The latest European Speechwriters Network event in London has passed off well. Many top names from the world of British and wider speechwriting (Phil Collins, Max Atkinson, Martin and Martha Shovel) and others did their stuff.
I was pleased to meet Denise Graveline, over from the USA. She has two websites: Don’t Get Caught and The Eloquent Woman. These successful and insightful sites look at all sorts of communication skills issues, especially where they relate to women. I have passed by The Eloquent Woman site in hot pursuit of examples of good women’s speeches – Denise has one of the best available lists on the Internet, even if it does not always follow that because the speech is (more or less) ‘famous’ it is also good. Plus her list has only one(!) by Margaret Thatcher, the most successful woman politician ever. I have pointed her at some excellent examples.
Denise’s own presentation to the conference looked at various issues arising for women moving into the public speaking arena, not least an unending tendency for many in the audience to dwell more on what they are wearing than what they are saying. She told me today about an especially grisly example where a woman speaker was (unbeknownst to herself) the subject of obnoxious live Tweeting that was being put up on screens at the very event where she was speaking.
Grisly indeed. But do such episodes tell us that such things are in fact steadily getting rarer? I’ve been to plenty of top events with good top women speakers where nothing of the sort happened. That said, maybe the concern that it just might happen serves to unnerve some women? If so, what’s the answer?
As it happens, I have given private coaching to two women wanting help with public speaking. It did not occur to me to ask them about any ‘womanly’ concerns they might have about being treated in a sexist way. I gave them exactly the same advice I’d give to men or Martians. Keep it simple. Signposts. Stories. Structure. The usual basic principles that work a treat.
Was I missing something? And would it have been unwittingly male-privileged sexist on my part to ask them about any ‘extra’ problems or anxieties they as women might have as a public speaker? Eeeeek.
One of the tedious complaints about Margaret Thatcher was that she more or less completely steamrolloered past such considerations and therefore ‘did nothing for women’. And that her own very often frumpy appearance (yes, Leftists, you too can snigger about a woman’s public appearance) and supposedly patronising rhetorical manner reinforced conservative old-fashioned gender stereotypes.
Take one especially famous example: a younger Margaret Thatcher producing a feather duster at a Conservative conference to demonstrate her practical busy housewifely intent to sweep away socialism. Thus Conservative Underground:
Of all the images of her as a leader, this is the one that’s stuck in my mind since yesterday. What a deft use of imagery — sweeping away old ideas, dustbin of history, a woman leader ready to clean up the nation, etc. — and how very dated! The idea of a female party leader today in the West using a feather duster as a prop — impossible to imagine
But maybe so much the worse for modern female part leaders. The very power of this gesture by Mrs Thatcher is that she took a banal stereotype – and owned it, but on her own terms. See also her speech ‘owning’ the Iron Lady insult. Is not this one form of defiant empowerment – of strength – that is no less relevant today?
Part of the typical Left-progressive analysis that sneered at Mrs Thatcher for her attitude to women came from the very fact that she disagreed with the way they framed the most basic issues in society. It’s hilarious in a depressing way to see the long line of women in the Guardian now railing against pornography as exemplifying (they insist) the humiliation of women, when the very same people and/or their unpleasant mothers a couple of decades ago were jeering at reactionary middle-class fuddy-duddy petite-bourgeoise Mary Whitehouse and Margaret Thatcher for saying exactly the same thing.
You feminists helped create the ‘anything goes’ morality-free pornographied Western world we now have. Accept your share of responsibility for that.
Women don’t even have to speak to create confusion at public speaking events. Here’s a famous example where the speaker is a tough US army officer brieifng pilots on a WW2 mission, but the male audience’s nervous minds get side-tracked by the woman Army nurse on the platform, to calamitous effect:
Denise has kindly invited me to write a guest post at her site. I’ll try to find an especially good Thatcher or other woman speech as the basis for exploring some of these things rather more coherently.
In the meantime, does anyone have any strong examples of a woman’s speech from a movie? Not a piece of strong dialogue but a speech of some sort, where a woman is addressing an audience to make a powerful point. And one that does not use bad language and so might work in a professional masterclass context…
Update: Reader Jim Hankey wisely points me to this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35djJpYpP7k – Queen Elizabeth 1 at Tilbury. Stirring stuff. But not language that works easily today!