Thursday, December 31, 2009

December's top 10 public speaking tips

This month, The Eloquent Woman blog wrapped up all sorts of presents, including the final weeks of our Step Up Your Speaking online coaching for Stephanie Benoit. Those posts and more make up our year-end top tips for December. Feel free to leave a comment with the questions, ideas and issues you'd like to see the blog cover in 2010!

  1. Do I speak too fast? Stephanie wanted more ideas on handling speed and pacing, and this popular post walked her through some options for using those and other tactics to add emphasis to her speaking.
  2. I've developed a short message. Now what? How to expand on your message outline was another of Stephanie's questions, and this post proved popular with our readers as well.
  3. Do introverts make better leaders? This post looks at good leadership skills that introverts display--many of which have to do with how and when they speak, or prepare to speak.
  4. Final exam: Speak at the mall is a post that looked at a community-college public speaking class that did just that, parked in front of a JC Penney and competing with mall noise and passers-by.
  5. Would you devote a year to public speaking? This post looks at a journalist who did, with the aim of improving this skills in this area. Let me know if that's on your resolution list for 2010.
  6. Even the most basic speaking tasks, from introducing a speaker to cutting a ribbon at a grand opening, can be spiced up using the tips in this post.
  7. Can you turn a difficult situation into a great speaker anecdote? See how this prominent woman scientist did in sharing her struggle for acceptance.
  8. Practice is essential to improve your speaking skills. This post focuses on how to fit speaking practice into your busy schedule, so you can eliminate that barrier in the coming year.
  9. A year-end wrap-up of the top women speakers featured on the blog this year also proved popular. It's a long list of inspiring examples. Please help me add to it in 2010!
  10. Find other great bloggers on public speaking, from my list of those who've mentioned The Eloquent Woman in recent posts.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Finding a great anecdote in difficulty

I think lots of professional women the world over gasped the other day when reading these opening paragraphs in a New York Times article on new directions in cancer research:
Mina Bissell will never forget the reception she got from a prominent scientist visiting Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where she worked. She gave him a paper she had just published on the genesis of cancer.

He took the paper and held it over the wastebasket and said, ‘What do you want me to do with it?’ Then he dropped it in.”
That type of purposefully over-the-top rejection of her work is something many women (and many scientists) have experienced in the workplace. But now that her work has been recognized as an innovative approach to cancer research, Mina Bissell is doing just what every woman speaker should do: Using her experience with adversity to build compelling anecdotes that underscore her story.

I feel certain no one goes out to seek adverse conditions to improve their speeches and stories. But reflecting on challenges you've faced, and being willing to talk about them, can make you a more powerful, riveting speaker. With time and perspective, your tales of woe can even be used as humorous counterpoints. For example: Bissell's insight involves looking not at genetic abnormalities as drivers of cancer, but at the microenvironment of tissue surrounding cancer cells, and how those interactions affect the disease. In this story from the East Bay Express, she weaves together that detail of her research -- the microenvironment--along with objections she faced in the workplace, this time to her desire to work while pregnant, to bring down the house in a speaking engagement:
At a recent meeting of the East Bay Association for Women in Science, Bissell recalled the consternation inspired by her pregnancy. "I walked into my professor's office and he said, 'Of course you are quitting! What is your mother going to say?'" she recalled. "And my mom called from Iran and said, "You are not quitting!" Instead, her mother came to help out for several months. Bissell shot her audience a knowing look. "Microenvironment," she said slyly, to roars of laughter.
Today, her research papers are described as milestones in cancer and awards in the field are named after her. Bissell's using that opportunity to share the tale of the barriers she faced in putting her ideas forward. It's a form of justice women speakers can claim to even the score and to make sure that type of negative behavior is noted--and not just years later in a formal speech. It's a way she can help other female scientists as well as engage public audiences, who love the story of a struggle. I can't help wondering what would've happened if she'd said to the research-tossing visitor, "Thanks for giving me a great story to tell when my research turns out to be right," as she fished the paper out of the wastebasket. You may not be that quick on the draw in an intimidating workplace situation. But you can make lemonade out of those lemons the next time you give a speech. (Photo from the LBNL photostream on Flickr.)

A new way to share Eloquent Woman posts

I've installed a Meebo bar you can find at the bottom of The Eloquent Woman blog, to make it easier for readers to share information from posts on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and more. It includes an option to drag-and-drop videos or other content to the bar for sharing on other social-media sites. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009's great examples of women speakers

This week, reader and speaker coach Claire Duffy from Sydney, Australia, shared how a search for examples of women speakers brought her to this blog:

I got onto your blog when a 14 year old student was entering a competition where she needed to present a speech by a famous Australian. She wanted it to be by a woman. Need I say that no suitable speech could be found. It was my research for her that led me to you.

It reassures me that the issue of getting women to speak in public is a live one in the US - which has a more vigorous oral culture than we do here. In my schools I see the problem quite clearly - girls de-select themselves. Junior girls enter public speaking competitions and do debating, but by the time they're in the senior years the boys outnumber them by two to one. No wonder they're not out there presenting as adults! Hopefully we can gradually turn this round.

I don't have examples of great women speakers from Australia to offer, but welcome readers' ideas and suggestions to share with Claire and her trainees. Here are the women speakers we've featured on this blog in 2009, many shared by readers or sought by readers looking for good speaking role models:

  • Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo! in her first speech as a new CEO
  • Actress Jane Fonda and her voice lessons before a new play
  • Speakers who participated in major speech competitions: Writer Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson on her first PowerPoint presentation and Ignite! talk; Anne Medlock and her "near-TED experience;" and marketer Jennifer Cohen, who gave her very first talk at Ignite!
  • Posted on International Women's Day, speeches by author and activist Isabel Allende, Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, scientist Nalini Nadkarni and singer Nellie McKay
  • Our top women speakers series, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Bishop Kathryn Jefforts Schori, athlete and disability activist Aimee Mullins, First Lady Michelle Obama, Governor Jennifer Granholm and chemist and professor Carolyn Bertozzi
  • Top women commencement speakers highlighted by one of our speechwriter-readers: performers Meryl Streep and Melissa Etheridge; writers like Gloria Steinem and Anna Quindlen; first ladies Michelle Obama and Barbara Bush; executive Carly Fiorina, impresario Oprah Winfrey and playwright Margaret Edson
  • Debra Davidson, a sander at the Martin Guitar Factory and my tour guide there
  • Blogging entrepreneurs Katie Kemple, who used experience bellydancing to improve her speaking, and Leah Garnett, who took her inspiration from performing on guitar.
  • Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who raised the issue of women getting talked over in meetings, and Sonia Sotomayor, who used storytelling in her confirmation hearings to good effect.
  • Kenneth Cole CEO Jill Granoff and Elle Group chief brand officer Carol Smith, both of whom highlighted challenges women face in workplace speaking and presenting
  • Speaking from the nonprofit sector were The Acumen Fund's Jacqueline Novogratz, who ably demonstrated how to speak up for a good cause, and Red Cross President Gail McGovern
  • Author Elizabeth Gilbert, whose TED talk demonstrates great speaker presence

Please do continue to share your good examples of women speakers, particularly if you can point us to video of them speaking. I look forward to adding to this impressive list in 2010!

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Readers' 2009 tips and questions

When readers share what they know or ask about what they want to know, The Eloquent Woman becomes a stronger blog--and that was especially true in 2009. Check out these ideas and questions that were top-of-mind for our readers this year:
  1. When the speaker needs to catch her breath was one of this year's most popular posts, prompted by this message from a reader: "Would you consider posting tips on catching your breath during a talk? An adrenaline rush can leave me out of breath w/no way to makes a speaker sound nervous."

  2. Who are today's top women speakers? This question came from a reader and speaker coach who was looking for ideas on current women who are good examples for other speakers---especially those with video examples of them speaking. I turned to readers for their ideas, a wound up with a list that included politicians, scientists, a bishop, inspirational speakers and more.

  3. What did readers want to improve in their speaking? As part of our Step Up Your Speaking contest, entrants were asked to name their top priorities for improving their speaking--so I asked readers of the blog and The Eloquent Woman on Facebook to do the same. Among their answers: Being more interactive, deciding when and whether to "dumb down" a technical topic, enunciation, being "dynamic and memorable," what happens when a joke doesn't work and more. You'll find my answers in all these posts, and can check out what the contest entrants wanted to improve here.

  4. Graceful ways with Q&A, another of our most popular posts, stemmed from two readers' questions about handling an audience gone awry. And in a year when hecklers made the news several times, another reader asked for help in handling hecklers.

  5. How do you deliver your mother's eulogy? asked a new fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. Readers and I joined in to respond with ideas and encouragement on a speaker situation nearly all of us will face someday.

  6. What should you know about the room in which you're speaking? asked a reader, and I responded with tips for sussing out your speaking space.

  7. What do speakers assume--rightly or wrongly? I wondered after I spent a month mostly in the audience, watching other speakers. Readers had a host of things they observed, from overuse of acronyms to too-crowded slides, making a great list of don'ts you can use.

  8. What about eye contact? wondered some readers after watching a presentation on body language from another speaker. I pulled together tips and advice on eye contact in this, another of our most popular posts.

