When my kids were younger they loved a book called Underwear Do’s and Don’ts by Todd Parr. Yes, it was silly, but it laid out some simple rules about when to and when not to wear certain kinds of underwear. In fact, I think this was one of the main reasons my kids liked it so much. That, and because what kid doesn’t enjoy reading about underwear?
This book got me thinking about how much more enjoyable it could be for speechgivers (and by extension, their audiences) if they followed the simple do’s and don’ts of making a speech. While there may not be a secret recipe for a winning speech, there are certainly some helpful guidelines to keep in mind when crafting one. Here’s my take:
1. Do Make It Flattering; Don’t Mistake Embarrassment For Humor.
When you’re asked to give a celebratory speech your job is simple: to cast the person about whom you are speaking in the most glowing light possible. Period. Many times, people think that sharing embarrassing stories about the guest of honor will add humor to the speech. This usually backfires in a big way. Instead, focus on what makes that person shine. If humor comes naturally, great. But your role is to make the guest of honor feel good about him/herself, not embarrassed or ashamed.
2. Do Tell A Story; Don’t Share A Laundry List of Adjectives.
The most memorable speeches tell an interesting story or a series of anecdotes that tie together throughout the speech. Many people make the mistake of listing off a laundry list of adjectives to describe how great the guest of honor is. Trust me, nobody wants to listen to how caring/ compassionate/intelligent/trustworthy (or any other adjective you pluck from the thesaurus) James is. They want to hear a funny or heartwarming story or two that make these character traits come alive.
3. Do Focus On The Guest Of Honor; Don’t Make It About Yourself.
When speaking on behalf of someone, don’t forget to actually make the bulk of the speech about that person. This seems obvious, but many times people spend too much time talking about themselves. This can be tricky because yes, you should cover the nature of your relationship with the guest of honor, but try not to linger there too long. An easy way to make sure that you’re not talking about yourself more than necessary is to count the number of “I’s” in the speech. If it’s equal to or more than the guest of honor’s name you have a problem.
4. Do Be Yourself; Don’t Go For Something You’re Not.
Whatever speech you give, it should reflect your personality. If you’re typically funny or witty, make sure that your speech is too. If you are a person of few words, make your speech short and to the point. Put simply, it should sound like you. Many speechgivers fall into the trap of trying to turn their speech into a comedy show. Chances are that you’re not a stand-up comedian, so ditch the one-liners and focus on what makes the guest of honor unique. When people stay true to who they are, the speech will come off much more genuinely.
5. Do Get To The Point; Don’t Overstay Your Welcome.
When you’re giving a speech, remember that the microphone is on loan to you for a finite amount of time. Make your speech no more than five minutes and then graciously sit down. That’s long enough to be humorous and heartfelt, and short enough to make a lasting impression without stealing the spotlight.
I hope these Do’s and Don’ts make it easier for you the next time it’s your turn to give a speech. And if you’re still struggling, DO pick up the phone to call me; DON’T wait until the day before to realize you need help.