Monday, June 30, 2014

Blog closed this week

There's maintenance to do and thoughts to think and improvements to cook up. So the blog--including Famous Speech Friday--won't be publishing this week. American readers, enjoy the Independence Day celebrations! You can catch up with the blog this time next week...

Friday, June 27, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Penny Mordaunt's Loyal Address in Parliament

History does repeat itself, though the intervals are long when the historic occasion involves a woman speaking in the British Parliament in reply to the Queen's Speech. Fifty-seven years long in the case of Member of Parliament Penny Mordaunt, who earlier this month delivered the "loyal address" thanking the monarch for her speech and opening debate on the issues of the new session.

The custom says these speeches--one proposing the motion, the other seconding--"are not contentious and contain both humour and flattering references to their constituencies." But first, Mordaunt did what many women speakers do when they know they're a rarity, and talked about the lack of women speakers in these roles:
This might be a Queen’s Speech, but I am only the second woman to propose the Loyal Address in Her Majesty’s long reign. Fifty-seven years ago, Lady Tweedsmuir, the then Member for Aberdeen South, had the double pressure of proposing the Loyal Address and making her maiden speech. What she said deserves our consideration for its relevance today.
She started by extolling the strengths of Scotland in the United Kingdom. She then set out the challenges facing the country, including the forging of a new relationship with Europe based on trade and co-operation, the creation of a new defence able to respond to Russian aggression and the growing of the economy, fusing the gigantic resources of the old world to the new. She then discussed the cost of living and the reform of the upper House, and finished by advocating the advantages of having more women parliamentarians.

It is a shame that the response Lady Tweedsmuir received from the then Leader of the Opposition is less able to stand up to contemporary scrutiny. Mr Gaitskell—with gallant intent, I am sure—replied to a nodding Commons that she had probably made some good points but that, alas, he had been unable to respond to any of them, such had been the distraction of her soft, attractive voice. So struck was he that he felt that, despite being a grandmother, she was rather easy on the eye, and he had found it impossible to concentrate on anything she said.

I realise that, in recounting this, I might have left the present Leader of the Opposition with a modern man’s dilemma. Should he now risk insulting me by concentrating solely on the issues raised, and failing to mention that I am also a softly-spoken charmer? Or, if he were to compliment me, would he risk incurring the wrath of the Labour party’s women’s caucus, potentially triggering the newly introduced power of recall? These are perilous times for a chap. Whatever he decides to do, I hope that this will mark the end of the parliamentary leap year. Women parliamentarians should be allowed to propose more than once every 57 years.
Think the three paragraphs of history were just early complaining in a long speech? Think again. Every issue mentioned from the speech of Lady Tweedsmuir is a substantive issue of debate in the current Parliament, allowing Mordaunt to put policy issues out on the table early in her remarks, while telling her tale. She also used these paragraphs to show an abysmal record of putting women in spotlight roles, mention that this happens despite having a female monarch, note sexist reactions to women MPs, set boundaries and expectations for reaction to her own remarks, and give a shout-out to a woman colleague from the past. Not a bad day's work for three paragraphs.

Despite her subtle warning that male MPs comments on women's anatomy are unwelcome, Opposition Leader Ed Milliband chose to remark on her diving-show appearance when he rose to respond, and demonstrated that not much has changed in how male MPs refer to their female colleagues. Her telling of Lady Tweedsmuir's effort drew gales of laughter, which she quieted when referencing D-Day as she transitioned to policy and district issues.

This speech hit all its marks, lighting up Twitter and news sites as soon as it was over. The consensus was that Mordaunt has a bright speaking career ahead of her. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Give a woman's speech: Despite the rarity of women speakers in this role, Mordaunt's speech is by no means an effort to fit in and sound like the men. Rather, it's loaded with a woman's perspective, from the issues discussed to the history lesson at the start on women speakers. As a result, we're hearing her authentic voice, funny and frank--and that makes this speech work.
  • Work your analogies all the way through: Referring to a colleague's doubts about the strength of the governing coalition, Mordaunt offered a thorough analogy, saying, "He might see us as the Thelma and Louise of the parliamentary Session, driving at top speed to the Grand Canyon of electoral defeat. Let me reassure him that this will not be the case, because, unlike a 1966 Thunderbird, this coalition is right-hand drive," a reference to the Conservative Party. Many speakers throw away analogies and comparisons, referring to them only briefly instead of working them all the way through an argument. Not so here.
  • Use humor to get audiences on your side: Referring to the issue of military training, the navy reservist said, "I have benefited from some excellent training by the Royal Navy, but...I felt that the lecture and practical demonstration on how to care for the penis and testicles in the field failed to appreciate that some of us attending had been issued with the incorrect kit." It was the most-quoted gem in a speech full of them, and demonstrated the benefits of using humor to connect with your audience. Mordaunt turned her star turn from a rarity to the speech people were talking about the next day. Best, she used humor without turning it on herself in a self-deprecating way in this speech, although she wields self-deprecation in reply to others' comments about her, a common conversational tactic in Britain.
You can read the full text of Mordaunt's loyal speech here, and watch the video below, with thanks to Brian Jenner for pointing me to it. Or listen to the audio version. What do you think of this famous speech?

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Inside Voice: Caroline Johns, Chief of Staff to Deloitte's global Chairman

(Editor's note: Inside Voice is an interview series in which we ask speakers, speechwriters, and storytellers to share their insights. London-based Caroline Johns is Chief of Staff to Deloitte’s global Chairman, Steve Almond, preparing speeches and research briefings for him on everything from sport to economics to mining in Kazakhstan. She is also Secretary to the Global Board of Directors, the highest governing body of Deloitte’s network, which comprises member firms in more than 150 countries, and has written speeches and articles for Deloitte's former and current CEOs. In crafting speeches, she also draws on experience in education and the arts--handling opera divas, in one case--as well as extensive studies in American History. It doesn't hurt for me that she, too, is a big Bruce Springsteen fan. You'll learn much from her insights on how good speeches are crafted.)

Where did you get your storytelling chops? (aka, skills)

Probably like most people, it began at my mother’s knee, with bedtime stories. But I was always keen on reading. I read everything from stories about cowardly dragons, to boarding schools, to Agatha Christie murder mysteries. I was introduced to Shakespeare by a forward-thinking teacher when I was 9 years old and I went straight home and read “A Midsummer Night’s Dream – I had no idea what was going on but I loved it anyway. Mainly though, I think I got my ‘chops’, as you say, from training as an historian. At university I was fully intent on studying literature, but was ‘seduced’ (not literally) by the history lecturer. I remember reading “The Origins of the Second World War” by AJP Taylor and thinking it read like a thriller – albeit a thriller where you could see what was coming in the end. I love the way historians can tell completely different stories using exactly the same set of facts, and I enjoy analysing the factors behind those choices.

What are the most important parts of a story, for a public speaker?

The beginning, the middle and the end are all vital! Sometimes I think speakers start off with good intentions, but then they lose track of their thread – if they ever had one. It’s important that the whole thing hangs together, so the audience can see why you’re going where you’re going. It packs a much bigger punch than a random collection of points, which is what many people seem to rely on.

What's something you wish more speakers would include in their storytelling?

Well I’m tempted to say – I wish they would have a point! So many people seem to have an agenda they are determined to get across, with little thought as to how this might be received by their audience. And if they are quoting facts, or even quotes for that matter, they should make very sure they get them right. Do your research, speakers!

What's something you wish more speakers would leave out of their storytelling?

PowerPoint slides – specially the ones that are massively animated, with black-outs, slide-ins and dissolving text. Just. Don’t!

You write speeches for executives. What does it take to put words in someone else's mouth?

I make sure I ‘hear’ their voices in my head while I’m writing. My previous boss was a straight-talking chap from Manchester, and if the voice in my head could not ‘hear’ him using a particular word, I would not include it. I write for very senior people – CEOs and their ilk – and generally the same rule applies. Listen to their voices in your head. My guys want to be seen as smart, switched-on and funny, so, whatever the subject matter, as long as it is appropriate, that is what we go for. Nobody, surely, wants to be seen as dull, long-winded and irrelevant! It’s also important to remember that as people of their status, they can ‘get away’ with saying things to certain audiences, sometimes to be provocative or sometimes to be amusing, so I am usually prepared to take a risk every now and then to keep things interesting.

What's the difference when you write a speech for yourself?

None really – I have the benefit of being familiar with my own personal experiences, so that makes life easier (I sometimes have to prise personal stuff out of my speakers), but, yes, I like to come across as smart, switched-on and funny too. I think British people typically have a self-deprecatory sense of humour, and a little bit of that works nicely, though you don’t want to over-do these things. In a couple of weeks’ time I am going to try to give a short speech at my mother’s funeral, if I am up to it – and that is going to be tough -- but I will try to remember to include a few funny things, because she had a wonderful sense of humour.

Do you have a favorite speech or talk to which we can point our readers? What is it and why is it your favorite?

Well it’s a bit of a cliché for someone who studies US civil rights history, but it would have to be a Martin Luther King speech. Not ‘I have a dream’ though, mine would be The Mountaintop. There is a remarkable prescience about that speech, given that King was assassinated the very next day. His delivery was passionate and there are some beautifully poetic lines in it ... “like anybody I would like to live a long life, longevity has its place... but I’m not concerned about that now, I just want to do God’s will... and he has allowed me to go to the mountain... and I have looked over and I have seen the promised land... and I may not get there with you... but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. So I’m not worried about anything...” etc etc.

If you knew you could not fail, what kind of speech or presentation would you give? Tell us about the setting, audience, type of talk, content...

Not sure about this one. I love politics, but like many people, I am increasingly fed-up with the way politicians carry on. Few young people are interested at all and who can blame them? It’s a disaster - party politics is killing politics! In the UK, prime minister’s question time is a prime example. Everyone is shouting everyone else down, because its their ‘job’ to give the opposing point of view. There's no reasoned debate. These are able, intelligent, influential people and they carry on like a bunch of 5-year-olds. I guess I’d like to present a vision of how things could be different and work better. How? I really don’t know...

What's your public speaking pet a speechwriter? As a member of the audience?

I absolutely loathe the type of speech that demands audience interaction. I don’t mind putting my hand up or being asked to vote on something, but when a speaker starts asking for vocal contributions and, worse, follows it up with “come on you can do better than that...” or some such exhortation, I switch off completely. In fact, I don’t switch off completely, but the little bit that’s left of me that is still switched on will be smouldering with hostility. Not good... I think it’s lazy.

Why is public speaking worth the effort, in your view?

It gives you the opportunity to make an immediate impact, influence people and form a personal connection – with eye contact instead of hiding behind twitter or your usual medium. It can be scary but it’s always worth it.

(UK Speechwriters Guild photo. Used with permission.)

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Monday, June 23, 2014

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But you won't miss a thing, since I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog for all readers to see. Here's what I shared in the week just past:

Friday, June 20, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Gabourey Sidibe's speech at the Gloria Awards

"How are you so confident?"

It's the question that most annoys Academy Award-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe, who points out in this heartfelt speech that the questioners don't ask that question, one of "incredulous disbelief," of other performers.

Sidibe unpacked this undermining, uncomfortable, unspoken view of her weight and appearance in a moving tribute speech at the Ms. Magazine Gala in May this year. The event also served as an 80th birthday party for feminist icon Gloria Steinem, for whom the evening's Gloria Awards are named. While this speech starts out sounding like it's about the actress, it's really about self-esteem and Steinem's inspiration. In one of the more revealing passages about herself, Sidibe says:
I think the reason I thought so highly of myself all the time was because no one else ever did. I figured out I was smart because my mother would yell at my older brother. She'd say, "Your little sister is going to pass you in school. You're going to get left behind and she's going to graduate before you." But she never said to me, "You are smart." What she did say was, "You are too fat." I got the message that I wasn't pretty, and I probably wasn't normal, but I was smart! Why wouldn't they just say that? "You're smart." It's actually not that hard. My dad would yell at my brother, "Gabourey does her homework by herself! Why can't you?" But he never said to me, "Good job." What he did say was, "You need to lose weight so I can be proud of you." I know. So I got made fun of at school, I got made fun of at home too, my older brother hated me, my dad just didn't understand me, and my mom, who had been a fat girl at my age herself, understood me perfectly ... but she berated me because she was so afraid of what she knew was to come for me. So I never felt safe when I was at home. And my response was always to eat more, because nothing says, "You hurt my feelings. Fuck you!" like eating a delicious cookie. Cookies never hurt me.
Sidibe talks about a more direct impact that Steinem had on her day-to-day confidence, from a photo of her aunt, feminist activist Dorothy Pitman Hughes, with Steinem. When Sidibe's mother moved her to live with Hughes, she saw that picture every day. It's another great example of the invisible visual, something you can picture in your mind's eye:
Side by side they stood, one with long beautiful hair and one with the most beautiful, round, Afro hair I had ever seen, both with their fists held high in the air. Powerful. Confident. And every day as I would leave the house... I would give that photo a fist right back. And I'd march off into battle. I didn't know that I was being inspired then. On my way home, I'd walk back up those stairs, I'd give that photo the fist again, and continue my march back in for more battle.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Tell it like it is: If your experience reflects a hard truth that people don't want to discuss, be the one who brings it up, as Sidibe does in these lines about how she is seen: "It's hard to get dressed up for award shows and red carpets when I know I will be made fun of because of my weight. There's always a big chance if I wear purple, I will be compared to Barney. If I wear white, a frozen turkey....This is what I deal with every time I put on a dress. This is what I deal with every time someone takes a picture of me." Shining a light on such belittling behavior helps to stop it. Keeping silent lets it continue.
  • Honor the honoree and her work: This tribute to Gloria Steinem is all the more meaningful if you know--as many in the audience would have--that Steinem herself struggled with self-esteem. In Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, Steinem shared her own difficult upbringing and how it affected her belief in herself. Talking about her topic as well as the honoree herself made this a rich and on-point tribute, one with many parallels to Sidibe's experiences.
  • Connect generations: There's nearly a half-century between Sidibe, 31, and Steinem, 80. Using her aunt as a logical connector, and echoing Steinem's experiences in her own, Sidibe's speech deftly ties these disparate generations together in a way meaningful to both. It's a great way to unite an audience in which many ages are represented.
There's no video from this event, but Vulture published the full text of Sidibe's speech here. I'm grateful to reader Crystal Borde for pointing me to this gem.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Zadi Diaz)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Registration open for 'Be The Eloquent Woman' workshop in Amsterdam

I'm delighted to say that you can now register for the European Speechwriter Network Conference, taking place in Amsterdam on October 24--and also for Be The Eloquent Woman, my workshop on women and public speaking, which is one of three pre-conference sessions taking place October 23.

Both the conference and the workshops are wonderful professional development opportunities for executives who want to improve their public speaking and communication skills. The other two pre-conference sessions are on speechwriting, and on cartooning for speechwriters.

Be The Eloquent Woman is a workshop that has been attended by executives from  the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Clifford Chance, Google, Little Brown Publishing, Procter and Gamble, the University of Virginia, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and many more businesses, universities and nonprofits. Previous sessions have been held in the United States and Britain, and I'm thrilled to bring the workshop to The Netherlands next.

The approach in this workshop differs markedly from other courses about women in leadership communications--we won't be telling you to "lean in" or to "close the confidence gap." It's true that women report fearing public speaking more than men do -- but they may have more reason than just nervousness. We'll take a subversive look at the issues, so you understand that, many times, your lack of confidence doesn't stem from your own skills and abilities.

Women are more frequently “talked over” in meetings or their points are ignored, then claimed by male participants. Women working in the public sphere often find journalists focus on their appearance, rather than their message.

This workshop is designed to help women executives and politicians improve their public speaking with better confidence, content and credibility. You will acquire strategies for succeeding as a speaker, whether you do most of your public speaking in meetings and on conference calls, or in the public arena. We'll help you think through putting together a "message wardrobe," not the one you hang in your closet, but the most common types of speaking tasks you'll encounter.

Go here to read more about the workshop. Participants will learn:
  • Techniques for overcoming the fear of big occasions
  • How to prepare a script
  • Strategies for reading or speaking without notes
  • Advantages women bring to public speaking and how to bring them to the fore
  • Lessons from outstanding American women
  • Putting together a “message wardrobe” to be prepared for any speaking situation
  • How to get more speaking opportunities and make the most of them
  • What conference organisers are looking for in speakers, and what’s preventing women from achieving parity on conference podiums
  • How women speakers are perceived, in public settings and in the workplace and how you can subvert expectations
By taking this course you will increase your confidence and take an important step in your professional development as a speaker. Please join me in Amsterdam in October, and share this unusual training session and conference with your friends and colleagues!

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Monday, June 16, 2014

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But you won't miss a thing, since I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog for all readers to see. Here's what I shared in the week just past:

Friday, June 13, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Michelle Obama's eulogy for Maya Angelou

It's tough for political and public figures to transcend their roles when they speak. After all, it's their position, most often, that puts them behind the microphone in the first place. And when an icon like Maya Angelou dies, the roster of speakers at the memorial service reads like a People magazine table of contents: Oprah. Former President Bill Clinton. Actress Cicely Tyson. But First Lady Michelle Obama's remarks, intensely personal in nature, only touched on her husband and her position. Widely praised, this speech -- but for a few critical phrases -- might have been given by any black woman who'd grown up with Angelou's words ringing in her ears.

And therein lies the success of this eulogy. It was about two women, one growing up on the south side of Chicago with a Malibu Barbie as the model of "ideal," the other a poet, author and activist. But it also embraced all black women effectively, particularly in this passage about the Angelou poem that's part of The Eloquent Woman Index: 
The first time I read “Phenomenal Woman” I was struck by how she celebrated black women’s beauty like no one had ever dared to before. Our curves, our stride, our strength, our grace. Her words were clever, and sassy. They were powerful and sexual and boastful. And in that one singular poem, Maya Angelou spoke to the essence of black women but she also graced us with an anthem for all women, a call for all of us to embrace our God-given beauty.
It's always significant, in my mind, when speakers share how they feel about speaking--and in this memory Mrs. Obama shares of a private moment with Angelou, I hear echoes of what Caroline Kennedy said about her uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy, at his funeral. Both women used the moment to recall the deceased as a supporter of their public speaking, a source of encouragement significant to them. Here, Mrs. Obama on Angelou:
I first came into her presence in 2008, when she spoke at a campaign rally here in North Carolina. At that point she was in a wheelchair, hooked up to an oxygen tank to help her breathe. But let me tell you, she rolled up like she owned the place. She took the stage as she always did — like she’d been born there. And I was so completely awed and overwhelmed by her presence I could barely concentrate on what she was saying to me.
But while I don’t remember her exact words I do remember exactly how she made me feel. She made me feel like I owned the place, too. She made me feel like I had been born on that stage right next to her. And I remember thinking to myself, “Maya Angelou knows who I am! And she is rooting for me! So now, I’m good. I can do this. I can do this.”
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Don't overquote the deceased's most famous lines: One risk when an author dies is that every eulogy will sound like a Bartlett's Quotations, dense-packed with famous lines. Here, Mrs. Obama quotes Angelou just once, a restraint that lets the speech touch on more important connections in real life. There's also one clever allusion--"I do remember exactly how she made me feel"--to one of Angelou's most loved quotes, a good piece of advice for speakers: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The allusion got just as much reaction as the full quote would have done, and advanced the story faster.
  • Do share a private moment between yourself and the deceased: Like any speech, the audience isn't hoping you'll do a thorough review of the deceased's life, but that you'll share some private moments no one else witnessed. The story on stage with Angelou meets that bar for unique content, telling us about the subject of the eulogy and about the speaker, all at the same time.
  • Use your voice to create emotion and emphasis: In addition to merely elliptical references to her position, it's her voice that helps this eulogy sound like a deeply personal tribute rather than the pronouncements of a First Lady. Michelle Obama excels at this, using pacing and cadence and vocal variety to make her words sound realistic, human, approachable and emotional. You see and hear her as an individual here, and that allows the focus to be on Angelou--as it should be.
I agree with NPR host Scott Simon. You can read a transcript of the speech here and watch the video below--listen for her inflections and emphases in this delivery. What do you think of this famous speech?

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Returning to the stage, part 2: Speaking to dudes about love

(Editor's note: Many readers and participants in my workshops have reacted to the post A reader shares: Returning to the stage...after harrassment, in which Google engineer Cate Huston talked about taking a hiatus from public speaking after being harrassed during a talk. This post will bring you up-to-date with how her story turned out, something many readers have requested.

Huston participated in my workshops on women and speaking in Oxford and in London this spring, and, as she notes below, I worked with her on this series of talks that marked her return to public speaking. It's unusual, to say the least, for a coaching client to go public with her process--but I'm delighted that she's willing to share not only what it feels like to be harrassed as a speaker, but also her road back to speaking. It's a familiar path for anyone who's had a hiatus from speaking. I think this post demonstrates ably that it takes an enormous amount of courage to show your vulnerabilities, as Brené Brown has noted. 

Some of you may think it odd or risky that Huston chose a metaphor about dating and relationships for an audience that would be primarily male, but the talk she devised isn't suggestive or gratuitous. The core concept--that users aren't as committed to apps as the developers might like to think--is solid. It's also a metaphor to which anyone can relate, another strong factor in its favor. 

I'm always encouraging speakers to think about how they want to be seen, so it's especially satisfying for me to hear that what Huston defined for herself as "eloquence" in my Oxford workshop was exactly what an audience member saw in her talk. I was pleased, but not at all surprised, that this series of talks prompted several more invitations for Huston to speak, making her return to speaking complete. This post first appeared on Huston's blog and she has kindly granted permission for me to republish it here for you.)

There was an amazing response to my previous post, it was really gratifying to have people find it worthwhile.

I wrote it, finally, for two reasons. The first was to take ownership of the experience, to not sweep it under the carpet like it was me that had done something wrong.When you allow someone to silence you, you let them define the story. I was done with that jerk defining that one.

The second reason was because I kept hearing people talk about women needing to speak up, but either glossing over the harassment, or just ignoring the effects of harassment. There are some women who have been horribly harassed, far far worse than I was, and yet they come back, sometimes they even give talks about it as with Caroline Criado-Perez or Anita Sarkeesian.

I found it hard to relate to these stories. These women are usually by some definition public figures – journalists, media commentators, politicians. I could deem their experience too far away, too un-relatable. Well they needed to get on stage and speak again, it was their job, a bigger part of their life. As a software engineer I could get away with staying hidden, keeping quiet. An intellectually dishonest justification of a decision born of fear.

There was a lovely response to that post, people told me that I was brave, thanked me for sharing. And I thought, it’s not really that brave, after over two years. It’s not really that brave, to give a talk at a women’s conference.

That was the warm up.

For my next trick, I talked to a bunch of dudes about love.

I exaggerate slightly – the first in front of 90 people at iOSCon, of whom about 10% were women. The second in front of hundreds of people, a pretty mixed audience, at ModevUX.

My talk was Distractedly Intimate. You can find my notes here, but the short story is, it’s about how people’s feelings about mobile effect what we should build, about how we love our devices but rarely give them our full attention. I reclaimed the feminine rhetoric, and told stories around these themes of – we are in love, we have changed, we are not really here. I talk about adorable hedgehogs, goats, imaginary girlfriends, and the time that I live tweeted a date with a misogynist.

I was terrified. This flowery descriptive explanation, became distilled in my head to “speak to a bunch of dudes about love”. In the days running up to the first event, some mansplaining – a common occurrence as a women working in a male dominated field – had me retreating and panicking. The audience was surely going to think I had nothing to offer, and critique me accordingly. Sitting in a room full of men, not relating to the content, I felt sure this was a precursor of what was to come. Surrounded by people, but feeling other, and alone.

I was blocked on my script. I know, substantially, what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t fit it into my narrative. Denise coached me through it. Then I just couldn’t seem to sit down and write it. Rushing around at work, heading to the gym for a couple of hours instead of sitting down and cranking it out. It occurred to me, as in an elaborate fit of panic-based procrastination, when I chose the 90 minute walk home in the drizzle over the 20 minute tube ride, that I could throw money at this problem. Denise worked my content into the format we’d discussed, and I could breathe again. The problem was manageable. It always had been, but I was stressing too much to realise without help.

It occurred to me, that it was reasonable to ask them to cover an Uber across town. This would make me dramatically less stressed, as it would be faster and more private that two tubes and a 20 minute walk. They agreed.

I wanted to avoid the speaker dinner, figuring that it would only make me more terrified. But I went (Denise talked me into it), and had a really good time. The organisers were no longer names on an email thread, but real, warm people, who were positive about my talk.

I booked the day off work, so that I could focus the morning on last minute bits, going over my slide deck, going over my notes. Double checking my timings. I felt OK about things; I even found time to get a haircut.

I found myself, in a room full of men, miking up. Trying to get the thing over my ears, and under my hair was a reminder that I would be the first woman on stage that day. Too late now, keep breathing. They found me a different mike.

I hid behind a pillar as I was introduced, and then came to the front. Looked out at the room, and could only see men. Took a deep breath. It’s too late now, go with it. Started speaking. Got my first laugh. Good sign, keep going. Spotted a woman at the back. A woman closer to the front smiled at me. Keep talking.

And so I did it, I talked to a bunch of dudes about love. And then a couple of days later, I flew to another country and did it again. Bigger, with tighter timing. Getting dressed that day, I put two items of clothing on back to front, and one inside out. It could have been terror, or jet lag. Thankfully, these wardrobe malfunctions were long resolved by the time I stood on stage, blinded by the bright lights, and tried to make sure my 15 minutes was a worthwhile experience for the people there.

I was shaking with fear. Probably the entire time. I was thrown by the handheld mike, and the clicker, and discovered that my iPad was too heavy to hold one handed for an extended period – time to upgrade to the air, I guess.

When I came off stage, a fabulous amazing woman, one of the co-chairs, told me that I had seemed poised.

I was transported back to the workshop in Oxford. We each gave a word which we felt captured the idea of an eloquent woman. Mine, was poised.

You can see the comments and live tweets, captured in Storify, here and here. I feel compelled to tell you at this point, that one guy thought there was a disconnect in my narrative. I have this urge to apologise, to write some kind of in depth explanation of how those two things are related, just for him.

But in the end, his criticism is intellectual, and not personal. And constructive, not an expletive. So I will leave it, and consider it overall, a win.

(Photo of Huston speaking at #modevux bShahed Chowdhuri. Used with permission.)

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Monday, June 9, 2014

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But you won't miss a thing, since I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog for all readers to see. Here's what I shared in the week just past:

Friday, June 6, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Benazir Bhutto at the UN Conference on Women

It's Hillary Clinton's "women's rights are human rights" speech, also part of The Eloquent Woman Index, that is best remembered from the 1995 United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing. But Benzair Bhutto's address, "Islam Forbids Injustice Against People, Nations and Women," was delivered to one of the Pakistan prime minister's biggest audiences, and she seized the moment. 

At first glance, the speech's message -- that Islam protects the rights of women -- may seem defensive to westerners. But Bhutto, who made women's rights a central hallmark of her political activism and governing, was quick to discern between social norms and religious tenets, urging Muslim women to speak up on the distinction.
Muslim women have a special responsibility to help distinguish between Islamic teachings and social taboos spun by the traditions of a patriarchal society. This is a distinction that obscurantist would not like to see. For obscurantists believe in discrimination. Discrimination is the first step to dictatorship and the usurpation of power.
And with that last sentence, she threw down a gauntlet: Discriminating against women is a power grab, plainly stated, and, as the "first step to dictatorship," political as well as personal. In a rhythmic recitation, she details the teachings of Islam that support women's rights:
In distinguishing between Islamic teachings and social taboos, we must remember that Islam forbids injustice;
Injustice against people, against nations, against women.
It shuns race, colour, and gender as a basis of distinction amongst fellowmen.
It enshrines piety as the sole criteria for judging humankind.
It treats women as human beings in their own right, not as chattel. A woman can inherit, divorce, receive alimony and child custody. Women were intellectuals, poets, jurists and even took part in war.
The Holy Book of the Muslims refers to the rule of a woman, the Queen of Sabah. The Holy Book alludes to her wisdom and to her country being a land of plenty.
The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) himself married a working woman. And the first convert to Islam was a woman, Bibi Khadija.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) emphatically condemned and put an end to the practice of female infanticide in pre-Islamic Arabia.
 What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Don't waste your moment: Bhutto, ever strategic, took two sentences of her speech to critique the conference's core document, from the distinct viewpoint of a woman leader in a society straddling women's emancipation and discrimination: "The Platform is disturbingly weak on the role of the traditional family. This weakness can lead to misinterpretation, and even distortion by opponents of the women's agenda," she warned.
  • Take advantage of assumptions: Bhutto made a point, here and elsewhere, of taking advantage of those in her audience who might make assumptions about her and her leadership views. A devout Muslim and an advocate for women's rights? You bet. She did this not only with her words, but her appearance. It adds surprise for some in her audience, and affirmation for others.
  • Be precise when the detail is needed: In tying discrimination to dictatorship, Bhutto uses the term obscurantist, a term for someone who deliberately prevents facts from being known. It's a compact way of undermining those who use gender discrimination as being anti-democratic and anti-intellectual, a specific description that also implies that discrimination isn't about the women against whom it's wielded, but the power grab.
It's easy to see why, in her own UN speech, Malala Yousafzai chose to wear a shawl that belonged to Bhutto. The prime minister was the target of an attempted coup in 1995, the year of this speech, and assassinated in 2007; after her death, she was awarded one of the UN Prizes in Human Rights. You can read the full text of her speech at the UN Conference on Women, and listen to her announcement of many of the reforms noted in that speech in another address given in 1994 at the first-ever International Conference of Muslim Women Parliamentarians, in the video below. You also can see a trove of Bhutto's speeches online, well worth exploring. What do you think of this famous speech?

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Inside Voice: Gillian Davis, author of First-Time Leader

(Editor's note: Inside Voice is an interview series in which we ask speakers, speechwriters, and storytellers to share their insights. Particularly for readers who are just stepping into their first management roles, I know you'll enjoy the insights of Gillian Davis, author of First-Time Leader: Foundational Tools for Inspiring and Enabling Your New Team She runs a coaching and training business that focuses on helping new leaders implement business strategies that enable them to create and lead great teams. She's a big advocate for women in leadership, and works with women to reach their full potential by taking a lead role in their lives. I asked her to talk about workplace speaking and her speaking now that she has a book to promote.)

Where did you learn about public speaking and presenting?

I’ve learned a lot of public speaking and presenting from watching others and taking notes on what I liked about how they presented their topics. I always adapt what I like in someone else to a style that suits me, but I’ve learned that the key to great speaking is being authentic. For example, I won’t try to crack jokes if I’m not a natural comedian. What makes great speakers is confidence in self, knowledge of topic, and delivery of the content, keeping that in mind allows me to focus on what’s important.

What are the most important parts of presenting or speaking for first-time leaders?

  • Being authentic. From experience, I think it’s key to find your feet. When I started speaking, I was in a corporate environment, and I would try to fit into the mold. This just didn't work for me. I ended up coming across being very uncomfortable and boring. It’s important to allow yourself to play around with different styles to see what works for you.
  • Letting go of notes. Technically if you’re speaking you should know your topic inside out. Let your content be your guide. Don’t rely on notes and insist on following a strict routine, be flexible and open to change, so you are better able to serve your audience.
  • Write out a draft. I took this from Denise’s talk at the Fabian Womens Network in London and applied it immediately. It made a huge difference to my delivery. Having, and practicing, your speech allows you to ensure your key points get across, when are good times to take questions, and to give you an indication of length so you stay within your allocated time. 
What's something you wish more executives would include in their presentations?

