Monday, August 31, 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, August 28, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Toni Morrison’s 2011 commencement address

(Editor's note: Many readers know that my sister Elaine died this summer. Not long after, fellow speaker coach Kate Peters got in touch to offer me a guest post for the blog, choosing this Toni Morrison speech to add to our collection. Here's what she wants to say to you: "Several years ago, Denise was kind enough to offer a post for my blog as a “Web 3.0 casserole” when my partner was going through medical difficulties. I offer this in the same spirit and suggest to the readers of this blog that it’s a great tradition!" And I agree. Please enjoy Kate's choice and her analysis of this wonderful speech, which carries a deeper level of meaning for speakers as storytellers. Thank you, Kate, for the casserole!)

Toni Morrison is one of the most revered authors of our time. She gives us imaginative stories, and characters that both inspire, delight and horrify us. But is a great writer also, naturally, a great speaker? If you are a fan of Audible, as I am, you know that the two do not necessarily go hand in hand.

One of the things that made Morrison’s 2011 Rutgers address notable is that she was paid $30,000 for that appearance– a steep fee for anyone, but especially for a fiction writer. Still, as the New Yorker pointed out in an article written to highlight commencement addresses by writers, her speech was called “stirring, soulful, and at times playful, and measured with outrage and hope—[with] a value that is hard to quantify in financial terms.”  In fact, this commencement address is considered among the best in modern times and one would expect the value to be found in the words she chooses on this auspicious occasion. While that is true, there is more to it.

Morrison’s address to Rutgers’ 2011 graduating class is a guide to crafting your own story in a world that is in dire need of better stories. Morrison is the mentor who makes statements that are memorable, repeatable and clearly directive. Early in the speech, she sets the graduates on their course:
There is serious work, truly serious work, for you to do. I know you have been blasted with media designed to change you from citizens to consumers, and most recently, simply tax payers; from a community of engaged civic life, to individuals with hundreds of electronic friends; from a yearning for maturity to a desire for eternal childhood…Every true heroine breaks free from his or her class—upper, middle, and lower—in order to serve a wider world.
At first listen, Morrison’s words are poignant and relevant, but her voice is not remarkable. In fact, it is soft and foggy at times, and her pace is slow. Still, we find her voice haunting, distinctive, even if, at times, also monotonous. Surprisingly, she makes an impact with her voice that is equal to the words she uses, and this is the added value of her talk for speakers. Whether possessed with a great voice or not, we can all learn from her by studying her use of three techniques for great delivery; she demonstrates that sometimes the most powerful sound is silence, she aligns her delivery with a deep intention, and she connects her words with meaning.

