducing Teddy to crowds of people who already knew him incredibly well. Although this was unbelievably stressful for me, it was just another one of the gifts that he gave me. When he saw that I was nervous, he would give me a pat on the back. When he knew that I was sad, he would call up and say: "I have got a great idea. There's a convention coming up. And maybe you would like to introduce me." And off I would go on another adventure in public speaking. But, no matter how nervous I was, I always knew that, when I stepped down from the podium, I would get a big kiss and hear him whisper, "Now I'm going to get you back." And I can't believe that's not going to happen tonight.
There, she told an intensely private story--and brought it around to the present moment, bringing the memorial service back into the picture.

Have you delivered a eulogy for someone you love? Share your experiences and tips in the comments.

UPDATE: I asked Mary to share with us how the eulogy went, and here's what she wrote on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook:
I gave my mother's eulogy yesterday without tears and used some of the tips from The Eloquent Woman. I also received some tips that I would like to share because I was able to do it with out crying. Write out everything you want to say. Go to a private quiet place and read it out loud at least three times so you can cry and get your emotions out. Each time you read it you can shorten the talk to the most important points. I then reduced it to an outline and penciled in
topics. I did not read it because by then it was like telling a story. My only problem was my mouth got so dry about 3 times I had to pause. The other advice I got was if the emotions well up stop, take a breath, and pause for as long as you need to get your composure back. People will understand because of the situatiion. Thank you for the tips and the kind words.

I'm happy to say that this post was included in Andrew Dlugan's useful weekly roundup of the best public speaking articles in the blogosphere, on his Six Minutes blog.

week 9: Stephanie focuses on preparation

"How do you prepare without overpreparing?" Stephanie Benoit asks as we turn to her third priority for stepping up her speaking. She shares a story of feeling nervous and underprepared, but also has written about finding that she prepares too much sometimes--another nervous response when she's anticipating speaking. She asks a great followup question: How do you prepare enough, but also leave room to change directions when you are speaking, if that's necessary? For a beginning speaker, Stephanie has a sophisticated feel for what she may need to do when giving a talk, and changing direction is a good example.

What are your tips and tricks for preparing without adding to your anxiety--or for preparing, but remaining flexible? Stephanie and I are both enjoying the feedback, so keep your ideas and contributions coming. I'll have my tips ready for her soon!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pushing yourself on stage: Ignite!

Last night, I checked out Ignite! Baltimore, one of the public speaking or storytelling events that are cropping up around the U.S. Ignite happens in many cities. I chose to see the Baltimore event because I know one of the speakers and wanted to check out the event firsthand.

Ignite's a competition of sorts. Would-be speakers submit proposals, are approved by a committee and are limited in number. They agree to rules that include time limits (5 minutes) and slide limits (no more than 20), and perhaps the toughest guideline: Your slides will be automatically advanced every 15 seconds, whether you're ready or not. Organizers look for original content, variety, and topics that are universal as well as of local interest. On last night's program, topics ranged from nanobiotechnology to changing Maryland laws about shipping wine via mail order to the fear of fear. Sponsors help the group provide a cash bar and food, and there's ample time to network and mingle built into the evening's program. What's more, all the speakers are recorded in HD video (I'll post some of the videos when they're available so you can get a taste of what we saw). That makes Ignite! sessions a great learning tool for would-be speakers.

I spent the evening talking to several speakers, particularly the women on the program, and found that several of the women speakers said they signed up as a way of pushing themselves to speak in public. Lots of the speakers were building confidence by using the "fake it until you make it" approach. Marketing agency founder Jennifer Cohen, pictured at right giving her compelling and funny talk, "Fired: Four Times," told me it was her first major public speech. She had the crowd laughing at her tale of misfortunes with lines like, "By now, I had unemployment on speed-dial..." and like many speakers, found that while she felt nervous, she didn't look it. Telling a personal story made it easy for her to engage the audience and meant she didn't use the note card she had in hand in case she forgot something.

Mary Spiro (pictured at left) who's the public information officer for the Johns Hopkins Insitute for NanoBioTechnology, set herself the challenge of boiling down a very technical topic--and one about which many public audiences have concerns--in a short time period. Scientists she works with were skeptical she could do that in five minutes, but she did, inspiring them about communicating with public audiences in the process. She kept the audience's attention successfully, despite the non-technical nature of the crowd--and has been getting great day-after reaction to the talk on Twitter.

Would you enter such a competition to push yourself forward in public speaking? Check out the links below for more information on Ignite! and similar events for ideas and information.

Related posts: Igniting your way to a five-minute talk

Learn storytelling online, three ways

Confidence: Fake it until you make it

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Week 8: Connect with your audience

We've already discussed options for audience connection like eye contact and movement. To help find new inspiration for Stephanie this week, I went to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Memorial in Washington, DC, on a picture-perfect day, for three reasons: FDR was a master speaker whose words guided the nation through its most challenging times; his wife, Eleanor, was an inspiring woman speaker who doubted her own abilities, yet inspired the world; and finally, the memorial itself gives me inspiration on how to get audiences engaged. Here's what we can learn from the memorial about audience connections:
  1. Make a connection with content: Where do you fit in the program? If you're the only speaker, your context is the organization and what the audience is there to hear. But if you're one of many speakers--at a conference or on a panel--you can help your audience connect your remarks to those of other speakers, drawing together disparate threads into a sense-of-the-meeting. That's true whether you agree or disagree with other speakers, by the way.
  2. Make a connection with hands-on participation: Let the audience experience your talk using all their senses. Can they talk? Ask questions? Come forward as a volunteer? Share what they know? Do an exercise at their seats? Create something and learn from you in the time you are speaking? All of those are ways to make your audience feel they are participating and contributing to your speech.
  3. Listen to your audience to connect: Just as Eleanor Roosevelt did, listen to your audience. Take the time to ask them what they think or want to ask; make sure you don't use all the available time with your remarks, to be sure they have time for discussion and questions; and spend some time before you ever approach the microphone talking to people who may be in the audience about what they want to hear.
  4. Let your audience see themselves in your talk: Can your audience relate to what you're saying? One of the best ways to connect is to show them to themselves: Use pictures or video of the crowd (best if they're taken while the audience isn't aware); project their questions or their Twitter feed on a screen; or let them tell you examples and issues that illustrate your talk. When the audience can see itself reflected in your remarks, visuals and volunteers, you stand a better chance of making a firm connection.

Related posts: Inspiration for women speakers from Eleanor Roosevelt's story

Engage your audience with social media

What to do when you're losing the audience

How to listen to audience questions

Graceful ways with Q&A

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Week 8: Stephanie muses on the audience

We're just past the halfway mark in our coaching program, and in week 8, Stephanie's musing about how to connect with the audience--and comes up with three tips she'd suggest. We both want to hear your suggestions for connecting with the audience, and I'll have a post up soon to add more ideas to Stephanie's list. What do you do to connect to your audience?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Angelou: Speaking with hope, humor

Maya Angelou's a staple on the college campus lecture circuit, and in this article she describes how she calibrates her speeches by thinking about the mood of the audience as well as what she can bring that will inspire them, something every thoughtful speaker should do. From the interview:
  • "I speak quite a lot on courage, because I think it is the most important of all the virtues...Without courage you can't practice any of the other virtues consistently."
  • "[I]f people are too dour, I speak on humor, because I never trust people who don't laugh!"
  • "If there has been some unfair play, if someone has been mishandled, and there is some reason for outcry, I try to speak to that."

