influential women

The Most Unusual (and Amazing) Speech Preparation Story I’ve Ever Heard

I just completed a week’s training with the faculty at the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. This is my third year working with them, so we’re practically like family now. During one of the breaks we were chatting about speech preparation when one of the women present, Bernadette Alvear Fa, Assistant Professor, Department of Integrated Reconstructive Dental Sciences and Director of Local Anesthesia Curriculum, mentioned that the most challenging preparation she ever did was when she was in labor with her son. In labor with her son? What?  Prepping for a speech while in labor was something I certainly never expected to hear from anyone. I just had to get the details, and since we were all comfortable with each other, she didn’t mind sharing (or me sharing this story either).

I first met Bernadette in June 2011 when she was in my training class. I worked with her on her physical, vocal, and verbal delivery skills as well as her message development, and I gave her various options for preparation strategies to implement. At the time, she was 12 weeks pregnant.

Bernadette explained that in the months that followed the training, she gave numerous lectures with her ever growing belly, each time using the skills she had learned in my class. She was becoming a powerful and confident speaker. Interestingly, as her son started to kick, move, and punch from within, he always remained silent when she was lecturing or speaking in front of large crowds.

On December 3, 2011, Bernadette was officially 36 weeks and 1 day pregnant. She completed a lecture with a colleague and had one more official lecture to provide to the faculty 10 days later. She had the slideshow presentation ready to go and had reviewed it with her co-presenter. Then, on December 10, 2011, something unexpected happened. Bernadette’s water broke at 6:45 a.m. When she and her husband arrived at the hospital, she breathed her way through a few moderate contractions and then sent  out a flood of emails to notify people at work that she would not be coming in on the following Monday and would not be giving her presentation (at least not “live”). Three hours later she had an epidural and decided it was time to work on her “voice over” for the presentation she was going to be missing on Monday. Since she couldn’t be at the presentation in person, she wanted her co-presenter to have her sections of the presentation complete. Talk about dedication!

According to the readings on the monitors, Bernadette saw that she was intensely contracting, and her son appeared happy as a clam and bouncing around joyfully. She asked all visitors in the delivery room to remain quiet, as the only microphone she had for the voice over was the one included in her laptop, which was low grade at best. Knowing she had to make do without her usual professional presentation tools, she drew upon the DeFinis Communications vocal delivery skills she had learned and did the entire voice over from her hospital bed while in labor.

Once complete, she emailed the presentation to her co-presenter. She then patted her belly and said, “Okay, son. Mommy’s done lecturing. It’s time to come out. We’re ready for you.” Forty minutes later, the world welcomed Christian Michael Fa. He waited patiently while his mom finished her work, enabling her to completely focus on the most important task at hand now—being his Mom.

I sat mesmerized listening to her story. She could have easily turned the lecture over to someone else to prepare the voice over, and I doubt anyone would have noticed. But powerful women never give up! Bernadette was determined to follow through with the commitment she made and had the presence of mind to use the skills she learned in our class to prepare a voice-over presentation in this most challenging environment. In a room filled with stress, anticipation, adrenaline, and the frenzied activity of nurses and beeping computer monitors, Bernadette stayed cool, calm, and focused. As a result, she did an amazing job on her voice over…even while in labor.

Ever since women entered the workforce, they’ve had to creatively overcome the challenges of balancing work and home. In this case, Bernadette went the extra mile. She used her determination, perseverance, and optimism to balance these two forces in a way I’ve never seen before. If a woman can do what Bernadette did—be in labor and prepare a complex, technical dental lecture—then surely women are capable of anything, whether it’s leading a company, saving lives, or delivering a powerful  presentation under usual circumstances.

Bernadette is a true leader in her company and in her life. Christian has a lot to look forward to growing up with a role model of loving mother and confident professional.

Do you have an unusual or amazing speech preparation story? Share it here. We’d all love to read it!

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

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Wednesday for Women: Public Speaking Lessons from Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep just won an Oscar for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in the movie The Iron Lady, and in my view she deserves an equally prestigious award for her introduction of Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Women in the World Summit 2012 at Lincoln Center in New York City. I’m a big fan of Meryl Streep and an even bigger supporter of our Secretary of State. The combination of these two women on stage gave us a powerful example of how different styles and backgrounds can yield equally successful presentations.

