Image is In The “I” of the Beholder

Dr. Helen Brooke Taussig

What would you do if a commissioned portrait didn’t look like you, or at least, not the way you thought you looked? A wonderful article about Jamie Wyeth’s controversial portrait of Cardiac Pioneer Dr. Helen Brooke Taussig makes me think about the issue of one’s image and how women want and need to control one’s image. Today we call it “impression management.”

Dr. Helen Brooke Taussig, the subject of Wyeth’s 1961 portrait, was well respected for her work, having imagined a way to save the lives of “blue babies” by increasing the delivery of blood to their lungs. Her discover ushered in the era of cardiac surgery, something we take for granted today. A group of doctors who worked and studied under Dr. Taussig had commissioned the painting by Jamie Wyeth in the hope of hanging her portrait at the hospital next to those of other Hopkins luminaries — all of them men. It never happened. They hated the result and decided to instead present Dr. Taussig with it as a personal gift. Is the story about personal taste, vanity or the dilemmas that women professionals face, even fifty years later?

Wyeth painted the gifted pediatric cardiologist as the intense personality that she was, staring confidently at the viewer. Her sweater was draped over one shoulder with full lips and tousled hair. No glasses or white coat in this unconventional portrait, which led some colleagues to say that she looked more like a witch and less like a scientist. But Wyeth had wanted to depict his subject the way he saw her rather than how others, perhaps even the camera, might see her.

The history of Dr. Taussig’s painting is also the story of the changing image of professional women. Dr. Janice E. Clements, a professor who specializes in neurovirology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine said:

“In the 1960s, our view of women was very different. Those who saw a kindly, nurturing doctor wanted that side of her in a portrait….The portrait of a determined woman…is a more modern concept.”

To succeed in the male-dominated world of medicine at that time, the reality was that a woman had to be tough and competent, and yet, Wyeth found (and depicted) the authentic, human side of the doctor from spending quality time with her and getting to know who she was as a dimensional person. What he captured on the canvas was not a two-dimensional stereotypical image of a doctor in a white coat but rather, a flesh-and-blood woman. Alas, both the doctors who commissioned the portrait and Dr. Taussig were horrified by the result.

The story is worth telling to professional women whose image matters to them as well as to their colleagues. After all, one’s professional image should convey the values of the profession —whether medicine, law, engineering, architecture, or teaching— while conveying the subject’s confidence in her (or his) competence.

Even today, how to present oneself as outstanding, intellectual, hard-driving, and determined puts a woman into a double bind position. After all, women are supposed to mediate their presence so as not to take up too much space, be modest about their intellect, and be flexible rather than determined, in Taussig’s case, determined to solve a monumental problem: saving newborn babies’ lives. Women are not expected to be groundbreaking thought leaders who transform how things are done, as Dr. Taussig did. The same doctor who transformed heart surgery had to be immortalized as kindly and nurturing rather than as the tough-minded, determined genius that she was.

Women today know that image and presentation is important in today’s competitive world. And women tend to be self-critical when it comes to their appearance; it’s difficult to produce a photo that a woman over 40 will like. Dr. Taussig rejected Wyeth’s image of her and stowed his painting away in a closet until her death 23 years later. After she died, it was relegated to an anteroom at Johns Hopkins Medical Center where few could see it. Finally, a new portrait was commissioned and hanged in 1981, showing Dr. Taussig as modest, kindly, and nurturing in a white coat, smiling, looking like anyone’s grandmother.

Perhaps some day your professional success will lead you or your family, your company, Board, institution, or association to commission a professional portrait. A good portrait painter or professional photographer will want to get to know you as a whole person, watching you eat, sleep, walk around, and think. Are you willing to live with and appreciate what he or she produces, even it’s not the image you expected? Ask yourself: What image do I want to convey: kindly and nurturing, or tough-minded and determined, or perhaps both?