(Photo of Angelou speaking at Wake Forest University from Flickr by wacko_-)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Week 7: A new speaker mulls the lectern

Here's Stephanie Benoit sharing her perspective on what a lectern might--or might not--do for her as a speaker. I've noticed that here and in earlier videos, she says she feels energized as an audience member when the speaker is dynamic and moving around. So I'm recommending that she start thinking about how she'd do that herself. Stephanie, consider mapping out your presentation along with where and how you will move around the audience. And the next time you have access to an empty meeting room or auditorium, practice moving around as you might during a speech--it's a great way to anticipate how it will feel, and find what you need to avoid or embrace when you use this tactic next time!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Week 7: Use-or-lose lectern lessons

Choosing whether you'll use or lose the lectern is a major factor in adding presence to your presentation. In this week's coaching session for Stephanie Benoit, I want to give her enough to consider so she can choose the speaking style and setting that works best for her. Stephanie's just starting as a speaker, so here are some things to consider and know about lecterns, whether you use them or avoid them:

  • Lecterns are the slanted stands that prop up your speech and hold the microphone. Some people call this the podium, but a podium is really the platform beneath your feet.
  • Lecterns have advantages: They're a natural focal point for the audience. They can hide your notes, a glass of water, your technology controls, a laptop, a picture of your kid...and you, the speaker. They can give you something to hang on to.
  • Lecterns have disadvantages: They hide you, the speaker. If you hang on to them too tightly, you're immobilizing your hands, which will make you more likely to stumble verbally--and may tense you up. And they keep you boxed in, so you become a static image to the audience. To gesture, you have to make sure your hands are up high so they can be seen. And because no two lecterns are the same height, it seems, you may find they swallow you up if you're short, or keep your script perilously far from your eyes if you're tall. (Solution for the short speaker: Stand on a box. Solution for the tall speaker: Put a fat book under your speech to raise it up.)

Some speaking situations make it easy for you. Formal events--graduations, church services, funerals and award presentations--almost always demand a lectern, especially if you must frequently refer to notes with people's names (if you're presenting awards or degrees, for example). But in most other speaking situations, you get to choose.

To help Stephanie consider a range of styles, I've pulled some videos from our top women speakers series to illustrate three ways to use or lose lecterns effectively:

Use it...right: Michelle Obama, in this speech at last year's Democratic National Convention, manages to avoid all the disadvantages of using a lectern. Her gestures all can be seen over the top of the lectern, and you should practice to be sure you do the same. She rarely holds on to the lectern, choosing sometimes to gently rest her hands on it. To counteract that boxed-in look, she makes the effort to look at and turn toward different parts of the audience as she tells her story. Finally, she's telling a personal story she had already told in many campaign stops, so it's energetic and flows well.

Lose it but use it: Here's one of my favorite examples of using a lectern without letting it get in your way. This is a public lecture by chemistry professor Carolyn Bertozzi, who (after setting up her slides) quickly moves to one side of the lectern and leans on it, but doesn't hide behind it. It makes her seem much more approachable, and it suits her friendly speaking style--important if you are sharing a technical topic like chemistry with audience of non-technical people. (She has a great analogy using a peanut M& for it.) Notice the difference between Bertozzi and the man who introduces her. He uses the lectern to hold his notes for the introduction, and you see just his head and shoulders. You get a more complete picture of Bertozzi, and she can move freely during her talk:

Lose it, don't use it: For speakers used to a lectern, losing it entirely may seem scary--or freeing. More and more, this is the style of speaking I prefer, for a variety of reasons:

  • It lets me more directly connect with the audience--as a whole, and as individuals. I can walk right up to a group or a person to make eye contact. I'm more able to sense whether I'm losing the audience, and if that's the case, I can move into the crowd to change the situation and recapture its attention.
  • Moving around keeps me energized, and that energy translates to my speaking.
  • I can use a wider range of motion and gestures to punctuate my talk. My entire body becomes a source of motion and animates the words, as needed.
  • It lets me be more responsive in Q&A, when I can walk up to a questioner and respond directly.

