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Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, The New Yorker and TedWomen Talks

I just finished the recent New Yorker profile about Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. This led me to her recent talk at TEDWomen, which was focused on women, leadership and the sad lack of women in the C-Suite. She dives into this complication, sharing interesting data, anecdotal experience and offers three pieces of practical advice for working women today.

Sandberg is an insightful, smart and savvy speaker.  She is open and honest.  She shares personal and professional anecdotes about both dealing with the guilt of leaving your crying baby behind as you head off to work, but reveling in sitting and negotiating hard at a table of men, doing work she loves.  I want to hear more from her. If the opportunity arises, I will absolutely go to listen to her in a public forum.

As a coach, I  found her physically contained on stage, restricted in her movements. Was it the stiletto heels? I think so. I don’t see any inconsistency between feminism and fashion, but I would have encouraged her to wear heels that gave her more physical grounding on the platform.  This talk is 15 minutes. Enjoy and learn.

– Charlotte

“Success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.”  Sheryl Sandberg

Larry Crowne and Public Speaking

Having taught undergrads at the college level, I believe that gives me license to critique the movie Larry Crowne.  Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are back together again, but in no way do they deserve your hard-earned money.  I went because I wanted to see what Hollywood would do to the art and craft of public speaking.

Julia Roberts plays a cynical, disaffected community college professor who reluctantly teaches Speech 217: The Art of Informal Remarks.  In every classroom scene she conveys a palpable loathing for her students, except at the end, of course, when she has been transformed by the “life is good” energy of her star student Larry Crowne, played by Tom Hanks.  Did she have to hate her job?  Would the movie be less compelling if she jumped out of bed every morning with the anticipation of shaping young minds and developing the talents of her students?  Oh, wait, I get it:  Larry Crowne is competing with Bad Teacher for box office revenues.  But I digress.

Do not see this movie.  I think Rex Reed said it best in his review:  “In an endurance test of 99 minutes that feels more like running a marathon on the Equator, nothing ever happens in this movie. There is no conflict. The characters are dead on arrival. Somebody must be held accountable for clunky, unspeakable dialogue like ‘I was worked up and under the influence of the demon rum.’ I mean, who talks like that outside the pages of paperbacks for hyper-thyroidal teens sold in airport departure lounges?”  Wow. Harsh.

On the bright side, the movie did get a couple of things right about public speaking.  First, Mrs. Tainot (Julia) suggests to her students  that they find three focal points in the room – one on the left, one on the right and one in the center of the room.  And when you have an important point to make, look directly at the center point for full effect.  Correct. One point for Hollywood.

The second thing they got right was how to deal with nerves.  Toward the end of the movie when Professor Tainot is preparing her students for the final speech, she has them stand up and move their bodies in all sorts of ways while reciting tongue twisters loudly.  This is a great way to diminish nervous tension and it was a real plus in an otherwise wasted two hours of my life.

Sorry Tom and Julia – I love your work, just not in this particular instance.  But Rita Wilson?  Your cameo as the mortgage loan officer stole the show.

– Barbara

Jane Fonda’s Autobiography: “My Life So Far”

I know I am getting older. And not only because of the number of times I have circled the sun, but because I find myself enjoying new interests like bird watching, peony-growing, and reading non-fiction.  Jane Fonda’s book was a revelation.

I admire and applaud her for writing with such intelligence and honesty. I was stunned by the duality of her life – what it looked like in pictures versus what was going on within. I was shocked that she shared so much about her very flawed parents, her fear, shame, disease to please, eating disorder and sex life. Fonda’s intellectual curiosity, transformation and journey to self are inspiring. Her true commitment to social and political change (especially for girls and women) is tremendous. This book is long, but it is very well structured, and filled with photos, celebrity insights, great quotes, and a comprehensive history of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Jane Fonda studied acting with Lee Strasberg, who developed a style known as the Method. He became the artistic director of the Actors Studio and Fonda learned her most important acting techniques and lessons with him. Fonda quotes him as saying, “Tension is the occupational disease of the actor.”

Hmm…just the actor? Dare I say that tension is also the occupational disease of the public speaker? As Fonda explains it, relaxation is key for actors, so that “the body’s energetic flow is unimpeded and inspiration can rise and express itself through the actor’s spirit: in eyes, voice and movement…the body as instrument.” She continues, “ You can’t do most things well without being relaxed, not in sports, not in lovemaking, not in acting.”

We know in our heads that we need to embody this same relaxation when we speak in public, so that we make genuine connections and deeply feel that we have done our best.  For the speaker, this state of mind (and body!) is called “relaxed readiness.” Being relaxed and ready means we know where we are going, we’re ready to attend to the ebb and flow of unexpected people, questions, scenarios, and trusting that the ideas, the eyes, the voice and the movement will connect with our audience.  This is an occupational aspiration for public speakers.

-Charlotte

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

“Does anyone have any questions for my answers?” – Henry Kissinger

Want a sure-fire way to speak extemporaneously without sounding like the captain of the All Drone Team?  Here it is: Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Lather:  While you’re waiting for your brain to kick into gear, fill the silence with build-up words rather than empty filler words like um and ah.  You could say “Thank you for that question [insert name here], I always appreciate an opportunity to talk about this important issue.”  This technique gives you a minimum of five seconds to formulate an answer without uttering one boring filler word.  Another option is to repeat or rephrase the question before you answer.

Once you’ve identified your primary message point, deliver that message with a confident tone. Your non-verbals need to say “I know this stuff and I stand by my answer.”

If you don’t know the answer to the question or don’t want to answer it, you can invoke the age-old trick of redirecting to your preferred question.  For example, last fall, when Congress was dragging their feet on whether to raise taxes, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell tried to get White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod to talk about the split among Democrats when he asked, “Who’s right?  The ‘go-home now’ Democrats or the ‘fix taxes first’ Democrats?”  But Axelrod did not want to criticize his own party so he answered, “Well, the question really is ‘what about the hold-the-tax-cuts-hostage Republicans,’ which is what this debate is really about.”  This redirect allowed him to emphasize his key message.

Rinse:  Provide supporting and interesting details for edification.  A compelling statistic, an example, a story – all these strategies work well for enhancing the attention and interest of your audience.

Repeat:  Now that you’re in the groove, simply summarize your key point in a more articulate manner and then stop talking. The stopping is just as important as the starting.

– Barbara

The Power of Superstition

I slammed the back door and heard a resounding crash. The Irish plumber ran in from outside to see what caused such a loud racket.  We looked at 1,000 pieces of shattered glass. In a heavy brogue he said, “You know, it’s not seven years of bad luck if you weren’t in the house when it happened.”

No, I didn’t know that, thank you very much. In fact, I’m too busy wondering if I would still be yelling my head off at one of my kids had they just done this. But now I have to worry. And come to think of it, did I not just break last night’s wine glass while cleaning up this morning? So, I’ve got potentially seven years of bad luck and we all know that bad things happen in threes. Now what? Throw salt? Spin in circles? Touch a tombstone?

I can’t believe that my chest is slightly constricted. Not only do I have a big mess to clean up, but I have to consider whether fate has knocked on my door and decreed a future outcome from this present state. Is this fear real?  Facts and science say no, but we all know that when our heart is beating fast, the relationship between facts and feelings is as disconnected as the vast difference between hearing and listening.

When I am presenting to a group and something unexpected and uncomfortable comes up, I experience this same chest constriction. It triggers a physiological “danger” response.  The motor of my inner voice starts gunning.  It takes concerted, against-the-flow effort to slow down the voice(s) and stay connected to what is happening in the room.  And then, most importantly, to genuinely move on. This is so hard to do and not unlike extricating myself from thousands of years of superstition. I cleaned up the shattered mirror, reflected on where this crash had led and wrote it down for you.  Now that was a good day’s work.

– Charlotte

Do You Rehearse in Your Head?

Would you pay $200 for a ticket to see a Broadway show if you knew that the actors never once rehearsed their lines?  Of course you wouldn’t.  And yet, most presenters stand and deliver without ever practicing their remarks out loud.

The other day I was walking past a couple of guys having lunch and I heard one of them say, “My big presentation is tomorrow and I’ve had no time to practice.”  At this I slowed my pace so I could officially eavesdrop.  He continued, “Well, that’s not exactly true – I’ve rehearsed it in my head.”  To which the other guy said, “Then you’ll be fine.”  Now picture me forcing one foot in front of the other so I wouldn’t lean in and yell “Are you crazy?!  Think about your audience and their expectations.  Get back to the office and practice out loud!”

No, he will not be fine.  That presentation will be filled with ums, and ahs, and will meander here and there, all to the beat of the tentative drum in his head.  If he’s lucky, his PowerPoint slides will save him from a brain freeze, but odds are he’ll use them as a crutch.

Rehearsing “in your head” is not a rehearsal.  Unless you actually hear your voice saying the words you wrote down on your storyboard out loud (at a volume of 7 out of 10), you are not rehearsing.

I give myself this finger wag all the time.  For example, I worked all weekend on an upcoming presentation and I have yet to say any of the words out loud.  My handout looks great.  My slides are ready for their close-up (even spell-checked and proofread!), but in this particular case, that is insufficient preparation.  There are two big reasons why I need to find time to rehearse.   First, I just found out that eight people are attending the talk from my client’s office to “learn and observe.”  No pressure there.  Second, I want repeat business from this client, so being on top of my game is essential.

Factor in the time to speak out loud to yourself, your pet, or your significant other – it doesn’t matter who – and you stand a better chance of achieving your goal.  And as an added bonus, you will likely lessen the chances of getting asked a curveball question because you have honed your content to its essential messages.

Next up:  Extemporaneous speaking – how to sound prepared and intelligent without the chance to rehearse.

– Barbara

p.s.  If you like what you read in our blog, why not work with us in person at our upcoming SpeakWell Bootcamp on July 28th in Boston.  For more details visit our website:  www.speakwellpartners.com

Have you Seen Yourself on Video Lately?

Seeing myself on video typically elicits a variation on one of these responses:

1)   “I will never wear that outfit again.”

2)    “I thought I was so much (pick any of the following) smarter, funnier, clearer, better looking than this.”

3)   “Turn it off.  Seriously, I can’t take another minute!”

So needless to say, when Barbara and I hit replay on a recent workshop videotape, I was both curious as hell and defensively hardened to expect the worst. We watched for a few minutes in silence. Then Barbara said, “Well, I don’t hate it.”  (That just killed me because what I really heard her say was,  “This is much better than I expected and I can live with it!”).  And she was right, though her language revealed the negative orientation toward self- assessment that I both relate to and witness frequently with my clients.

But here was the real zinger. Once we loosened up and enjoyed laughing at ourselves and each other, (and frankly we both have seen ourselves often enough to not be too surprised), we realized that a whole back-story was playing out on this video that neither of us had any awareness of at the time.

We were floored. Was I really standing so awkwardly nearby while she was presenting an important module? Was she really prepping the room for the next piece, while I was delivering my content? We were roaring with disbelief!   And more importantly, in seeing myself on film, I was able to recognize that I had actually experienced a sense of discomfort about where to stand while Barbara presented, but hadn’t been able to resolve it at the time.  My body radiated that discomfort on film. It was so illuminating and hugely beneficial. We got great insight into how to make our workshops even more seamless. It was a fantastic learning experience. And we screamed with laughter at ourselves which is always good for the partnership and the soul.

So pull out your video.  And don’t just see the worst; wait for that unexpected —you may be glad.

-Charlotte