On The Air: 5 Tips for Authors About to Be Interviewed


Penguin and Random House first announced their plans to merge last October, demonstrating a trend in the industry. What that means for authors in today’s turbulent publishing world is that there isn’t the marketing department of days gone by. Today’s authors are expected to help market their books every which way, and in addition to using social media strategies, it’s essential that authors line up talk show interviews. That’s a challenge for authors because good authors are often introverts and not necessarily good public speakers or interviewees.

Still, one assumes that because someone is good with words and can tell a story in a logical way that he or she would interview well but speaking in a dynamic way is quite different from writing in a dynamic way. And in today’s busy world pulling people’s attentions in many directions at the same time, it’s not enough to have a hook to pull people into the interview. You have to sustain their attention for 15 minutes or more. And yet a good interview is of great value, easily recycled using social media, specifically posted on a website or used as an E-blast, or sent out to agents and publishers along with new manuscripts. Listening to interviews regularly and teaching communication skills to clients has led me to conclude that advance preparation will pay off big-time.

Tip #1: First, know what your book is about. Seems obvious, right? I had a surprising revelation during a workshop that I offered through the Santa Barbara Writers Conference a few years ago. I demonstrated the minefields and pitfalls of talking about one’s book during a mock-interview I conducted on the stage, pulling an author I’d never met from the audience. “Tell me about your book,” I said. “What’s it about?” She was stunned, with that deer in the headlights look you simply can’t fully appreciate on radio. I gave her a few seconds but then jumped back in with a helpful prompt, and she was off and running to the relief of both of us. We debriefed after the experience and it took 10 minutes to come up with a succinct but engaging answer. I share this as a reminder: be prepared for the obvious questions about your book that might hit you.

Tip #2: The first thing to do in preparing for an interview is to make a list of questions you might be asked or want to be asked and then write a brief answer out to each one. But know that the first question will inevitably be “What’s your book about?” or “Why did you write this book?”
Writing for the ear is different from writing for the eye and brain. Listeners don’t have a yellow highlighter handy and so they want to be guided from point to point. Transitions do help. For instance, you might enumerate the 5 steps you took in crafting your book, the five shocking results of your research or themes that emerged, the 3 historical periods you cover, the best interviews you conducted, or the major obstacles you faced.

Tip #3. Prepare a few phrases that are memorable because they’re easy to quote. Listeners love rhythm and rhyme and onomatopoeia, but we don’t normally talk that way. A botanist describing “the passion of the purple plum” or film critic describing why “movie moguls love Memphis” will more likely make a deposit into the listener’s memory bank. And quotes can inspire and add gravitas to your interview, so bring a few of your favorites along on an index card, like Emily Dickinson’s wonderful line, “Hope is the thing with feathers.”

Tip #4; Picture the mainstream audience listening to you while doing something else. Listeners have the recall of a flea these days because we are often multitasking while we listen to the interview. We move at the speed of light in a global village, and live in a virtual world. Academic writers explain themselves by references to research in the field or original source material or laboratory experiments with technical language that might be fascinating to their colleagues but not so much to mainstream audiences. What was shocking about your discovery? We’d love the inside scoop. Make your subject relevant to a wider audience rather than talking to a peer or specialist like yourself.

Tip #5. Find and flaunt your personality. Showgirls used to be reminded to “show a little leg,” and writers should want to seduce listeners and make them want more of you by buying your book. To that end, it’s always good to show that you have a personality, a sense of humor, warmth, and wit. Reveal yourself, not only the plot of your latest book. For instance, Stephen King –known for being a master of the horror genre–was interviewed by Terry Gross on “Fresh Air.” He ended up talking about whether or not he believed in God, but in the most humorous, accessible way, and then shared what makes him scared these days, now that he’s a senior citizen:

“The movie opens with a woman in late middle age, sitting at a table and writing a story, and the story goes something like, ‘Then the branches creaked in the …’ and she stops and she says to her husband, ‘What are those things? I can’t think of them. They’re in the backyard and they’re very tall and birds land on the branches.’ And he says, ‘Why, Iris, those are trees,’ and she says, ‘Yes, how silly of me,’ and she writes the word and the movie starts. And that’s Iris Murdoch and she’s suffering the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. That’s the boogeyman in the closet now. … I’m afraid of losing my mind.”

Be prepared for the questions that might come at you, and rehearse them with a friend to make sure your sentences are short and punchy and have a conversational flow. Have a few personal anecdotes up your sleeve. Shock and amuse the listener. Provide a good take-away. A good interview with an author like King not only makes you want to read the book but makes you feel a personal connection to the author, and in today’s virtual world, isn’t that a really good thing?

What Speakers Can Learn from Dr. Joyce Brothers

Joyce_BrothersAfter a 60 year career, Dr. Joyce Brothers, died Monday May 13. Joyce Brothers became a positive role model for all modern women, particularly those in communication roles, industries, and fields. Gallup indicated she was one of America’s most admired women. Those of us interested in learning how to remain cool, calm, and articulate when we speak in public should emulate Dr. Brothers.

LA Times coverage of her passing indicated the extent of Joyce Brothers’ “moxie.” The wife of a medical student and young mother, she decided to become an expert on the subject of boxing in order to compete on the $64,000 Question in 1955.

“They were going to knock me out with impossible questions, but they didn’t,” Brothers later recalled. “I’d memorized everything it is possible to know on the subject.” (1)

That’s where she defied the odds as the only woman who was a big winner  on the show (2) and won the equivalent of about a million dollars by today’s standards.

In 1958, Joyce Brothers went on to become a talk show host, columnist, and author during a six decade career. She doled out advice on personal problems ranging from love, marriage and raising a family. Brothers became the doyenne of Pop Psychology, soon diving into subjects  such as sexual behavior and marital infidelity that were considered taboo to speak about publicly. Let’s agree: before Dr. Phil, there was Joyce Brothers.

Brothers was low key. She appeared to have  no desire to shock or gain attention for its own sake. Make no mistake about her intellectual strength: with a doctorate in Psychology from Columbia University, her academic credentials were first rate. As a result, she could talk about a delicate subject with respect for its complexity, normalizing an issue without ever “dumbing  it down.”

While few of us will appear on a game show or become a talk show host as Brothers did, speaking to groups has similar requirements when it comes to preparation. Channel Joyce Brothers when you prepare yourself:

  • Be prepared to take risks and tackle controversial subjects. Then, immerse yourself in your subject matter so you know more than your listeners, just as Brothers did.
  • Don’t speak down to your audience. Normalize the feelings they are having about a particular subject.
  • Speak to your group in a conversational tone as a confidante would.
  • Be prepared for anything. What might some hostile person ask, and how would you respond?

If you’ve been sincere and candid, people will be, too. Don’t be shocked by any question that comes your way.

As a speechwriter and an executive coach, I’ve had clients who were technically brilliant and/or high on the sparkle factor and when facing their staff or Board in their leadership role, they were tempted to simplify the complexity of their subject matter in order to reassure people about some pressing issue. Who wouldn’t? But in the long run, what people remember is how you made them feel. Brothers overarching message seemed to be “You can lean on me.”

In her own quiet way, Joyce Brothers began a revolution of candor by demonstrating that it’s okay to discuss uncomfortable or controversial issues never before discussed in public. You might find yourself in a similar situation some day. If all goes well at the mic, you’ll soon be identified as “the resident expert.”

When you present controversial information and ideas to your audience  in a way that is helpful, great things can happen to you and your career. That’s what happened to Joyce Brothers when she presented herself with poise and confidence during the quiz show that made history.




Will Sheryl Sandberg “Lean In?”

sandbergLike it or not, life is a daily series of negotiations and each affects us. You and I negotiate all the time, with “significant others,” children, clients, noisy neighbors, and even competitors. We re-finance our homes and shop around. We are surprised by a mechanic’s bill that doubled his estimate. A vendor says he can’t meet a deadline. We constantly renegotiate roles and boundaries, and in doing so, exert our authority. I recently taught a NEGOTIATION SKILLS FOR WOMEN workshop at UCSB with 14 professional women attending where I learned that when women have a chance to negotiate a situation, they often cave in rather than “lean in” to assert themselves and their needs. It’s easier to advocate for someone else, they agreed.

