Monday, November 24, 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:
  • Missing advice: This TEDx talk by a leadership expert uses a smart hook--revealing advice no one ever gave you. It's a winning way to intrigue an audience, which always should be among your goals. Since it's targeted to women, you get a good example with good advice.
  • Code red: Conference codes of conduct, designed to protect women speakers and attendees from harrassment, don't work without a lot of additional effort, says this organizer.
  • Global speakers need this article on how to tailor your presentation to fit different cultures.
  • About the quote: Good advice for making sure your public speaking self is your authentic self.
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Friday, November 21, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Ida Tarbell's 1916 "Industrial idealism"

Imagine that you're a prize-winning journalist, one who has brought corporate titans to their knees with your investigations, and whose books are best-sellers. Your name is a household word in America. Your credibility and popularity are high. The speakers' bureau advertising you on the lecture circuit says "there is no name which speaks more eloquently of careful and painstaking research, keen analysis, open mindedness, fairness and constructiveness, than does the name of Ida M. Tarbell."

And then one of the groups you address on that tour describes you as "the woman who talks like a man."

"Tarbell was invited to speak at numerous colleges, clubs and law schools. Members of the Twentieth Century Club were reportedly enthralled to hear 'the woman who talks like a man'," wrote Doris Kearns Goodwin in The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, noting Tarbell's popularity on the speaker circuit after her exposé of Standard Oil. 

Readers of the blog know well that negating the gender and sexuality of women speakers--labeling them as men, as neuters or as androgynes--has been going on since the first century in Rome, and continues to this day. This was a period in American history when few women spoke on the popular public-speaking circuits of the day. When they did speak, they primarily spoke about temperance, anti-war messages, religion or the home. And I'm told by historian friends that Tarbell very well may have appreciated that backhanded compliment. She didn't like it when, as she sometimes put it, her "petticoats" got in the way of her progress. Whether her audience saw it the same way is up for debate.

It's possible Tarbell was influenced as a speaker from her time as a reporter for The Daily Chautauquan, supplement for home study courses based on the Chautauqua Institution, a summer festival of public speakers in New York state that continues today--in a sense, the original TED conference, except with thousands of speakers. It was her first professional writing job, and Tarbell said of it,“I was glad to be useful, for I had grown up with what was called the Chautauqua movement.” She spoke at Chautauqua twice in the summer of 1917, bringing her career full circle as a speaker.

Around 1916, she was on the speaker circuit, represented by the Affiliated Lyceum Bureaus of America, speaking on issues surrounding World War I, with a focus on the home front and her specialty, scrutiny of industrial practices. (Here's a letter to her about her speaker expenses from one of the lyceum bureaus booking her in the midwest.) The back page of this brochure calls the speech "Industrial Idealism," and says Tarbell summed up the situation in America in that day as "A peaceful nation unprepared for peace!"

It's based on The Golden Rule in Business (jump to page 34 at the link), a story from the American Magazine, which she founded and edited. The central idea is that applying the "golden rule" of "do unto others as you would have others do unto you" was being applied as simply "good business" by the heads of "certain industries." It's a look at the advent of worker safety as a new assumption in doing business.

