George Costanza, Genius
In which Jerry's best friend shows us why you have to close strong.
Speech is performance.
Here’s a moment from Seinfeld, “The Burning” (Season 9, Episode 16):
George: I had ‘em, Jerry. They loved me.
Jerry: And then?
George: I lost ‘em. I can usually come up with one good comment during a meeting but by the end it’s buried under a pile of gaffes and bad puns.
Jerry: Showmanship, George. When you hit that high note, you say goodnight and walk off.
George: I can't just leave.
Jerry: That's the way they do it in Vegas.
*** May 12-14 ***
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It’s not reading an essay out loud, not a recitation of facts, not a teacher’s lesson for a fidgety, captive class. It’s a show: people are expected to sit quietly and pay attention, and the speaker, in turn, is expected to hold their attention.
That requires a performance.
There’s a reason universities have a department of speech and theater. They go together like peanut butter goes with jelly; like Walter White goes with Jesse Pinkman.
Which is why, when you write a speech, you have to think about how the words you put on the page can help create a strong performance. It’s not enough to know that this part will make them angry and this part will make them sad and this will provide some relief and so forth.
It takes notes to make a song, but it’s their order that makes them a melody.
There’s a lot to say about how to structure the emotional flow of a speech for maximum effect, but the most useful thing to know is also the simplest: Do like Georgie Boy and go out on a high note:
Mr. Kruger, CEO of Kruger Industrial Smoothing: The team working on the statue in Lafayette Square kind of oversmoothed it. They ground the head down to about the size of a softball. And that spells trouble.
George: Alright, well, why don’t we smooth the head down to nothing, change the nameplate to Ichabod Crane?
Laughter ensues. George notices this great reception, stands and goes for the door.
George: Alright! That’s it for me!
Speeches persuade. That’s the point. We are most easily persuaded when we are happy. We tend to want to please people who please us. We listen to friends with a more open mind than we give to strangers and opponents. And the last thing we hear from a speaker is often the emotion that gets remembered from the experience. The rest of the speech may be all over the map, but nail the landing and the listeners will give what you said more consideration than they would otherwise.
When writing a speech, hold yourself to a simple rule: The last line is strong, maybe even the strongest. Period. Don’t allow your speaker to do a bunch of it’s-really-great-to-be-here junk after he delivers the big takeaway. Don’t tell him it's fine to make a bunch of announcements or do event “housekeeping.” Just as Strunk & White remind writers to make the last word of the sentence the most important word, make the last line of the speech the best line of all, and the thing that gives them the feeling you want them to remember.
Some say, Go big or go home. I say, Go big, then go home!
P.S. I take on a few private coaching clients when time permits. I've just had two clients finish their sessions, so I have room for more. If you're interested in improving your writing, working on a book, getting yourself published, or improving your presentation skills, let's talk. I can create a customized course of instruction with me, one on one, to help you gain the skills you need. Email me here: email@example.com.