Friday, August 26, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Toni Morrison's Nobel lecture on language

Never underestimate a spinner of tales like the great novelist Toni Morrison, even though you might be tempted to do so by the beginning of her Nobel Prize lecture, delivered after she won the prize for literature in 1993.

That's because she begins with a simple fable about an old blind woman who is a clairvoyant: Two young people tell her they have a bird in their hands and demand that she tell them whether the bird is alive or dead, intent on proving her a fraud. She tells them, after a long wait, that she doesn't know whether the bird is dead or alive, but that she knows "it is in your hands."

Morrison then explains what the fable, heard in many cultures around the world in various versions, means to her:
I choose to read the bird as language and the woman as a practiced writer. She is worried about how the language she dreams in, given to her at birth, is handled, put into service, even withheld from her for certain nefarious purposes. Being a writer she thinks of language partly as a system, partly as a living thing over which one has control, but mostly as agency - as an act with consequences. So the question the children put to her: "Is it living or dead?" is not unreal because she thinks of language as susceptible to death, erasure; certainly imperiled and salvageable only by an effort of the will. She believes that if the bird in the hands of her visitors is dead the custodians are responsible for the corpse.
Then she lets her speech soar further, to share the deeper meaning she sees. Morrison's concern, befitting a global award and speech, is how language is misused around the world:
The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek - it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language - all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Use a fable to make your point: A master storyteller, Morrison reached for a fable to carry this speech from beginning to end. It's a tactic I wish more speakers would try. After all, fables are durable, time-tested ways to convey information, suspense, and all the elements of the dramatic arc. In this speech, Morrison is describing a complex, detailed, and intellectual view of language and the impact of abuses of language, so a simple fable gives all listeners something with which to connect. At the same time, the fable is easy to remember, making it easier for listeners to repeat.
  • Active verbs enliven your speech: This line is loaded with active verbs that bring it (and language) alive: "It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind." It's all the more powerful as a result.
  • Speak truth to power: If you are lucky enough to have this kind of platform, use it for all it is worth. Morrison does not mince words here, and addresses important and weighty issues. A speech this important gets saved and recorded and will outlast the speaker, all the more reason to make it count.
If you're a writer or storyteller or just a language nerd, this is a masterpiece of a speech. We don't have video of this speech, but you will find the text and audio here. Be sure to listen to the audio recording--it includes a short introduction that is missing in the text version.

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

My favorite fixes for public speaking: Write and learn a script

As a speaker coach, it's my job to keep a lot of tools in my toolbox to help my clients improve their public speaking. But just like any craftsman, I have a few go-to tools, well-worn from frequent use. This is the third in a series of five favorite fixes I turn to all the time. Each one sounds simple, but confers a complex array of benefits to public speakers...if only you will do them. I'm sharing each favorite fix along with the types of speakers who might benefit most from them. You'll get the best results if you try them not once, but over a period of time.

This week's favorite fix is to write and learn a script. I can hear you saying now, "But I don't want to sound scripted," or, "I'm only at my best when I can speak extemporaneously." But it's a myth that working with a text means you'll sound unnatural or forced, and often, speakers have learned to cite their need for extemporaneous speaking as a way to avoid having someone tell them what they need to say. Yet these are the same speakers who find that they go over time by wasting time on asides, tell jokes that misfire, or otherwise fill the time allotted with fluff. And many of them are avoiding having to decide what it is they really want to say.

When you focus on writing and editing your remarks first, well ahead of the speaking gig, you will be able to omit all those asides, jokes, and stammers that are taking up your time, and include far more focused content. You'll also have time to practice--something that speakers who wait till the last minute omit at their peril.

My favorite bonus of this favorite fix: If you write to 120 words per minute, you will always be precisely on time, or nearly so, and you'll have a way of learning whether you are speaking too fast. Memorizing the script in whole or in part also means you can avoid many of the forgetful moments that plague many speakers. Nerve-wracked speakers also tell me that memorizing is their anchor and insurance plan. They go into the talk knowing that they know their talk. Why should they be the only ones? I've got great tips here for how to practice and memorize your next speech.

This is a good fix for speakers who um a lot or otherwise can't remember what they want to say; speakers who tend to wander well past their allotted time; speakers who end without having included their main point or several key points they wished to include; and, because the irony of public speaking is that more preparation makes you sound less rehearsed, anyone who wants to speak naturally and with good flow. And if you normally skip practice--the most vital step in public speaking--the process of memorizing pretty much will cure you of that.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Florian Richter)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking:

Friday, August 19, 2016

#CanYouHearUsNow? 8 famous speeches by Muslim women

When Donald Trump went after Ghazala Khan for standing silently beside her husband as he spoke about their son who was killed in the Iraq war, suggesting she was somehow forbidden to speak as a Muslim woman, other Muslim women around the world began posting on Twitter, sharing their speeches and outspoken moments with the hashtag #CanYouHearUsNow. That prompted me to dig into the rich resource of The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women, where we have eight great examples of stirring speeches by Muslim activists, mothers, educators, a queen, and a prime minister. They range from TED talks to United Nations addresses, and keynotes at feminist and human rights conferences. But none of these are silenced women.

I hope you'll dive into this collection and enjoy its great variety. At each link you will find not only an analysis of the speech, but video and text where available, and what you can learn to use in your own public speaking. Yes, I think we can hear them:
  1. Aicha el-Wafi, mother of one of the 9/11 attackers, spoke about forgiveness in a joint, powerful TEDWomen talk with the mother of one of her son's victims.
  2. Queen Noor's 1996 speech at the Kennedy Center noted what she's doing to support women's voices, and lamented that her hair and her wardrobe often get more coverage than her own message.
  3. Shot in the head for speaking out, Malala Yousafzai spoke after her shooting for the first time, to make it clear she intended to continue. A short, but moving and difficult, speaking challenge.
  4. Shabana Rasij-Basikh's TED talk on educating Afghan girls shared how she had to go to school disguised as a boy--and what she's doing to make sure that doesn't have to happen anymore.
  5. Benazir Bhutto's speech at the UN Conference on Women in 1995 made clear that sexism results not from Islam, but people who misinterpret its teachings. "Muslim women have a special responsibility to help distinguish between Islamic teachings and social taboos spun by the traditions of a patriarchal society," she said. She would've loved the hashtag.
  6. Malala Yousafzai's UN speech on youth education, given after she recovered from her shooting, was a landmark moment. "I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard," she said. She wore a shawl of Bhutto's for this important speech
  7. Huda Shaarawi spoke at the 1944 Arab feminist conference, in a short opening set of remarks that honored her place as an early fighter for women's votes and voices in the Arab world.
  8. Activist Manal al-Sharif spoke about her illegal driving in Saudi Arabia, after defying a driving ban and posting video of herself doing it on YouTube. But she gave this speech outside the country, becoming an important voice for Saudi women in the process.
Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The prostitute factor: Why we're not serious about women at conferences

We've made a lot of progress from the days when women were forbidden to attend, or to speak at, conferences. We have conferences setting quotas for women speakers and conferees reporting about how many women they see in the program or on the stage. We're advising women and conferences to avoid window-dressing the program with high-profile female moderators, but no female speakers. There are people keeping tallies of women speakers, making lists of women speakers who are available, and doing research on the most effective ways to get more women on the program. Women in the audience use Q&A to ask why the panel is all male, and men are pledging not to participate in such panels.

But even with all that, I can tell we're not serious about including women at conferences. Not until major conferences put a stop to prostitution and escort services at their meetings, and the more frequent use of highly sexualized entertainers and "booth babes."

I'm not just talking about those episodes where male speakers make sexual jokes or show sexual imagery and refer to women as bitches from the stage, although those occurrences are troubling and do happen more than we like to admit. I'm talking about conferences that seem to attract--and ignore--attendees who are in the world's oldest profession, prostitution.

And before you shake your head and say, well, that just doesn't happen at a proper conference, I give you two important international conferences where it has been observed in abundance: The Noah conference in Berlin, a tech gathering, and the high-profile World Economic Forum, sometimes called "Davos" for the city in Switzerland where it takes place. In addition, a recent third conference for gamers in San Francisco featured a Microsoft-sponsored party with sexualized female entertainers.