In the last week of 2009, I'm looking back at the year by sharing collections of The Eloquent Woman's strongest topics and themes. What were your favorites? Let me know in the comments--and thanks for reading this year! -- Denise Graveline

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Resolved: A year of public speaking

Would you try this? British journalist Robert Crampton writes in this article about his decision to spend a year focused on public speaking--getting and accepting more engagements, and doing better as a speaker. He decided to get honest with himself about his lack of skill, even though he might be considered a "good enough" speaker:

Speaking well in public always felt like something I should be good at. I make a nice living from the written word, and among small groups I can handle the spoken word too. But increase the number much beyond half a dozen and I’d founder. Nerves and self-consciousness and a history of failure would take over. I’d dry up, go surly, or platitudinous, or seek recourse in jokes that didn’t quite work.

He'd done some speaking, then stopped for a while. Here's his own diagnosis of where he stood when he started this project:
Inexperience got the better of me. Stories fell flat. What I thought were telling points sounded trite as they left my mouth. As I wrote in my appeal for more speaking gigs, “Each time was like the first time.” These occasions would loom large in my diary and my head, blotting out everything else for weeks in advance. I just wanted them to be over, and when they were over, I felt my life could begin again.
Anyone who's seeking to improve as a speaker will find this a realistic look at a year well spent--and this is as good a time as any to think about your own speaking resolutions. Leave a note in the comments about what you're seeking to improve as a speaker in 2010.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas read-aloud practice

Reading aloud--particularly poetry or children's tales--is a simple but effective way to practice vocal skills. You can focus on emphasizing or "popping" different words, varying your tone and volume, pausing for effect and more. And it's easier for you to focus on those skills when the text is both familiar and not your own. Here's a video of First Lady Michelle Obama reading "The Night Before Christmas" at a children's hospital this week to get you started.

You'll find another font of poetic inspiration and good read-aloud resources from Julie Andrews, who, with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, has published Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies. You can hear them discussing the book and hear them recite poems here on this episode of NPR's Diane Rehm Show--audio will be available later today.

The Eloquent Woman wishes you and your family and friends a wonderful holiday and a great new year ahead!

Related posts: Can famous speeches boost eloquence?

Vocalizing tips from an NPR intern

Good messages come in threes (including children's books)

Become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TED 2010 speakers announced

Speakers for the widely watched TED (short for technology, education, design) 2010 conference have been announced. TED brings inspiring, creative speakers with "ideas worth spreading" from around the world to the conference, sold out months in advance--then posts video, transcripts and translations of their talks year-round on its excellent website,

I'm disappointed that women make up just under 25 percent of the 40 speakers named so far, although the women presenting include a great array of talent. They are:
  • Marian Bantjes, designer, illustrator and typographer
  • Sheryl Crow, singer, songwriter and activist
  • Esther Duflo, development economist
  • Eve Ensler, playwright and activist
  • Cheryl Hayashi, a biologist who studies spider silk
  • Jane McGonigal, game designer
  • Natalie Merchant, singer and songwriter
  • Elizabeth Pisani, epidemiologist
  • Sarah Silverman, comedian offers any speaker a wonderful learning opportunity. All the talks are limited in length and require speakers to speak without notes, but many use creative props or visuals, as well as their own performance skills. I'll be looking forward to hearing this new crop of TED talks coming soon.

Related posts: Learn storytelling online: 3 ways

Ann Medlock's "near-TED experience"

Become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook

Final exam: Speak at the mall

You might expect a public speaking class to include a live presentation in front of your classmates. But at Adirondack Community College in New York state, public speaking students in Sean Mathews' class had to give their final speech at the mall--Aviation Mall in Queensberry, to be exact. According to this article, the 20 students took turns giving their presentations outside the mall's J.C. Penney store, and the location was part of the instructor's plan. From the article:
Mathews, an adjunct English professor, said he wanted students to speak in a public place. This was the first time he had used a mall.

"It's really the perfect challenge for this course," he said. "I want them to experience giving a speech out in public."

Students had to speak loudly enough to be heard over the ambient music and noise inside the mall. And they had to project to a larger audience.
Good reminders for beginner speakers: Make sure you work in a public presentation before you consider yourself "ready." Congratulations to this class for taking the plunge in a public place.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Spice up ordinary speaking tasks

You've got to give a toast...cut a ribbon...thank all the event sponsors...introduce the speaker...make the "housekeeping" announcements...get people to sit down so the program can start. But don't make the mistake of treating these ordinary speaking tasks as plain-vanilla chores. Instead, use these ways to spice up your next speaking task:
  • Add some personal touches: One reason Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm made it to our list of today's top women speakers was her ability at this event to thank a lot of sponsors and partners with a personal touch--she made the crowd feel she knew each one, or wanted to meet them if she didn't know them. Don't just reel off those sponsor names: Add a short line about each one that comes from you, not from their press releases; if you're in a group where the sponsors are well-known, use their first names; or simply make the thank-you original and varied for each one ("We couldn't have done this without you, Jim...Sharon, your support means so much coming from a longtime member"). Keep it short but put a genuine, heartfelt touch into these remarks and they'll be even more appreciated.
  • Move into the audience: Grab a handheld microphone and walk around the luncheon tables to urge people to take their seats. Or walk around the crowd to make the housekeeping announcements, or to call attention to the sponsors' tables. You'll absolutely have the audience's attention when you're up close, and you'll add some visual spice to the speaking agenda.
  • Replace the ribbon and move that bus: If you have input into the event, suggest something new. At a ribbon-cutting, get the crowd involved by making a "ribbon" of people who'll be working at the new facility, with linked hands, or start a parade through the new door. Then use that as the cue for your remarks.
  • Use humor...with care and originality: Tempted to use humor? Be careful. Speakers often use humor to jazz up the ordinary speaking task--but keep in mind that jokes are among the toughest things for speakers to remember, and so may fall flat. Keep your humor task-oriented. For example, when making the housekeeping announcements--such as the order of events, or the date of the next committee meeting--plan a funny construct or comment you can work into each one. (I won't soon forget the long-ago flight attendant who, as we headed toward 30,000 feet in the air, announced that anyone found smoking in the non-smoking section would be asked to leave the plane immediately.)

An athlete decides to get a speaking coach

Picture this: You're an Olympic medalist and world-champion sprinter whose moves on the track are fast, smooth and polished by years of long practice. And now you want a coach...for public speaking? That's what Olympian Lauryn Williams decided after participating in a ceremony where she and other athletes received awards for their public service. In her blog post, "I want to be like Nancy Lieberman when I grow up," Williams shares her nervousness about speaking:
Speaking has been the little demon in my closet for my whole career and despite me pumping myself up because I wanted to do well, Monday was no different. I was to give a 2-3 minute talk accepting my award and explaining what inspires me to give. Sounds easy enough right???? WRONG!!! ....I didn't know what I could say that was going to be as appealing to the crowd and I was the only female. I certainly couldn't be outdone by 3 guys!!
Then Nancy Lieberman, the first woman to play professional basketball--who played with men, because a women's league didn't exist at the time--stepped up to speak. Williams was inspired:
I am vowing to make my improvement in this area a focal point this year. It was really encouraging when once things were finished two women came to me and said, “Your speech was great! If you had not told us how nervous you were or that you were going to be quick you would have nailed it right on the head.” I know I have some work to do as my job will require me to speak and I am up to the challenge of fine tuning my delivery...
It's a great lesson for all would-be speakers to take from a top athlete: When you need to improve a skill, see a coach. I'm available for Lauryn, or for you and your colleagues. In 2009, stay tuned for new Eloquent Woman workshops and resources, or contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz to find out more about training and coaching. (Photo of Williams with young fans from her blog.)

Related posts: What to ask the trainer

A checklist to prepare the whole speaker

Can public speaking come naturally to you?

Memo to boss: 6 reasons I need training

Become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook

Monday, December 14, 2009

How to approach a tough topic: 5 ways

You may not like to speak in public. You may fret over your delivery, voice, outfit, the lighting. Or perhaps you're a happy speaker, ever willing and comfortable. But when your topic or subject creates the difficulty, you're facing the great equalizer, the challenge that might thwart both the confident and the shy speaker.

And the definition of "tough topic" rests with you, the speaker. It may be tough for you personally--the eulogy of a parent who's died, or the toast to a child on her wedding day. It may be tough for you as a speaker, if you face a contentious topic or audience that might explode, or if you're especially nervous. Tough can be a momentary but pointed political debate, an argument impossible to win, your nerves about the topic, the circumstances of the day and more. So how to plan and prepare? Here are five ways to take the plunge:
  1. Listen: If your audience is angry, taking sides or otherwise a tough crowd, engage them from the start by listening, rather than talking. Tell them you'll begin in a few minutes, but you want to hear right from the start from them. It may not disarm them completely, but it will help them vent--and help you get a better sense of where they stand. Then work their comments into your presentation. No need to answer things at this point. Just listen before you speak.

  2. Acknowledge: It doesn't matter whether you agree or disagree with angry or contentious questioners or comments. Thank each audience member for sharing her views. Acknowledge that the situation he's describing is difficult, frustrating or a conundrum. In many cases, your tough crowd just wants to be recognized--and sure that you know how its members feel. Make sure they know you've heard them.

  3. Emote: No need to hide your feelings if you are speaking to a topic fraught with them. Yes, you can cry, pause when you're overcome by emotion, or give a rousing cheer for an exciting development. And if someone says something preposterous, feel free to laugh--then explain why. But no need to bring your poker face.

