Friday, May 6, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Dorothy Fuldheim on Kent State shooting

Forty-six years ago this week, there were a few things that were unusual about Dorothy Fuldheim's evening commentary on WEWS-TV on May 4, 1970. For one thing, "Cleveland's First Lady of the Airwaves" finished the piece weeping in front of the camera. For another thing, nearly every call that came into the station that night was critical of the beloved Fuldheim. "Why are you sorry for those deaths?" one such caller complained. "Too bad the National Guard didn't kill more."

Fuldheim had been at Kent State University earlier that day, where National Guardsmen had shot 13 students, killing four, after weeks of campus protests following President Richard Nixon's announcement that the war in Vietnam would now spread to Cambodia. Fuldheim came away from reporting at Kent State that day anguished and raw, asking, "Since when do we shoot our own children?"

Kent State was far from the first controversial issue Fuldheim had tackled in her years in public speaking. As a child, her father took her to courthouses to learn how to speak like a lawyer. In 1918, the social activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams approached her about delivering an antiwar speech, after seeing Fuldheim's fiery performance in a local theater group. After that, Fuldheim began charging $10 a speech, speaking on topics from birth control to public utilities. Men sometimes groaned when they saw a woman approach the podium, she recalled, but she calculated that she had given 3000 speeches in 20 years (that's an average of one speech every 2.5 days).

She made the transition to reporting and commentary as a way to collect more information for her speeches, and began broadcasting in 1944 on Cleveland radio and in 1947 on television. It's said she was the first woman to do a live television broadcast in the U.S., and the first to host her own show. She interviewed presidents, popes, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and her direct and witty observations gained her thousands of fans.

Those fans had cheered when, just a few weeks before Kent State, Fuldheim threw Yippie Jerry Rubin off her program for his lewd remarks. Viewers who thought that she was holding back the tide against the counter culture were dismayed by her commentary on May 4.

Here's most of that night's commentary, reprinted in Dorothy Fuldheim: The First Lady of Television News by Patricia M. Mote:
There were no guns in the hands of the four who were killed and the nine who were wounded-they had no weapons, no iron rods in their hands, they were giving no speeches. Their sin was protesting against the war and the four that were killed were only bystanders. They were there to see what was going on; they were students who were curious about the excitement. There were crowds gathering on the campus to protest the war do they came along to see what was happening. No one told them that the governor of the state had called out the National Guard. The governor apparently decided it would show these long-haired troublemakers that protest meetings were not to be tolerated. There was some jostling, shouting and rock throwing but what prompted the National Guard to shoot? And who gave the National Guard the bullets? Who ordered the use of them? Since when do we shoot our own children? Ask the parents of these young people how they feel. When will their anguish be over? Tortured at the thought that their children were killed and without a reason, they exist with a pain in their hearts.
As the angry letters and calls poured into the WEWS station, Fuldheim offered to resign--an offer her boss at the station swiftly refused. Later, she responded to her critics on air, saying that she was "bewildered" at the intensity of feeling her report unleashed. (You can read parts of that commentary here.)

What can you learn from Fuldheim's famous speech?
  • Your speech is also a performance.You don't have to be a full-fledged actor when you speak, but it doesn't hurt to remember that most speeches do tell a story in front of an audience. Fuldheim said she drew heavily on her theater experiences to set a scene and tell a story when she delivered her commentaries, a talent that comes through when she describes the face-off between the National Guard and the students.
  • Your emotional speech could lead to an emotional response. Fuldheim didn't hold back any of her emotions--rage, confusion, despair-- when she went on the air that night. She may have been bewildered by the fact that the response was so negative, but I don't think it's bewildering that the response was so passionate. Speaking in frank and emotional terms can set the "rules of engagement" for a conversation with an audience, encouraging them to feel and respond in kind.
  • Learn how to respond--not react to critics. The WEWS station manager remembers the days after Kent State as the first time he had ever seen Fuldheim "really shaken," in 25 years of work together. But she thoughtfully waited more than two months to respond to the criticism, in an on-air commentary that did not apologize for what she had said on May 4. Instead, she simply described the kind of blowback she had received--including some death threats--and explained again why she felt the events at Kent State had failed the students, the National Guard, and their country.
Here's a much later video, Fuldheim's commentary on her 86th birthday, when she was still broadcasting. It conveys a lot of her inimitable style of speaking: Video Vault: Dorothy Fuldheim's 'The House I Live In' commentary

(Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this Famous Speech Friday post)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Why memorizing your high-stakes speech frees you: Sen. Amy Klobuchar

How important is it, really, to memorize your speech...especially if you will have access to a teleprompter? Just ask U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Back when she was a county prosecutor in Minnesota, Klobuchar was tapped to speak at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the highlight of which was Barack Obama's stirring keynote speech. For her rather less important three-minute speech in the middle of afternoon 3 of the convention, Klobuchar was given a set of rules. She'd be using a teleprompter, and under no circumstances could she make any jokes about then-President George W. Bush. So, given that first proviso, she decided she didn't need to memorize her short speech.