In her new best-selling book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg lists negotiation skills as essential to a working woman’s success, not only in the workplace but also in one’s personal life.

Interestingly, without her husband’s involvement, Sandberg admitted on 60 Minutes that she was about to take the first offer Mark Zuckerberg made when he asked her to be Facebook’s COO. That gave me pause for reflection. It’s not that easy to give up that “attitude of gratitude,” even when the offer is great. Wisely, her husband insisted that her ability to negotiate on her own behalf was going to be seen as an indicator of how well she was going to negotiate for the company and that she darned well better get back to the drawing board and find ways to sweeten the deal.

Sandberg has become an icon. Recently, journalists have begun to compare her to the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The “Iron Lady” was a role model for her time. She didn’t quit politics, even after losing two important races. She had strong beliefs and positions and took risks by standing up for what she believed in, no matter what. She was tough negotiator, famously declaring “This lady’s not for turning.”

Let’s not forget that women of wealth, like Thatcher and Sandberg both, can hire nannies (plural) to help them travel, go to conferences, and work long hours. Most women can’t. The expectations for most working women today to juggle roles is totally unrealistic.  According to the APA, the stressors unique to working women include sexism, limited economic resources, role overload, and work inequities, nothing they can fix independently.

Sandberg is a modern woman whose book has a distinctly feminist perspective. She sees valuable life lessons emerging from women sharing workplace and personal experiences. Specifically, Sandberg provides a model for a structured discussion group called Lean In Circles, a place to share stories regarding women’s experiences in negotiations, being a team player, and ways to level the playing field. Perhaps participating in Lean In Circles can lessen working women’s stress by providing peer role models, opportunities to exchange information, and networks, all of which can be empowering at the individual level but  I believe that the Circles are not going to be enough to provoke the kinds and degrees of changes that need to occur for the playing field to be leveled.

Corporate Boards can produce progressive policy changes that will quickly level the playing field for thousands of women with one fell swoop. Getting Boards to do so isn’t going to be easy, particularly when the majority of Board Directors are men. For instance, while Sheryl Sandberg remains on Facebook’s nine member corporate Board (albeit as a a Management representative), only one other woman is.

I am hoping that Sheryl Sandberg will lean in and argue with Facebook directors as necessary about adding more women to the Facebook Board. Forbes and the WSJ informs us that this is always a good business decision.  Even though only 11% of corporate boards are comprised of women, adding women to corporate boards increases a company’s profitability.

800 million women are more active users of Facebook than men, making them a lucrative demographic for the social networking giant. Facebook’s $100-billion initial public stock offering would not have been nearly so big without women’s patronage. And the company can probably do even more to understand its women customers’ needs with more women in charge.

If Facebook could build up to a 50/50 split of women and men directors, other Boards might well follow suit.  In negotiating such a sea change, Sheryl would lead the way in changing the face of corporate America. As I learned from my students, it’s easier for a woman to advocate for someone else than for herself so let’s hope that Sheryl will do so, and take all of us with her as she continues on her stellar career trajectory. Lean in, Sheryl.

When In Doubt, Always Be Generous

By Lois Phillips, PhD
generousity_plant_growLet’s face it: even with good intentions, misunderstandings do occur, whether with a new client or customer or even with people who know you well. Misunderstandings can lead to the loss of an ally, a muse, or friend. Misunderstandings are aggravating, causing sleepless nights, stress, and anxiety about meeting up at work or socially. Sometimes I find I’m betwixt and between options for the way out of the tension and it’s difficult to know what to do.