  • Be comfortable with silence. The art of reading aloud is often used in commencement addresses because the speakers want to make sure they get their important statements just right. It is perfect for Morrison, whose words define her in our eyes. Yet how much more are we impacted by a writer, reading her own writing, who pauses once in a while? We listen and hear what isn’t being said, the depth of the words as they apply to our own lives. Pausing allows space for the audience to listen and take it all in. Listen to how she uses silence to create discomfort in the audience and underline her words. 
I have often wished that Jefferson had not used that phrase, ‘the pursuit of happiness’, as the third right—although I understand in the first draft was ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of property.’ (pause) Of course, I would have been one of those properties one had the right to pursue, so I suppose happiness is an ethical improvement over a life devoted to the acquisition of land; acquisition of resources; acquisition of slaves. Still, (pause) I would rather he had written life, (pause) liberty (very long pause) and the pursuit of meaningfulness (pause) or integrity (pause) or truth.
  • Align your delivery with your intention. Every good talk has a purpose, or an intention, as I prefer to describe it. An intention is “an aim that guides action.” Morrison’s intention is to persuade, inspire, and even enrage the young people enough to convince them to create the stories of their lives with enough imagination to do the serious work of making a better world. Her alignment with this is demonstrated when you listen to her stress words (in italics below) that convince us of the urgency of her point of view.
I know that happiness has been the real, if covert, goal of your labors here. I know that it informs your choice of companions, the profession you will enter, but I urge you, please don’t settle for happiness. It’s not good enough. Of course, you deserve it. But if that is all you have in mind—happiness—I want to suggest to you that personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to social justice, that’s more than a barren life, it is a trivial one. It's lookin’ good instead of doing good.
  • Connect your words with meaning. The use of inflection or vocal variety is powerful in communication. It connects to the meaning behind what is being said. This is a technique Morrison uses throughout her talk, but listen to how the meaning behind her words pops as she uses several types of vocal variety to talk about what people in the future might think of the state of the world in 2011. 
Just think of it. A century from now, its quite possible that people 100, 200, 300 years from now will be stunned by the things that were taken for granted in 2011 America. (tone as a variant) They might laugh or shake their heads and wonder with dismay at our notions of progress, justice and the value of work and of life. (pace as a variant) 
‘What?’ they might exclaim, ‘You mean to tell me that people back then had to borrow money, work several jobs, save in order to pay for their own education? (pitch, pace and tone as variants) An education that is the wealth of the nation? I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you.’ (Volume and pitch as variants) 
‘How could a wealthy nation put the financial burden of improving the level of its own citizens in the market place?’ (percussive accents and pitch as variants)
We don't have a proper text, but there are quotes in the New Yorker article linked above, and this listener did a transcript on her blog. You can watch the video here, or below.

University Commencement

Author of Can You Hear Me Now? Harnessing the power of your vocal impact in 31 days, Kate Peters has helped prepare and strengthen TEDMED, TED and TEDx speakers to perform with confidence and, as an executive coach, her clients include executives at Fortune 50 companies. Prezi lists her blog, Kate’s Voice, as one of the top Public Speaking Web Resources, globally, and Kate has been voted one of 30 Global Gurus in Communications by globalgurus.net in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Her blog can be found at http://www.KatePeters.com/blog.




Thursday, August 27, 2015

Use a script or transcript to manage your speaking speed

Whether you routinely use a script or just speak off the cuff, you can use text as a tool to manage your speaking speed and increase your understanding of it. It's a smart project for anyone who hopes to speak regularly in public, a key type of data about yourself as a speaker that you should be monitoring. Here's how to do it:
  • Write the script to a standard speed: The speechwriters' rule of thumb is about 120 words per minute. That means 600 words for every 5 minutes of speaking. You may speak faster or slower, but if you write your script with this in mind, you'll know whether you are faster or slower than the standard. Use the word-count function in your word-processing program to find out the number of words.
  • Record a reading: This might be a recording you make for practice, or the actual recording of the talk as delivered. Either way, that audio or video won't lie: You'll now have the actual reading time of your talk in hand.
  • No script? No problem: If you had no script, but did get a recording of your talk, you can have that transcribed to get the written version of what you said. (Here's an easy way to generate a transcript with YouTube.) Then run it through a word-counter to get the total of your actual spoken words. Divide the total by the number of minutes, and you'll know how many words per minute you speak on average.
Next comes some analysis:
  • What's your actual speed? Keep a log of this, whether it's based on practice readings or real delivery. It's good to know your actual average speaking speed for speeches. Keep in mind that while we aim for 120 words/minute for speeches, you may speak closer to 400 or 500 words per minute in conversation. We do need you to slow down for speeches.
  • If your script was written to 120 words/minute, did you come close to that mark in actual speaking? I wouldn't worry if you are 15 seconds faster or slower, but if your recording differs significantly more than that, you are speaking either too fast or too slow.
  • Are you faster without a script? It's great to compare your speed reading from a text or winging it. You may be surprised by the results.
  • Do your off-the-cuff additions add to the time significantly? Here's where it helps to have a transcript of your actual delivery, even if you used a text. Your asides, jokes, and off-the-cuff additions may be adding minutes to your total, and this is the best way to find out.
  • Were you nervous? Many speakers report speeding up consciously due to nerves or the simple desire to "get it over with." If that was the case in the speech you're reviewing, it can have a real impact on your speed. Ditto those moments when you saw the clock and realized your time was running out.
The easiest way to slow yourself down is to follow the rules of punctuation. Any sentence with a hard stop (period, exclamation point, colon, question mark) should have 2 silent beats after it, and before saying the next sentence. Watch out for list sentences, with items separated by commas, and make sure there is a distinct silent beat between items in the list. Those two tactics will do more to slow you down appropriately than anything else. Mark up that script or transcript to indicate where to pause and how many beats, then read and record it again to find out whether you were successful in slowing down.

This takes practice, but in the end, ensures that your audience will actually hear what you are saying--and isn't that the point?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Tory)

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.

Monday, August 24, 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, August 21, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Elizabeth Warren on The Daily Show in 2009

With the recent end of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, now-Senator Elizabeth Warren took the time to share on Facebook her first appearance on the show six years ago. At the time of the 2009 interview, she was chairing a congressional oversight panel on the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). TARP was created in the wake of the recent economic downturn to strengthen the financial sector by government purchase of assets and equity.

Along with the video, she shared what it felt like to have the chance to speak about her important issue on the satirical news show:
The first time Jon Stewart invited me onto The Daily Show six years ago, I threw up backstage. I had gut-wrenching, stomach-turning stage fright. I was a no-name college professor there in 2009 to talk about oversight of the Wall Street bailout. It was important – and I didn’t want to mess up and become the joke. The first couple of minutes seemed so terrible, I thought I would have to resign from my new position on the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel. But when we got to the commercial break, Jon could tell that I hadn’t said what I’d come to say. He took my arm, told me to stay in my seat -- and then he let me deliver this message. That moment changed my life.  
I’m grateful for every single time someone has come up to me and asked: “Hey, aren’t you that lady I saw on Jon Stewart?” Because almost every time I’ve told someone, “Yup, that’s me,” they’ve followed it up with: “Keep fighting!” That’s what Jon has done for 16 years: with passion and humor, he skewered the people who needed skewering, called out the big guys who rig the system, and prodded us all to fight back. Thanks, Jon! 
What can you learn from this famous speech, which got close to 3 million views when she posted it recently on Facebook?
  • Push through the fear and find your voice: Can you tell that she threw up backstage before this segment? I think not. But you can tell she has a distinctive point of view, and that carries her here, letting her find her voice on camera. 
  • Show your enthusiasm: She may have been a "no-name college professor," but Warren warms to her subject, and that warmth and enthusiasm are infectious. The speed of her delivery and her gestures underscore her passion as well as her points. Don't be afraid to put your passion and enthusiasm into your topic.
  • Use familiar pegs to help us follow your new information: Warren's trying in this segment to share a different way of looking at how economic problems develop, so she ties it to a familiar-to-the-audience timeline of historic economic scandals and failures--with the twist of perspective we wouldn't necessarily know or have noticed. She also puts metaphors to great use, comparing the economy to a bus that needs to be pulled out of a ditch, and talking about pulling the threads out of the regulatory fabric, to give us vivid explanations of dry financial matters. And she continually brings it back to what's in it for the viewer: Your retirement fund or your savings.
Take a look for yourself at the video, also linked below. Warren, of course, went on to face severe congressional objections to an appointment for her in the Obama administration, stepped away from that role, and ran successfully for the U.S. Senate, where she continues to tear it up today as a great public speaker. I'm so grateful she shared this early life-changing example of her speaking as well as the backstory.

Elizabeth Warren's first Daily Show... - Elizabeth Warren | Facebook

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.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

New! 2 workshops on creating a TED-quality talk set for January 2016

I've spent much of the past five years coaching more than 100 speakers who've been featured on the TEDMED stage, at TEDx conferences around the world, or on TED.com to give proper TED talks...and many more to give talks in the style of TED. Often, I do this through the conference, company, or organization fielding the speakers, but now I'm opening 2 one-day workshops on creating TED-quality talks for which anyone can register. Both will take place in January 2016 in Washington, DC, although there are good discounts if you register early. Read on for the details!


What previous participants say


I debuted this workshop in April in Cambridge, UK, at the Spring Speechwriters and Business Communicators conference, and have been planning to bring it to the US ever since. UK workshop participant Dr. Lucy Rogers gave the talk she worked on during the workshop at InspireFest 2015. She said, "Immediately after the talk I had some great feedback – both on twitter and in real life. I even got asked if I had given it as a TED talk – and that I should. I was really chuffed by this - I was aiming for the “TED Quality” talk that Denise had highlighted in her workshop."


What you'll learn


Using examples from different TED formats, I will help you think about how to go beyond merely mimicking this popular style to create your own original and compelling TED-style talk. You'll discover how to plan for the video as well as for the stage, and how to think about your delivery, as well as your talk structure and presentation. You'll learn how and why TED presentations engage, inspire, intrigue, surprise, and put forward "ideas worth sharing." Specifically, you will learn:

  • How to get past the obvious and identify the real story that will become your script
  • Vulnerability, intrigue, and more: The qualities that take TED talks viral
  • What to leave out of your talk
  • Structures and how much you can get into the shorter formats
  • How to decide whether you benefit from using props, slides, or a demonstration
  • Considerations that will help you plan for the video
  • Top delivery tips specific to TED talks, from strong starts to gesture, pace, and vocalizing


Who should register


You should register for this workshop if you:
  • want to give a TED talk, or a TEDx talk, or a TEDMED talk, OR just want to emulate them, shake up your speaking style, get beyond a standard informational PowerPoint presentation
  • are intrigued by the idea of speaking without a lectern or notes, briefly and with impact
  • wondering how you can get your complex topic into a form that advocates just one big idea per talk
  • know, or suspect, that there's no one set format for TED talks...but don't know where to begin
You do NOT need to have a talk prepared to take this workshop, since the workshop is designed to walk you through the planning process. However, it will help if you can arrive at the workshop with some ideas about the "one big idea" you are hoping to communicate in your talk, and be prepared to discuss it.

How to register


You can register for either the January 14 workshop or for the January 28 workshop. Registration is strictly limited to 5 people per session, to allow the optimum amount of interaction. Registration also includes continental breakfast, lunch, and an optional drinks hour at the end of the day. Details are at the links. Don't forget to read my workshop FAQ and policies--when you register, you are indicating you've read these important details on cancellation, refunds, and local travel and lodging options.

Early registration is $724.00, a 25% discount. After October 30, registration at the full price is $965.00.

To get the early registration discount, please register by midnight Eastern US time on October 30, 2015. All registration closes when we reach full participation or December 31, whichever comes first.

Want a bespoke training program instead?


Each year, I train a few groups of executives in bespoke training programs that result in a cadre of speakers who can give talks in the style of TED. Sometimes, their organization or company is preparing them for a major conference, or providing leadership training, or developing a group of eloquent messengers for their cause or company.

I've conducted this type of training for health care executives working for WellSpan Health in Pennsylvania; for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Aligning Forces for Quality projects in 16 cities around the U.S.; and for The Nature Conservancy's Science Impact Project. You can read more about how this mix of workshop and 1:1 coaching works in my post on Coaching a cadre of conference speakers to give TED-quality talks. For more information about such a program for your executives, email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com.

Please join us!


I'm looking forward to helping two more groups of speakers figure out this engaging way of communicating ideas, and hope you can join us. Please do share this information with colleagues and friends who may be interested. I hope to see you there!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by redonion_TEDx)

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.