Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Insights from 7 speakers and speechwriters: Our Inside Voice series

Inside Voice is the interview series in which we ask speakers and speechwriters to share their public speaking insights. They dish storytelling, delivery skills, audience behavior, timing, stress, content, research, rhetoric and much more. Taken together, these seven frank interviews are a treasure trove of advice and encouragement for your own public speaking. Dip into these voices of experience:
  1. "Most speakers resist being vulnerable." TEDMED chief storytelling officer Marcus Webb says vulnerability is the key to authentic speaking.
  2. "The listener will bring their own lens to your presentation." Psychiatrist and author Candida Fink reminds you to keep the audience, as well as what you want to say, in mind.
  3. "Speakers start off with good intentions, but then they lose track of their thread – if they ever had one." Deloitte's top speechwriter Caroline Johns says structure will help your speech "pack a bigger punch."
  4. "You move people through the spoken word. You can persuade them to see the world differently and act on it." Speechwriter Brian Jenner, who heads two international networks in his profession, uses Toastmasters to keep his own speaking skills sharp.
  5. "As an introvert, I am wiped out every time I speak." Author and public relations executive Liz O'Donnell says if that's a "good tired," it means her talk came off well.
  6. "Speeches without people are boring." Speechwriter Amélie Crosson-Gooderham urges you to tell stories with details about people in them to illustrate your points.
  7. "The key to speaking is finding your own voice." Author and management consultant Gillian Davis also finds that writing out her speech helps with delivery.
I'll be leading Be The Eloquent Woman, my day-long workshop on women and public speaking, as a pre-conference session at the European Speechwriter Network's autumn speechwriters and business communicators conference in Amsterdam. The workshop is 23 October and the conference is 24 October. You'll learn how to speak with confidence, content and credibility to subvert the common expectations of women speakers. Please join me!

Monday, August 25, 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:
I'll be leading Be The Eloquent Woman, my day-long workshop on women and public speaking, as a pre-conference session at the European Speechwriter Network's autumn speechwriters and business communicators conference in Amsterdam. The workshop is 23 October and the conference is 24 October. You'll learn how to speak with confidence, content and credibility to subvert the common expectations of women speakers. Please join me!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Mindy Kaling at Harvard Law School's Class Day

"I liked the way she takes on the 'I'm not qualified to speak' fear and makes it hilarious," said reader Cate Huston in recommending this speech for the blog. While I wouldn't advise you to use this much self-deprecation, you can pull it off when you're actress and comedian Mindy Kaling.

In short order, she opens this 2014 Harvard Law School Class Day address by assuming she's getting a law degree, getting interrupted and corrected, poking fun that she's a Dartmouth grad and thus to be looked down upon, claiming she wanted to buy a speech online but was denied the use of her credit card...and comparing herself unfavorably to another speaker with Indian heritage on the program.

And that's just the intro. Harvard's also a juicy target, and she tackles it with verve:
And let’s be honest, Harvard Law is the best of the Harvard graduate programs, okay, I can say this, we're amongst friends. The Business School is full of crooks, the Divinity School is just a bunch of weird virgins, the School of Design is like European burnouts, and don’t even get me started on the Kennedy School. What kind of degree do you get from there, Public Policy? You mean a Masters in Boring Me to Death at a Dinner Party, I'm sorry. The med school is just a bunch of nerdy Indians—I can say that! Preet can say that. The rest of you, you are out of line—that is racial, how dare you.
Like all good humor, there's a vein of truth just underneath the surface, and it emerges frequently as the speech progresses. Lines like "Celebrities give too much advice, and people listen to it too much," as well as the torrent of self-deprecation, tell us Kaling takes her work seriously, but doesn't take herself too seriously.

That doesn't mean, however, that she failed to strike a serious tone in this speech. It involved her family, fairness and the future she saw for the graduates:
I am an American of Indian origin whose parents were raised in India, met in Africa, and moved to America, and now I am the star and creator of my own network television program. The continents traveled, the languages mastered, the standardized tests taken over and over again, and the cultures navigated are amazing, even to me. My family's dream about a future unfettered by limitations, dependent only on "what you know" and not by "who you know," was possible only in America. Their romance with this country is more romantic than any romantic comedy I could ever write. 
And it's all because they believed, as I do, about the concept of the inherent fairness that is alive in America. And that here, you could aspire and succeed. And that, my parents believed, their children could aspire and succeed to levels that could not have happened anywhere else in the world. 
And that fairness that my parents and I take for granted, that many Americans take for granted, is in many ways resting on your shoulders to uphold. You represent those who will make laws and affect change. And that is truly an amazing thing. And more than any other group graduating today from Harvard, the laws that you write in the next five to ten years will affect this country in a fundamental way.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Make 'em laugh: Humor can erase that "who does she think she is?" reaction some in the audience might have when sitting before a speaker, even one who's not a celebrity. But more than that, it offers the audience surprises, requiring their attention. And, as speechwriter Peggy Noonan has noted, good use of humor in a speech means the rest of us will be repeating your best lines the next day.
  • Take a noble goal and make it real: "The rule of law" and "justice" are the terms lawyers use to discuss the noble goals of their profession. Kaling takes those concepts and transforms them into everyday "fairness" by describing them through the eyes of her immigrant parents. By letting the graduates know her family was counting on them to uphold fairness, Kaling makes a pact with the graduates, a speaker tactic that encompasses a call to action and establishes a direct relationship between the celebrity speaker and the audience. It's a personal, moving moment.
  • Don't take the circumstances too seriously: You didn't miss the "it's an honor just to be asked" and the "let me thank our esteemed hosts" moments in this speech, did you? While your next speech may not involve poking this much fun at the host institution, do take a look at your remarks and think about whether there's too much hot air in them. Your audience will thank you.
You can read the text of her speech here, and do watch the video below. What do you think of this famous speech?