  4. Ask: You can use this tactic a couple of ways. I've coached speakers who had to address contentious crowds with conflicting goals and lots of political tripwires, and often, I'll suggest that the speaker simply state the contentious questions...without answering them. That's especially effective if the speaker won't be in a position to address all the issues completely, but wants to be sure to demonstrate an understanding of the issues. It's another form of acknowledging the crowd's issues. Another tactic: Open with the Q part of Q&A, letting the audience put their questions on the floor at the outset. You'll promise to either cover them in your prepared remarks, or return to the answers once your formal presentation is done.

  5. Reflect: Add some perspective, and reflect aloud for your difficult audience or on a troublesome issue. Remind your listeners of similar problems that occurred long ago--especially if they sound eerily similar to today's issue, or if they demonstrate how much worse things were long ago. Talk about your own wrestling with a tough issue, so they understand more of your thinking. Or share a memory only you have, one that will help them see a new side of what you're describing. Finally, when faced with a question about what you'll do--one you can't answer today--tell the group you want to reflect on it before making a decision, and ask for their input on the spot.

Related posts:Speaking challenge: Deliver your mother's eulogy

Graceful ways with Q&A

Handling hecklers: How to do it

Become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Does an introvert's speaking style aid leadership?

This Forbes article suggests that introverts make better leaders by playing to their strengths, rather than fighting them--and cites a lot of speaking skills to bolster its point:
  • By using a "think first, talk later" approach, introverts give themselves time to ponder, while appearing measured and thoughtful; this also gives subordinates a chance to contribute and can keep leaders from making mistakes by jumping in too fast.
  • They ask questions and take an in-depth approach to conversations, yielding more learning and understanding.
  • They appear calm, usually through anticipating issues, practicing what to say, and getting themselves in the right frame of mind before communicating.
So, even though introverts often find speaking exhausting, they can use their personality preferences to change their speaker presence, prepare better and keep the conversations moving.
The article notes that some 40 percent of leaders are introverts, and the author, in a separate article, reports:
In today’s extroverted business world, introverts can feel ignored, overlooked, and misunderstood. In fact, according to my research—a two-and-a-half year national study of introverted professionals—four out of five introverts say extroverts are more likely to get ahead in their workplace. What’s more, over 40 percent say they would like to change their introverted tendencies, but don’t know where or how to begin.
What do you introverts think? Share your tactics in the comments.

Friday, December 11, 2009

My hat's off to these bloggers

I'm always excited when other bloggers share posts from The Eloquent Woman--but I'm remiss in thanking many recent posters. Here, as a bit of payback, is more information about these bloggers who cover similar topics--so you can enjoy exploring them:

  • Kate Peters writes Kate's Voice, a great blog on using your voice optimally. In a recent post on taking charge of your vocal image, she says, "I really enjoy reading “The Eloquent Woman,” a blog for women on public speaking. The author, Denise Graveline, often discusses gender differences in communication from a speaker’s perspective. Check it out!" Thanks, Kate--I know my readers will enjoy your blog.
  • Mike Schultz's Brinker Toastmasters blog picked up on my "fix-3" approach to analyzing and fixing 3 priorities in your public speaking, noted it's a way for Toastmasters to expand their feedback: "In her valuable post Denise Graveline suggests that “most speakers don’t take the time for this type of self-analysis,” and from experience I can say a big amen to that. Here’s a valuable way to add your own analysis to the advice you get from evaluators." He also blogged about something I agree with: Success in speaking is not for extroverts alone, citing an article we both like. I always value Mike's feedback to this blog.
  • Michael Erard, author of the book Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean was nice enough to feature our interview with him on his website for the book, saying, "Denise Graveline and writer Becky Ham asked me some really great questions." We think he gave great answers, the interview here.
  • George Page's AccuConference blog elaborated on how to regain the audience's attention if you're losing it, building on my post that answered a workshop participant's question.
  • Kathy Hansen's blog, A Storied Career, thinks all conferences should be storied, noting, "As blogger Denise Graveline points out, the well-known TED (technology, entertainment, design) conference also emphasizes storytelling ....Wouldn’t it be great if all conferences were storied and all presenters storytellers?" Look to her blog for all things storytelling.
  • Diana Schneidman's Stand Up 8 Times blog mused on the Danah Boyd experience with the Twitter backchannel--and wasn't sure she liked it. Neither did Bitchitorial. Thanks for including me in your sources, ladies. I also owe Joe Bonner, a regular source for my blogs, credit for flagging that event and Danah's own post about it.
  • Richard Garber's Joyful Public Speaking shared a thorough post on introductions that included my "take 5" tips for introducing speakers. Richard is the Vice President-Education for Capitol Club Toastmasters in Boise, Idaho. Thanks!
  • Lee Potts, author of the Breaking Murphy's Law blog for presenters on rising above what can go wrong, bookmarked my "sussing out your speaker space" item on his website. Thanks, Lee!