More Q&A! I am loving the style of Q&A-directed public speeches. It’s such an engaging way to run a talk. How many speeches have we sat through, and the answer to your burning question doesn’t even get covered!? I believe there is so much value for both the speaker and the audience when you use more Q&A. The audience gets what they want and the speaker gets a better understanding of what the audience wants to hear. When you apply that into a corporate environment, it’s a fantastic way for an executive to get a good understanding of their teams feelings, concerns, thoughts.

What's something you wish more executives would leave out of their presentations?

Slides! I still can’t get over the amount of content we still see on slides. When delivering in person, you want your words and content to be taking the audience's attention. It’s no time for analytics or detailed charts. I always send my presentation after my talks, and ensure the details are in there if the audience is interested.

What do first-time leaders need to do to prepare themselves for workplace speaking tasks (which could be presentations, or just speaking up)?

Being clear on what they want to get across and understanding their audience. In my first-time manager role, I was tasked to implement a lot of change within the organization. I was delivering tons of presentations, but could never get management comfortable enough to sign-off. I started to get a better understanding of my managers, and realized that they were highly detail-oriented. I, on the other hand, was much more visual. The presentations I was delivering weren’t hitting with my audience. So I adjusted my style (with help from a detail-oriented teammate) and tailored my presentations to include more details, facts and figures. It made an immediate difference, and things started to get signed off. It’s important for new leaders to be aware of other people’s styles, both in their managers, and in their team.

You're doing speaking now around the publication of your book. What have you learned from that experience?

Everyone can become a speaker! I used to be the shyest kid around, my teachers used to send notes home to my parents out of concern, asking if I was okay because I was so mute. I never raised my hand in class, and hated presenting.

When my book came out, I realized that the success of the book was now in my hands. I had to get out there and tell the world about it. It helps that I feel very strongly in the lack of leadership training for new managers, and I know my content inside and out, but getting up in front of a room full of people is never going to be easy for me.

I have learned that the key to speaking is finding your own voice. I am more laid back and casual, and that comes across in how I deliver my content. If I tried to be overly energized, or too professional, it wouldn’t come across right. You have to find the style that you’re comfortable with and own it!

Do you have a favorite speech or talk to which we can point our readers (your own, or one by someone else)? What is it and why is it your favorite?

My favorite speech is Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. He explains the theory behind the golden circle, and how people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. It’s an eye-opening talk, that has helped me both in business and in my personal life. I think it’s important for all of us to take the time and really understand who we are and what we are about.

If you knew you could not fail, what kind of speech or presentation would you give? Tell us about the setting, audience, type of talk, content... 

It would be to a large audience of teenage girls, filmed, and maybe a TED talk setting, where I would talk about the importance of being a leader in your own life. I had experienced bullying throughout high school and it took me a long time to recognize and remove some toxic friendships from my life. Moving away from people that were holding me back allowed me to find myself and become the person I want to be. I would call it “Letter to my 15-year-old self” and it would describe to my teenage self the woman she became once she stopped caring what everyone thought. My biggest challenge would be to deliver this without crying, but if I could touch one girl to move away from toxic friendships, it would mean the world to me.

What's your public speaking pet someone who coaches executives? As a member of the audience?

The misconception that they can’t speak. It’s unfortunate that those with really great messages and content don’t have the confidence to speak, and those who have the confidence but lack content do it anyway.

My biggest pet peeve of an audience member is when people try to sell or promote their products during Q&A. I think it’s disrespectful of everyone’s time, and if you’re going to ask a question, ask one that benefits the whole audience.

Why is public speaking worth the effort, in your view?

Yes! Definitely, public speaking is worth the effort. It’s an amazing exercise for personal development; I can see how I improve every time I stand on stage. I love implementing new tips and tricks along the way, and watching my true style come to life. The key is to just do it! I was asked within 24 hours notice to give a talk on personal leadership, and had never delivered that kind of content before. I ended up talking about my journey, and made a big impact on the audience. I was exhausted afterwards, and it definitely not my best performance, but I did it, and I learned so much from it.  If you are given the chance to speak, and share your passion with others, definitely go for it, you can only get better!

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. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Fans of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook see links to good reads, resources and ideas from other sources there, in addition to posts from the blog. But you won't miss a thing, since I'm summarizing that extra content and putting it here on the blog for all readers to see. Here's what I shared in the week just past: