A Few Words on How to Give a Speech

Standing up to give a toast or speech is one of the hardest things to do. Public speaking even tops the list of most common fears. However, there comes a time when many of us are honored for some accomplishment—which is especially tricky considering our culture's discomfort with women's achievements.

Speech coach Chris Jahnke knows all about the challenges of public speaking. As one of the top coaches in the country, she has worked with First Lady Michelle Obama. Her Washington-based company, Positive Communications has helped more women candidates and public officials than any other trainer.  

Jahnke devised some guidelines to help navigate the gratitude graciously while using examples of some real-live powerful women.  


Gloria Steinem

Avoid inadvertently insulting the award presenters by rushing off the stage. If you're uncomfortable in the spotlight, you may try to downplay the occasion. However, the recognition of your talent, contribution, or dedication is coming from people who share your commitment. Voice your appreciation for the work they do. Before receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Gloria Steinem said: "I'd be crazy if I didn't understand that this was a medal for the entire women's movement... It belongs to Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug, and... so, many more."

Watch Steinem's Speech


Mary Barra

While not technically an award, the news that a car gal would lead a major automaker mattered to the family of Mary Barra. It's the people closest to you that bear the cost of late meals, missed events, and college tuition. Upon taking over as CEO at GM, Barra said that she is the daughter of an auto factory worker who, as a child, loved touring dealerships with her dad. It was Mom who insisted she go to college.



No one wants to endure a soppy mess. A moist eye is fine, but if you are prone to tears, channel Malala Yousafzai. If the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out on girl's education can hold it together, so can you. At a "Glamour" Woman of the Year event, she forcefully urged the audience to: "Not be afraid of anything... One student, one teacher, one book, one pen can save the world."


Anita Borg

In 2011, the Anita Borg Institute honored "nerd girl" Dr. Karen Panetta for encouraging girls to enter engineering. At the ceremony, the professor recalled the results of a high school career assessment exam. Her best friend, a boy who scored lower than she did in math and science, was told he could be a university professor, engineer, or politician. Her top three were: school teacher, cosmetic sales lady, or cook. Ignoring the test results, Panetta chose engineering: "It would be cruel and unjust punishment for anyone to eat my cooking."


Mia HammConvey heartfelt gratitude to those who were there along the way by skipping the platitude about working with a "great team." Be specific and it will be memorable. At her Soccer Hall of Fame induction, Mia Hamm said her life has been a collaborative effort by family, fans, media, sponsors, and coaches. To the players, she said: "There are times when you're playing, when you're not at your best. There are times when you're at your best and you carry the team. But when you are not at your best, they carry you. And let me tell you, I have been carried much more than I ever carried."


WangariKenyan Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to win the Noble Peace Prize in 2004. Recognized as a champion for human dignity and tree planting, Maathai used her Noble lecture to make an appeal for a sister laureate. She called for the freedom of Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi who had been held under house arrest for 15 years. Maathai spoke to the privileged who have received education, skills, experiences, and even power: "...expand democratic space and build fair and just societies that allow the creativity and energy of their citizens to flourish."


Meryl Streep

The award for best accepter of awards goes to Meryl Streep. The gold standard is her win for "The Iron Lady." The greatest living actress relishes her success while making it clear the journey was not undertaken alone.




Main Image:  Fans of Hilary via flickr