Many of you likely have heard a commencement speech recently as high schools and colleges are releasing the class of 2018 to the world. Was the commencement speech you heard good? Was it memorable?
If you’d liked the commencement speech you heard and remember any of it, it’s probably because of the speaker’s ability to tell a great story and their ability to add healthy doses of appropriate humor. A good speaker knows how to tell a story and a joke that resonates with you personally and emotionally.
The following are three commencement speeches I recommend to my coaching clients and classes because they are examples of good storytelling and good humor. In each example, note how the speaker finds a common emotional bond with their audience.
> Rick Rigsby: The Wisdom of a Third Grade Dropout
> Steve Jobs: Don’t Waste Your Life Living Someone Else’s Dream
> Admiral Willian H. McRaven (Navy Seal): If You Want to Change the World …
The success they each achieved in life is interesting to our minds, but the struggles they go through to get there are what touches our hearts.
What’s your favorite commencement speech and what did you like about it? Feel free to drop a link to your favorite speech in the comments section below.
Note: The photo accompanying this article is from my daughter Kaitlyn’s high school graduation a few weeks ago. Yep, that’s Kaitlyn at the podium. But she isn’t about to deliver a commencement address. No, she’s about to do something even more terrifying. What could be more terrifying than public speaking? She’s about to sing the National Anthem in front of 4,000 people in a stadium that has been the site of national championships and a Super Bowl. No pressure! Well, she sang great and I couldn’t be more proud of her.
Eliminating weak language in your business presentations and speeches will help you to be a more effective leader and a better public speaker. Unnecessary equivocating phrases such as “kind of,” “sort of” or “just wanted” will chip away at your credibility and sabotage your own effectiveness. Instead, use powerful, straightforward language and seek to be inclusive with your audience.
To be more inclusive, think “influence and include’ rather than “command and control” or “more we and less me.”
Compare these phrases:
- “This is sort of my plan to get the ball rolling.” vs. “This is our plan to get the ball rolling.”
- “I just wanted to say thank you for all of your hard work and dedication.” vs. “Thank you for your hard work and dedication.”
- “In my opinion, we should take a different course of action.” vs. “Let’s take a different course of action.”
If you want to be perceived as a leader, speak with confidence, conviction, and inclusiveness in areas where you are certain, committed and need the support of your audience. When you speak like a leader, you’ll have a more powerful presentation and inspire more listeners to take action.
When your audience is laughing at your quip or clapping their approval of your key point, let them conclude before continuing with your presentation. By rejoining your presentation too soon, they won’t be able to hear your first few words and you miss an opportunity to fully engage your audience.
By cutting the audience off too soon, it may even appear that you don’t appreciate their goodwill. Just say “thank you,” if appropriate, smile and continue.
Conclude with Style and Grace
The same goes for your conclusion. When your audience is applauding, stand graciously and accept the applause until they have concluded. You might even want to give a sight bow if it seems appropriate. Hang out for a few minutes to talk to people who approach you after your presentation and graciously accept their compliments. There’s plenty of time later to gather up your notes, disconnect your laptop, etc.
Take your time and enjoy the positive feedback. Public speaking is supposed to be fun and engaging.
You deserve it and so does your audience.
My public speaking students at the Art Institute of Phoenix had fun this week learning how to speak using a teleprompter. They read from my famous “4Ps assessment script” that my personal coaching clients use.
I really enjoy working with the students and helping them to become confident and skilled presenters. And teaching helps keep me to stay sharp as well. Some days, I learn as much from my students as they do from me.
If you’re a low-energy public speaker, here are a few tips to add a little “umph” to your speeches or business presentations. I believe there are three aspects of public speaking that are inextricably linked together.
If you manipulate any one of these three, it will affect the other two:
- How energetic you feel
- How wide you gesture
- How loud you speak
When you are feeling energetic inside, you naturally gesture wider and talk louder. Likewise, when you gesture wider, you naturally talk louder and begin to feel more energetic. And when you talk louder, you naturally gesture wider and feel more energetic.
Try this test. First, stand up. You’ll always have more energy standing and should always choose this option to speak if it doesn’t look awkward to do so.
From your standing position start speaking about any random subject very softly and try gesturing very wide, with your arms outstretched like a great bird. It’s hard to do, isn’t it? It requires focus and concentration to speak softly and to gesture widely. It’s not natural. Your voice instinctively will start to get louder as your gestures get wider. Next, try speaking loudly but gesturing small and close to your chest. That’s equally hard to do, right? Again, it’s not the way we are wired and it feels awkward.
So, if you need a little energy punch in your speech or business presentation, try standing up, putting some air under your wings and talking a little louder than you typically do. You’ll feel your energy — and your ability to engage your audience — rise to the occasion.
By Sean Buvala
All public speakers eventually get asked to write “a bio for the program.”
With more than 100,000 searches per month for the phrase “how to write an about me,” there is no doubt that people are struggling with how to best describe themselves event bios, “about the author” segments or for any project. You are not alone if you are feeling challenged as to how to write a bio.
I think there are two strong issues with this process:
- First, unless we’re overcome with narcissism, we tend to not want to brag about ourselves, afraid to appear to be fixated on our own greatness.
- Conversely, we might think we are just too boring, wondering if we have anything at all of interest to our audience.
The solution to these two challenges is to focus on the audience who will experience your bio when you are planning to write your bio blurb. Write a new bio for each audience.
Here are a few of my suggestions:
- Think about the focus of your audience rather than your own ego. What do they really need to know about you? In other words, go beyond sharing just what makes you feel good about yourself. What does your audience truly need? What facts, history, events, and talents can you offer that will help your audience connect with you? You want your readers to understand what you can do to help them achieve their goals and needs rather than just inspiring them to applaud for your wonderfulness.
- Take the time to reflect on your past and present history. While you may be up against a deadline, an authentic biography is only created when you spend the time to do it right.
- Consult with your friends, family, and coworkers, asking them to help you remember parts of your history you may have glossed over. Asking questions such as, “What words would you use to describe me?” can create opportunities for them to comment on your qualities and background. You might be surprised by the good memories that will surface from this type of question.
- Consider the About Me you are creating as a way for you to share your personal story. Readers will be much more interested in your online bio if you draw them in with the elements of stories or anecdotes. No one wants to read your grocery-list of life experiences, but a good story-infused bio invites them to learn more. You can apply oral storytelling techniques to your written biography.
There’s no need to be lost or hesitant to write your own biography. The process can be fun and, while not trying to create some type of therapy, you might discover new things about yourself and your story. Enjoy the process as well as the results as you focus on the audience and their needs.
ABOUT OUT GUEST BLOGGER
Sean Buvala has been engaged in the oral storytelling tradition since 1986 as a performer, speaker, and author. He started his work by accidentally using active storytelling to convert a classroom of slightly (but comically) homicidal 8th-grade teenagers from angry kids to storytelling practitioners themselves. He’s also the publisher at “The Small-Tooth-Dog Publishing Group” in Arizona and he’d be happy to talk to you about your next book. Learn more at smalltoothdog.com/authoreducation.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s once gave this advice on public speaking: “Be sincere. Be brief. Be seated.” FDR’s advice is spot on, especially for today’s audiences who seem to value authenticity and brevity above all else.
To master sincerity, focus on being personal, being yourself, but not being perfect. FDR mastered this technique in his famous “fireside chat” radio addresses to the nation.
But what’s the secret to being brief? How do you make your points as powerfully as possible in the shortest amount of time? Answer: Structure.
Having a thought-out and orderly structure to your speech keeps you focused and relevant and keeps you from rambling. Roosevelt mastered this technique as well.
In our coaching practice and workshops, we teach simple but powerful speech structures that you can easily adapt and use in business presentations, speeches and anywhere you find yourself speaking in public. Want to learn more? Let’s talk. Schedule a Speaking Sucess Strategy Session with us today. We promise to be sincere and to be brief!
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I had a great time today making some lightboard videos for my public speaking coaching clients and students. These will be a great supplement to our in-person sessions.
You can find out more about our public speaking coaching packages and what we offer right here.
Phoenix Public Speaking Principal Consultant Paul Barton will discuss exactly what it takes to be an effective public speaker and business presenter in the “Blueprint for Public Speaking Success” talk in Phoenix on Friday, March 2.
- Simple but powerful ways to define the qualities needed to be a good speaker.
- How to use the blueprint to assess your skills — what areas are you good at, what areas do you need to improve.
- New ways of thinking about what it means to be an effective communicator in the Digital Age.
This one-hour informal talk is free to attend but you must register. Seating is limited to the first five people who sign-up. The talk will be held in a private conference room located within a Starbucks. It’s a cozy atmosphere that is conducive for insightful conversation. Participants are asked to bring pen and paper, and be prepared for an interactive discussion. Hope to see you there!
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