A lesson on public speaking

I’m not sure how many of you know who spoke before Lincoln at Gettysburg (Edward Everett) nor that he spoke for two hours (yawn). Lincoln then got up and, in 272 words, delivered one of the most moving pieces of oratory in the English language.

Believe it or not, I had time to think about that today at the arts awards ceremony today at my daughter’s school. Most of the department heads – art, band, choir, etc. – got up and explained for what the awards were being given as well as, in 15 seconds, a bit about each recipient and why they were being given the award. A lot to get through, a lot of kids, but it was sailing along smoothly.

Until one department head, whom I won’t embarrass here, got up. Then, the assembled multitudes were treated to 3 minutes explaining her program which, frankly, is exactly what you’d expect it to be from its name. After the introduction, which, thankfully, she had written out, she called each of the 10 kids up who were award recipients and spoke for at least 90 seconds, without notes, about each one, including the kids who weren’t there to get their awards. She rambled. She “ummmed”. It was, in a word, paniful. Oh yeah – she then concluded with 3 more minutes about the program (again, written out). Her 8 awards took as much time as the entire music department, which presented awards in 5 areas to 25 kids.

I’ve given a lot of speeches in my time and this was a textbook example of what NOT to do:

  • Don’t talk to an audience at length about a subject in which they have no interest. An audience coming to hear about digital media doesn’t want to know about my golf round last week; no one wants to hear about a kid other than their own at great length.
  • Don’t speak extemporaneously unless you’re Robin Williams. Use notes – scripts may not be better since they can cause you to lose audience contact. But don’t ramble. Organize your thinking!
  • Pay attention to the audience – she seemed oblivious that there was a constant stream to the doors after her first 6 minutes – and I feel badly for the two areas that had to follow her because those kids should be recognized in front of everyone, not just those who hung around.
  • Know when to stop talking! Just like I know to stop writing (which is now).

1 Comment

Filed under Helpful Hints

One response to “A lesson on public speaking

  1. Keith:

    Not sure if you remember me…we worked together a little on the two books for CBS Sports (Final Four and Super Bowl). Somehow came across this blog searching for refresher speaking tips. Great advice. Thanks! Hope all is well.


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