Remembering the Eloquent Woman

DGC2013denver.jpgNearly 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.

8 thoughts on “Remembering the Eloquent Woman

  1. I’m sorry for your loss. You may not see it, but I’d be willing to bet there’s a whole new cohort of women who see you as their Eloquent Woman inspiration. That seems like the most fitting tribute to a friend and mentor.

  2. I’m honored to have known Denise — through you Cate, thank you for the introduction. I only spoke with her briefly yet she was warm, encouraging, and helpful. Her enthusiasm is still fresh in my ears!

    Sending you hugs and my warmest wishes.

  3. I was going to say as well, I’m sorry for your loss, but given that I just put a book on hold at the library for me based on a recommendation from her blog the other day…I think we’ve all lost. Denise was such a great educator, drawing lessons out from a really broad set of sources. She also seemed like a kind person, critiquing people and institutions when necessary, of course, but underpinned by a firm belief that we can do better. I’m sure there are more eloquent ways to express this but I’ll just go for sincere: cancer sucks.

  4. I’m so sorry, Cate. Denise sounds like she was an extraordinary woman, mentor and friend. You honor her memory in everything you are. I’m sure if you look inward you will find her still with you, her belief in your capacity for eloquence unwavering, and a well of endless strength to draw on as you continue to grow into everything she knew you would be. <3

  5. Thank you for this lovely tribute. As soon as I read the title my heart dropped. I was introduced to her blog by you and have bern sharing it with others ever since. Her words and wisdom will be sorely missed!

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