That's when her mentor, former Vice President Walter Mondale, stepped in. Klobuchar related the tale on episode 39 of The Axe Files, David Axelrod's new podcast:
Klobuchar: That was my first national convention and I’m ready to go out there the day before I give my 3-minute speech for John Kerry. I was a prosecutor at the time and he says to me, “Well, have you memorized the speech?” and I go, “Well, no, there’s you know, there’s teleprompters” And he said, “Don’t trust a teleprompter.“ "That is how Carter said Hubert Horatio Hornblower [instead of Hubert Horatio Humphrey] at that the Carter convention." 
And I said, all right. It seemed outdated. I’m up there on the stage. Patrick Leahy’s speaking, the teleprompter goes dark. And I’m standing there, I look in the front row and there, waiting for me to speak, is Walter Mondale and I’ve never seen a more “I told you so” look in my life.
I get up to the stage, I give my speech. I don’t use the teleprompter at all, it came up in the middle and, because I memorized it like he said. And it went really well. And the organizers had told me that I couldn’t even use a little joke about George Bush where I said something about…

Axelrod: Yes, I remember that convention.

Klobuchar: Yeah

Axelrod: I was there with Obama. He spoke there, too.

Klobuchar: Right. Well, really? In any case, maybe little more notable than my 3 minutes but…

Axelrod: But he also memorized his speech.

Klobuchar: That’s right. But anyway, I had a joke, a Barbara Jordan quote, about how what America wants is something as good as its country and a promise as good as its country. And I said, I’d like to end with something famous from someone from Texas and I paused...not George Bush. And they prohibited me from using that joke. And after the teleprompter went dead, I’m like…

Axelrod: So did you use it? Did you ad-lib? 
Klobuchar: Yes, I did. I completely ad-libbed because I decided if they were having technological problems…
Too often, I see speakers look at memorizing your speech as something awful--limiting, structured, nervous-making. But Klobuchar learned to see it as freeing her from that nervousness, or the prospect of technological failure...and then freed herself from one of the other rules, while she was at it. I think it's telling, too, that Obama used the same insurance policy on his more prominent speech. 

Monday, May 2, 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, April 29, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Harriet Tubman's fable on colonizing slaves

In the run-up to the American Civil War and the discussion of whether to free the slaves, one proposal that gained some traction was repatriation or colonization--that is, sending black Americans, enslaved and free people alike, back to Africa. And in 1859, Harriet Tubman, the former slave who helped many other slaves escape on the Underground Railroad, used a speech to share her own views on the issue. It happened at a meeting of the New England Colored Citizens' Convention, where the audience had voted to condemn the proposed repatriation.

As the Boston abolitionist paper The Liberator reported, Tubman used a simple fable to counter the argument for sending black Americans back to Africa. She:
...told the story of a man who sowed onions and garlic on his land to increase his dairy productions; but he soon found the butter was strong and would not sell, and so he concluded to sow clover instead. But he soon found the wind had blown the onions and garlic all over his field. Just so, she said, the white people had got the "nigger" here to do their drudgery, and now they were trying to root 'em out and send 'em to Africa. "But," she said, "they can't do it; we're rooted here, and they can't pull us up."
A male proponent of "civilization," as it also was called, jumped on stage to challenge her remarks--a 19th century version of Kanye's "Imma let you finish" interruption of Taylor Swift, perhaps--but the audience wasn't having it. Tubman's story stuck, and got their applause.

In Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero, historian Kate Clifford Larson shares that story and also notes that Tubman was smart politically, and important as a storyteller representing black women at a time when they were rare on the speaking stage:
A great storyteller she was...She moved her audiences deeply. Plainly dressed, very short and petite, quite black-skinned, and missing front teeth, Tubman physically made a stark contrast to Sojourner Truth, one of the most famous former slave women then speaking on the antislavery lecture circuit, who was nearly six feet tall....Like Truth, however, Tubman shocked her audiences with stories of slavery and the injustices of life as a black woman. Black men dominated the antislavery lecture circuit. Tubman and Truth stood for millions of slave women whose lives were marred by emotional and physical abuse at the hands of white men.
Larson's biography of Tubman shares many insights about her public speaking--a skill of Tubman's we have largely forgotten in simplifying her memory and story. To be a woman of color who spoke in public in her time was rare, and challenge after challenge faced her as a speaker. Like Sojourner Truth, she was accused of being a man in part due to her speaking skills. In speeches like this one, she often was not introduced by her real or full name, to build up the mystery and excitement, but also taking away her identity in public, sometimes in the name of protecting her safety. Her words were often rewritten for her by biographers and reporters. Because Tubman herself could not read or write, her spoken word was both powerful and ephemeral. As Larson noted, men more often got the speaking turns on the lecture circuit, despite her unusual story and appeal. Speaking also was essential in her career, a way for Tubman to raise funds and earn an income to support her work and her family.

Today, Tubman's enjoying a revival of interest, thanks to actor Viola Davis quoting her in a 2015 Emmy Awards acceptance speech, and the recent announcement that Tubman's image will appear on the $20 bill in the U.S. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Authenticity counts: It's one thing to listen to, say, a white man talk about colonizing black Americans, and quite another to have a former slave, now a free woman, share her point of view. In this debate, authenticity held the same power it does today for a speaker. With "we're rooted here, and they can't pull us up," Tubman speaks for herself and her people in a way that can't be imitated.
  • Fables and parables work for a reason: These metaphor stories, used for centuries with illiterate audiences, are easy to understand and to remember. A short fable or parable can work far better--and faster--than a long-winded, detailed argument.
  • Choose your metaphor to do many jobs: In addition to the neat package a fable offers the speaker, this one also has the advantage of being based in nature, underscoring the idea that remaining in the U.S. was a natural course of action, as opposed to a contrived solution. Make your metaphors work by testing them first, to be sure they are accomplishing everything you need done in your speech.
A caution to women speakers wishing to quote Tubman: Do your research. Like other famous folk, many quotes are attributed to her without any evidence that she actually said them.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dial it back, speakers: When you *don't* need extra emphasis

When coaching speakers at TEDMED or for TEDx conferences, I often find myself asking them to take off a few layers of emphasis. As my fellow TEDMED coach Peter Botting likes to say, "Your delivery is like writing with all caps, bold, italic, and underscore all at the same time!"

What does that look and sound like? It varies depending on the speech and the speaker, but generally, it's a case of being too intense and too adamant in delivery--almost as if the speaker thinks the story lacks drama or might not catch the audience's attention. So she may add a lot more or less volume, punch key words, gesture more, wrinkle her forehead, nod her head, and move around, all at the same time.

It's true that, in public speaking, you have many options for emphasis, and there's nothing wrong with any one of these options. Members of the audience do look to the speaker to signal what we might appropriately feel at any given moment, so an expressionless delivery is not the goal. But you don't need to use the tools of emphasis all at once, and you should choose each one with care. Here, more is not necessarily better. In fact, researchers say our brains are finely tuned to sense emotion from the sound of your voice, even before the words are understood. In other words, your recipients are much more likely to sense your tone without any extra push from you.

Some speakers, particularly those who haven't spoken in a large hall or theater, or those who've relied on drama coaches for their prep, make the mistake of thinking they need their TED talk to be heard at the back of the hall, and vocalize loudly. But most of the time, you'll have a microphone and the sound engineer will be in charge of making sure you're heard. So you can whisper, if you want to...as long as it's not in combination with all those other forms of emphasis. A talk is not a dramatic soliloquy, so don't approach it as one. Just tell us your story.

I also often work with speakers whose stories are by definition stories that wrench the gut, bring tears to the eyes, provoke out-loud laughing, or convey the gravity of the topic. In those cases, little, if any, emphasis is needed. If your talk is about such a topic, a deft hand with the emphasis will serve you well as the audience experiences the full weight of your words. Most of the time, these topics speak for themselves, conjuring so much emotion in the audience that the speaker need not gild the lily, so to speak, with additional emphasis. If you're not sure, get some independent feedback about your topic and how you've framed it. Your story may have all its emphasis built in, and then you don't need to work so hard to put it across.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by TEDxBeirut)

Monday, April 25, 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: