Monday, April 20, 2015

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:
Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Friday, April 17, 2015

For #EarthDay, 7 famous environmental speeches by women

Next week, we celebrate Earth Day, and it's no surprise that women have shaped so much of the public speaking about environmental issues. I've pulled these seven speeches from The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women to showcase their messages about the environment, from pesticides and wildlife conservation to economic arguments for dealing with climate change.

Fittingly for a global issue, this is a global array of speakers, with women from France, Kenya, the United States and the United Kingdom represented, and all of their messages ring true today. Click through to see video of most of these speeches, along with what you can learn from them as a speaker. I'm a proud former Deputy Associate Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in charge of communications, education and public affairs, so it's a particular pleasure for me to share this collection with you:
  1. Rachel Carson's "A New Chapter to Silent Spring" was a 1963 speech to the Garden Club of America, taking her clarion call about the effects of pesticides on human health and the environment right to the people. Her conviction about her message helped her overcome her public speaking fears and changed our environment for the better.
  2. Severn Suzuki's 1992 UN Earth Summit speech was delivered when she was just 12 years old, and she wisely kept her message in the voice of a child. "If you don't know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!" she urged the delegates.
  3. Jane Goodall's "What separates us from the chimpanzees" uses unusual tactics, from sound "props" to Shakespearian influences, to put her message of wildlife conservation across. Another scared speaker, she learned from experience the value of speaking to live audiences to get her environmental message across.
  4. Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai's hummingbird fable was a simple tale she used to convince audiences ranging from poor women in Kenya to powerful world leaders that a small volunteer effort could do much to protect important ecosystems. In her case, a campaign to reforest Kenya led to the planting of 30 million trees--and a Nobel Prize.
  5. Christine Lagarde's speech on "dynamic resilience" led the World Economic Forum in 2013. Titled "A new global economy for a new generation," the International Monetary Fund's managing director put the assembled financial titans on notice that climate change and its effects had to be central to their efforts to reshape the world's economy.
  6. Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner opened the 2014 UN Climate Summit after winning a competition to be the citizen voice at the session. She combined a short appeal to the audience with a dramatic poem based on her experiences in the Marshall Islands, creating vivid imagery to get the deliberations off to an emotional start.
  7. Katharine Hayhoe's "elevator speech" on climate change is less than 90 seconds. But in that time, the climate scientist and evangelical Christian shares how you should do it, then shows you how it's done.
Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

From the vault: Got lots to say? Save it for the Q&A

(Editor's note: This 2010 post is a process I use for my own presentations: Start by planning the Q&A first, then work on your formal content. It's a great way to look smart when question time rolls around.)

I facilitated a workshop for scientists on communicating their research to public audiences, and asked a colleague to sit in to observe me and provide feedback (something you should do from time to time to ensure your ongoing development as a speaker).  One aspect he liked was an open-ended section, late in the day, when we were reviewing as a group short videos of some of the participants attempting to deliver messages they'd created early in the day.  The videos offered a jumping-off point for me -- and all the participants -- to share what we noticed in each video.  And those observations allowed me, as facilitator, to share more concrete tips and advice.

So a video showing someone um-ing their way through a message let me talk about ums, why they're natural and how to replace them with time-buying phrases.  A question about "Was I gesturing too much?" let me talk about planning gestures, just as you plan what you want to say.  Another question, "What should I do with my hands?" led to a demonstration of how to avoid immobilizing your hands, something that leads to more ums and speaking stumbles.

My observer said he loved how I was able to weave so many facts into the Q&A. It made me look knowledgeable, but also reached audience members right at the moment where they were learning something new and needed to know more about the next step to take. 

For many presenters, the goal is to show what they know, and they choose to do that in their "main" speech or presentation. But I make a point of holding dozens and dozens of facts in reserve, ready to emerge during the question-and-answer session. Even though this workshop lasts a day, I know going into it that there's no way for me to share an exhaustive knowledge base with my participants. We'll go "a mile wide and an inch deep," I tell them, and give them a good start. I could try to cram the facts into other parts of the day, but leaving them the chance to come out during the Q&A puts the participants in the driver's seat.  As the speaker, you can still look smart--and your audience can get in those questions at the time of their choosing, when your facts are most likely to hit home.

The bonus: This is a smart tactic for organizing a talk or presentation when you feel as if you have too many facts for the time allotted. Make sure you leave half your time for questions, and decide what to hold in reserve. I start with the information I'm sure that people will ask about, which ensures engagement and participation. Try this for your next presentation.

Related posts:  How to listen to audience questions

Graceful ways with Q&A

(Creative Commons licensed photo by rosarodoe with words added)

Monday, April 13, 2015

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:
Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you. Update: On sale for just $3.49 on Amazon right now.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Katharine Hayhoe's climate change elevator pitch

Katharine Hayhoe is exceptional in more ways than one. She's an evangelical Christian, and a climate scientist. And while the one thing science and religion may have in common is the propensity for lengthy public speaking, Hayhoe has just given an "elevator speech" about her complex topic, climate change, that anyone can understand--in just 1 minute, 21 seconds.

You've heard about the "elevator speech" before, haven't you? The idea is that you only have a short time--a journey of two or three floors in a moving elevator--to make your point. I've never actually heard a real speech in an elevator, but the idea is to force the speaker to be brief, simple, clear, and memorable. And since the idea came out of the business world, on the premise that you might be in an elevator with a rich venture capitalist, add persuasive to that list. That's a tall order for anyone, but when you add in a highly politicized topic that's complex in nature, is disaster ahead?

