Thursday, December 18, 2014

Shame and the public speaker: Wisdom from @BreneBrown

This year, I've had a few speakers who came off the stage consumed with shame, convinced they had failed. Some went through that in practice, others when it was time for the real talk. I didn't agree with them at all, but that didn't change the reality of their feeling. The speakers I worked with wanted their videos destroyed or redone, couldn't hear the congratulations, decided their brand-new talk was an utter failure, and didn't see one iota of good in what they had done.

And they have that in common with none other than Brené Brown, whose 2010 TEDxHouston talk on vulnerability is now one of the most-watched TED talks ever. She used a later talk at TED on shame to describe her reaction to that stellar talk, describing a conversation with a friend in which she contemplated how to keep her TEDx video from seeing the light of day. The numbers she's speaking about are the number of people she thinks will see the video:
....[Brown's friend] said, "I saw your talk live-streamed. It was not really you. It was a little different than what you usually do. But it was great." And I said, "This can't happen. YouTube, they're putting this thing on YouTube. And we're going to be talking about 600, 700 people." And she said, "Well, I think it's too late"....
So I looked back up and she said, "Are you really going to try to break in and steal the video before they put it on YouTube?" And I said, "I'm just thinking about it a little bit." She said, "You're like the worst vulnerability role model ever." And then I looked at her and I said something that at the time felt a little dramatic, but ended up being more prophetic than dramatic. I said, "If 500 turns into 1,000 or 2,000, my life is over." I had no contingency plan for four million. 
And my life did end when that happened. And maybe the hardest part about my life ending is that I learned something hard about myself, and that was that, as much as I would be frustrated about not being able to get my work out to the world, there was a part of me that was working very hard to engineer staying small, staying right under the radar.
Some of the ashamed speakers I've worked with have said that they wanted their talks to be perfect. Brown says shame is the birthplace of perfectionism. She's quick to differentiate shame--the idea that you are bad--from guilt, which focuses more on your behavior than you, and embarrassment, in which we know that we share this same feeling with many people. Shame (and its cousin perfectionism), on the other hand, feels isolating. It's about not feeling good enough, or worthy, of the praise you are getting. "Who do you think you are?" is a common self-reflection when you're feeling shame, Brown says.

Brown has recorded a short and outstanding audiobook on shame, worth reading particularly for learning about the ways shame differs for men and women. Men, Women and Worthiness: The Experience of Shame and the Power of Being Enough will walk you through how shame differs from other, related feelings, and how men and women experience it differently. Appearance, for example, plays a major role in shame for women. As a woman speaker, you should have this on your list.

In her TED talk, Brown said, " For women, shame is do it all, do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat....Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we're supposed to be. And it's a straight-jacket."

Public speaking is risky, and to be successful, it requires you to be out of that straight-jacket, accessible, and vulnerable. There's no better way to connect with an audience. But as Kerry Washington said in a recent speech:
....we as women put ourselves in this situation of feeling like we can’t take a risk, like in order to step out there we have to be perfect, because we’re scared that if we don’t say the right thing, or do the right thing, that we’ll reflect poorly on ourselves and our community, whether that community be women, people of color, both.
Only with risk can you have great reward, and only when you feel you're good enough will you be able to hear the praise. Or, as John Steinbeck wrote, "And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” It's worth remembering that approaching a talk as a perfectionist means you are doomed to be disappointed, no matter what you do. It can hamstring a speaker like nothing else. But if you want to be good, you'll understand the risks and the rewards, and do the best you can.

One of my clients messaged me after a big new keynote she and I had worked on. Her report was pretty dismal: She didn't feel rested, followed a great speaker, heard people talking during her talk, and analyzed the Twitter stream and found it lacking. She was being paid for this keynote, and had wanted to deliver a good quality talk. But now, she sounded ready to toss the talk, even though it was one she hoped to give with variations for a few months more.

The next day, the organizers told her they saw it completely differently. They loved her talk, had had fantastic audience feedback, and, on the strength of that, invited her to speak again later this year. So much for the speaker's perspective.

So here's a thought, speakers, when you are feeling shame about a talk that others are telling you they honestly feel was good: Why not sit down and figure out, in Brown's words, which part of you is "working very hard to engineer staying small, staying right under the radar"? Because if you let perfectionism and shame keep you and your talk offstage, that's exactly what you will be doing. And then you'd be silencing yourself as a speaker.

Watch Brown's TED talk about shame, which is funny, wise, and revealing. And that TEDx talk she was worried would be seen by 500 to 700 people? It's up to 17 million views as of this writing, and it's completely changed Brown's life, work, and success. I'm so glad she didn't succeed in limiting those views of her wonderful first TED talk.