Speaking without notes or something to prop them up does take practice. Here's another of our top women speakers, Jacqueline Novogratz of the Acumen Fund, who works completely without a lectern in her TED talk. (If you're going this route, be sure to work with the audio-visual technicians to be sure your microphone can move with you). Watch how she makes a personal story come alive without the need to hang on to a lectern:

Stephanie, this week, I'd like to hear what you think about using lecterns. And if you can get access to a room with a lectern, go ahead and try it out with a few remarks (perhaps practicing your message) then come out in front of it and say the same remarks. What are your questions about speaking while moving, or speaking at a lectern? What do you think about the different styles shown in the video? Which one do you think would work best for you?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

practices for panelists: 7 paths to success

Speaking as part of a panel is a great opportunity to speak without the full responsibility for holding an audience's attention...a great way to break into speaking...and a real headache if you don't plan it right. To be a sought-after panelist, try these tips to enhance your success:
  1. Interview the organizer: What presentation technology is available? How many panelists? How much time will each of us have? Do I need to prepare a presentation or remarks, or is this more of a roundtable with the moderator asking questions? If so, what are the questions? What's the panel setup--table with microphones or each of us taking a turn at the lectern? How many people do you expect in the audience? Can I bring handouts or takeaway materials?
  2. Stand down if you're one panelist too many: What? Turn down a speaking gig? Absolutely...if you feel the organizers have asked too many panelists. I'm most comfortable on a panel of three, but have been asked to sit on panels of as many as eight, a situation in which I was told each speaker would have precisely 2.5 minutes to make remarks! Do the math: When you add in all the introductions, moderator comments and questions, will you have enough time to make an impact?
  3. Provide your introduction and a bio for the program: I'm a big fan of taking charge of your introduction, but never more so than when you're on a panel. Check out this suite of introductions, and choose a shorter one for the verbal intro, and a medium-sized one for the panel--keeping in mind that more than one speaker will be featured.
  4. Keep it simple: Don't bring your video, a load of slides or your full-on-I'm-the-only-speaker game. Instead, good panelists contribute as part of a group, responding to the other speakers and to the audience. Choose a handful of key points and take it from there.
  5. Find your niche: Take the time to figure out (with the organizer or the other speakers) the unique role you can play in this panel. Are you the naysayer? The surprise element? An outside observer? Once you know your role, you can focus your remarks.
  6. Don't pile on during Q&A: Some panelists seem to feel as if they must comment on every question (even if it's to say, "What she said..."). Don't be that panelist. Instead, hold your own on the questions where you can contribute strongly, and let the others handle the questions on which you're not the authority.
  7. Think how you look when you're not speaking: On a panel of three, you're not speaking two-thirds of the time...but still visible to the audience. Are you doodling? Checking your smartphone? Looking out the window? Something worse? Remember that you're on stage all the time as a panelist, and cultivate a thoughtful, listening look while your colleagues are speaking.
Related posts: 4 stepping stones to get speaking practice (including panels)

Everything in moderation (for panel moderators)

5 ways to renew your speaking skills

Speakers: 7 reasons I want you to talk more

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Speaking science: In the land of nods

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: men and women communicate differently.

Are you nodding your head yes at this little nugget of truth? Are you nodding it vigorously and frequently? Several studies show that women engaged in conversation tend to nod more often and with more emphasis than men. What’s more, men and women both seem to pick up on this rhythm, and nod more frequently when talking to a woman than they do when chatting with a man.
What’s really going on here? Does a man feel like he has to act more like a woman when he speaks with one? Do women think it’s all right to be a “yes” woman among their own, but hold their heads in check when speaking with a man?

The answer has less to do with social manners and more to do with simple motion, say researchers at the University of Virginia’s Human Dynamics Lab: people adjust their nodding to match the head movements of their conversational partners, no matter who they are.

At the UVA lab, psychologist Steven Boker and his colleagues recorded the head movements of male and female students in the lab as they had short conversations with another student via video link. As the pair chatted about sports and spring break, the researchers used an elegant piece of technology to change the appearance of the video student’s face and voice in real time. Sometimes the students sitting in the lab saw a female face on the video screen when they were actually speaking to a man, and vice versa. (Watch the video above to see how this worked.)

But the researchers didn’t do anything to change the head movements of the video speakers, and they discovered that movements—not appearance--seemed to make all the difference .If a video speaker was a head-nodding woman, but her computerized image looked like a man, the lab students nodded right along with her.

"We found that people simply adapt to each other's head movements and facial expressions, regardless of the apparent sex of the person they are talking to," said Boker. “This is important because it indicates that how you appear is less important than how you move, when it comes to what other people feel when they speak with you.”
The head nod and other facial expressions such as lifted eyebrows are part of what language researchers call back channel cues. As a public speaker, it’s a route that can help you establish rapport with your audience. If you can get them nodding along with you, Boker said, you may be able to activate pathways in their brains that help them empathize with your feelings.

So yes, men and women do differ when it comes to communication styles. But maybe it’s reassuring to know that this is one case that has less to do with the battle of the sexes, and more to do with a meeting of the minds.

(Editor's note: This article in our "Speaking Science" series on the research behind public speaking was written by contributor Becky Ham.)

Related posts:

Speaking science: Why bullets don't work

Speaking science: Gesture to speak better

Thursday, October 8, 2009

week 6: can eye contact trip you up?

Can eye contact trip you up? Absolutely--and you're less likely to notice it than is your audience. This week, my video--at the end of this post--is responding to Stephanie's #2 coaching priority and covers these aspects of how eye contact issues can work against you:
  • If your eyes signal that your talk's off-track: Those quick, inadvertent looks to one side or the other (or up and to angle) happen at the same points that you might otherwise use a verbal "um" -- the points where you've forgotten where you are heading or what words come next. (Here's a picture of a very brief visual um from Stephanie's video of yesterday.) You're trying to mark your place, remember and regroup, but a glance to one side doesn't leave you enough time. Instead of these "visual ums," I recommend you practice some verbal time-buying phrases to build in a little more time to recall what you need to say.

  • If your eyes avoid acknowledging your audience--all of the audience: If you avoid looking at audience members, they'll feel as if you are avoiding them, when you really want to connect with them. You don't need to look at everyone, just enough people throughout the course of your talk that they know you are engaging with them. If you've heard or been taught that direct eye contat is disrespectful, that's true--but only in certain cultures. Here's a Wikipedia article with more background on that issue. In most cases, however, the audience will consider it disrespectful if you don't acknowledge them with your eyes.

  • If it makes you uncomfortable: This doesn't mean you can avoid it, but anything that makes a speaker uncomfortable is worth analyzing. Some speakers like looking at their friends' smiling faces to boost their confidence; some avoid looking at their friends and find it easier to make eye contact with audience members they don't know. You'll have to find out which works for you. Practice looking at sections of the room--front, back, and each side--throughout your talk, as well as at some individuals. Smile and engage with individuals from time to time, and develop your confidence as you go.

Finally, lack of eye contact often signals your discomfort and lack of confidence with public speaking. Want to practice getting more confident with eye contact? Practice on video or webcam--a lot of my trainees say video practice helps them with both confidence and with focusing their eye contact. (And you can use it to check whether you look down, away or use visual ums, then go back and practice how to get past those moments.) Please leave your questions or comments about eye contact in the comments, as well as any tips for Stephanie!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Week 6: how do I work on eye contact?

Here's Stephanie Benoit talking about eye contact, her second priority for stepping up her speaking. Eye contact's basic and essential for good speaking: You can't succeed without it. Yet for many speakers, it's tough to focus on the audience. Why? Eye contact:

  1. May distract you.
  2. Means you have to confront your audience, directly.
  3. May show you an awkward or awful reaction.
  4. May give away what you're thinking or forgetting.

In my experience,all of those are valid concerns--but no reason to stop making eye contact! I'll be posting some coaching tips for Stephanie this week. But in the meantime, if you dread eye contact or have concerns about it, post them in the comments so we can broaden this coaching session with real-life experiences.

Speaking science: Why bullets don't work

A hat tip to Olivia Mitchell, who's taken the time to review cognitive psychology research that shows what I've long suspected: Slides full of bullet points don't help your audience to follow--or absorb--what you're trying to put across. If you're a user of slides for presentations, meetings, webinars or other purposes, be sure to read this useful post!