My mentor – CEO of Menda Corporation– David “Bud” Menkin offered practical advice that served me well during those occasional but painful situations that arose which threatened a professional or personal relationship. I’d complain to him “…but this isn’t fair!” He patiently listened and then would explain, “Sure, but in the final analysis (or at the end of the day) all you and I have is good will. That’s why it’s all about preserving our relationships.”

When you have the power to affect personnel decisions (hire or fire, put someone on probation, change their work schedule) or change the budget (give a raise or merit increase, buy new software, reorganize the office), you are in the position to hear only complaints. When it comes to a change of any sort, people dig in their heels to resist change or instead, might push the envelope for an even bigger change. When situations force a change, personality styles can shift. In response to a change, the critics tell us that we missed a beat: it seems that people needed more of something, less of something, or simply need something to be different, and then, an awkward rift can grow into a rupture.

Even if you have imagined what you think is every possible scenario and catastrophe, there are unpredicted changes in the landscape of every situation that require one, two, or several negotiations. This is true in familiar or unfamiliar territory. Stuff happens.

Sometimes a good business decision – what you have to do to not lose money or to make a profit– can be perceived by another person as petty. The determining factor in reaching closure in a tough negotiation can sometimes be something additional that has value to the person, something they haven’t even asked for, that doesn’t cost me anything. That ‘something extra’ such as a giving someone time off after a crushing deadline, delivering a presentation on their behalf, or filling in for them at an event may mean the world to someone stressed out who needs a respite.

Every situation has many facets, some of which are invisible to the naked eye or the closed mind. After all, you and I can only get to the edge of our limited imagination in empathizing with another person’s point of view. During a negotiation to resolve a problem or dispute, people can walk away feeling frustrated and despairing or feel heard, appreciated and valued. If they feel valued, you will reap the benefits immediately and forevermore by their appreciation.

I’ve learned that generosity always comes back to me. What goes around comes around. For example, you might find yourself needing a favor later from this very person to include:
• Meeting a tough deadline
• Covering for you in a meeting when you couldn’t be in two places at once
• Giving me an enthusiastic referral to a prospective client or donor.

My mentor helped me understand valuable life lessons. I learned that I needed to clarify expectations and contingencies upfront to avoid surprises later. Now I advise clients to ask the colleague, staff member, or friend those “what if…” questions before the actual work begins.

When in doubt, trust that a tenacious staff member, cranky colleague or customer is doing the best that they can in asking for what they want. If the request seems outrageously self-serving or terribly inconvenient, probe and get to the heart of the matter. It’s worth the time to avoid the rush to judgment.
In a good negotiation, everyone leaves feeling empowered and strengthened, knowing that it is possible to discuss awkward matters and come out the other side in good shape, not only feeling the rush of relief but a surprising intimacy as well.
When in doubt about the right thing to do, always be generous.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said:  There is no beautifier of complexion, or form, or behavior, like the wish to scatter joy and not pain around us. We must be as courteous to a man as we are to a picture, which we are willing to give the advantage of a good light.

Lois Phillips, PhD – About the Author: Dr Phillips is an experienced public speaker, workshop facilitator, and communication and planning consultant to executives. She is the co-author of “Women seen and heard: Lessons learned from successful speakers” about the challenges women have gaining credibility as ‘the voice of authority.’ She coaches men and women in executive communication strategies, particularly the need to regularly speak from a place of vision about a shared future in a way that is inspiring and motivational.

You’re not so special, or are you? The commencement speech that went viral.

Graduations are ceremonial occasions that combine the moment when degrees are conferred with an inspirational and congratulatory commencement address. Years later, most people don’t remember who the speaker was or what he or she said. Wellesley High School English teacher and commencement speaker David McCullough Jr. recently delivered an address that will be the exception. He broke the rules when he quite pointedly told students that, while they are the pride and joy of the community, “You are not special.”

“Contrary to what your U9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you…you’re nothing special.”

The address was controversial – some might say even hostile to the audience – and, yet interest in his remarks is extraordinary; as of this writing, his recorded talk has had over 1.5 million hits on YouTube. Why has McCullough’s commencement address gathered so much attention? It’s a surprising message that the students and their parents would rather not have heard, particularly in the affluent community of Wellesley where students have so much going for them. Parents and grandparents expected to be lauded and not chastised.

Several authors who are experts in parenting would agree with McCullough’s point of view, including Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, who have written about the culture of narcissism that plagues today’s parenting.

“Feeling special is narcissism – not self-esteem, not self-confidence, and not something we should build in our children,” Twenge and Campbell wrote. “You can tell your child she is good at math, or that she will be good at math if she works hard, without telling her she is ‘special.’ Feeling special may give people a grandiosity-tinged sense of comfort, but in a real world of collaborating with others, waiting in lines, and getting cut off on the freeway, it just leads to frustration. And it is unlikely to lead to respect for others.”

McCullough (son of the famed historian of the same name) actually went on television to defend his message. The Christian Science Monitor saw his comments going well beyond high school students:

“You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. … We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.”

Clearly, McCullough took a risk when he had the podium and told the truth as he saw it, but we have examples of other commencement speakers who also have challenged students to move beyond conformity and compliance, and to make contributions to a better world. Steve Jobs told students at Stanford not to live out someone else’s dreams:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

 In his 2007 speech at Harvard, Bill Gates exhorted students to address the inequities in the world:

“If you believe that every life has equal value, it’s revolting to learn that some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not. … I hope you will come back here to Harvard 30 years from now and reflect on what you have done with your talent and your energy.”

In her 2008 commencement address at Harvard University, J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame prepared students for the inevitability of real world disappointments, suggesting they would learn and mature from moving through failures and despondency:

“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.”

McCullough suggests that paradoxically the best thing you can do for yourself is be selfless, which is bound to make one think. Beyond one’s ability to turn a phrase and have a provocative main point, giving a dynamic commencement address requires the speaker to engage in soul-searching  and a quest for the unique narrative that will resonate with your audience. Think about your point and ask yourself:

  • Would you challenge the assumptions parents and graduates are making about the value of education in today’s turbulent economy? How far would you go in shaking people up? Could you handle a negative reaction: disappointment or anger?
  • What personal anecdotes would you share that were turning points in your life? Who inspired you? What quotes might you include?

It’s not easy to bend someone’s mind, particularly if the graduates are melting under the hot sun in gowns and caps. Commencement is a high stakes feel-good event. People expect something uplifting from a commencement speaker and they want to connect in a personal way. Guess what people remembered when Terry Gross (Fresh Air’s executive producer and host) canceled a 2007 Vassar College commencement address at the last moment and sent the disappointed graduates a taped address in her stead. Whatever you do, it’s important to show up.

At the close of his talk, McCullough restates his message:

“…The great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”

It’s not too early to begin preparing your advice for a commencement address, should anyone think to ask you. I’m serious: it’s a great exercise. The preparation process will force you to think about the “lessons learned” from life that are worth sharing, and you can then quickly reformat the key ideas to deliver a toast at a bris or birthday party, a retirement celebration, or memorial. To prepare a great speech, learn from the experts. For inspiration, peruse this eclectic menu of thirty-eight extraordinary speeches. And if you actually do deliver a commencement address, the audience will quickly let you know how special you were by tweeting about your remarks, no doubt about it.

Professional Presentation Skills: Speaking to Stakeholders, From the “Briefing” to the “Pitch”

Session 1 – Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sponsored by
Brownstein Farber Hyatt Schreck
*6 MCLE’s now offered to Attorneys!

Learn to speak like a pro, from the briefing to the pitch! This workshop is a basic course, designed for those who want to learn or review the basics of being prepared, organized, and connecting with an audience. Using a combination of brief lectures, demonstrations, exercises, participants will practice a “Briefing” and “Pitch” using templates and worksheets. learn to manage anxiety, project confidence, and get ready for the Q and A.

Register Now and pay via PayPal

* NOTE: Attorneys must complete an MCLE form at the close of the day-long workshop.