Thursday, May 25, 2017

Why did you say yes to this speaking gig? Why the coach needs to know

I had just one hour by phone to coach this speaker, an academic professor, for a five-minute pitch to be delivered in a public competition for extra grant funding. We could have started anywhere: With my notes on her slides, questions about delivery and timing, the actual content.

Instead, she spent 15 minutes telling me why the coaching and this speaking task were far, far beneath her. Her department chair had ridiculed the competition and forbidden its name to be spoken or written in emails. Her colleagues pitied her. She had no idea who the audience was, nor why they would care. She herself didn't see why she was wasting her time on it. After 15 minutes of that, I wondered that for myself. So I asked what I always ask:

"Why'd you say yes?"

I've used that question over and over with speakers, backstage at TEDMED, on the phone for coaching calls, in person when we're alone for a training session. It's a question I use most often for the speaker who objects to being the speaker. And I don't accept pat answers like, "Well, it's an honor to be asked" or "My boss told me I had to." I really want to get at the speaker's own motivation for having taken on this apparently abhorrent-to-them task. After all, public speaking is a choice you make, even in work situations where you are required to speak. You chose the job that came with public speaking tasks. More often, though, this comes up with speakers for whom the talk actually is optional.

With a nice, nervous speaker, the answer becomes a helpful prompt to bring them back to the reason they are going through with it: To get investors, build a reputation, share a story, finally have the chance to get on stage. But with a speaker who's a bad cocktail of nerves and narcissism, I sometimes don't get a chance to get that question in. The worst example was a top executive who used 2 hours and 45 minutes of our 3-hour half-day session to explain to me why he did not now need, had never needed, and would never need speaker coaching. Sometimes, like the professor, it's 15 minutes out of an hour. And, while I hate to point this out, I get paid either way. Your choice to spend that money in complaint is your choice.

With the professor, at the 15-minute mark, I asked my motivation question, which silenced her--she didn't have a ready answer. So I jumped in and pointed out that she'd just spent one-quarter of our time telling me that she didn't want to do this, and did she want to spend any of the remaining time finding out what she could do to make the presentation a winning one? To her credit, she stopped whining and got focused, but who knows how much further we might have gone in the wasted 15 minutes?

These examples are why I spend considerable time vetting clients in advance of signing a contract to coach them for speaking. If the client is hiring me to coach others, I urge them to screen participants so that the group is willing to be coached, rather than showing up for reasons that have nothing to do with wanting to be there. That makes all the difference in the world to the success of a coaching project in public speaking.

You may not be hiring a coach anytime soon, but you can borrow my question and ask it of yourself in those moments when you doubt your ability to get up and speak, or your practice is going badly, or you're just not sure whether this is worth the trouble. Ask yourself why you said yes to this, and be honest. Sometimes, the answer will be, "You don't have to like it, you just have to do it." But other times, you'll find a deeper motivation that's meaningful to you. Often, keeping that motivation in mind will carry you through even the most difficult of speaking tasks. And next time, say yes with that firmly in mind.

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Savvy speakers keep up with my wide-ranging reading list on women and public speaking by following The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, where these links and articles appear first. I always collect them here for you on Mondays as well. It's a great way to expand your public speaking knowledge:
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Patty Duke's 1970 Emmy Awards Acceptance Speech

When Patty Duke won an Oscar in 1962 for her portrayal of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, the 16-year old gave one of the shortest acceptance speeches ever: "Thank you." Seven years later, she won an Emmy for her work in the television movie My Sweet Charlie. Her acceptance speech for that award was also memorable--for all the wrong reasons. 

Watch the video--only a few minutes long--and you'll see why the audience and presenters were taken aback. The speech is really just one long pause, punctuated by some spacey half-sentences, as she surveys the theater with wary eyes as if she is afraid of someone pulling her offstage. It's uncomfortable and embarrassing to watch. News stories speculated that she was drunk or on drugs when she took the stage that night.

"The truth of the matter is that my condition had nothing to do with drugs or alcohol," Duke said in an interview 20 years later. "I was having a serious emotional breakdown. Unlike most people in trouble who fall apart in the privacy of their bedrooms, I fell apart on network television."

Duke had been ill for years at that point, but her disease went unnamed. She recalled weeks where she couldn't stop crying and never left her bed, followed by weeks where she went on outrageous spending sprees and acted like "queen of the world." She had not slept for three weeks before the Emmy broadcast. Finally, in 1982 she saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with bipolar disorder (then called manic depression) and began the lithium treatments that probably saved her life.

The 1970 Emmy speech was a disaster, so why feature it here? There's not much in the speech itself for a speaker to learn from or emulate, that's for sure. But it does remind us of a few things:
  • A famous speech isn't always a good speech. We've featured speeches in this space that aren't well-written or delivered, or positively received. But like those speeches, Duke's few words certainly meet our standards for a speech that garnered a wide audience and made a strong public impact.
  • A bad speech isn't the end of the world. Duke said that the 1970 Emmys were the first time that the public might have noticed "a chink in the armor," and she was frightened that she would lose work as a result of the bizarre performance. But she continued to act, receiving two more Emmy awards and two Golden Globe awards later in her career. After she was finally treated for her disease, she went on to become a vocal advocate for mental health and was even elected president of the Screen Actors Guild.
  • Some speeches serve as the opening salvo of a longer conversation. I think it's possible to view Duke's halting, stumbling, painful words at the Emmys as the first lines of a much longer speech she gave for the rest of her life, after her diagnosis. She was one of the first celebrities to go public with her own struggles with mental illness. She was candid in discussing how the disease made her behave, how she attempted to cope with it, and what the fallout had been for her personal and professional life. In the second half of her career, she spoke out often about efforts to diagnose mental illness and to remove the stigma from mental illness so that people would seek treatment. She spoke on behalf of the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, discussed bipolar disorder in countless interviews and even testified before Congress on the topic. Her Emmy acceptance might have been a disastrous start, but it led to a lifetime of speaking that has made a difference in the lives of many.
Duke died in 2016 at age 69. Watch the short video of this famous speech here or below:

Patty Duke Wins Oustanding Single Performance Emmy for MY SWEET CHARLIE | Emmys Archive (1970)

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

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Instead of shutting down controversial women speakers

In doing research for this blog, I've been reading Deborah Kops's fine book, Alice Paul and the Fight for Women's Rights: From the Vote to the Equal Rights Amendment. The book relates that, around 1908, Paul went to Birmingham, England, to study. She decided to see suffragist Christabel Pankhurst give a speech at the university. Here's how Kops describes the scene:
...as soon as Christabel Pankhurst began her speech that day, unsympathetic students shouted, blew horns, sang, and generally made so much noise that no one could hear a word she was saying....When the head of the university learned, to his horror, what had happened, he invited Pankhurst back and made sure the audience stayed in line.
That had a real impact on Paul, who went on to help American women win the vote. And so many decades later, it impressed me with the thought, "What if that had been done for Ann Coulter at Berkeley?", thinking of the recent silencing of the conservative speaker, who withdrew from speaking at the University of California at Berkeley under threat of violent protests. I also thought of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who recently gave the commencement speech at a historically black university, facing a crowd of students, many of whom jeered or turned their backs to her. And of Linda Sarsour, the Women's March co-founder, who faces a campaign from the conservative right that's trying to unseat her as the City College of New York commencement speaker before she ever takes the stage.

You don't have to agree with these women or their views to understand that these are ways of silencing women speakers. And silencing women speakers seems to be a theme of 2017, whether it's shutting Senator Elizabeth Warren down on the floor of the Senate or Michael Moore chewing up women speakers' time at the Women's March on Washington. It's nothing new, but it's a persistent tactic.

A couple of readers demanded tips for what to do when facing down an angry crowd. But I don't think this calls for tips, nor for things women speakers must fix about themselves. This is a problem of our society. You certainly may not agree with what I have to say, but you also are free to ignore it, as opposed to trying to change me, or the writing, or my ability to publish. Public speaking, too, is a series of choices. The speaker chooses what she wants to say, and you choose whether to listen. But that doesn't mean you also must silence her, and it doesn't mean she needs to fix anything about herself or her speech. Let's let her speak. Speakers aren't forcing their views upon you, just airing them. You can choose whether to listen or leave.

Today, most of us look back at Pankhurst and Paul and think of their speeches as heroic efforts to gain equality for women. That equality surely demands that we give women of many viewpoints their platforms and let them have their say. I am sure that those who fought for suffrage--a movement that felt that a vote is part of your voice--did not fight for it only on behalf of women with whom they agreed.

I find instructive the early 20th century solution that Alice Paul saw in action. Motivated to hear Pankhurst, she went to both speeches: The one she could not hear, and the one she could. When we silence speakers, we're also silencing the audience members who want to hear them. As for Pankhurst, so important was it to get her message out, she gave the same speech twice. She knew to expect resistance, and spoke, anyway.

You need not agree, and your results may vary. But if we want women speakers--including ourselves--to have platforms, consistently and with equality, we need to let them speak.

For more on the current struggle to let controversial speakers speak, read my post on the Moderating Panels blog, When the moderator meets the mob: @AKStanger speaks out. It's by a woman moderator who attempted to help a conservative male speaker continue his presentation on a campus, and got herself injured in the process. Despite that, she writes movingly of the need to avoid silencing the speakers we don't agree with.

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Eloquent Woman's weekly speaker toolkit

Savvy speakers keep up with my wide-ranging reading list on women and public speaking by following The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, where these links and articles appear first. I always collect them here for you on Mondays as well. It's a great way to expand your public speaking knowledge:
Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter or track when others tweet about the lack of women speakers on programs via @NoWomenSpeakers. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Friday, May 12, 2017

15 famous commencement speeches by women speakers

(Editor's note: It's commencement time again, so we've updated this 2013 post since it first appeared with new additions to The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women. If you're a woman commencement speaker, or the speechwriter for one, here's your inspiration.)

Cue the Pomp and Circumstance, it's that time of year again. Commencement is the start of something new, yes, but we're often stuck listening to the same old tired speeches in celebration. Can you remember your commencement speakers, or any memorable speakers at the graduations you've attended?

Admittedly, the commencement speech is a tough gig. Speakers want to be inspiring, and to avoid  cliches. They want to be broadly appealing to a diverse-age audience, but not so broadly appealing that every line they deliver has lost its bite. And they want to be memorable, but they're speaking at an event that rarely changes from year to year.

With all that in mind, we've compiled a list of commencement speakers from The Eloquent Woman Index who managed to meet these challenges, in ways that pleased the people who heard them live and that echoed long after the graduates shuffled off the stage.

1. Carol Bartz's 2012 commencement speech at the University of Wisconsin, Madison was full of plain speaking from the ex-CEO of Yahoo!, including jokes to bridge the gap between parents and students. She also decided to talk about the importance of failure--an unusual and memorable topic at an event held to celebrate success.

2. Viola Davis' 2012 speech at Providence College was full of the deep emotion and dramatic flair that you might expect from the Tony Award-winning actress. But a speech that included a scene from The Exorcist as a way to encourage graduates to find their authentic selves? Maybe not so expected.

3. Also in 2012, teacher and author Margaret Edson spoke beautifully at Smith College. Her speech, along with several other commencement speeches in the Index, used gentle humor to take the pomp out of the day's events. She also spoke without notes, allowing her to look out at her audience and establish a strong and instant rapport with them.

4. Nora Ephron's 1996 commencement address at Wellesley College is a terrific example of how humor and deft language can give new life to a standard speech. The journalist and screenwriter spoke directly about the year's top stories, from O.J. Simpson to Hillary Clinton. That's somewhat daring in a commencement speech, to be so topical when the occasion itself is so timeless. But I bet the graduates appreciated hearing where they fit into a moment in time.

5. and 6. Ursula K. Le Guin's commencement speeches at Mills College in 1983 and at Bryn Mawr in 1986 are some of the most poetic calls to action for women that you'll ever hear. The Bryn Mawr speech, in particular, has been considered among the 10 most memorable commencement speeches.

7. Before "lean in" became a buzzword and a best-selling book, Sheryl Sandberg was exploring the idea in a 2011 commencement speech at Barnard CollegeThe Facebook COO was especially good at reaching out to today's mixed audience of graduates, speaking not just to the obstacles facing women in their 20s, but also those facing women earning their mid-life degrees.

8. When Maria Shriver spoke at the 2012 University of California Annenberg School graduation, she urged students to consider "the power of the pause." Like Carol Bartz, she chose a topic that was memorable because it strayed away from the usual gung-ho, march-to-the-future rhetoric that graduates are accustomed to hearing.

9. Public speaking, including an earlier commencement speech, created lots of trouble for Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who shared her experiences at Harvard's commencement. She stirred all that trouble into inspiring lines like, "If you dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough."

10. Also from Liberia, Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee told Barnard graduates in 2013 that, before they could lean in, they needed to "step out of the shadows" instead of following the self-effacing, supporting role so many women adopt.

11. Arianna Huffington's "Thrive" speech, given in 2013 at Smith College, shared the story of how sleep deprivation caused her to have a serious accident. It's a moment that has shaped her latest business venture.

12. Former New York Times editor Jill Abramson's "to anyone who's been dumped" commencement speech in 2014 drew on her experience--right before the speech--of getting fired from a high-profile post.

13. IBM chair, president, and CEO Ginni Rometty's 2015 Northwestern University commencement speech was what every commencement speaker should aim for: structured, relevant, and able to move calmly past a verbal flub.

14. First Lady Michelle Obama's 2016 commencement address at Tuskegee University looked at racism in history and today, from a personal perspective--and was slammed by accusations of "reverse racism."

15. Hillary Clinton's 1969 commencement speech was delivered as a rare student speaker. She used the opportunity to criticize the distinguished guest speaker, and then to rally her fellow graduates in a speech that made national waves, even then.

(Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this post.)