Resolved: Your 2009 speaking goals

What are your New Year's resolutions for your public speaking? It's the time of year when many set goals--and I'd like to capture the list of public speaking resolutions for readers of this blog. Share your goals, wishlists, hopes and plans in the comments below, or on the wall of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. Perhaps your goal will inspire someone else--or you'll find other folks with the same goal in mind, and we can work on that through the year on the blog.

Wrapping up Step Up Your Speaking

I'm rolling out the red carpet for Stephanie Benoit, who this week completed 15 weeks of online coaching in our Step Up Your Speaking program. She entered our contest in July, and started her coaching in September--and you've seen all of it online. Here what I've noticed about Stephanie's progress:

  • She has a more confident speaker presence: One of Stephanie's major goals was overcoming a fear of public speaking. She's done that through the weekly practice called for in this coaching--and today, you can see that confidence implied in her posture, appearance, gestures and more. I think she's thinking more about how she wants to come across, always important for any speaker.

  • She's taken advantage of camera practice: Having to submit her work via online video meant that Stephanie needed to rehearse and record every week, a simple step anyone can take to improve her speaking. But more than that, she's now gesturing within the camera frame so we can see her hands, and has used the camera to learn about unintentional facial expressions--like visual "ums"--so she can correct them.

  • She's built on or discovered some great speaker strengths: Stephanie's been able to discover and build on existing strengths she possesses, but may not have been aware of previously. She has a pleasant and expressive voice, and uses it naturally and well for emphasis. Her enthusiasm and personality come across, even on camera (and it's tough to put that across without a live audience). She doesn't look as nervous as she may have felt going into this process, even from the beginning. And she's willing to try and practice, again and again--as a coach, I can tell you that's the key to success in public speaking!

  • She's starting to shape her messages. When you're just starting out as a speaker, sometimes it's hard to come up with what you want to say. There's more work here for Stephanie to do as she moves forward, but she's made a great start at coming up with messages and finding ways to make them stick with her audiences. Now she needs to work through all the things she wants to say and put them together in short and long presentations, so she's ready when an invitation arises.

Here are Stephanie's questions after 15 weeks of coaching. You'll notice that they don't sound at all ike a beginner's questions:

  1. What other resources--books, links, ideas--can we recommend for her to keep her going?
  2. What else does she need to successfully book a speaking engagement?
  3. What does she need to do to turn this into a successful business?

I could list plenty of resources for each of these questions, but none of them would work as well as these three: Patience, persistence and practice. Stephanie will need patience in waiting to land a speaking engagement, and then another, and another. She'll need to persist in seeking speaking opportunities, asking and networking in all her circles and beyond them; she may need to join some professional groups, a local Toastmasters organization or a local networking group to meet and make contacts. And she'll need to practice her delivery skills as well as her messages, until she has fully developed a core of messages that she wants to communicate, and has figured out where her audiences are.

She already has one of the best practice tools I know, the Flip MinoHD Camcorder, and if she spends just an hour a week working on her message content and then on its delivery, I know she will continue to improve. And I have links at the end of this post with books and other tools she can acquire to practice as well as get new ideas and inspiration.

Does she need slick marketing materials to get a speaking engagement? I don't think so. Stephanie may want to develop a website with basic information about her business, including her biography, videos of her speaking, and some background on the topics about which she wants to speak, and she may want business cards for face-to-face networking. She's active on social-media sites and should use those to let her networks know of her goal to get a speaking engagement.

When it comes to making a business out of public speaking, I'll caution that very few people make their entire living that way. Even when you move beyond the beginner stage, there are many speaking opportunities that don't pay directly. But you may gain other worthwhile but indirect benefits, such as promoting your business, building your audience, spreading your message and making yourself more visible as a speaker. To start making speaking pay, Stephanie will need to begin as an unpaid speaker--but use each speaking experience to get those indirect benefits.

I'll say this: After going through this program in a very public way, Stephanie now has a compelling personal story to tell about her quest to improve as a speaker. When I came up with the contest, I wondered who'd be brave enough to submit a video and commit to online coaching. Stephanie's been a delight to work with, and stayed focused throughout the 15 weeks--that's a coach's dream, as is the chance to see someone progress as she has clearly done.

Stephanie's still eager to get your ideas, tips and resources, so please leave them in the comments. And stay tuned for more resources to come from the Step Up Your Speaking program....

Related posts: What's your speaker presence?

Message development: Glue to make your message sticky

All the Eloquent Woman posts on books we like for speakers and

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stephanie steps up to end...and begin

It's week 15 of our Step Up Your Speaking program, and in this final session, Stephanie Benoit gets to ask three more questions about public speaking. She also uses this video to look back on the experience. I'll be responding to her questions later today, but she's also eager to hear your comments and advice as she moves forward. She may be ending this program, but she's just starting on her road as a public speaker. Here are Stephanie's final questions for me--and for all of you:
  • Stephanie wants to keep up the momentum: What other resources--books, links, ideas--can we recommend for her to keep her going?