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Monday, December 15, 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:
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Friday, December 12, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Sheena Iyengar's TED talk on the art of choosing

Psycho-economist Sheena Iyengar does her research at Columbia Business School, and has published the popular book The Art of Choosing to describe her findings on what happens when we have too many--or not enough--choices, and how we make decisions large and small, from which soda to drink to whether to pursue physician-assisted suicide. And when she spoke at TED Global in 2010, she joined the ranks of one of the very few TED speakers to use a lectern. But that was only because she happens to be blind.

Until an aide helped her walk across the stage to that lectern, no mention of her blindness had been made in the program. And then the audience got to hear a clear-as-a-bell description of the experiments she has conducted that let us see our own choices. The woman whose own choices don't include vision then used those findings to explain that Americans are a nation that believes in limitless choices:
The story Americans tell, the story upon which the American dream depends, is the story of limitless choice. This narrative promises so much:freedom, happiness, success. It lays the world at your feet and says, "You can have anything, everything." It's a great story, and it's understandable why they would be reluctant to revise it. But when you take a close look, you start to see the holes, and you start to see that the story can be told in many other ways.

Americans have so often tried to disseminate their ideas of choice, believing that they will be, or ought to be, welcomed with open hearts and minds. But the history books and the daily news tell us it doesn't always work out that way. The phantasmagoria, the actual experience that we try to understand and organize through narrative, varies from place to place. No single narrative serves the needs of everyone everywhere. Moreover, Americans themselves could benefit from incorporating new perspectives into their own narrative, which has been driving their choices for so long.
At the end of her talk, the host comes out on the stage with her and says, "Sheena, there is a detail about your biography that we have not written in the program book. But by now it's evident to everyone in this room. You're blind. And I guess one of the questions on everybody's mind is: How does that influence your study of choosing because that's an activity that for most people is associated with visual inputs like aesthetics and color and so on?" Her answer involves a personal story about trying to choose between two similar shades of nail polish, based on the recommendations of others--and how that prompted yet another piece of research.

What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Your limitations don't have to prevent you from speaking: Having help to walk on and offstage and a lectern are all the "extras" Iyengar needed to deliver this talk. Otherwise, it's a classic TED talk, mixing intriguing research that makes us think about ourselves in a new way with personal stories from the speaker. Think about that the next time you're considering what limits you from speaking. 
  • If you're speaking about research, aim for clarity: Iyengar's work looks at complex decision-making processes, most of which we experience but take for granted and don't examine closely. Yet her descriptions of the research are brief and clear, able to be understood by all because they're described in simple, approachable ways. Many researchers fret about having to "dumb down" their explanation of their work, which insults the audience. Iyengar makes it clear so we can follow her complex thinking. It makes a big difference. 
  • How will you describe yourself? Every speaker needs to anticipate speaking about herself, whether she's introducing herself, telling a personal story or explaining in answer to the host's question how her blindness affects her work. Iyengar handles this smoothly, noting "one of the things that's interesting about being blind is you actually get a different vantage point when you observe the way sighted people make choices," then tells her nail polish story. Turns out that sighted people aren't terribly good at descriptions. Iyengar is comfortable describing herself. Can you be? 
You can read the transcript of her talk here and watch the video below. I thank reader Cate Huston for pointing me to this speech. Watch and learn from it.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Talk About the Talk: Caroline Goyder on confident speaking at @TEDxBrixton

(Editor's note: I'm launching a new series, Talk About the Talk, in which I'll ask speakers I've worked with to share their perspectives about giving big or important talks. First up is Caroline Goyder, who spoke this autumn at TEDxBrixton on "the surprising secret to speaking with confidence." It's a fit topic for speaker coach Goyder, who worked for 10 years at Central School of Speech and Drama in London and has an MA in voice studies from there. She's also the author of Gravitas: Communicate with Confidence, Influence and Authority

Some observers dismiss TEDx conferences. But in my experience, most organizers and speakers take TEDx seriously, investing many hours in preparation, talk reviews, and coaching. It's always an honor when a TEDx speaker seeks out my coaching to make sure she hits the mark. After all, some of the most-watched TED talks are, in fact, TEDx talks.

It's an even bigger honor for me to coach a coach, especially for a creative talk about our business. You'll find much to learn here, from her observations about preparation to the talk itself, which will teach you about using your voice. Goyder "walks the talk" with a smooth, well-paced, and confident delivery you'd be wise to emulate. Here's what she had to say about the experience.)

“So, you mean you’re doing a TEDx talk about talking ?” said my client with a wry grin, “No pressure then..?”.

Crafting a TED worthy talk seemed a daunting mountain to climb, as I embarked into its foothills.  How do you distil the content into 18 minutes? How do you make it work for a live audience and for Youtube? How do you take an idea and cook it right down to the essence, so that after all of that work it sounds conversational?

Three months work later, and a TEDx talk completed, I find that climbing the TED mountain has given me a new perspective.

In a world where we crave ever shorter, faster more distilled ideas a TED style definitely talks in pitches, presentations and conference speeches.

These are the lessons I learned for going from page to stage when it comes to the big talk, presentation or pitch:

Factor in Dream Time: If you’re asked to speak on any platform I’d advise creating a loose structure as soon as the invitation goes into the diary – a frame into which you can hang the ideas. Once you have that frame your unconscious will get to work and the idea will grow, even while you’re doing other things. Diarising space for this dream time is key to honing a talk that feels like you.

Find an Editor: It’s essential with a TED talk, key presentation or conference speech, or big pitch to have an editor to bounce ideas off. In my case this was the very eloquent and wise Denise Graveline. Working with her on Skype week each week allowed me to really get to the heart of the message and then shape it. I felt like I had a wise mentor and confidante on my lonely TEDx path. Expertise can make us myopic – an outside eye can help you step back from your knowledge to create content with impact. It can feel less than comfortable to share your stories, nuggets and key ideas in the raw and you need to find someone who will build confidence and give tough love when required.

Find the Fun: Once the core ideas are there, go further - bring them to visual life. Find the spark, the fun, the aspect that elevates it for you to an aesthetic plane you can enjoy, enthuse about, be elevated by. George McCallum in my case provided an amazing chest of drawers that looked like a human chest, not to mention the props within it. Finding someone who gets your vision is key. It will inspire me, made it visual and made it fun.

Talk Your Talk: Now, with the structure clear and the visuals on track, you have to get into training. Your talk will only be any good if you have said it enough that it can drop out of working memory and into the unconscious, so the lines will arrive for you one by one as you speak them. By speaking your talk aloud, and recording it, you start to learn what works and what doesn't. As the veteran US speech coach Peggy Noonan puts it, where you falter. alter. Make it smooth and fluent. You can then riff conversationally on the day, with the confidence that knowing your structure deeply gives you. This made all the difference on the day, right at the start of my talk when the mic played up, and air con gave me an unexpected wind tunnel effect  – because even as panic hit, I could keep going.

Let it Go: In the words of the legendary Hollywood film director Mike Nichols, then it’s about letting go. "Preparation is everything…now when I walk onto a movie set I don’t have a care in the world: I’ve made sure of everything. For me it’s just pleasure.”

If you’ve done the work climbing the mountain, when you get to the top relax, enjoy the view. Make the day of the talk easy, clear. Do what you need to do to feel at your most relaxed so you can walk out on stage and make relaxed easy conversation with the audience.

And for those who are curious – here’s the talk….

(George McCallum photo of Goyder speaking at TEDxBrixton with the chest of drawers he made.)

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Monday, December 8, 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:
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Friday, December 5, 2014

5 famous speeches by women candidates for U.S. president or vice president

The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women doesn't come close to including every woman who's been a candidate for president or vice-president of the United States. But we do have a representative sample of the women who wanted to represent us through the ages, from the first to the most recent. These women, all candidates for either the top job or the one right behind it in the succession, defy easy description and certainly didn't make easy choices, something their speeches reflect:
  1. Victoria Woodhull's "Principles of Social Freedom," an 1871 speech, is out there on many fronts. She was not only the first woman to run for U.S. president in the year following this speech, but advocated for free love--the ability for women as well as men to choose and discard their sexual partners. And this speech, in the stem-winding traditions of its day, is long...but worth the read.
  2. Shirley Chisholm's 1969 introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment preceded her run for U.S. president in 1972, not the first woman but the first black woman to aim for the job in a major party. She didn't get the convention nod, but in the mold of this speech, used her candidacy to mince no words about the conditions of women and people of color. Her blunt language is a marvel to behold in today's careful world.
  3. Geraldine Ferraro's 1984 Democratic National Convention speech reads like a traditional politician's acceptance speech, but marked a major milestone: With it, she became the first woman to be a major party's candidate for the vice presidential post.
  4. Hillary Clinton's 2008 concession speech is one of four speeches representing her in the Index. In this speech, however, she brought her presidential candidacy to an end--and brought an emotional audience around to support for the eventual president and party candidate Barack Obama.
  5. Sarah Palin's 2008 Republican National Convention speech was already half-written by speechwriters who didn't know the identity of the vice presidential candidate, so close to the convention was her name announced. In a year famous for Clinton's run for the presidency, this woman made it onto a major-party ticket--and made her first major speech a high-impact moment for the campaign.
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