Related posts: How to use PowerPoint in 2009

Handling webinars & conference calls: When the audience isn't visible

Monday, October 5, 2009

Using a prop to emphasize your point

Tonight on NBC Nightly News's report about the H1N1 "swine" flu virus, Dr. Virginia Caine of the Marion County, Indiana, health department demonstrated how to use a prop effectively. "This vaccine--and I hold it in my hand," she said, brandishing a vial and going on to emphasize the importance of getting the flu shot and its safety.

In this case, the vial of vaccine rivets because we think it's scarce--availability is limited at the moment, and focused on high-risk groups. Just showing the vial underscores that it's available--not a mythical thing, in an epidemic where so many myths are spreading.

You can use props as evidence, as visual aids, as eye candy, or as extra emphasis. But keep in mind these tips:

  • Use props with care. Props shouldn't be appearing every few minutes in your speech. Think judicious use, to underscore a key point--perhaps right at the start of your presentation, or at a critical moment.
  • Keep it universal--and clear. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but you won't have that many to explain what you have in your hand. Make sure it's visible, understandable and clear to get the value you seek.
  • Share the prop. If possible, hand the prop around for the audience to handle up close. If it's the right kind of prop--historic, unusual, or new-t0-them--you'll be reinforcing your talk as they pass it around, without too much loss of attention. (Not good for vaccines, I'm afraid.)

Here's the video of the full piece, with thanks to for making embedded video possible. Dr. Caine comes in at about 49 seconds:

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The Eloquent Woman's 2 years old

This week marks the two-year anniversary of The Eloquent Woman blog, and I'm celebrating all the things readers have contributed, from ideas, questions and advice to guest posts and support for fellow speakers. The blog has become the kind of community I'd hoped both men and women would find useful and inspiring.

Just as readers have determined the content of many posts in the past two years, their choices are driving this one. Here are the most-read posts from The Eloquent far:
  1. The Step Up Your Speaking contest drew the most readers -- not just from entrants, but followers of our winner Stephanie Benoit's progress, perhaps because this is one coaching program where all our readers can benefit. (As I write this, we're starting week 6 of the 15-week program.)
  2. This blog's all about the preparation, and the Checklist for the Whole Speaker post -- a list that considers your intent, content, mind, body, wardrobe and technology before you set out to speak -- came in a close second.
  3. You'll speak better if you gesture, and this post on the science behind effective gestures has become a regular reference for our readers.
  4. Conveying power is a key component of eloquence. No wonder these 6 strongest speaker statements are so well-read. Among them: "I don't know," one of the most powerful for any speaker.
  5. Questions can sometimes get your presentation off-track. Can you welcome questioners and manage Q&A at the same time? Our graceful ways with Q&A can help.
  6. Readers have a host of questions about the most important part of body language: eye contact. So we offered 5 eye contact tips for speakers, a perennially popular post.
  7. Storytelling's another critical skill for the eloquent speaker. In this post, you can see a top scientist demonstrate how to tell a story on yourself -- the most powerful stories are the most personal ones, I find.
  8. Can a tour guide be eloquent? I think so, and guiding tours is just one of many everyday situations where women have speaking opportunities. This post about my tour guide at the Martin Guitar Factory shares what you can learn from her.
  9. Readers and their questions inspire my best posts, and here, 7 readers offer you the best speaking advice that they've ever received--and put to actual use. Their tips cover Q&A, intros, practice, breathing, audience engagement, pacing and more.
  10. When the speaker needs to catch her breath, another reader-prompted post, looks at what's really happening when you go breathless while speaking--and what to do about it.
Here's what I like about what the readers chose to read: The list above provides a great cross-section of topics, from gesturing and language to breathing, storytelling and preparation. Thanks to all the readers (here and on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook) who supply this blog's energy and inspiration--your attention, questions and support are much appreciated! As always, please continue to share your questions, issues and suggestions.