Nearly ten years ago, I found a blog called The Eloquent Woman written by Denise Graveline. I read it diligently, and reading it I learned so many things. I learned about speaking in general, about structuring talks, clarity in scientific communication. I learned about the way women have historically been excluded from speaking, the way our voices are policed, the way that we are so often deemed “not qualified”.
I learned that speaking up, seeking to be heard, is an act of feminism and an act of resistance. I was inspired by the series of “Famous Speech Fridays” just how impactful that could be.
I progressed through the phases of social media – lurking, commenting through to writing guest posts. Denise and I progressed through the stages of a social media friendship – connected via a blog, then by Twitter, then by Facebook, IRL. She went from being the writer of a blog I loved, to being my speaker coach and my friend.
As a speaker, I worked through the stages of speaking: academic talks, small events, big international ones. Lightening talks to keynotes. Denise helped me every step of the way. Through her writing, and the things I learned from her blog. She coached me through my terror of public speaking after being harassed (and shared my posts about the experience) Her book on Moderating Panels got me through my first panel moderation. She was an early supporter of Technically Speaking – one of our first webinar guests, and one of our first sponsors. Her influence can be seen throughout the talk I gave last year called The Not So Secret Feminist Agenda – and not because she coached me on preparing it (although she did), but because I tried to distill many of the things I’ve learned about the silencing of women into it, and much of that I learned from Denise.
Denise died on February 9th. Days have passed since I heard, but I’m still reeling. I am so grateful for everything I learned from her. Whilst I know I thanked her for the individual pieces, the full scope of her influence hit me like a ton of bricks once I learned that she was gone.
Denise always maintained the title of her blog wasn’t about her, but capturing something that women speakers aim for – eloquence. For me though, she’ll always be the eloquent woman – watching her give a talk driven by Q&A was truly incredible – and the smart, kind, on point person who inspired and helped so many women to eloquence – and recognised those who achieved it.
Aside from my personal sadness about the loss of a friend, I’m currently experiencing a kind of existential dread of public speaking from the loss of the person who supported me through the best and worst of it. Denise always made me feel like she believed in my capacity for eloquence, and now what remains is for me to try and believe that too. Because more than the writing she left behind, that’s Denise’s legacy – the number of women who as a result of her work believe that we can be eloquent, too.