Doing a formal introductory speech, like what Meryl did, can be challenging. So let’s look at three areas of Meryl’s speech and have a seasoned actor show us how it’s done:

  • Image: With her bright red jacket and those fabulous black reading glasses, Meryl’s image had impact. Best of all, she didn’t just look great; she used her outfit as a prop, referring to the “put downs” of Hillary’s pantsuits over the years. She twirled around and showed us her jacket, poking fun of those who poked fun at Hillary.
  • Content: Meryl’s captivating message is rich with what we call “touch points” or “rhetorical devices.” These are the stories, examples, metaphors, facts, and humor that make up the core content of a speech, and that make it interesting and inspiring. Meryl’s speech was funny and moving because it was packed with plenty of twists and surprises, contained humorous, colorful stories, and teemed with respect and sentiment all while making playful jokes about Hillary.

For example, Meryl began by comparing herself and her early life to Hillary, which she says that every living American woman her age has done. She goes on to compare the two women’s experiences at Yale, where their similar paths diverged. “While I was a cheerleader, she was the president of the student government,” says Meryl. “Where I was the lead in all three musicals, people who know her tell me she should never be encouraged to sing.” But then she got serious and said, “Regardless, she has turned out to be the voice of our generation. I’m an actress, and she is the real deal.”

Meryl went on to describe Hillary’s constant fight for women worldwide to stop criminal behavior, seek justice, and provide support. She revealed things not everyone may know about Hillary, such as how when travelling on diplomatic missions she meets not just the country’s leaders, but also the leaders of the local grassroots women’s movements. It’s something that’s automatically on her schedule.

And let’s not forget that brilliant ending that took everyone by surprise when Meryl reached below the podium, pulled out her Oscar, and said, “This is what you get when you play a world leader.” The audience went wild. “But if you want a real world leader and you’re really, really lucky, this is what you get,” Meryl continued, as she directed everyone’s attention to Hillary’s entrance on stage. This was a model introductory speech.

  • Delivery: Good delivery does not call attention to itself. It gets the job done by clearly expressing the message without distraction. Meryl’s delivery combined a certain degree of formality with the most charming attributes of good conversation. She was a bit dramatic—even showing off at times—but she was also direct, spontaneous, and animated. Most of all, she looked like she was thoroughly enjoying every minute with her erect posture,  big smile, confident eye contact, and that charming way she “sighed” so enjoyably at her own jokes.

She controlled the timing, rhythm, and momentum of the speech as skillfully as only an experienced public speaker—or actor—can. And while she had her written speech in front of her, she didn’t read it verbatim. She ad-libbed and took time to react to her message as well as to the responses of her audience. And even when she lost her place and briefly stumbled, she recovered with grace and slipped back into the lighthearted flow—and the limelight.

Public Speaking at its Best

Maybe it takes an actress playing a public speaker to be able to give a powerful introduction to one of the world’s great leaders. Actor or not, Meryl wrote a wining speech, delivered it with heart and soul, and accomplished what she set out to do: She made us realize anew why all American citizens, not just women, are fortunate to have Hillary Clinton traveling the world, leading critical diplomatic initiatives on our behalf. Hillary stands out as a leader, a role model and one of the greatest advocates for women in recent history.

Meryl was right. You get an Oscar for playing a world leader, but you get an adoring and appreciative public who deeply understands the importance of your mission when you are one.

This blog is part of my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life.

Sign up for our monthly newsletter to receive valuable tips, techniques and updates on the latest news and events from DeFinis Communications.

Wednesday4Women Blog Carnival: “Top Presentation Strategies for Women”

I recently came across an excellent article at TrainingMag.com that explores gender roles in public speaking. To briefly summarize, the author identifies several differences in the way men and women give presentations and how both genders can learn from each other to improve their speaking skills. Although I think there is plenty to learn from the opposite gender, it is documented that women learn better in single-sex groups. That’s one reason why I started my Wednesday4Women blog series, to provide insights, resources and advice from women, about women, for women. The success of this concept has amazed even me.

For this blog carnival, I asked several experts to share their views on “Top Presentations Strategies for Women.” After an overwhelming number of replies, I’ve narrowed it down to the most relevant pieces of advice. The contributors offer spot-on suggestions and include such topics as “How to Ask for What You Want with Confidence” to “Tips for Aspiring Women Speakers” to “5 Presentation Tips to Wow Your Audience.” You’ll also find information from websites listed on Forbes’ “Top 100 Websites for Women.”

I highly recommend you spend time reading these golden nuggets of wisdom and learning more about each of our talented contributors. They have a lot of valuable information to share. Enjoy!

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Savvy Speaks: Top Presentation Strategies for Women Savvy Sisters - Savvy B2B Marketing Great advice to help women play to their natural communication skills.

Top Presentation Strategies for Women Emily Jasper – From the Gen Y Perspective A handful of tips women may use to help improve their presentation skills.

5 Top Tips for Aspiring Women Speakers Susan Macauley – Amazing Women Rock/Unleash Amazing You Advice for you to feel more comfortable, confident and in control when you speak. (Can also be found here.)

How To Ask For What You Want With Confidence Brenda Solano – Hybrid Mom Have you noticed how you can speak with complete authority at home, but when it comes to business you sometimes lose your voice?

5 Presentation Tips to Wow Your Audience Christie Cruz – Career Advisor for Global Young Professionals Strategies that can help you overcome your presentation fears and “wow” your audience.

Top Presentation Strategies for Women Mark Grimm - Story-of-the-Day Blog Important presentation principles to help you bring home your message in a clear, compelling way.

Be Original Like Temple Grandin Deborah Taylor-French - Dog Leader Mysteries Temple Grandin, one of Time Magazine’s “100 most influential people,” exemplifies original communication.

Top Presentation Strategies for Women Joanne O. McGhee – Sage ELT, LLC Presenting in front of a group whether, it is small or large can be both exhilarating and intimidating.

Top Presentation Strategies Katherine Winkelman – Gioia Company, LLC Presentation tips from the perspective of a small business owner.

Top Presentation Strategies Nancy Longo - Longo Job Explorer Important communications advice from an award winning journalist.

Speaking Engagement? Wear this! Margaret Lawrence - Naracamicie One of our favorite San Francisco stores enlightens us on what to wear for our next presentation.

 

Presentation Strategies for Women Lisa Braithwaite – Speak Schmeak Why do we single out women as needing special advice?

Where is your Mommy Voice? David Rosman – InkandVoice Communication Unfortunately, many women seem to lose their "Mommy Voice" when giving a presentation.

Cracking the Presentation Glass Ceiling Kathy Reifferstein - And...Now Presenting! Women must overcome some unique challenges to maximize their impact as speakers.

This blog carnival is a special edition of my Wednesday4Women blog series, where I feature stories, resources and information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please enjoy these weekly Wednesday blogs and forward them to the powerful women in your life. I appreciate your insightful comments and suggestions for future blog carnivals. A special thanks to all our bloggers and to you, our readers.

The Perfect Retreat

This is another installment in my Wednesday for Women blog series, where I feature information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. If you’re a man reading this, please enjoy it and then forward these weekly Wednesday blogs to the powerful women in your life. They’ll thank you for it! I’m a big proponent of vacations. Like you, I work long hours and am deeply committed to the success of my business, so managing personal time is a top priority. Taking time off from the rigors of work, technology, and the daily grind is critical for keeping creativity and motivation high. And I’ve discovered that it’s often during breaks and vacation times that I solve nagging issues and come up with some of my best business ideas. So rather than completely “checking out” during a vacation, I’ve become more conscious about using the time to “dial in” and gain a renewed sense of purpose and professionalism.

When I’m feeling overloaded and not working efficiently, I take short breaks. These “mini vacations” provide the space for my intuition to break through the noise and provide counsel. When I take weekend and longer vacations I use that time to plan and problem solve as well. So whether you’re taking a short break or a long vacation, here are a few tips that can help you use your time off in a way that not only calms your mind and body but also energizes your drive and motivation.

  • Keep a journal handy. I have small notebooks in every possible location: in my car, in every handbag, by my bed, and in my pocket. I take them with me on hikes, weekend getaways, long vacations, or even when  shopping or going out to dinner with friends. Great ideas often come when you’re the most relaxed…and they can disappear just as easily. So be prepared to jot them down for a later time.
  • Spend time with like-minded people. Every now and then it’s important to plan your time off so you’re spending it with people who can support you in your personal and professional growth. Sometimes that means taking time for you and leaving the family at home. A weekend with the “girls” can do wonders for your outlook and self-esteem.
  • Empty your mind…and then refuel it. Thinking about nothing on your time off is extremely helpful to reset your body and mind, and it helps you feel good in the moment. But the things you’re leaving behind (including those irritating challenges) will still be at work waiting for you. So rather than simply empty your mind, find a new activity that can help you refuel your brain. This could mean reading that business strategy book you’ve been putting off, learning about a topic that is outside of your area of expertise, or even focusing on improving a skill. Exercise your brain in new ways so you can gain a broader perspective to work and life.
  • Create a plan. The last day of vacation, of a long weekend, or even of a “mini vacation” is sad for many people. So why not find a way to keep that refreshed focus and feeling of calm you experience while on vacation with you all the time? You have choices on how you live your life every day. You can choose to let the stress engulf you, or you can choose to take control of the stressors in your life. Use your journal and jot down two or three concrete ideas that you can take back with you.

There’s no reason why getting some R&R can’t also include helping you be more and do more. For more ideas on how the two concepts can be combined, check out my new program, Speaking Spas. And before you plan that next vacation or long weekend—or even that short break—take a few minutes to think about what you really need. When you take care of yourself first, you’ll have much more of yourself to share with others.

Aspiring Women

Every Wednesday I’ll be posting a blog geared especially for women. This new blog will feature information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. If you’re a man reading this, please enjoy it and then forward these weekly Wednesday blogs to the powerful women in your life. They’ll thank you for it! No one ever said work was easy, but for women, the workplace can be an increasingly difficult place. First, the old cliché of the “glass ceiling” is still alive and well in many industries. Second, the fact is that women still earn less than men—77 cents to every man’s dollar, to be exact. Yes, women have to overcome a lot to be successful. Therefore, having the advanced skills to break through that ceiling and help shrink the pay gap is critical.

Despite these truths about the workplace, there is a core group of women who aspire to reach new heights and who will stop at nothing to get there. These are the women in leadership roles in every industry who organize, educate, inspire, influence, create vision and drive results. These are the women who are determined to overcome any challenge. These are the women who set the bar to new levels, encouraging everyone—both males and females—to stretch their capabilities and master new skills.

And these women are passionate about personal growth and professional development. Aspiring women want to strengthen their skills, be challenged to grow and learn, and connect with other like-minded women. What can help them gain greater influence, power, and confidence at work? For many women, it comes down to their communication skills—their communication style, how they listen, how they facilitate a meeting, how they present information, and how they give direction to others. These are the crucial elements that truly matter when you’re trying to set yourself apart from the crowd and develop greater credibility and influence.

As you continually strive for new levels of professional success and personal satisfaction, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Polish your physical presence. Focus on refining your communication delivery skills, including your body language (what people see when they look at you—your eye contact, facial expressions, posture, gestures, and movement), your vocal skills (the creation and delivery of your vocal sounds—your volume, enunciation, inflection, rate of speech, pitch, inflection, and strategic pauses), and your word choices (the precise message you give—crafting concise sentences, selecting language that is audience focused, and liberally using words that convey power and emotion). For assistance with all of these skills, be sure to read my past blogs and web site articles.
  • Build your support network. Reach out to other aspiring women as often as possible. Integrate these women into your life as role models, support people, and taskmasters. Remember that you need people to learn from, to cheer you on, and to set the bar and hold you accountable. By having all three types of people in your life, you can achieve your goals.
  • Take more risks. Once you have developed your skills and built your support network, then you have to get out there and use your new skills and knowledge to build your platform. Nothing great in life ever occurs without some risk. So stretch yourself out of your comfort zone and go for it.  

To help women achieve more, I’ve developed a new program called Speaking Spas. Designed for women who desire growth and challenge—and who also require nurturing and support to achieve their goals—Speaking Spas is a retreat for women who want to become more powerful communicators. This program takes place in a tranquil spa setting, so interspersed with the rigorous DeFinis training curriculum are nourishing opportunities for spa treatments, exercise, privacy, and healthy food. I believe that professional development can be done in a whole new way—a way geared just for women.

If you want to be more and do more in your career, you can. Don’t let anything hold you back. With powerful skills and motivation, you can reach the sky that exists beyond the glass ceiling—and that’s when your opportunities are truly limitless.