The brochure gives us the only text I could find from this speech:
We must organize men and women for labor as if for war. Watch the perfection of the training and the movement of the masses that at this moment are meeting in unspeakable, infernal slaughter in Europe. See how the humblest is fitted to his task. With what ease great bodies wheel, turn, advance, retreat. Consider how, after standing men in line that they may be knocked to pieces, they promptly and scientifically collect such as have escaped, both friend and foe, and (oh, amazing and heart-breaking human logic!) under the safe sign of the cross, tenderly nurse them back to health.
If this can be done for War, should we do less for Peace? 
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Use active verbs to make your speech powerful: "...great bodies wheel, turn, advance, retreat" is a sentence packed with active verbs. Here, Tarbell's experience as a writer came in handy, but you can get the same effect by editing your speech drafts to eliminate "to be" and other passive verb constructions. Many speakers fall into passive constructions as a way of hedging their opinions, and the result is a speech without opinions, but also lacking in power and impact.
  • Give your audience invisible visuals and a piece of the action: Tarbell's descriptions bring alive the fields of war in Europe, creating the invisible visuals or pictures in the mind's eye that stay with an audience long after the talk is over. But she doesn't just describe the aspects of war that work in peacetime--she puts the audience into the action, urging listeners to "watch...see...consider" and play an active if imaginary role in the story she's telling. It's a good persuasive technique as well.
  • Use questions to press your argument: A time-honored tool of rhetoric is the rhetorical question. By asking "If this can be done for War, should we do less for Peace?" Tarbell is challenging her audience with her own contention and opinion, and using the question to press it forward. She does so in part because her premise--that workers deserve safety, and that it helps business--was one met with skepticism by workers and industrialists alike. 
I wish I had a full text or audio for this speech, but you can read a draft commencement speech from this era found among her papers, intended for the class of 1913 at Allegheny College. I'm delighted that Allegheny College, the Chautauqua Daily and the University of Iowa Libraries could make available the documents about her speaking tour, giving us a fuller picture of the early 20th century lecture circuit and Tarbell's speaking.

(Images copyrighted by The University of Iowa. Used by permission.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ask not what your TED video can do for you. Ask what you can do...

Many speakers salivate at the thought of having a video of themselves delivering a TED talk, the thing that lives online long after your actual talk is done. I've written before about the many things you can do with that video, whether you're speaking at TED, TED Global, TEDMED, or one of the many thousands of TEDx conferences around the globe.

But first, do us all a favor, and ask not what your TED video can do for you. Ask what you can do for your TED video.

Planning how your talk will work on video is an often-missed step in the prep for a TED talk.  I've coached nearly 100 speakers for TED talks, primarily as the coach for TEDMED as well as for TEDx conferences around the world, and I always incorporate coaching about the eventual video along with coaching for the speaker's impact with the live audience.

But TED isn't the only conference recording and sharing video of speakers, as more organizations look for high-quality content to share online. Understanding how your talk will play in the hall and beyond it has become a new standard for public speakers. Here's what I advise speakers to do to yield a better video for TED talks--or any talks:
  1. Don't blend into the background: Ask your organizers about the color of the background against which you'll be speaking, then go for contrast. Many, if not most, TED conferences have a dark background, so that smart black suit you want to wear won't help you stand out. Put some saturated color, like a French blue or other jewel tone close to your face and torso, since pastels will wash out under the bright lights; that pale blue shirt will read almost white on video. Be careful with red: On video, a red jacket tends to look as if it's bleeding, or disintegrating, at the edges.Wear larger, rather than small, jewelry--a statement necklace, rather than a small chain necklace, for example. 
  2. Make yourself easy to light: An all-black outfit also means that any detail on your clothes--beautiful stitching or pleating, for example--won't show up well on camera. And avoid a pure white, which will always draw the camera's eye more than any other color, making it especially difficult to light. If your outfit is all white, please make sure you report to the lighting director in advance, so she can plan for you. 
  3. Avoid inadvertent noise from accessories: If you're wearing earrings, bring alternatives with you and consult with the audio technician about whether your earrings will make noise close to the microphone. You also can remove the earring closest to the mic during your talk. In the same vein, avoid touching your necklace or wearing noisy bracelets, and if your hair is long and hanging near the mic, as the technician to adjust it. While you're at it, think through any noise your props make, and what that will do in the video. Ask for a consult if you're not sure.
  4. Slow down: That microphone is your friend, but there's one thing it can't do: Help us understand you when you go too fast. Pause more than you think you should, and put two silent beats in between your sentences or the items in a list. We'll hear you much better if you pace yourself. And pausing after a mistake, then continuing, lets the video editor work magic later on.
  5. Don't vocalize or gesture for the back of the house: One of the biggest misunderstandings in TED talk delivery happens when speakers think they need to be more theatrical, projecting loudly for the people sitting in the back of the theatre, or gesturing more broadly or frequently to get their points across. In fact, there's no need for loudness or large gestures. You can be as quiet as you wish, and let the audio and video technicians do their job and make you heard and seen, in the hall and on the video. 
  6. Allow for close-ups: There's one more big disadvantage to large gestures and lots of moving around: If that's all you do, the camera will have to pull back to encompass your motion, and you won't get a close-up. You don't need to move all over the classic TED "red dot" carpet, a 12-foot circle. Just take a step or two and stop, or shift your weight, or stand in place.
  7. Alert the crew to special props, big moves or other unusual moments: If you're going to swing something at the end of a rope, toss things into the audience, move a big piece of equipment or a large prop on stage, do start working with the organizers and crew well in advance, so they know what you are planning and when it will occur. Provide them with a script marked with your big moves, prop use and other cues, so they can plan appropriately.
  8. Give the camera a chance to capture your first words: Rather than start talking as you walk toward center stage, emerge silently, center yourself on the spot where you want to begin, shut your mouth, breathe through your nose, and smile at the audience for a few moments. Then begin speaking. You'll calm yourself, connect with the audience, and most important, give the camera operator a moment in which to focus on you and establish a shot that captures your first words. Doing anything else is the video equivalent of swallowing your words. You only get one chance for the video to capture your first words, so don't waste it.
  9. Then jump right into the start of your talk: Many speakers routinely begin their talks with what speaker coaches call "throat-clearing," those thank-yous and nice-to-be-heres that don't add content but help the speaker get comfortable. The TED tradition is to jump right into your talk instead. You don't need to introduce yourself or thank anyone, and in fact, TED will edit such comments out of your video, anyway. So why bother?
  10. Don't worry about angles: You may want to turn to different parts of the audience during your talk, but at TED or TEDMED, most of the time, there will be multiple cameras capturing multiple angles for most talks, which means you need not worry about how you face the audience. TEDx conferences will vary in this aspect of video recording, often with just one camera. Ask the organizers if you are not sure. Whether there's one camera or many, you don't need to look directly at the camera--just talk to the audience and let the camera capture that connection.
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Monday, November 17, 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:
  • The storytelling magnet: Why are we drawn to stories? Find out in The psychological comforts of storytelling.
  • Sage advice: Advice for my younger self, by an entrepreneur, notes, "I would urge my younger self to seek professional speaker training much earlier in her career. The benefits would have been huge."
  • For tech speakers: Two women in tech have started a newsletter, Technically Speaking, that has already featured The Eloquent Woman. In addition to news and tips on public speaking, they include calls for papers from conferences with codes of conduct.
  • News, here: Speaking of newsletters, have you signed up for my free monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators?
  • About the quote: Franklin Roosevelt's (of course) brief advice for public speakers.
I'm taking bookings for 1:1 coaching and group training in public speaking, presenting, and media interview skills for 2015. How can we work together? Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Sarah Weddington's Roe v. Wade arguments

"In Texas, the woman is the victim."

I don't know what you were or are doing at age 26, but your to-do list likely didn't include arguing landmark cases before the Supreme Court of the United States. Yet it was at that age that attorney Sarah Weddington delivered the successful argument in Roe v. Wade, the case that legalized abortion in the United States. Her focus was to describe the ways that the law forbidding abortions in her home state of Texas turned women into victims, rather than protecting them.

Weddington, who'd had an abortion herself in 1967, joined a group of University of Texas graduate students looking for a case to challenge the anti-abortion law after her own graduation from law school--doing so, in part, because she found it difficult to find work at a law firm, a common issue for women attorneys in that era. She argued the case before a district court, and that ruling was appealed by the state, which put the case before the U.S. Supreme Court and its all-male roster of justices.

She argued the case in two sessions, one in 1971 and another in 1972. In an interview almost 30 years later, Weddington recalled the day she made the argument at the court. Just as any speaker might, she talks about the moments before she began to speak--except that this high-stakes setting had unusual pressure behind it:
I'll never forget the morning of oral arguments. I got up really early and headed over to put the last touches on my argument. There was a sense of majesty, walking up those stairs, my steps echoing on the marble. I went to the lawyers' lounge — to go over my argument. I wanted to make a last stop before I went in — but there was no ladies' room in the lawyer's lounge. I think they just put one in a few years ago. When you get to your seat in this beautiful courtroom, there is a handmade goose quill pen waiting for you at your seat. Then the clerk comes out and announces the Justices, who come in through a velvet curtain. The courtroom was packed; the pressroom was packed. Every seat was filled.
Today, we debate and wonder about work-life balance, but in 1972, women had starker choices and fewer rights. Part of Weddington's strategy was to enumerate those limits on women early in her argument:
For example, in our State there are many schools where a woman is forced to quit if she becomes pregnant. 
In the City of Austin that is true. 
A woman, if she becomes pregnant, and is in high school, must drop out of regular education process. 
And that's true of some colleges in our State. 
In the matter of employment, she often is forced to quit at an early point in her pregnancy.She has no provision for maternity leave. 
She cannot get unemployment compensation under our laws, because the laws hold that she is not eligible for employment, being pregnant, and therefore is eligible for no unemployment compensation. 
At the same time, she can get no welfare to help her at a time but she has no unemployment compensation and she's not eligible for any help in getting a job to provide for herself. 
There is no duty for employers to rehire women if they must drop out to carry a pregnancy to term. 
And, of course, this is especially hard on the many women in Texas who are heads of their own households and must provide for their already existing children. 
And, obviously, the responsibility of raising a child is a most serious one, and at times an emotional investment that must be made, cannot be denied. 
So, a pregnancy to a woman is perhaps one of the most determinative aspects of her life. 
It disrupts her body. 
It disrupts her education. 
It disrupts her employment. 
And it often disrupts her entire family life.
The Supreme Court's decision was a groundbreaking one for American women, and it has been argued about and protested ever since. Our focus here is on public speaking, so let's consider what you can learn from this famous speech, whether you agree with the outcome or have a different view:
  • Big ideas don't need big words: It would be difficult to name another issue with the same level of controversy swirling around it in America, then and now. Rather than aim for flowery or complex arguments, Weddington uses the simplest of words to describe the law's impact on the women of Texas, even when she is describing medical procedures. Making your case persuasive doesn't require multi-syllabic words, lots of adjectives or other complicated constructions.
  • Before power brokers, be direct: Of course, attorneys before the highest court in the United States follow a protocol, but this argument benefits from its direct approach to laying the case before the justices for consideration. For one thing, it didn't waste the justice's time with unnecessary flourishes. Good research helped here, but so did the structure Weddington followed, just as simple as her choice of words.
  • Use rhetorical devices for effect: The sentences quoted above that begin with "It disrupts her..." are the rhetorical device called anaphora, a repetition that comes at the beginning of a series of sentences. It's commonly used for emphasis and intensity, and the repetitive phrase not only is an audible clue to the listener that there's a pattern to follow, but that each of the words that differs is important. Here, that would mean body, education, employment and family life are emphasized. Taking the time to use rhetorical devices can add power and pacing to your speeches.
  • Don't underestimate your ability based on your age: That applies whether you are young or old, or thought to be too young or too old to tackle a big speaking task. Weddington went on to become a  state legislator, a law professor, founder of leadership institute, and the holder of many honorary degrees. But when she made this landmark argument, she was an unemployed 26-year-old law school graduate. Do I make my case?
You can read more about Weddington and the argument she made in her book, A Question of Choice. There's no video, of course, of this famous and long argument, but we are fortunate that The Oyez Project, a multimedia archive of U.S. Supreme Court Cases, has audio files and a two-part transcript of the argument so you can hear Sarah Weddington for yourself.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Speaking pace off to the races? How to plan your speaking speed

I've been coaching more than 50 speakers 1:1 this autumn. Some have been getting ready for big conferences, like TEDMED or TEDx conferences. Others are part of national programs that want every project to field a speaker for a short talk at a conference, sometimes a Shark Tank-style pitch or a TED-quality talk, often no more than five minutes each. No matter what talks they have ahead, I've found myself saying two words more than any others in our 1:1 coaching sessions.

