Avoid the Top 5 Mistakes Made by Graduation Speakers

After attending 3 graduations over the past week, I've observed some common mistakes that valedictorians, saluditorians--and even the featured speakers--make at graduations.  Here is how to avoid them:

1.  Have a strong intro.  You have 30 seconds for the audience to determine if you are worth listening to. Don't start by naming all the types of people in the room. We know who attends graduations.  Also, don't start with your own credentials.  Your first two sentences count.  Make them great.

2.  Don't try to build 'street cred.'  Fake self-depracating comments, telling the audience you will 'keep this short,'  using language you don't normally use in an attempt to relate should be avoided at all cost.  Every phrase, word and gesture needs to relate to the point you are trying to make.

3. Don't tell a joke.  Stand up comedy is 40% practice and 60% natural talent.   If you don't do stand up for a living, this is a really bad time to start.

4.  Use your own material.  Dr. Seuss, the "dash" between the dates on the headstone, footsteps in the sand....has all been done before.  Be real.  Be personal. Share what actually matters to you, not something crafted to make you seem sharp or clever.  One of the best speakers I heard this week was a valedictorian who talked about love.  I also heard some things I've heard before...like 'I hope you dance' but it was told by people for whom it was personal so the delivery was genuine instead of cliche.

5. Have a single point and get to it. Graduations are long by nature and unless you are extremely clear and make your point, your audience will begin checking their text messages, mentally crafting their grocery list, counting the tiles in the ceiling, or (in John's and my case) exploring new apps for our iPhones. A long rambly speech poorly delivered will only be remembered as such. Better to be short and have something worth saying.

If you have to give a presentation, I highly recommend Even a Geek Can Speak by Joey Asher.  Asher shares a simple way of thinking about presentations that is easy to remember and more importantly is easy to put into practice.  Even if you just read the first chapter, it will dramatically improve your ability to present.  (I know this from personal experience.  It has changed not only the way I present but also the way I collaborate with my team in developing presentations.) 

This year's graduation season may be coming to a close, but there is always next year.   (Please, please, please share this post!)

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Maira Gall