NOTE: This post was originally published in November 2010, when my daughter Laurika was a senior in college. My how time flies!!
Education’s on my mind because I drove my daughter back to school yesterday. She’s come a long way since she dressed in my glasses and pretended to read Nora Roberts, and I’m proud of that she’ll graduate this year.
But even a great college education (like she’s getting at Yale, or like I got at UC Berkeley in the 1970’s) can steer you wrong when it comes to how to think about public speaking, or writing a speech:
Educated Mistake #1: Use Other People As Your Authorities
In school, you prove the value of your thoughts by citing other people who’ve thought (and written) similar things.
But in a speech, you prove the value of your thoughts by selling them; and footnotes won’t do that job. Instead, your words should be:
- Vital to you
- Relevant to your listeners, and
- Focused and clear
So here are some old school dictates you can ignore when writing a presentation (no matter how many times they were drummed into your tender young head):
Educated Mistake #2: Use “Objective” Language and Delay Your Main Point
No, don’t! Really.
Unless you’re giving a paper at the world’s stuffiest academic conference, leave out the passive constructs (“one might say that…”), the flat statements (“the next few years would prove to be quite interesting”) and the putting of your own thoughts in other people’s mouths (“as Plineas the Elder is said to have remarked…”)
Instead, start with your key message (most important point). And end with it. And repeat it in the middle. And say it exactly the way you would say it to a close friend in casual conversation.
Help your audience out by telling them what your speech is going to prove, up front — and by telling them in a sincere and personal way that makes them interested in what you have to say on the subject!
Educated Mistake #3: Support Your Conclusion with Tons of Evidence
Nope. Use as little evidence as you can get away with.
Sure, write an exhaustive first draft. The point of a first draft is to capture everything of possible value.
Cut something! It only hurts for a minute, and your audience will thank you.
And just remember that once you’re out of school, finding your own voice (on paper, and live) is more important than following the rules!