I'll be leading Be The Eloquent Woman, my day-long workshop on women and public speaking, as a pre-conference session at the European Speechwriter Network's autumn speechwriters and business communicators conference in Amsterdam. The workshop is 23 October and the conference is 24 October. You'll learn how to speak with confidence, content and credibility to subvert the common expectations of women speakers. Please join me!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Even famous speakers are made, not born: 4 examples

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. President Bill Clinton. Lady Bird Johnson, a First Lady of the United States. Susan Cain, TED speaker. All seasoned, famous speakers who've reached millions with their oratory--the kind you'd call a "natural born speaker."

But this quartet of famous speakers were all made, not born, that way. They started out as reluctant or over-enthusiastic speakers, had trouble getting a word out or even more difficulty reining themselves in--or remembering what they really wanted to say. And (you knew this was coming) they all turned around their speaking fortunes with practice and coaching. As you progress as a speaker, take comfort in how far these famous speakers had to come to be big successes:
  1. When Winston Churchill first got started in politics, his speaking got decidedly mixed reviews, according to Richard Toye's fascinating speaker history, The Roar of the Lion: The Untold Story of Churchill's World War II Speeches. Fellow parliamentarians thought "his speaking style seemed not majestically impressive but overblown and hackneyed." Churchill lost his way trying to deliver a speech in Parliament from memory, with partial notes: "he had written out only the first sentence of his closing sentence--and could not remember the end of it. After 'several prolonged pauses' he ended lamely and sat down." After that, he used a full text. He also threw himself into the writing of his speeches, trying out key phrases on colleagues before using them in speeches, and re-using or re-tooling the best ones. By the time he got to his great speeches during World War II, some of his most famous lines were, in fact, well-practiced--a good thing for someone who discovered early that he was not a spontaneous speaker.
  2. Lady Bird Johnson sabotaged herself right out of her first big speaking gig. When she learned that being first in her high school class meant giving the valedictory speech, she prayed to get smallpox. She avoided the illness, but managed to come in third. She probably would have avoided speaking altogether had her husband not run for vice president on John F. Kennedy's ticket in 1960. Kennedy's wife had been scheduled to give dozens of campaign speeches, but was sidelined with a difficult pregnancy--so on went Lady Bird. By the time she became First Lady of the United States herself, all that practice meant Johnson was able to handle the toughest of crowds. With snarling listeners furious at her husband's signing of new civil rights legislation, she listened to the epithets, then said, "This is a country of many viewpoints. I respect your right to express your own. Now is my turn to express mine." Poised doesn't begin to describe this shy speaker once she found her voice.
  3. Long before Bill Clinton became president, he was tapped to nominate the Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis, at the party's national convention in 1988. It's a signal honor that can make a politician's career, and a coveted speaking opportunity...and, as recounted in When Bill Clinton died on stage, he blew it in every way possible: Too technical and wonky, more than double the time allotted, and you can hear the crowd talking right over him. When he said, "And in conclusion...." he got a standing ovation. His hometown newspaper declared his political career over the next day. What followed next was a long and serious effort to seek speaker coaching and to practice, hard work that resulted in the adept speaker we see today. Clinton speaks openly about what coaching has done for him as a speaker since that awful night.
  4. New York Times bestselling author and TED speaker Susan Cain is just the kind of person she wrote about in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. So she joined a Toastmasters club to practice for a book tour and what became her TED talk, and it paid off: The talk is among the most-watched on TED.com with more than 8 million views and counting. Equally impressive is the full year she devoted to preparing for these big speaking tasks. If you've read Cain's book, you won't be surprised by that, since introverts "think first, then speak" while extroverts "think out loud"--one has to prepare, the other can often wing it. She's a great example of how that preparation pays off.
All of these famous speakers figured out for themselves the 7 secret advantages of the speaker who practices. Now, how about you, eloquent women?