In the escort scandal at the Noah conference in Berlin, a hundred or more female escorts flooded the conference reception. Noah is no fly-by-night startup conference. Axel Springer and Credit Suisse were sponsors, and Uber's CEO and Daimler's chairman were among the speakers. Yet this happened:
According to multiple reports of the event, male attendees found themselves approached by attractive, glamorously dressed women who were not part of the conference and who began flirting with them, touching them and handing them their cards. Many people at the party concluded that these women were escorts. According to accounts heard by Fortune, some male attendees then mistook female entrepreneurs for escorts, and asked them if they could offer them any favors....However, attendees of the party—who wish to remain anonymous—did not buy this version of events. They noted that there were around a hundred of these women, and the party had strict entry requirements involving tickets and wristbands.
At Noah, a prostitution app was blamed for the influx of "visitors." But it also is commonplace at the World Economic Forum to see escorts and prostitutes mingling with the conferees at social events. One of the only accounts I've seen, what it's like to be a woman at the old boys Economic Forum, sums it up this way:
It’s the kind of place where if a woman turns away to exit a conversation and looks back just quickly enough, she’ll find her posterior aesthetic being carefully dissected by the man who just asked her for her business card — even if he is the CEO of a major bank. When we weren’t being asked how we got here, we were constantly being stared up and down by CEOs, hedge fund managers, finance ministers and embassy heads. 
“You see how men sometimes look at women,” said one television reporter from the Middle East. “They say how pretty a woman is, or, what is she doing here? Does she deserve to be here or not? Who pushed her to come in?”
Why are women ogled so openly at an economic forum? Women attendees make up less than 15% of the conferees at the Forum, which has set and failed to meet its own gender quotas, even after offering free tickets for women included in delegations. But more than that, it's very likely that women attendees and speakers are outnumbered by female prostitutes. The prostitution at Davos is so widespread that it's covered as its own annual event, part of the so-called "horizontal trade."

Both conferences take place in countries where prostitution is legal and regulated, and both conference's organizers denied responsibility for their presence. But they didn't seem to do much to encourage their absence, either.

In countries where prostitution is illegal, you can still see conferences featuring "booth babes," scantily dressed models showing off cars and technology, free for the ogling. Microsoft recently came under fire for hiring women to dance in tiny Catholic school outfits at a party for developers at a gaming conference, as you can see in the video tweeted from the event, below:
As game developer Brianna Wu noted, Microsoft--considered one of the "good guys" on gender due to its policies and trainings--wiped out that good record with one party. From the article:
“Microsoft is doing so many things right on this issue,” she says. “They instituted mandatory unconscious bias training this year. Their Hololens team has a ton of extremely skilled women engineers. They are working hard to be part of the solution. This undermines all that great work. I’d like to see accountability from the Xbox marketing team.”
In those settings as well as those where female prostitutes are not discouraged, how are women speakers and attendees ever to feel comfortable, let alone treated with parity, respect, and equality? It's the clearest sign I can think of that women are unwelcome, unless they are present to serve for men's pleasure.

You may be wondering by now whether these conferences have codes of conduct, a tool increasingly used to set and enforce behavior at conferences that forbids sexual harrassment and harrassing speech. (Check out my post Does your conference have a code of conduct? I wish mine did for more on codes.) To my amazement, the World Economic Forum's code of conduct is a scant one-page document that includes not one word about sexual harrassment nor creating a safe environment for attendees, nor any related issue. Participants are asked not to invite others to the meeting, but there's nothing about preventing attendance by outsiders. Thus, anyone wishing to complain would find no ground on which to stand here, and there's nothing to enforce, either. In the same vein, neither the Game Developers Conference nor the Noah Conference had codes of conduct of any kind.

Recently, a global summit for women was announced. Dubbed a "Davos for women," it is to be held next year in Tokyo. The nickname infuriates me. Why can't women simply be included in the real meeting at Davos in a way that does not demean them nor put them at risk of harassment or unwanted sexual attention? Why don't the conferences take responsibility for enforcing who attends, rather than blame apps or others? Why don't sponsors insist on appropriate behavior? Where are the codes of conduct and, right behind them, actual enforcement? All these episodes demonstrate male privilege, in case you didn't have any other clear examples before you. They say to us, "We want to have women here who represent our vision of women as sexual creatures here for our pleasure, not colleagues we have to listen to or take seriously as peers."

The simple fact is that we can make all the lists of women speakers we want, and propose all the codes of conduct possible. We can call out conferences publicly for these events and episodes. But until conferences take responsibility for what actually happens to women at their meetings, you'll see fewer women attending and speaking--both because they will be less likely to attend or accept a speaking slot, and because they're less likely to be invited. With conference conditions like these, we can all tell you're not serious about having women at your conference in roles that matter.

(Creative Commons licensed photo of booth babes by Miss Nixie)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

If you want to keep up with my wide-ranging reading list about women and speaking in real time, follow The Eloquent Woman on Facebook where these links are posted all week long--or just head here on Mondays, where I summarize them all for you. Either way, you'll be expanding your understanding of women and speaking: