Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why do we make speakers feel bad about gesturing?

Almost every time I have a workshop about speaking techniques, there's one tactic that gets more negative comments than any other: Gesturing.

In the worst example, a young scientist whom the group had just watched on video was asked how she thought she did. Her task was to deliver a brief three-point message, and she did it well in about a minute and a half.

"Oh, I know I gestured too much," she said right away. "I do that. I know it's wrong."

I didn't remember a lot of gesturing and we had plenty of time, so I said, "Let's just look at that video again." Sure enough, she'd gestured just once or twice in 90 seconds--far from excessive.

It's an apologetic reaction I hear again and again from speakers I coach. I talk with my hands, I'm sorry...I don't want to look like a windmill. Many trainees cite their heritage, saying I'm Italian/Greek/French/name your ethnicity, I can't help it.

I shudder especially when I hear that speakers have had their heritage or gender blamed in this regard. This kind of chiding of speakers, I'm guessing, is just another traditional way to get people to shut up when you don't think they have the right to speak. It's intimidating, and the criticism sticks with you as a lasting admonishment.

In fact, most people gesture, although some cultures have raised it to an artform, as you can see in Speak Italian: The Fine Art of the Gesture, a visual guidebook that translates Italian gestures and their meanings using pictures as well as literal translation.

Gestures are expressive, but even if they're not connected to the words you're speaking, they serve several important purposes in your public speaking and presentations. While it's true that too much of anything--a particular gesture done over and over, or all gestures, all the time--can be distracting to the audience, there's nothing inherently wrong with gestures. Quite the opposite: If you were to immobilize your hands, you'd find it difficult to speak, since gestures help your brain produce speech in the first place. That's true whether you plan your gestures, or use them without thinking.

So just to review some of the points in my post The all-in-one on gestures for public speaking: 12 great tips, gesturing can:
  • Help you speak--that is, help you form words and get them out fluently--and help you avoid speaking stumbles, like "ums" and "uhs"
  • Persuade your audience, by conveying sympathy or empathy, and by mimicry of their movements
  • Revive an audience's flagging attention with a visual redirect
  • Emphasize points by underscoring them, and sometimes, by emphasizing negative or positive trends in your words
Toastmasters offers this booklet about gesturing, a good basic guide if you are just starting to use this important speaking tool. Gesture on--and remember, don't make yourself, or anyone else, feel bad about gesturing.

(Photo from albertstraub's Flickrstream)

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Monday, January 28, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Readers who are fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see these good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. Want to keep up with them? Here are the finds I shared in the week just past:
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Friday, January 25, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Myrlie Evers-Williams's Inaugural Invocation

Just by standing at the microphone at President Barack Obama's second inauguration, Myrlie Evers-Williams was a speaker making history. She is the first woman and first lay person to be invited to give the invocation at a presidential inaguration, and it took place 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and 50 years after her first husband, civil rights activist Medgar Evers, was assassinated.

This invocation--a focused, short speaking role--tied all those historic threads together, echoing the inclusive theme of a day that featured women and people of color in key speaking roles. Evers-Williams's call for inclusion mentioned women frequently, in lines like these:
...let us act upon the meaning that everyone is included. May the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of every woman, man, boy and girl be honored. May all your people, especially the least of these, flourish in our blessed nation.
Facing west, in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial, where the March on Washington took place five decades earlier, she invoked the memory of the black activists who marched for freedom and equality:
We ask, too, Almighty, that where our paths seem blanketed by throngs of oppression and riddled by pangs of despair, we ask for your guidance toward the light of deliverance and that the vision of those who came before us and dreamed of this day, that we recognize that their visions still inspire us. They are a great cloud of witnesses unseen by the naked eye, but all around us, thankful that their living was not in vain.
A seasoned speaker, Evers said in a recent interview that she has "been on the lecture circuit since the day Medgar was assassinated," and, when asked whether praying in public before such a large audience would be a problem, she replied:
To pray is nothing new. To pray in public is nothing new. But to pray in a setting where there will be thousands and thousands of people who will listen, I am asking for guidance. I am asking for direction and I am asking to, please God, help me stay within the three minutes that I have been given.
That prayer was not answered: Evers-Williams exceeded her time limit by nearly double, clocking in at about six  minutes. Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Slow down: Having read about her hope to be timely before the event, the timer in my head went off at the three-minute mark while listening to this invocation, which was not yet finished. Yet I welcomed the deliberate pace Evers-Williams took with it. My advice for speedy speakers notes that, unlike your conversational speed, audiences need you to slow down to about 140-160 words per minute. This invocation came in even slower, just over 90 words per minute, and that speed allowed a gigantic crowd to hear her words clearly and to catch the rhythm and majesty of the words she chose.
  • Give us echoes, rhymes and repetition to catch the ear: This invocation is a listener's delight in its language, too. Close your eyes and focus on the audio to hear rhymes ("throngs of oppression" and "pangs of despair"), invisible visuals (the "great cloud of witnesses...all around us"), and rhetorical repetitions common to invocations, such as repeating the construction "We ask..."
  • Use the instrument that is your voice: An invocation offers a special opportunity for the speaker to use her voice with cadences, inflections and tones that sing out, particularly in a setting like this one, with an enormous in-person audience. In such a setting, your voice will rely on amplification to physically reach the audience, but it's the musical qualities, pace and emphasis your voice brings that will make your words ring in your listeners' ears.
You can read more about Evers-Williams's astonishing life here, and in the books Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be and The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero's Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches, both of which she co-authored. Read the transcript of this invocation and watch the video below. What do you think of this famous speech?

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Speaking Science: To lead, aim low...with your voice

If your voice is low, the votes are yours. That's essentially what Casey Klofstad found out last year, when the University of Miami political scientist teamed up with a few biologists to analyze how differently-pitched voices might affect an candidate's electability. In their experiment, they found that both men and women preferred to cast their fictional ballots for low-pitched voices saying, "I urge you to vote for me in November."

We've known for a while that listeners tend to think deeper, low-pitch voices sound more competent and trustworthy, and the political experiment seemed to bear that out. But men, of course, are both more likely to have low-pitch voices and hold political office. So Klofstad wondered whether this preference would hold when the office in question was one typically associated with women.

In the United States, the president of a school's parent-teacher organization and school board member are two such offices. (About 77% of PTO members nationwide are women, for instance.) Klofstad and communications researcher Rindy Anderson of Duke University decided to run the pitch experiment again, telling their laboratory listeners that the candidates they heard were vying for these traditionally women-held offices.

They manipulated the recorded voices of men and women, so that the experiment's voters would hear each candidate speaking a pair of "vote for me" lines--one high and one low. After being told about the office the "voices" were seeking, the voters were asked choose their favorite candidate out of each pair.

The winners? Well, the results looked much like those from earlier studies. Men and women preferred women candidates with deeper voices, and men preferred male candidates with deeper voices. Women voters, however, didn't seem to care whether the male candidate voices they heard were high or low. Klofstad and Anderson concluded that when it comes to the link between leadership and voice, the office doesn't matter so much. If you speak low, you sound like a leader--even if your leadership position is one that is associated with high-voiced women.

It could be, Klofstad says, that listeners associate women's lower-pitch voices with age, since most women develop deeper voices as they grow older. In this case, women seeking to lead may benefit from having a lower-pitched voice because it makes them sound more experienced, along with sounding more masculine.

That doesn't explain why women don't seem to care how deep-voiced a man is when he's running for PTO president, although Klofstad and Anderson have some ideas on that one. "Our findings hint at the notion that while men have a consistent preference for masculinized leaders," they say, "women may desire men with more feminine qualities in feminine leadership roles."

In any case, there's not much a woman can do to change her voice in this way, Klofstad says. Women have a smaller larynx (the "voice box") and smaller vocal cords than men, "As with the strings of a guitar, longer and thicker vocal folds produce a lower voice, while shorter and thinner vocal folds produce a higher voice," he explains.

It is possible to make some adjustments within the limits set by biology. "The example I like to use from the political world is the story of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady," Klofstad says. "A critical step in her rise to power was vocal training." But he admits that it's difficult to say whether a candidate who fine-tunes her voice's pitch could actually win more votes, since so many other factors play in voting choices. Think we'll know the answer by the 2016 campaign?

(Freelance science writer Becky Ham contributed this post to our Speaking Science series on the research behind public speaking.)

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Monday, January 21, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see these good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. Want to keep up with them? Here are the finds I shared in the week just past:
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Friday, January 18, 2013

Our 100th Famous Speech Friday: Ursula K. Leguin's "We are Volcanoes"

I had an entirely different speech cued up for today, the 100th time I've posted a "Famous Speech Friday" post. And then writer Becky Ham, who also has contributed to this series, sent me a quote from a 1986 Bryn Mawr commencement speech by novelist Ursula K. Leguin. It's considered among the 10 most memorable commencement speeches, and has special significance for this blog.

There's symmetry in this choice for the 100th post: Leguin was featured in one of the earliest FSF posts for her "left-handed commencement address." Both speeches date from the early 1980s, and both focus on women and public speaking. It's both fitting and explosive. I've highlighted in bold the quote Becky sent me in this excerpt:
I know that many men and even women are afraid and angry when women do speak, because in this barbaric society, when women speak truly they speak subversively--they can't help it: if you're underneath, if you're kept down, you break out, you subvert. We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That's what I want--to hear you erupting. You young Mount St. Helenses who don't know the power in you--I want to hear you.
"We are volcanoes" might be one of the best metaphors I've ever heard for women trying to find their voices. It conveys power and latency, a smoldering passion, the ability to be mistaken as something quiet and benign, the possibility of a dramatic mark on the universe, and the power to make permanent and lasting change: "...all the maps change. There are new mountains." And she does it, LeGuin style, in a scant 23 words, none wasted. They're words worth remembering, since, even today, "many men and even women are afraid and angry when women do speak."

The full text is preserved in the collection of speeches and essays by LeGuin called Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places, and here on the Bryn Mawr website. LeGuin walks her listeners through the power of public speaking, and how, for most of civilization, it has been changed and dominated by male voices, which she calls "the father tongue."  But where she describes and catalogs women's voices and ways of speaking, this speech resonates:
It is a language always on the verge of silence and often on the verge of song. It is the language stories are told in. It is the language spoken by all children and most women, and so I call it the mother tongue, for we learn it from our mothers, and speak it to our kids. I'm trying to use it here in public where it isn't appropriate, not suited to the occasion, but I want to speak it to you because we are women and I can't say what I want to say about women in the language of capital M Man. 
There's much more to this long and impassioned speech for you to find for yourself, so please give it a thorough read. I wish I had video to share, but I'll settle for what you can learn from it:
  • Respect the audience: Much of this speech looks at how public speech has become a source of power for men, but LeGuin urges her audience to seize it for themselves and also reassures them that she will not abuse that power. "But it is such an authority that I possess for the brief - we all hope it is decently brief - time I speak to you - I have no right to speak to you. What I have is the responsibility you have given me to speak to you." It's an approach more speakers should keep in mind.
  • Use poetry to forge connections: Quoting Sojourner Truth's line, "Now I will do a little singing. I have not heard any singing since I came here," LeGuin uses poems by women poets to illustrate the "mother tongue" language that challenges public ways of speaking. You, too, might consider using poems to connect with your audience.
  • Write your speech the way people talk: LeGuin's an elegant writer, and those skills can be seen here. But she wrote this speech, all about language and speaking, so that it reflected the way people talk, which lends it credibility, immediacy, and surprise. There's nothing simple about this intellectual speech, but it includes real conversational language as a strong connector with the audience, bringing the ivory tower a bit closer to the real world the graduates are about to enter.
  • Sound the call to action: "We are volcanoes" and "That's what I want -- to hear you erupting" unite the audience and give them a charge to follow in vivid and dramatic words. It builds upon her lyrical retelling of the history of men and women and the ways of public speaking and private speaking that have evolved over centuries, and how they affect our homes and workplaces today. It's as good a short history as you'll find about women's issues in public speaking.
What do you think of this famous speech and our Famous Speech Friday series?

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

From the vault: 6 stealth ways to find time to practice your public speaking

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. In fact, if you do practice, you'll gain distinct advantages as a public speaker.

