My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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NPR’s “On Point”

I was on NPR this morning with Doug Rushkoff, an Illinois detective, Saul Hansell (NYTimes) and a drummer from a band that has a profile. Needless to say, the topic was MySpace, but it was a much more balanced conversation than the typical coverage thus far. We talked about teens, bands, Murdoch, etc. I even got my own profile exposed on the air. For those who want to listen, there’s a stream and podcast online.

One of the things that made me smile is that P!nk’s “Stupid Girls” is one of the transition songs. Yesterday, in prep for the piece, they asked me about music consumption on MySpace. I talked about bands getting their word out and about how people were putting up videos. I mentioned P!nk’s latest video and how it made me happy to see that message spread. So, it made me quite joyous to see that come across on air as well.

On a different note, one listener wrote me and encouraged me to get public speaking training. ::sigh:: I’m still sad that i could never get into Barbara Tannenbaum’s speech training class back at Brown. I *know* that i sound ridiculous when i speak, but i’ve never known how to solve this problem. I just avoid listening to myself. So, does anyone have a suggestion for getting speech training?

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20 comments to NPR’s “On Point”

  • Having been to a number of your presentations I think your speech patterns, though sometimes erratic, keep people engaged and interested. I much prefer to hear you gush and espouse over topics you have passion for than listen to folk present things they don’t give a dam about and are there for the paycheck. If you insist, just try slowing down a bit. It makes a world of difference – just don’t loose the fire!

  • You may want to think of speakers whose presentation and style you admire – people who moved you when they spoke – and focus on the specific aspects of their delivery (aside from the content) that affected you. Public speaking is performance, so the sorts of considerations that actors are concerned about apply equally to lecturers, or interviewees. What persona are you adopting? What emotional effects do you want to have on your audience? What is the flow of your over-arching narrative – the beginning, development, high and low points, climax, denouement?

    I relate to my own speaking lyrically, or musically. There is rhythm and meter, tone and volume, that correspond to various themes I am developing throughout any given piece. Listen to the “music” of good and inspiring speakers, and then find your own.

  • Johanka

    I’m a non-native speaker of English and I find your voice, its melody and pitch, very appealing, really. I was even thinking of you as a good role model of passionate speaker (what the previous commenters talked about) for us non-natives. Therefore, it amuses me to no end that someone has actually been critical of the way you speak. How dare they… 🙂

  • One of the best ways to improve how you come across in radio and TV interviews is to play each interview back later and spot one thing to do differently next time.

    Radio and TV people frequently review their “airchecks” to keep improving their performances as well. It took me a long time before I started liking my airchecks, but I finally found a style that worked well for me.

    The same thing holds for improving public speaking techniques — reviewing recordings of speeches and presentations helped me refine my speaking style, too.

    I saw your interview on Fox (thanks for the heads up here), and I thought you did very well.

  • epc

    I was at your talk at etech in March and recall that you were fine as a speaker. You can get animated…which is fine if you’re wearing a lapel mic, but might cause your voice to fade out if you’re turning away from a fixed mic.

  • I didn’t think you sounded ridiculous, Danah. I was (vaguely) listening in my car, and didn’t hear “We’ve been talking with Danah Boyd” until I reached my destination. But although one of the female voices (most likely you?) sounded young rather than authoritative, nobody’s voice on the show sounded ridiculous.

  • B

    They must have confounded with another one: you sounded great–and not being a native speaker, I might be more demanding.

    The rest of the show is plain horrifying: parents gathering “intel” on their kids, comparing internet with down-town Chigaco (a place deadlier than Bagdad!)–all your argument suddenly turned from to what seemed to be the cause of a Berkley idealist to an absolutely necesary message. The English-sounding parent reassured me, but you are a minority. Weird place, the US.

  • You don’t sound ridiculous in the least – I’ve caught at least half a dozen of your talks and was never offput by your speaking style.

    The “passionate speaker” idea is an important one – it’s not quite the antithesis of the sober, authoritative speaker, but it can turn into it if you’re not careful. If the perception is that you’re speaking purely from a point of passion, that undercuts your authority. In your case, you’re speaking both from passion and from a great deal of expertise. If you can find a way to present both passion and expertise, you’ll consistently kick ass. (And, in my opinion, you do.)

    One thing that’s worked for me (as someone who’s more a passionate than an expert speaker) is trying to identify the ideas I have a hard time explaining compactly and trying to hone them. Sometimes this means defining a new term and introducing at the start of a statement – sometimes it’s getting a catchphrase explanation ready so you can use it when needed. For better or worse, soundbites work…

  • Many years ago when Terri Gross was a local talk show host, I heard one caller tell her that she was unprofessional and ought to get speaker training! Thank goodness she didn’t.

  • I’m looking at the Fox interview again:

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=0Nfyw2KYHWw

    Your speech seems clear and informative. What needs to change? There is a mildness to your presence in this particular interview (the only I’ve ever seen), but I think that was crucial to keep O’Reilly from attacking you with the aggression he normally attacks people with.

  • I guess perhaps it just depends on what kind of public persona you’re going for. I’ve friends who do presentations professionally and they insist that to do it well you have to rehearse constantly, either in front of a mirror or, preferably, in front of a video camera so you can replay the tape and study your mistakes. And they end up giving crisp, professional presentations, with some slick anecodotes thrown in as asides and some well rehearsed jokes that are 100% likely to get a laugh. But that is a particular kind of public speaker, it’s a specific style. If you like that style and you want your future presentations to look and feel like that, then, yes, you should rehearse constantly in front of a mirror or video camera. But do you really want that? Is that who you really are?

  • Regarding the moral panic over MySpace, on the bright side, it is pleasant to think that the moral panic over rock’n’roll (and the race mixing it tended to facillitate) was even more intense, yet the older generation was not able to stop rock’n’roll.

  • I heard the show and you sounded fine. Don’t give such critics any energy.

  • Ethan’s suggestion of honing the key ideas is great. If the foundation is solid, folks will forgive imperfections in other areas.

    That said, I thought you presented yourself very well. I thought your identification of “MySpace as performance” was excellent.

    I’d hadn’t seen that O’Reilly interview (since I never watch TV). “So this has become the new town square, this MyPage business”
    O’Reilly, almost totally clueless, actually made a solid observation.

  • Danah, I just watched the Bill O’Reilly clip, and the only thing that struck me is what a blowhard HE is. You sounded absolutely fine, and were a lot calmer than I would have been in the face of such ignorance!

  • I’ve been doing public speaking and debating since my first year of high school and although I (still) hate listening to myself it really is the best way to improve. I really like what Cliff suggested in the comment above about working on one thing at a time (like tone, pacing, emphasis, etc) rather than trying to fix it all straight away. With the number of media interviews you do I expect you to be perfect in no time 😛

  • suz

    Listened to you on NPR. No criticisms whatsoever with your speaking style – in fact as i listened, I thought: “this person talking has done a LOT of work in the field and it’s really exciting” and “she sounds like she could walk in the myspace world as well as the groves of academe … which totally works.” More power to you.

  • zvi

    Suzette Elgin’s the Last Word on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-defense has a number of cheap suggestions which largely boil down to: find someone (of similar age/gender) whose public persona is one you want to emulate. Tape a few hours of them. Watch a small bit of their presentation, then re-watch while emulating them. It is important to do the mimicry simultaneously with the action.

    Make sure to monitor your own public persona, so you can stop before you become an imitation of your model.

  • marcela

    I was once referred to Toastmasters as a way to improve my public speaking skills. The few times I’ve heard you, I thought you did very well though…

  • christina

    Informed opinions and a dash of passion wins always