  • She wants more on how to successfully book an event. She's begun pursuing speaking engagements, based on what we reviewed in an earlier week, but is looking for ideas, materials she may need to market herself as a speaker and more.

  • What does she need to do to turn this into a successful business? Speaking's one part of a business she envisions that will help empower women. How does she use this new skill as a way of becoming "financially free," as she puts it?

Stephanie used the end of her video the way a good speaker should: by sharing how and where you can find her on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, a great example of the follow-up strategies we discussed. What are your ideas, encouragements and recommendations for this starting-out speaker? If you have advice (or a speaking engagement) for her, leave it in the comments!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Eloquent Woman book group

Reader Emily Culbertson suggested a book group -- online -- to discuss Scott Berkun's new book, Confessions of a Public Speaker, and I've started such a group on Google Wave. Wave is still in the experimental stages and you need an invitation to join; I have a few invitations to extend to followers and fans of the blog. If you are already on Google Wave, you can search for "Scott Berkun" or the book title to find our discussion--or enter this Google Wave ID:!w+iSDGzOq9B.2

If you're not on Google Wave, please share your thoughts and comments on the blog or on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. I'm interested to hear what you think about the book--what did you find that was useful to you, or surprising?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

5 stealth ways to find time to practice

When you first start working on your public speaking skills, the idea of finding time to practice seems almost impossible. At the same time, I can tell you that improvement just won't happen unless you do practice-- and practice regularly, focusing on each thing you need to improve, as well as on your next presentation.

How do you make practice a priority, and fit it into your busy schedule? Try these 8 stealth ways to find the time for your speaking practice:

  1. Do it in the commercial breaks: When I started learning guitar, the instructor suggested that I practice only 5 to 7 minutes at a time, to keep my fingers from getting too sore and discouraging me. "I don't normally recommend watching TV," he said, "but it's easy to work during commercial breaks with the sound muted, then stop when the program starts again." The same can work for you: choose something short to practice -- like your opening line, your closing lines, or short anecdote -- then be ready with that mute button. You get about 10 minutes of practice each half-hour this way.
  2. Schedule an hour a week: If you want to do your practicing in the office, put it on your schedule. Start with an hour a week to practice basic skills on a regular basis. Before presentation, don't wait till the last minute to schedule a rehearsal time; instead, put in our day on your schedule for the two weeks prior.
  3. Focus on one part of a thorny issue: If you find yourself stumbling over a particular issue in your delivery, break it into manageable parts, and focus on just one of them at a time. That way, each small area of focus will fit into a shorter, easier-to-schedule practice time. For example, if you're having trouble delivering an anecdote in an efficient way, then one hour brainstorming a tight beginning. In the next session, figure out your ending. In another, work on getting from point aA to point B in an entertaining fashion
  4. Use your drive time: Second only to video practice is audio practice, something you can easily use in your car, on a subway train, or on yoor walk home. Spend part of your in-office practice recording yourself delivering a presentation all the way through, perhaps more than once. You may think of this as wince-able drive-time listening, issued in damages feedback: after listening to yourself several times, you'll come away with a sense of what you need to change, what takes too long to say, where you need to slow down, and much more.
  5. Use that hotel room: The time-honored practice zone for traveling speakers everywhere, hotel rooms have a lot going for them--you're hidden from view, have access to a mirror, and often, plenty of time to kill. If you find yourself with waiting time, use your hotel room as a private practice zone--even if you're not doing a presentation this trip. It's a great way to work in practice time.

Monday, December 7, 2009

On my review bookshelf

I've got a growing pile of new books to review on public speaking and am just starting them, but wanted you to know right away about what's on my new-book shelf:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

week 14, part 2: Expanding your message

As she's rethinking her message, Stephanie wondered how to take that basic set of three key points and expand them into longer-format talks. Since a message is an outline, at heart, you can approach the challenge one of two ways:

  • Starting from scratch: If you don't yet know your three key points, and are starting from scratch, write down every fact, quotation, data point, story or example you can think of about your topic--then group them into categories. You may want to eliminate some points if they don't fit well with the others, or save them for another talk. Once you've settled on your points and can see ways to make three groups out of them, develop your message around those three categories. The detailed points are what you'll use to expand the talk; the short statement of your message points is the shortest version of your talk.
  • If you already have a message, as Stephanie does, your brainstorming can be more focused. Her message is about what it takes to face your fear of public speaking: Focus, frequency and faith in yourself. For each of those categories, she'll need to research facts, anecdotes, examples (from her own life or from popular culture) and persuasive points that will underscore and put her message across in a convincing way.

