Friday, July 29, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Michelle Obama's 'a house built by slaves'

Michelle Obama has been giving a lot of "last" speeches lately, like her last commencement speech as First Lady, and many more. But I doubt that her turn at the U.S. Democratic National Convention as a speaker this week will be her last convention speech, because she took a fractured audience and made it not only unified, but eager to follow where she was leading them in endorsing Hillary Clinton as the next U.S. president.

The speech was loaded with understatement. Donald Trump was never mentioned by name, a tactic which served both as slight and sleight-of-hand. Before you knew what was happening, she'd delivered critique after critique. but failed to name the outsized egotist who puts his name everywhere. That might be the ultimate insult, but not mentioning his name also may have serve a useful purpose in giving the crowd fewer opportunities to boo during her speech. Unlike many other prominent speakers, her speech was relatively free of interruptions other than cheering.

Here's a great example of the understatement in this speech: Obama opened talking about how she and the President have tried to raise their daughters, who essentially grew up in the White House. And in listing the lessons for her daughters, she was listing lessons for the nation:
How we urge them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith. How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is: ‘When they go low, we go high.
Most-quoted was the part that begins "I wake up every morning...", but as powerful as that is, its true power momentum came from the words that preceded it. Here it is in full:
The story of generations of people who have felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation but who kept on striving and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful intelligent black young women, play with the dog on the White House lawn.
I often tell you to aim for a signature talk, one that only you can give--otherwise, we are doomed as listeners to hearing the same thing over and over again. Well, here is an intensely personal passage, one uniquely spoken by the first black First Lady of the United States to a world not used to hearing the White House described in just that way. That adds to its power. As actor Mia Farrow tweeted:
Most important of all, this speech did what it set out to do--unlike many convention speeches--and gave a full-throated endorsement of the candidate. The quote above about living in the White House and its point about people of color "who kept on striving" is echoed in this passage that artfully tackles every criticism leveled at the candidate, from how she looks to why she didn't leave her husband when his affair was found out:
And look, there were plenty of moments when Hillary could have decided that this work was too hard, that the price of public service was too high, that she was tired of being picked apart for how she looks or how she talks or even how she laughs. But here’s the thing -- what I admire most about Hillary is that she never buckles under pressure. She never takes the easy way out. And Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life. 
Michelle Obama's role as First Lady means she mostly has to stay above the political fray; there are legal limits to how much, where, and when she may campaign. So when she had the opportunity to do so, she made this political speech frankly feminist, in favor of making a woman president, and unabashedly patriotic, saying, "So don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this, right now, is the greatest country on earth." It was the perfect riposte, rhetorically and emotionally, to the Trump campaign's "Make America great again" slogan. This speech prompted an enthusiastic response in the hall and around the world, from all political sides; some called it a "speech for the ages." Let's also give credit to Obama's speechwriter, Sarah Hurwitz; their partnership is described in this article. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Be a uniter, not a divider: In addition to standing in stark contrast to the negative themes of last week's Republican Convention and the protestors on the floor of her own convention, Obama was able to unite the audience--in the hall and beyond it--with an upbeat, briskly paced talk that emphasized areas of commonality. Read the text a couple of times: You'll notice lines that appeal to, but don't mention, specific audiences, and describe what "we" do, so the message that "we're all in this together" comes through clearly.
  • Don't pull your punches: Despite not mentioning the opponent, there's nothing hesitant about this speech, which levels its criticisms in an artful way. It takes extra effort to write a speech this way, but it is all the more powerful.
  • Remember the job of your speech: The road is littered with endorsers who come to convention and barely mention or endorse the candidate. But as we coaches like to say, every speech has a job to do. By accomplishing what she came to accomplish, there was none of the anxiety and drama around Obama's convention speech--and that meant we were free to hear her words and their meaning. I wish more politicians would take this approach.
You can read the full text here, and watch the video here and below:

 

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

My favorite fixes for public speaking: Mindfulness meditation

As a speaker coach, it's my job to keep a lot of tools in my toolbox to help my clients improve their public speaking. But just like any craftsman, I have a few go-to tools, well-worn from frequent use. This is the first in a series of five favorite fixes I turn to all the time. Each one sounds simple, but confers a complex array of benefits to public speakers...if only you will do them. I'm sharing each favorite fix along with the types of speakers who might benefit most from them. You'll get the best results if you try them not once, but over a period of time.

