Speaking Engagement Talk Synopses

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Dr. Tannen offers talks on a range of topics. Among those most frequently requested are listed below.

Please contact Deborah Tannen’s assistant, Kate Murray, at tannend@georgetown.edu or 202-687-5910 if you are interested in inviting Dr. Tannen as a speaker.


Drawing on the original research described in her New York Times Business best seller Talking from 9 to 5, and her article "The Power of Talk: Who Gets Heard and Why," which is featured in the Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Women and Leadership, Dr. Tannen explains how women and men tend to (and are expected to) use language in the workplace—and how the differences in those ways of talking can affect who gets heard, who gets ahead, and what gets done. Presenting video clips of real interaction to illustrate both children at play and adults talking at work, the lecture provides insight into how ways of speaking can vary by gender, then explores in depth how women and men tell others what to do. The lecture concludes with suggestions for avoiding and overcoming the negative consequences of differing speaking patterns, giving audience members tools to use to improve their work lives.

Can We Talk? Women and Men in Conversation

Talk between women and men can feel at times like cross-cultural communication. The reason, Deborah Tannen shows, is that, in many ways, it is. Drawing on the original research described in her #1, nearly four-year New York Times best seller You Just Don’t Understand, and the many books she has written since, Dr. Tannen shows why men and women can walk away from the same conversation with completely different ideas of what was said. Tracing gendered patterns to children’s use of language at play—illustrated by real-life video clips—she then gives examples of typical conversations to uncover the logic behind both women’s and men’s ways of speaking, explaining how the differences between them can lead to frustration on both sides. As entertaining as she is enlightening, Dr. Tannen concludes with suggestions for avoiding and overcoming miscommunication resulting from gender-related ways of speaking.

 Based on an organization’s needs and interests, the lecture can include or focus on any of the following: mothers and daughters, sisters and brothers, friends, romantic partners, and women's and men's uses of social media.


Wouldn’t this be a better world if we all just said what we mean? We do—but how we say what we mean tends to vary by a whole host of influences, including culture, ethnicity, gender, class, and geographic region. We think in terms of intentions, but often the outcomes of conversations are caused by differing conversational styles. You think someone is interrupting, but they may simply expect a shorter pause between turns, so they thought you were done. Or maybe they’re talking along to show enthusiasm. When does “Would you like to stop for a drink?” mean “I want to stop for a drink”? And when are playful insults a way of showing affection—and when are they just, well, insults? Deborah Tannen explores how ways of speaking can differ, and how such differences can affect relationships among friends, family, romantic partners, and colleagues at work. 

 Please note: Dr. Tannen has written a book about East European Jewish conversational style: how it works when it’s shared and how people get negative impressions when it’s not. She can include these insights in this talk, or, if desired, she can give a talk focusing exclusively on that topic.


Dr. Tannen explores how interacting over social media amplifies both the risks and the gifts of voice-to-voice conversations. For example, posting pictures of where you went and whom you were with can create a comforting sense of “absent presence,” as if others are with you even when they’re not, but can aggravate fears of being left out. Conventions of writing, like punctuation, capitalization, and repetition of letters, take on new meanings. (Does the ellipsis in “I love you…” mean “I love you without end” or “I don’t really love you”? Does a period mean “end of sentence” or “I’m angry”?) With social media, a whole new set of potential meanings can be sent, intentionally or not. In this entertaining and engaging presentation, Dr. Tannen calls attention to gender and age differences in social media practices, and discusses how we can increase the gifts while lessening the risks of communicating on the small screen.


Drawing on her most recent book, You’re the Only One I Can Tell, Dr. Tannen shows how ways of talking can bring friends closer or pull them apart. From casual chatting to intimate confiding, she uncovers patterns of communication and mis-communication that affect friendships at different stages of our lives. She also explores how men's and women’s friendships compare, and how differences between them can complicate conversations between women and men.