Let's take that example further: If Stephanie wanted to expand on her point about focus, she might look up some quotes about focus or single-minded pursuit of a goal or persistance--all similar qualities (follow the links to see examples). A quotation that underscores her point, plus a story or example from her own life or the life of an inspirational figure who overcame great odds or a speaking challenge, taken together, would help her expand on the points she's already included in her message -- not replace them, but in addition to them.

Other ways to expand on your points include:

  • Posing common questions your audience may have on that point
  • Describing common objections or concerns that are related
  • Asking the audience whether they've encountered something similar
  • Talking about a time when you failed to take this step and what happened
  • Talking about what happened when you followed this advice and succeeded
  • Describing your own emotions, concerns and perspective

It's also important, when expanding your message, to be sure you can stay within a specific time limit. If you're just starting out, as Stephanie is, don't expand too far. Start with a short talk of 10 to 15 minutes, get comfortable, then expand further as you need to.

Related posts: Stephanie's week 12 message

Making a message: Using analogy

Glue to make your message stick

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week 14: using speed wisely and well

In week 14 of our Step Up Your Speaking program, Stephanie focused on her message once more, and asked a question about the speed with which she's speaking. My video offers some thoughts on using pacing--speaking fast or slow--as a way to emphasize particular points in your presentation or speech, as well as some thoughts on why you might be speaking too fast. (If nervousness is your reason, check out the links below for suggestions to help you focus on that factor.)

I promised Stephanie a list of tools she can use to create emphasis in her speaking delivery. Here are four:
  1. Pacing: Slowing your pace can emphasize a series of words--that might mean a list, your most important points taken together, or the last line of a dramatic story--or an important phrase or conclusion. You can also use it when you're asking questions or raising issues ("Should she take the job....wait for a better offer...or try another route?") during your presentation. Slowing down allows your point to sink in; speeding up increases the energy and your visible enthusiasm. Aim for a balance, but know in advance where, when and why you are varying your speed.
  2. Vocal variety: Changing the tone of your voice, raising it higher or lower, or "punching" particular words to emphasize them (as in "I don't WANT to do this, so I'll WAIT to do it") also can help you call attention to words or phrases, and also helps you keep the audience attention. Check out these vocalizing tips from an NPR intern.
  3. Gestures: Research shows that gestures, in combination with spoken words, can enhance your audience's understanding of what you're putting across in a speech or presentation. As with all these emphasis tools, plan them and use them judiciously.
  4. Messaging tools: The same tools you use to make a message memorable--alliteration, analogy or references to popular culture--also can help you emphasize particular themes or make them easier to recall.

You can combine these different emphasis tools if you really want to put a point across. In Stephanie's message, she uses alliteration to describe three factors in facing fear of public speaking: Focus, frequency and faith. The alliteration is a subtle emphasis, and she can make it stronger by popping each of those words vocally to emphasize them even more; by gesturing; and by slowing down for each keyword.

Related posts: Vocalizing tips from an NPR intern

Speed's one assumption speakers make. Should they speak as they normally do?

Slowing down for enunciation and clarity

See Stephanie's week 12 video delivering her message

For the nervous speaker: When the speaker needs to catch her breath

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

week 14: Stephanie considers her message delivery

This week, Stephanie used a great analogy--how you see your progress when you're trying to lose weight--to describe her reaction to her public-speaking progress in our Step Up Your Speaking program.  In week 12, to show her how far she's come, I put her contest entry from the summer alongside her current video demonstrating a message she created about facing her fear of speaking.  In this week's video, she says, "When you're trying to lose weight and you're working out, and every day you're in the mirror, and you don't really notice it. But people come up to you every day to give you compliments on how great you're looking. To have those two videos side to side, it gave me a lot of joy to see that my work is paying off."  It's just another demonstration of her growing skill set--and that, when you speak from the heart about something you know personally, you'll be far more eloquent, relaxed and effective, as she is in this video.

In the next-to-last week of our Step Up Your Speaking challenge, Stephanie reflects in the video above about her week 12 message and what she might do better, based on my feedback and that of other viewers. For video or for speaking with a lectern, she'll need to move her hands higher and into view for gestures to really be effective.   She wants to pay attention to her visual "ums," those moments when she looks away and breaks eye contact so she can pause and think about what she wants to say--or remember it.  And she's trying to speak more slowly.

Here's her week 12 video delivering her message, so you can see what she's evaluating, and my feedback to her in week 12:

Stephanie's put two issues on the table I want to address this week: Speaking speed, and how to take a short message and expand it into a longer talk. They're both important issues for you to consider when you're developing your speaking style and approach. Now it's my turn to come up with two videos to coach her on those topics! In the meantime, please leave your feedback and encouragement for her in the comments.

Related posts: Can eye contact trip you up? with information on visual ums and time-buying phrases to use to combat them

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The speaker's wish list: Practice tools