Not for Hayhoe, a professor at Texas Tech University who travels widely speaking to all sorts of audiences, including faith-based communities, about her science. This elevator speech took place in an interview setting. Here's the entire exchange, and in less than a minute and half, she explains her approach, then demonstrates it:
Interviewer: What would be your elevator pitch to explain climate change? You step in an elevator and someone asks, "Are you a climate scientist? What's going on with climate change?" 
Hayhoe: I wouldn't start with the science. So, often we're told to say, with the science, it's real, it's us, it's bad, but there are solutions. So, that's the science message, but I don't think we can start right away with the science. I think we have to start with the values. So I would start by saying, I care about x, whatever I have in common with the person I'm talking to. Even if, you know, say it's somebody from west Texas. 
I care about Texas, and I care about our future. We don't have a future without water. Climate change will make that water more scarce. We know climate is changing here and around the world, we know humans are responsible, we know it's going to affect our water resources, but here are all the great things we're already doing and that we can do even more of in Texas to benefit ourselves and to give ourselves a more secure future.
Hayhoe is a great example of what's meant by public engagement in science: She respects your right to your views, will listen to them, and can share her knowledge with those she knows disagree. In an article about the attacks she has faced for speaking out on climate change, she says she gave a talk to a group of petroleum engineers in Texas. "I got an email in the past week from one of them who said ‘I still disagree, but I just wanted to tell you that you don’t deserve anything that they are saying about you because you were courteous, respectful towards me and I felt we had a good interaction’,'and I thought — that was the best email." That's grace under pressure, eloquent women! I share that because I keep encountering questions from young women speakers fearful of expressing strong opinions, lest the audience disagree. Here's a good role model for you.

What can you learn from this very short speech?
  • Focus on your audience first: As Hayhoe notes, finding common ground between you and your listener(s) is a critical part of being persuasive. Many scientists, trained to show all their work or to be informational, miss that they need to think about the audience as well as about what the speaker wants to say. Hayhoe instead leads her pitch with shared values, to good effect.
  • Yes, you can talk about complex topics clearly and briefly: There's not a word in this elevator speech that is difficult to understand due to its complexity--and yet Hayhoe strikes universal themes, draws a mental picture of what matters in the debate, and achieves a conversational starting point that doesn't shut the listener down. Not bad for a one-minute, 21-second pitch. 
  • Flip non-working approaches: "I wouldn't start with the science" are her first words to the interviewer here, then sums up the typical approach climate scientists have been taking. Trying a new approach may be just the thing you need to turn a non-starter of a speech into a hit.
I've worked with many scientists and engineers, training thousands of them to communicate with public audiences, and I'll be sharing this elevator speech as another good example. Check out the very short video below:

(Texas Tech University photo)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Tuning yourself mindfully: What meditation can do for public speakers

Jon Kabat-Zinn has a suggestion for meetings: Open the meeting with a few minutes of...nothing. No sound, no talking, no action, just mindfulness. The idea is to use those moments to bring the meeting participants into focus, if they were not focused before arriving, and to create a break with what came before and what will come after.

Kabat-Zinn, author of many books and recordings about mindfulness meditation, including Wherever You Go, There You Are, is an emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts medical school. He shared the idea of a silent start to meetings in a 2007 lecture at Google.

Using a musical metaphor, he notes that, before a symphony plays for the audience, its members first tune their instruments, on their own and then against one another. So it should be before meetings, says Kabat-Zinn. In his recording of Guided Mindfulness Meditation Series 3, he quotes Buddha as saying that mindfulness is like tuning a stringed instrument: "Too loose, and there's no true sound. Too tight, and the string can break."

You can follow this link to start the lecture at the 46-minute mark, where Kabat-Zinn begins talking about meetings, or watch the full video of Kabat-Zinn's lecture at Google here, and below--it's an hour and 12 minutes, and includes a meditation. You also can listen to a longer program and interview about mindfulness with him on On Being.

Mindfulness meditation can do much more for speakers than just open a meeting. I recommend developing a meditation practice if you're a speaker who is:
  • Nervous before speaking or flooded with anxiety after speaking: Meditation, or present-moment awareness, works on keeping you focused on what's happening right now, rather than catastrophizing about what's about to happen or what happened in the past. Kabat-Zinn's research suggests that if you meditate every day for 8 weeks, you'll have a real practice established--and with that tool in your toolkit, you should be better able to keep yourself focused on your now rather than the past or the future. The deep relaxation you can get in even three minutes of meditation is a real boon to the speaker about to go on stage.
  • Anxious about answering questions: The Google lecture and the On Being interview are wonderful long-form demonstrations of how someone who meditates can excel at a non-anxious stance when receiving audience questions. Kabat-Zinn gives each questioner full attention. You can see he is not thinking ahead to what he's going to say, and that makes for a much better exchange. He reinforces with enthusiasm and when he needs to disagree, it's not a stressful moment for him or the audience. That kind of balance and focus is something every speaker should develop for the Q&A portion of talks.
  • Needing to find a quiet moment in a noisy, busy backstage environment: In his Guided Mindfulness Meditation 3 recording linked above, Kabat-Zinn includes a meditation that has you focus on the sounds that come to your ears. This is one of my favorites for noisy environments (and anyone who's been in a green room can tell you they are not quiet places). Introverts who need an escape but can't leave the room will find this useful, too.
  • Likely to view speaking as an out-of-body experience: Many speakers describe their speaking experience this way, and it's a bad sign. You need to be focused and aware when you speak, as so many variables are in play. Meditation will help you learn how to hold it all in awarenesss, without stress--or blocking things out.
If you want to start a meditation practice, get Kabat-Zinn's classic book, Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. It also includes one of the best explanations of fight-or-flight syndrome, that panicky feeling you get when you walk out on stage or face some other threat, real or imagined. The book walks you through what meditation is, how to do it effectively, and the research that shows why it works. 

Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn

Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.