For most of the speakers I coach, however, practice falls by the wayside more often than not. It's easy to put off and tough to fit in. How do you make practice a priority, and fit it into your busy schedule? Try these 6 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 a 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 a presentation, don't wait till the last minute to schedule a rehearsal time. Instead, put in a practice hour every day on your schedule for the two weeks prior.
  3. Break it down to 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 with the opening, spend one hour brainstorming a strong start. In the next session, figure out your ending. In another, work on getting from point A 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 your 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, but 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.
  6. Take the last 10 minutes:  Ten minutes before your actual talk or presentation, duck into a stairwell or nearby restroom for a few minutes' worth of nailing your beginning, plus some deep breathing to calm yourself down. Just don't make this your only practice time!
This post updates one "from the vault" that was originally published in 2011If you found this post useful, please subscribe or make a one-time donation to help support the thousands of hours that go into researching and curating this content for you. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you're a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, you see these good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But I want to share the insights with all the blog's readers, so I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog. Here are the finds I shared in the week just past:
  • Tool time: Inc. magazine rounds up killer presentation tools for speakers who want to up their gadget game. In this article, you'll find everything from a projector to an app.
  • Anxiety, examined: In Out with the Old Anxiety, the author starts a series of columns looking at this struggle that stops many would-be speakers. Here he describes its link to perfectionism: You must hit the home run or not play at all. You must answer every question correctly. Deliver the speech flawlessly....Anything less, less than perfect, and you risk a meltdown — the shakes, the dry mouth, the ruminations that become recriminations that become insomnia."
  • Know what it is? Conversation's a form of public speaking, and this article promises the one conversational tool that will make you better at absolutely everything. This tip works for beginning speakers, introverts and anyone who wants to be a better conversationalist.
  • For your next acceptance speech, don't fumble with paper notes. Follow the lead of this year's youngest best actress Oscar nominee, just nine years old, who used her smartphone for her acceptance of a Critics Choice award.
  • Negative talk with a purpose: Saying "no" with power and grace looks at ways to conquer a difficult form of public speaking.
  • This week's quote: The kickass quote is from Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller, about how she handled a young man who made fun of her name and title, calling her things like "Chief-ette." Find more like it on my Pinterest board of great quotes by eloquent women, pulled from our Famous Speech Friday series.
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Friday, January 11, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Anita Sarkeesian on online harrassment

So many women tell me they hesitate to speak publicly for fear of negative reactions. Here's a young speaker who turns that notion on its head, and uses a TEDxWomen talk to defy a tidal wave of critics. In Anita Sarkeesian's case, her work and this speech are famous because of the vast number and the violence of attackers she faces. And she did it, anyway.

Sarkeesian, a media critic, created Feminist Frequency to provide a series of commentaries about how women are portrayed and viewed in pop culture, including video games. It's a big issue for an industry that says it wants to recruit more female developers and provide more games for female users. The trouble kicked in with a Kickstarter campaign she launched to raise money for her efforts. Despite the fact that she's a gamer herself, Sarkeesian became the target of a hateful barrage of online harrassment:
I'm a pop culture critic, I'm a feminist and I'm a woman, and I'm all of these things openly on the Internet, so I'm no stranger to some level of sexist backlash....But what happened this time was a little bit different....All of my social media sites were flooded with threats of rape, violence and sexual assault, and you'll notice that these threats and comments were simply targeting my gender....there were pornographic images made in my likeness being raped by video game characters, and sent to me again and again....There was even a game made where players were invited to "beat the bitch up" in which, upon clicking on the screen, an image of me would get increasingly battered and bruised.
The attacks helped raise the visibility of her efforts and she wound up raising 25 times more money than she'd requested, but the attacks haven't stopped. In her own post on this talk, Sarkeesian writes about her "strategic decision" to turn the attacks into a teachable moment on online harrassment--a decision that means putting herself out there even more in talks and media interviews. "There have been many inspirational women speaking out about online and gaming harassment issues for a long time and my hope has been that I can use my personal story to contribute to this important and critical conversation," she writes. Perhaps by now it is no surprise that her TEDxWomen speech became a target of the harrassers, so comments were turned off, an unusual step for a TED talk, but one that underscores her point. For every social media strategist, myself included, who counsels clients to leave the comments open on their posts, she's the exception, for good reason.

What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Use both sides of that double-edged sword: Speaking for women is full of double-edged swords, none more powerful than the effort to keep them from speaking up and speaking out in the first place. Just by showing up for this talk and all her other talks and interviews, Sarkeesian keeps them from succeeding. The attacks continue every time she speaks out, but an ever-increasing audience is learning about them each time. Consider the alternative: Would being silent advance her cause or would it help her attackers?
  • Publish your own speech: In her blog post, Sarkeesian shares the video and a full transcript of her speech, which makes me want to stand up and cheer, knowing as I do that too many women don't take the time to publish their speeches. Posting a video is a good start, but it isn't enough, folks: You need a published text if you want the search engines to find your speech and make it easily found by others.
  • On technology topics, juxtapose the online with reality: There's something haunting and uncomfortable about watching this real person standing in front of a slide full of hate speech and violent photographs depicting what the harrassers wanted to do to her, from rape to battery. Without having to say more, the visual juxtaposition takes these invisible harrassers out of the shadows and gives form to the object of the harrassment, making their goal all too clear and concrete for the audience.
I've been advised to turn comments off on this post, but hope you will watch and share it to keep the discussion going.


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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Why (and how) you should publish your speeches

If you give a speech, but don't take steps to publish or preserve it afterward, did you make a sound? The answer could be contributing inadvertently to silencing women all over the world.

I wish more women speakers would ask themselves that if-a-tree-falls-in-the-woods question about their speaking practices. As I hunt down famous speeches by women, I'm struck by the sheer lack of volume of available women's speeches--even when the speech is well-known, and certainly when it's not. That's true historically and in our time, and I'm coming to believe that it's not just because women have difficulty getting on the program in the first place.

Some speakers shake off this question because they think their talks are not important enough to save. If that's your view, it's good to keep in mind that only history can be the judge of that--and a failure to preserve your talk leaves nothing for later audiences to use to make that decision. Speakers who work without a text may feel they have nothing to save, but in fact, you have plenty of publishing options, text or no text.

How and whether you publish your speeches also has a greater importance to women everywhere. Without examples--and lots of them--of women speaking in all sorts of situations and on many topics, we're all missing thousands of sources of inspiration and good role models. If you want to silence yourself, failing to publish your spoken presentations is a great way to start. If you want to find your voice and your audience, publishing your speeches helps you to do both. Consider these options for making sure your words hang in the air longer than the time it took to speak them:
  • Choose your version: If you're working from a text, you can publish it labeled "prepared for delivery," if you're using the text as written, or "as delivered" to indicate it's what you actually said. 
  • Transcribe: No text? If you've recorded your speech (about which more below), transcription services are less expensive than you think, and worth using for this purpose. Remember, no matter how much audio and video you have, text is needed to make your speech easier to find in search engines, so invest in getting those words out there.
  • Translate: If your language is not in wide use around the world, consider investing in a translation or asking someone to volunteer to do it. Many women speakers would see wider audiences and spread their message further with translation of speeches.
  • Publish it yourself: Use your blog, website, ScribdTumblr, or SlideShare to publish your own text or slides, or use a site like Lanyrd, the social network for conferences, to compile a portfolio of your speeches and presentations. You may want to do this even if your employer, the conference organizer or another group publishes your speech, to make sure it stays published and as a record of your own body of work as a speaker. After all, you might change your place of employment or the organization may change its web content without letting you know. Since publishing tools are free and plentiful, there's no reason not to use them in this way.
  • Publish what others heard: Collect the tweets from your audience on Storify and publish them as a different kind of transcript. You'll get the highlights and what struck the audience most. Likewise, compile links to any blog or media coverage of your talk, and publish them alongside the text.
  • Submit it to another publisher: If you take the time to produce the text, audio or video of your speech or presentation, you can submit it to someone else for publication: Your professional society, the conference where you gave the talk, your local newspaper, your local historical society, Vital Speeches of the Day. Turn your speech into an op-ed and submit it to a newspaper. Just make sure you've published it independently, too.
  • Publish the sound of your voice speaking: Verlyn Klinkenborg muses about how we take many snapshots of ourselves, but rarely preserve the sounds of ourselves speaking, creating a missing picture of many famous speakers. He writes, "What would we know if we could hear the voice of Cleopatra? How odd would Napoleon’s Corsican accent sound to modern French speakers? And what if we had two minutes of the voice of Shakespeare, who managed to leave so little of his personal self behind?" Your vocal intonations and cadence are a vital part of any speech or presentation, so preserve them. You can create and publish audio files directly, or use the slidecasting feature on SlideShare to add audio narration to slides.
  • Publish video: It doesn't have to be network quality video, but a video of your speech lets us see expression, movement, gesture, audience reactions and questions, what you're wearing and how you look--all things a text can't offer. You can easily publish video on YouTube or Vimeo, or capture live-streamed events on LiveStream. Here's a nice example from the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, which includes speeches from its Grace Hopper Celebration conferences on the institute's YouTube channel.
  • Make it shareable: No matter which format you use to publish or preserve your speech or presentation, please make the format one which can be shared easily. Putting your material on SlideShare, Scribd, YouTube, Facebook and Pinterest (which supports both video and SlideShare) makes that possible automatically. Keep those embed codes turned on, so the rest of us can spread your work around.
  • Make it normal to do this: If every organization with a women's committee, every professional group, every conference organizer and every company or nonprofit made publishing speeches and presentations routine, we could make this process the new normal. (Government agencies, the keepers of public record, are better at publishing speeches as a matter of practice.) Take that up with your management and the organizations to which you belong. Insist on it when you are the speaker, and if the group won't go along, do it yourself and encourage other women speakers to do it.
Now will you start preserving and publishing your speeches and presentations? Please? I hope you'll make this a habit, rather than something you hesitate to do. Women everywhere are waiting to hear what you have to say.

UPDATED: Want to make the case for doing this in your workplace or organization? Use the SlideShare presentation I created, based on this post:

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Monday, January 7, 2013

Time capsule: "Women Eager Students of After-Dinner Speaking"

Even today, women speakers sometimes report getting a sense that men (and some women) in their audiences are thinking "who does she think she is?" That's historically been more the rule than the exception for women speakers, as an early 20th century report in the New York Times demonstrates.

The August 14, 1910 article Banquet Oratory Now College Course (available in PDF for New York Times subscribers), with the subheadings "Visitor to Columbia University Finds Women Eager Students of After-Dinner Speaking" and "SUSPECT SUFFRAGETTE PLOT," is not a model of journalistic reporting, as the lede paragraph demonstrates:
If anyone doubts that the insurrection of women in this country means business, let him invade the class in "platform speaking," which is a part of the up-to-date menu of education provided by the Summer School of Columbia University....a man was found the other day who said he had just been there.
This fine source of information describes at length the more attractive female students, but notes that most of the women who made up two-thirds of the class were "severely businesslike." When instructed to rest her hand on the back of a chair, one of the students attempting to speak was described as having "gripped the chair with a nervous strength which suggested that she expected to have to use it at any moment as a lethal weapon." This in turn led the observer to suspect the class was a thinly veiled training ground for suffragettes. No other reason could be determined for women learning to speak in public, unless it was to go out to rally for voting rights.

Cast as an unsolved mystery--"the feminine complexion of the class remained to be explained"--the article alludes to women's desire to speak in public as hardly credible, which was true for the day. The remainder of the article spends a lot of time harping about the fact that a class in platform speaking did not, in fact, include a platform, nor did the after-dinner speaking instruction include a dinner. If that all exaggeration sounds ridiculous, remember the root of that word is "ridicule," which the article certainly does.

For perspective, in 2013 the blog will begin sharing "time capsules" about women and public speaking from historic documents and sources.If you found this post useful, please subscribe or make a one-time donation to help support the thousands of hours that go into researching and curating this content for you. 

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

A Martin Luther King quote for the new year
For the new year, a new feature on the blog. Readers who follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook are already used to seeing links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. Now I'll be reversing the process by summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog, so all readers can benefit. Every weekly speaker toolkit will include a mix of the practical and the inspirational for speakers, especially women speakers. Here's a look at the week just past:
  • Speaking up to stop the wage gap: Previous studies have shown that women in the workplace often don't ask for raises, not because they don't think they deserve them, but because they think their chances are less good than those of male peers, and they've been right about that. But experts still feel that women shouldn't settle for less. Now there's a slew of programs aimed at revving up the stalled progress toward closing the wage gap, with programs at universities, Girl Scout troops, YWCAs and more, and the focus of these training efforts it to get women used to speaking up for better pay.
  • A toast to Toastmasters: This woman writes about enrolling in Toastmasters to overcome her speaking fears, but only after attending a sample meeting and deciding not to join. She writes, "What I didn’t realize then was that the meetings aren’t mandatory and the program is self paced. I also didn’t grasp how supportive and non-threatening the environment truly is. Luckily that sunk in this summer and I faced my fears, became a member and am now loving the experience."
  • I made a town meeting gasp is the account of a fearful speaker who got up the nerve on an issue important to her, sustainable transportation. Read how she managed to make her point stick with a prop, and how she felt about speaking up in a very public setting.
  • Sound good? Care of your voice is critical, particularly for frequent speakers. Make use of these tips for keeping your voice healthy, originally aimed at singers by an experienced engineer and producer.
  • About the quote: The blog shares visual quotes about speaking on the Facebook page and on Pinterest. This Martin Luther King, Jr. quote was our New Year's Day post on Facebook and can be found on The Eloquent Woman's Pinterest board of quotes about public speaking.
  • Toward better presos: A legendary ad man shared this advice on organizing presentations back in 1981, and it's still useful stuff to know.
  • Storytelling about storytelling? Yes, and it works in this playlist of 6 TED talks about telling stories. Kick back and get educated on a skill every speaker should have in her toolkit.
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Friday, January 4, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Kavita Krishnan on safety and India's rape culture

In December in New Delhi, a 23-year-old woman traveling on a city bus was beaten with iron rods, gang-raped for almost an hour and thrown out of the bus as it was moving. As a result of the attack, she suffered a heart attack, infections of her lungs and abdomen, and serious brain injury, and died on December 28. News of the rape sparked days of protests in New Delhi, with thousands marching in defiance of tear gas, batons, and water cannons. (You can see dramatic photos of the protests here.) On December 19, the march headed for the house of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, where activist Kavita Krishnan gave a speech that laid responsibility for the assault and the underlying societal conditions at Dikshit's door, so to speak.

She was reacting not just to this heinous crime, but to the Indian rape culture. As Jezebel notes, "Nationwide rape cases in India have jumped almost 875% over the last 40 years, and New Delhi alone reported 600 cases in 2012." Krishnan, who is the secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association, delivered a blistering critique not only of the attack but the words that public officials used to blame the women victims, rather than their attackers, for the crimes. The English transcript of her remarks has gone viral. Here, she recalls an earlier attack and challenges the way it was described:
....when that journalist Soumya (Vishwanathan) was murdered, Sheila Dikshit had issued another statement saying “If she (Soumya) was out at 3 am in the morning, she was being too adventurous,” — we are here to tell her that women have every right to be adventurous. We will be adventurous. We will be reckless. We will be rash. We will do nothing for our safety. Don’t you dare tell us how to dress, when to go out at night, in the day, or how to walk or how many escorts we need!
Later in her remarks, she tackled the coded language again, and with more force:
I am saying this because I feel that the word ‘safety’ with regard to women has been used far too much — all us women know what this ‘safety’ refers to, we have heard our parents use it, we have heard our communities, our principals, our wardens use it. Women know what ‘safety’ refers to. It means – You behave yourself. You get back into the house. You don’t dress in a particular way. Do not live by your freedom, and this means that you are safe....No one is talking about protecting her ‘bekhauf azaadi’, or her freedom to live without fear. 
Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:

  • Decode euphemisms and address issues directly: Krishnan's decoding of the term "safety" reminded me of Ida B. Wells's speech, which denied the claim that lynching was done to protect women, when that was only an excuse. Here, Krishnan took a palatable euphemism and defined it for what it is, an attempt to limit women's freedoms. Then she went a necessary step further to describe what no one was talking about: Protecting "her freedom to live without fear." The contrast makes her goal clear, even as it sheds light on the public officials' statements.
  • Be ready to respond on issues important to you: No one knows when your issue will grab the attention of your city, nation or the world, but you'll have a better chance of riding the wave of publicity and public opinion if you already know where you stand and what you want to say when that time comes. Krishnan was able to speak out early in the protests, capturing a continuing wave of outcry and interest about this incident, and there's no question that she knows what she wants to get across at this critical moment.
  • Make your words accessible to wider audiences: In this case, a transcript of Krishnan's speech in English, along with video, helped carry her words far beyond the streets of protest. In your case, making your words accessible might mean finding a translator; publishing the text, video or audio; sharing the speech on social networks; and seeking media coverage. The lack of these resources keeps many women's speeches from being known in the world, effectively silencing us.

Below is a video of Krishnan's remarks. What do you think of this famous speech?

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

If you ask differently, will your conference get more women speakers?

Women in all professions continue to find it difficult to gain a place on conference programs as speakers--and when they do, they're often singled out for attack, as women speakers were at Ohio LinuxFest recently. Observers blame the lack of women speakers on a wide range of possible "problems:" Women aren't confident enough to accept speaking invitations. We don't have binders full of women speakers, so someone needs to make a helpful list of women to speak. Women don't accept invitations to speak--we know, we asked them. We don't know any "qualified" women speakers on this topic. Even more confusing, some claim there's no problem at all getting women speakers, despite lots of evidence to the contrary, including live reports from audience members on Twitter. Believe me, your audience notices the absence of women on the program.

I've spent a lot of time following this issue, and until now, the debate's been missing this question: What if conference organizers changed the ways they ask women to be speakers on conference programs? Two recent posts, from a pair of conference organizers and a frequent speaker, suggest that how you do the asking matters in the gender makeup of your speaking roster.

How to round up unusual suspects
In Solving the Pipeline Problem, the co-hosts of the Lean Startup Conference, Sarah Milstein and Eric Ries, share their lessons learned from successfully recruiting a roster of speakers with 40 percent women and 25 percent people of color--"a significant improvement over last year’s conference, which had almost none of either." Both of these organizers know the chicken-and-egg issues of recruiting more women speakers, and wanted a selection process that got beyond them:
There’s a solution that addresses these issues: meritocratic selection. It’s not a game of quotas; it’s quite the opposite. Indeed, we picked the speakers we thought had the best stories and would be the most engaging presenters. We didn’t rule out any candidates for being white or men, and we didn’t favor women or people of color. Instead, we used a handful of principles to guide us: transparent process, blind selection, proactive outreach and enlisting help.
In this case, the conference's transparent process and its proactive outreach represent the different--and more effective--ways of asking diverse people to speak. Speaker reactions were highly positive, with one speaker saying, “I LAUGH when you say, ‘under-represented at a tech conference,’ because had you not presented such a compelling invitation, I would have never even dreamed of applying for a position of a speaker.”

Ries and Milstein, who has contributed posts and questions to this blog, also take a look at what they'd do differently in future, and end this useful post with a question for you: "[I]f you’re not using these tools, is your selection process susceptible to unconscious biases that could be making it work less well? Is it really as merit-based as it could be?"

When you ask, share more answers
In Conference organisers: A point for your consideration, Relly Annett-Baker, based in England and with speaking experience around the world, tells organizers what else she wants to know as a woman speaker, beyond the usual stuff like type of event/what you want from me/date/fee." Her list of questions includes:
  • Location of event AND location where you are putting me up
  • What are your policies if I have to pull out?
  • What have you organized for speakers?
  • Who else is going?
They're all thoughtful questions that any speaker, male or female, might have. But in this post, the questions have to do with women's personal safety, the logistics of a working mother, and having a built-in network of support once at the conference. Annett-Baker discusses her thinking behind each question at length. "It’s a sad but true fact, as a woman I am more vulnerable and have to weigh up the risks and rewards of exploring new areas when traveling alone. I don’t believe there is a rapist hanging around every street corner of every town but I do believe there is one around some corners, and sadly you don’t know which ones. Knowing that organisers have considered the location of their accommodation, planned some things for me to do and spent the time finding the number for a reliable cab firm for me to use, means I am much more likely to say yes if you ask me to speak," she writes.

If you're tired of going to professional meetings with too few women speakers, please pass these good examples along to the program committee of the conferences you attend and ask the organizers to give these approaches a try. And if you have other good case studies for successfully inviting women speakers, or you're replicating the approaches described here, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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