In 2011, in response to the question, “Where can I find examples of great women’s speeches?” Denise Graveline created “Famous Speech Friday” on her blog, The Eloquent Woman.
Week after week, she enthusiastically added another speech to the Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women, along with her take on the speech and why it worked.
An accomplished speaking coach, communication professional and fierce advocate of women speakers, Graveline passed away this week in Washington, D.C.
In her final post last Friday, she praised Ashton Applewhite’s TED Talk, “Let’s stop ageism” – analyzing Applewhite’s tone, style, pacing, argumentation, and even approvingly noting the color of her blouse.
Over the years, Graveline helped thousands of speakers in every profession get their points across more powerfully and persuasively. In addition to The Eloquent Woman, she published the weekly don’t get caught blog. Each entry was a compendium of do’s and don’ts on communication and social media.
Graveline coached at the annual TEDMED conference and at TEDx conferences around the world. She led workshops, published ebooks, and shared her expertise with corporations, federal government agencies, universities, and nonprofits.
But it was her role as an advocate for women speakers that set her apart.
In late 2010, she queried readers of her blog about what they’d like to see more or less of on in the coming year. One requested a speech each week by a woman.
“That’s a big challenge – 52 famous speeches by women,” Denise wrote. “But I’m going to give it a try, with a twist. I’ll be looking for speeches by women that include words about women, so you’ll get not just good examples but words to inspire you.”
Then adding words that showed just how prescient she was: “I think women’s speeches about women’s issues are among the most powerful, and we need more of them, given the short history of women and public speaking.”
Her first entry in January 2011 was “Ten Commandments of Vietnam” – a speech delivered by Coretta Scott King just three weeks after her husband was assassinated. By February 2018 Graveline had share and analyzed 275 speeches by women.
Never mistaken for a wallflower, Graveline was outspoken, even blunt, in expressing her beliefs. “She was indignant that half of the world’s population wasn’t given a fair shot, or fair pay, or a fair voice,” says her friend and fellow TEDMED coach Peter Botting.
“She always said that because of her experiences she had a cast iron stomach,” Botting says. “But underneath she was a big softie.”
In a February 2 post in honor of Black History Month, Graveline celebrated the milestone of having published 50 speeches by African-American women. She listed the speeches in chronological order – from Sojourner Truth’s 1851 “Ain’t I a Woman?” to Kamala Harris’s pushback last summer on attempts to silence her in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
With each entry, Graveline shared links to video, photos, transcripts or texts, along with lessons readers could take away to improve their public speaking.
She also led The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, a community for discussing public speaking.
Last August, Denise found herself in and out of the hospital, battling lymphoma and then Guillain-Barré syndrome, which paralyzed her hands and feet and robbed her of her voice. For the first time in years, her blogs fell silent.
By December she rebounded, with the help of dictation software. She shared upbeat, ambitious goals for 2018 on her blogs and was planning a trip to the UK.
Graveline made a routine visit to the hospital in early February and caught a fatal infection. She passed away February 9.
A month earlier, taking a long look at the current political moment and its impact on women, she challenged her readers:
“The fulcrum of history, the pivot point, is here,” she said. “So the question in 2018 for women who speak in public is: How will you use this moment?”
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