Monday, August 18, 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:
  • Respond, don't react: Useful advice here about how to handle negative feedback.
  • Signal alert: When you start a sentence with "But," you're sending a signal that may not be intentional. Find out the trouble with 'buts.'
  • Speak up, London! Empowering women through the power of public speech is a free event in London September 11 from the Fabian Women's Network, building on my presentation to them in Parliament earlier this year. Great speakers are on deck. Please share.
  • Women, know your limits! is a satirical video that, like all good humor, has truth in it. A hat tip to my friend and fellow speaker coach Peter Botting for sharing this one:
  • About the quote: Tell your stories, eloquent women! From our Pinterest board of great quotes for public speakers.
  • Speaking times three: If you have a second or third language, you'll appreciate this TED talk by Jamila Lysicott on three ways to speak English.


I'll be leading Be The Eloquent Woman, my day-long workshop on women and public speaking, as a pre-conference session at the European Speechwriter Network's autumn speechwriters and business communicators conference in Amsterdam. The workshop is 23 October and the conference is 24 October. You'll learn how to speak with confidence, content and credibility to subvert the common expectations of women speakers. Please join me!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Famous Speech Friday: Angelina Jolie on sexual violence in conflict

She's better known for her acting roles, but it's her position as a special envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that puts Angelina Jolie in public speaking roles again and again. In London in June, she opened the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, speaking to the delegates from 100 countries to encourage them as they began deliberations. Jolie is no stranger to the work, having served for a decade as a UN goodwill ambassador, traveling to dozens of countries to visit displaced people, and contributing $5 million herself to the issue.

Recently, rape in war zones has been a recurring theme of her UN work, in less publicized testimony at the UN. But the summit, paired with a G8 meeting of heads of state, brought the topic into high relief, and Jolie's brief opening statement matched that focus, tackling the topic in direct and forceful language:
It is a myth that rape is an inevitable part of conflict. There is nothing inevitable about it. It is a weapon of war aimed at civilians. It has nothing to do with sex; everything to do with power. It is done to torture and humiliate innocent people and often very young children. I have met survivors from Afghanistan to Somalia and they are just like us, with one crucial difference: we live in safe countries with doctors we can go to when we are hurt, police we can turn to when we are wronged and institutions that protect us. They live in refugee camps or bombed-out streets in areas where there is no law, no protection and not even the hope of justice. They struggle to keep their children safe and if they admit to being raped they are likely to face more violence and social rejection. 
Her call to action to the delegates used her platform to speak about the issue in terms of the silence that more often surrounds it:
This whole subject has been taboo for far too long. War zone rape is a crime that thrives on silence and denial. The stigma harms survivors, it causes feelings of shame and worthlessness. It feeds ignorance such as the notion that rape has anything to do with normal sexual impulses. But most of all, it allows the rapist to get away with it. They feel..(applause)..above the law because the law rarely touches them and society tolerates them. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said 'The destiny of human rights is in the hands of all our citizens and all our communities' and this evil will continue, ruining the lives of millions of people unless we make this summit a turning point.
Now that's a call to action.

In an interview at the summit with BBC Woman's Hour, Jolie describes a change in her approach to the topic that was prompted by her public speaking: "My first few years with the UN, I would travel to a refugee camp and I would see hundreds of thousands of refugees and victims and young children, and I would cry. And it would be hard to get through a speech 'cause I would just keep crying....when I finally was able to get angry was I able to really feel that...you have to have force and strength in order to make a difference." What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Be a nerd on your issue: Jolie has put the time into understanding the issue firsthand, making herself an expert on an ignored issue. It shows in her remarks, loaded as they are with authentic content instead of easy platitudes. As a result, she's a more credible spokesperson.
  • Use clear, simple language on complex issues: There is nothing simple about war-zone rape, but everything about this statement is clear and simple. Take these sentences--"This whole subject has been taboo for far too long. War zone rape is a crime that thrives on silence and denial."--in which all the words but three are one syllable, and those three words (subject, silence, denial) have but two and three syllables each. It's a myth that you need multi-syllabic words to prove your expertise, and Jolie is smart enough to know that.
  • Quote women: This is primarily a woman's issue, and Jolie repeats Eleanor Roosevelt's words on civic involvement in human rights to good effect. One way women speakers can recapture an authentic female voice is to quote women speakers, too often ignored. Roosevelt's speeches on the UN human rights declaration, which she shepherded to consensus, are part of The Eloquent Woman Index.
Watch the video of Jolie's remarks below. What do you think of this famous speech?



I'll be leading Be The Eloquent Woman, my day-long workshop on women and public speaking, as a pre-conference session at the European Speechwriter Network's autumn speechwriters and business communicators conference in Amsterdam. The workshop is 23 October and the conference is 24 October. You'll learn how to speak with confidence, content and credibility to subvert the common expectations of women speakers. Please join me!