Friday, May 22, 2009

top women speakers? K. Jefforts Schori

In response to my call for your nominees for top current women speakers--with video, so we can share their examples--reader CorrinneAM suggested Katharine Jefforts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the U.S., the first woman in that role.

Bishop Jefforts Schori was ordained in 1994, following a career as an oceanographer; she's also a licensed pilot. Today, she is "chief pastor to the Episcopal Church’s 2.4 million members in 16 countries and 110 dioceses," according to her official biography.

We're fortunate that the church is generous in sharing audio and video of its presiding bishop, as well as texts of her sermons and speeches. From March 6, 2009, there's a sermon honoring the 20-year groundbreaking ministry of Bishop Barbara Harris, bishop suffragan of Massachusetts. In it, Bishop Jefforts Schori weaves stories about herself to set up metaphors, analogies and examples that help her describe the honoree and her work advancing help for women and girls in communities around the world. To conjure Bishop Harris's struggles, starting in the Jim Crow South, she begins telling stories of climbing hills in her own childhood; to suggest the path forward, she speaks of doors that are closed, then opened. Humor laces the speech, along with active verbs that give it a strength and power it might otherwise lack. Quoting the honoree about breaking ground as a woman celebrant, she noted Harris's remark that the effort was "like eating an elephant, one bite at a time." Noting that there are more strides to be made for women in the church, Bishop Jefforts Schori then quips: "My friends, that elephant needs to be on more menus."

While having to stick to the lectern is limiting, Bishop Jefforts Schori makes full use of her non-verbal tools to command that small space: She wears a strong color in her robes; gestures above the height of the lectern (generally with her right hand); looks to all sections of her audience; and uses facial expressions, vocalizing and her eyes to add to an active appearance in a sermon spoken from one spot. By using all the visual and verbal options available to her, the limited stance and space become more like a frame for her sermon. Finally, while she's reading from a text--typical when you are honoring someone and want to get your words right--her opening remarks are spoken with only a few glances at her notes. They're spoken directly to the honoree, and from the heart.

Special note: If your speaking includes a ministry, check out Words Fitly Spoken: Public Speaking for Women in Ministry, a book tailored just to your specific speaking needs.

About this series: One of my readers noted he was having trouble finding examples (especially on video) of top women speakers of today--plenty from the past, few from today. So I'm working to compile a list of the top 10 women speakers. Please send me your nominees! I'm looking for nominees from the present day, particularly those for which video examples can be found. You can mention your nominee and any video links in the comments below; send them to me on Twitter; or email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

(Official photo of the bishop from the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.)