Slow. Down.

Speed trips up many a speaker because you may be speeding up unconsciously. Often, speakers I work with know that they are speaking too fast only because they've been criticized for it in the workplace. I've shared practical tips on how to hit the brakes when you're speaking too fast. But you'll do even better at pacing yourself if you take the time to analyze your speaking speed, understand why it is so fast, and plan your speech or presentation so you set the pace. Do any of these needs for speed sound familiar?
  • Driving blind: If you've given a particular presentation many times, you may unconsciously speed up in the sections you've memorized completely. We can tell because your voice changes in timbre, tone and pace, often going decidedly higher and faster. It's worth getting a friend to record video of the next time you deliver the talk, so you can watch and listen for this. Where does it occur? Practice those sections in slower pacing until you correct the problem.
  • No roadmap: I can't count high enough to tell you the number of speakers I've met who write out everything they wish to say and then are shocked to be told they're overtime. A better way to plan for time is to use the speechwriter's rule of thumb, 120 words per minute. You may, in fact, wind up speaking faster or slower than this average number, but it's a useful planning tool. Writing your remarks to this mark--for a five-minute talk, that's just 600 words--will leave you plenty of time to pause for effect, get laughs and applause, and not feel rushed.
  • Following the wrong pace car: Sometimes fast talking is the result of nervousness, but let me assure you, your pace need not keep up with your heart rate. Better to pause, breathe through your nose, smile at the audience and then move on. Inserting pauses at the ends of sentences and after every item in a list will go a long way toward slowing you down appropriately.
  • Too many people in the car: I have actually watched people get on a stage and cram 20 minutes' worth of information into five minutes, and the entire audience was either wincing or angry by the end of the five minutes. Jamming too much into a speech, and deciding that a pedal-to-the-metal approach will allow you to do that, is fatal for speakers. I've seen people standing for elections ruin their chances that day and for all time with this tactic. You may have a more benevolent reason--"this is my only chance to speak so I have to put everything in"--but the effect will be the same. Save those gems for a future talk and slow down today, so you get the chance to speak again.
  • Comprehensive insurance: If you're speaking English to people for whom it's not their first language, you'll need to slow down for comprehension. But that's also true for English-speaking audiences, if you go too fast and your topic, ideas, or thoughts are unfamiliar or are highly technical. Speed can wreck your audience's ability to understand you, and if that happens, why bother speaking?
Pauses are golden in speeches, and too few speakers use them to effect. Audiences don't perceive pauses as long stretches of empty space, because they need that time for the big thoughts you're saying to sink in and take hold. They're never as long as you, the speaker, think they are.

Here's a great example of what pauses can add to your talk: Physician Resa Lewiss spoke recently at TEDMED about point-of-care ultrasound, an old technology with a new application. Listen to her pauses, which come at critical moments, such as during dramatic descriptions; while speaking of serious moments, like near-death experiences; when enumerating the items in a list; and when underscoring her take-away points. This talk is just about 6 minutes in length, but feels luxurious, calm, and comprehensive, a testimony to how much you can pack into a short time frame when you slow down.



If you want to plan your pace before your talk, recording yourself on audio or video are the best ways to check your speed. Once you've listened with care, mark up your script to include pauses where you need them, and re-record your best reading of that pause-button version. Then listen to it over and over to get the pacing straight. Your speech or presentation--and you--will have more impact.

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