This week's favorite fix is to learn mindfulness meditation. Also called present-moment awareness, mindfulness meditation isn't complicated: You focus on your breathing in and out, or how your body feels, or the sounds that come to your ears, and when your mind wanders, you bring it back to the present moment. Over and over and over again, without chiding yourself for mind-wandering.

Mindfulness meditation works best when you develop a regular daily practice; over time, you will notice yourself becoming more calm and focused. It's not a magic bullet, but if you do it with regularity, it works. It also is a great back-pocket tool for backstage nerves, because you can do as little as a few minutes of meditation to get the beneficial effects. Try these 1-minute and 4-minute meditations from Tara Brach to see what a short meditation can do.

Mindfulness can help you combat fight-or-flight syndrome, which shuts down the part of your brain you need for complex activity like public speaking, and turns on the part that makes you want to run and hide. Full Catastrophe Living offers a good introduction to the benefits of meditation, and a great description of how fight-or-flight syndrome affects your body.

This past year at TEDMED2015, I had the opportunity to work with two experts in meditation. They were not only calm, but were focused and aware of what was happening in every moment. But they know and I know that every speaker could have that advantage!

This is a good fix for nervous speakers, particularly those who jump ahead to imagine catastrophes or think back to mistakes; over-preparers; speakers who blush uncontrollably, since that is a playing-out of your stress on stage; and anyone who gets fight-or-flight syndrome before speaking (aka, everyone).

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Florian Richter)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Monday, July 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:
  • How the Irish lost their words: New storytelling groups are reviving Ireland's ancient art of telling tales.
  • The hands have it: "Preparing a public speech would have involved careful rehearsal of the splay of the fingers, the angle of the hand and how it would be positioned in relation to the body. Hand gestures formed an integral part of speech, of what Cicero called the sermo corporis, the language of the body. They were sometimes considered to be even more important than the content or composition of a speech." Interesting look at the important role our hands play, including in public speaking.
  • Did you miss? This week, we introduced The Eloquent Woman Booklist of books featured on the blog, and Famous Speech Friday shared Melania Trump's Republican National Convention speech and the controversy around it. On the Moderating Panels blog, I shared
  • The early registration discount is ending soon for my Edinburgh workshop in October on how to Add Meaning with Metaphor to your speeches. Use the links at the end of this post to register! Registration will stay open until seats are filled, but why not grab the discount?
  • About the quote: Drew Barrymore hints at a speaking truth: Experience is a great source of material. Find more quotes like this one on our Pinterest board of great quotes by eloquent women.
Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Melania Trump's speech at the Republican convention

(Editor's note: This is a longer than usual post, but then again, it's been a longer than usual week for women and public speaking. I'm grateful I don't write this post for any earlier in the week, given how this story unfolded. TGIF.)

The most famous speech of many given in this week of the U.S. Republican National Convention was a woman's speech. At the beginning of the week, that was because it was only the second speech given in the presidential campaign by Melania Trump, wife of candidate Donald Trump. Speculation was natural. By the end of the week, a woman speaker and a woman speechwriter both had been prominently discredited, and the message of the speech completely lost in a plagiarism furor.

I choose speeches for this series by all kinds of women, but require that the speech itself be famous. This speech would qualify for Notorious Speech Friday, let alone Famous Speech Friday. It was slammed on Twitter thousands of times with the hashtag #FamousMelaniaTrumpQuotes giving her credit for all sorts of famous speech lines; parodied by comedians; investigated by reporters; and most of all, kept in play by continued and conflicting denials from the campaign--so much so, some observers suggested it was a publicity ploy from start to finish, although that seems unlikely. More likely: No one was paying much attention to the candidate's wife's talk. Big mistake. Briefly, here's what happened:

The speech was notable for the absence of what we've come to expect from the so-called wifely tribute at a convention. This one was almost entirely devoid of personal details that would help listeners connect with the candidate. Personal details, particularly in a speech like this, do what hours of ads can't do. But Melania Trump did speak a little about her own immigrant experience, noting:
From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect.
All appropriate thoughts for someone looking to be the next First Lady of the United States. So appropriate, in fact, that we'd heard them before, in Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech:
You work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.
Similarities can be found with other passages as well. If anyone at the Trump campaign had thought to themselves, "Oh, no one will notice," they were quickly proved wrong. A Twitter user and former television journalist tweeted about the similarities. Huffington Post was among the first to report on the possibility of plagiarismMainstream media pundits called it a "catastrophic" occurrence, and at least one suggested it was sabotage from within the campaign. Others said it just showed the amateurish nature of the campaign. Twitter exploded.

The campaign itself poured fuel on the fire with conflicting statements. Before the convention, Melania Trump had told at least one media outlet that she had written the speech herself "with as little help as possible." After it was brought to light, the campaign issued a statement about the speech that did not address the plagiarism, but talked about her "team of writers" using her own thoughts among other sources. But the next day, Paul Manafort, the campaign's chairman, denied the accusations, saying, “There’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech. These were common words and values that she cares about — her family, things like that. I mean, she was speaking in front of 35 million people last night. She knew that. To think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama’s words is crazy.” Others in the party had a variety of reactions: fire the speechwriter, the plagiarism wasn't a big deal, and, bizarrely, that the backlash was Hillary Clinton's way of blaming a woman who attacked her.

That mix of responses led to more investigation by reporters. They put the speech through a plagiarism checker (pro tip: there are many freely available online) and found nearly 50 percent of it qualified as "non-unique," despite New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's assertion that "93 percent" was original. With the longest matching phrase at 23 words, the report noted that the likelihood it was a coincidence was less than one in 1 trillion. Side-by-side video comparisons of the two speeches, and videos that overlaid the two speeches, were rushed online. Every speechwriter dreams of a speech being pored over in detail, each word considered...but not this way.

The reality was closer to Trump's original statement. A speech had been commissioned from two top Republican speechwriters, who were quick to share their draft and note how little it had in common with the eventual speech. It emerged that Trump had worked with a trusted ghostwriter to edit the original draft, and finally, that ghostwriter, Meredith McIver, admitted responsibility for incorporating Michelle Obama's words and failing to remove them from the draft. As MSNBC pointed out, every Republican who had fallen in line with the campaign's denial was suddenly left looking stupid, or out of the loop. And, credibility being in short supply, observers noted that McIver's social profiles had all been created fewer than 24 hours before the disclosure, prompting speculation that the speechwriter is not real. But in fact, she does exist, and in the past, had another episode in which she entered errors into a book manuscript for Donald Trump. Because she is not registered as working for the campaign, her involvement may be an illegal in-kind contribution to the campaign. All that for using a writer with whom (I'm guessing) the candidate and his wife feel comfortable.

Let's get to the lessons, shall we? I like to share good examples you can use in your own public speaking, and this speech is a good example of what not to do when you have a high-stakes speaking engagement. Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Authenticity goes beyond facts: When I watched the speech delivered live, the "your word is your bond" speech struck me as inauthentic to Trump. To my ear, the phrasing didn't seem like something she would say herself. Copying, rather than just consulting, previous speeches is a mistake just waiting to be discovered. More important, a speech needs to fit you like a glove, not be a speech that someone else could deliver. The copied version could only be, at best, an ill-fitting glove for Trump. Sarah Palin faced a similar situation, with a convention speech pre-written long before anyone had selected her. But it was customized with stories from her personal life that fit the themes, a much better way to make it her own.
  • Don't miss your big opportunity: Controversy aside, this speech missed the mark by a mile. The speaker didn't practice, saying she only read the draft once over before delivering it. That meant she was reduced to reading the teleprompter instead of reaching the audience. Some observers excused the flat delivery by saying English is not Trump's first language, but she speaks five languages. That wasn't the problem. The content did nothing to help us know and understand her husband in ways only she could share, which is the entire point of having a candidate's spouse speak. Pundits were reduced to commenting on her appearance and that her delivery was serviceable, because the content and genuine connection were so lacking.
  • Use the Russert test: The late journalist Tim Russert had a great test for inauthentic-sounding statements: Take your talking points and turn them into pointed questions that your worst enemy would ask, to see if they stand up. Hard, skeptical questioning might have uncovered such problems as using the lines of the opposing party's First Lady, praising your husband's loyalty when you're his third wife, and challenging the opponent's authenticity with a speech that is plagiarized. The Russert test helps you attend to the details on which your credibility is resting. After all, it's not how you see the speech that counts. It's how we see it.
  • Details matter: Details matter in high-profile talks like this one. The controversy meant that Melania Trump's words really didn't get heard, drowning out her message more effectively than any mute button. Once the error was confessed, her husband's campaign shared its plans to scrub his speech for the same kinds of errors and copies that no one bothered to look for in his wife's speech. Apparently, they know how to do this. They just didn't do it at any point in the prep for Mrs. Trump's speech.
As reporter John Dickerson pointed out in his podcast, this speech matters a great deal to the campaign. He described a series of missteps by the campaign that preceded the speech, as well as the speech snafus, then said:
These are maybe all small things and they're not going to bother the rank and file Trump voters. Good gracious, the opposite is true. They'll think this is the petty baloney stuff that only political insiders care about. But this week is about political insiders, that's what it's about: uniting the party, settling the nerves of the people who give the money and come to the conventions, the rank and file who make a party go...some of them check writers who are worried that Donald Trump is so unpredictable that it's not going to be worth writing money to the party or to his campaign or the campaigns of other Republicans if Donald Trump is going to torpedo the cause. These people...who were trying to be brought into the Donald Trump tent are the ones who pay attention to those little things...
There's no better indicator of the negative impact of this speech than this: Over the four days of the convention, this plagiarism scandal overwhelmingly dominated the media coverage, even prompting reporters to examine how the candidate's speech was being fact-checked in advance.

No matter how you vote, I think it's a shame that this happened to a woman speaker on only her second speech of the campaign. The Republican National Convention had just 34% female speakers on the stage, with this speech the most prominent by a woman. I'm ending the week feeling as if Melania Trump was not, at a minimum, well supported for this now-famous speech, in both the speech preparation and the spokesmanship about the controversy. In the end, this major stumble at what might have been the start of a high-profile speaking career is going to dog her steps going forward. Should she become First Lady, she might well want to avoid speaking publicly, which would be a big step backward for that role. This will frame her media coverage and her credibility. Her unfavorable rating was high going into the convention, and it will only increase now. And it should. In the end, the responsibility for a speech begins and ends with the speaker, no matter how many speechwriters you throw under the bus.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the plagiarized sections of the speech:

Melania Trump Plagiarized Michelle Obama's Convention Speech - COMPARISON
And here's the speech in full:

Melania Trump Delivers Remarks at Republican National Convention

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Introducing The Eloquent Woman Booklist

A reader suggested a compilation of the books we've covered on the blog over the years, and here it is: The Eloquent Woman Booklist. It's not intended to be a comprehensive directory of books about speaking, just those we've featured here.

The books are roughly categorized into these topic areas:
  • Women's speeches, collected or individual;
  • Books about women and public speaking;
  • Body and mind issues in speaking;
  • Language and rhetoric;
  • Storytelling;
  • Quotations;
  • Specific types of speaking styles and formats, from TED talks to scientific presentations and more; and
  • Books by or about famous speakers, mostly women.
I hope you'll use the booklist as a tool for exploring more about women and public speaking, or just finding tools to inspire and inform your next speech! We'll keep the list updated as new books are included on the blog.

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

Monday, July 18, 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:
Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.