Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How not to give a self-erasing speech

Last weekend on A Prairie Home Companion rerun Garrison Keillor’s comic monologue of the News From Lake Wobegon included a hilarious description of the commencement speech given at their high school:

“He spoke for about 20 minutes about the importance of communication, as he was demonstrating how not to do it. It was one of those self-erasing speeches, you know.

You come to the end of it and you clap and  you can’t remember what this was about. About communication, or communism, or the state of Connecticut, or what it was.”

You can download a free podcast here. That speech is discussed at the 9-minute mark.

How can you avoid giving a forgettable speech? Pay attention to structure, particularly the ending. In an article on page 26 of Poster, the National Cancer Institute Frederick newsletter, for March 2012 Ken Michaels referred to Keillor’s monologue and discussed how to Finish a Presentation without Erasing Yourself. When you are going from a scientific magazine article to writing a speech, it is tempting to keep the same structure and wind up with acknowledgements at the end. That’s a weak way to finish, but you need a strong one. 

I’ve blogged about Don’t End by Driving Your Audience Off a Cliff. Fred E. Miller also has discussed Closing Your Speech, and  Peter Jeff described 10 Ways to End Your Speech with a Bang.

The eraser image came from Wikimedia Commons, and the image of a man at the microphone came from Openclipart.

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