You're Interesting. So Use It.
Sometimes it's smart to talk about yourself.
My three-day speechwriting course through Georgetown is back, May 12-14. If you're new to speechwriting, you'll acquire the basics in a way you can start using right away. If you've been at it for a while, you'll learn fresh ways to do what you do, I'll give you timesaving techniques, and you'll return to work with fresh enthusiasm for one of the greatest writing jobs in the world.
We're online this spring, so you don't even have to leave your desk. Click here for more.
Here's the opening of a speech by screen legend Charlton Heston:
I remember my son, when he was five, explaining to his kindergarten class what his father did for a living. "My daddy," he said, "pretends to be people." There've been quite a few: prophets, saints, general, kings, presidents, artists, and more. So as I pondered our visit tonight it struck me: perhaps I could use that gift to connect you with something even more important....
Learn speechwriting with me at Georgetown --
Online! May 12-14.
Click here for details.
The usual advice is that strong speakers and their speechwriters avoid talking about themselves, but that's not quite right. We're asked to speak because we have something that the audience wants to hear. What we should avoid is talking about ourselves for the pleasure of having attention.
Instead, make use of personal experience.
Heston referenced his spectacular career to draw attention to his topic. You don't have to have played Moses in the movies to make an interesting connection between what you've done and why you're there. Every speaker has something that suggests the matter at hand. It's a matter of thinking about it long enough to figure out what might be useful, and that's the writer's job. Here's Texas governor Ann Richards at the 1988 Democratic National Convention:
Tonight I feel a little like I did when I played basketball in the eighth grade. I thought I looked real cute in my uniform. And then I heard a boy yell from the bleachers, "Make that basket, bird legs!" And my greatest fear is that same guy is somewhere out there in the audience tonight and he's going to cut me down to size, because where I grew up there really wasn't much tolerance for self-importance, people who put on airs.
Here's one more:
When I was a child, I always wanted to be a superhero. I wanted to save the world and then make everyone happy. But I knew that I’d need superpowers to make my dreams come true. So I used to embark on these imaginary journeys to find intergalactic objects from planet Krypton, which was a lot of fun, but didn’t get much result. When I grew up and realized that science fiction was not a good source for superpowers, I decided instead to embark on a journey of real science, to find a more useful truth. I started my journey in California with a UC Berkeley 30-year longitudinal study that examined…
That’s Ron Gutman, an expert on healthcare, technology, and, of all things, “smiling,” which he addresses in this speech. He uses a quick, charming recollection to introduce his topic and the reason for his interest.
A personal connection usually beats a straightforward introduction. It engages emotionally, which is far more reliable than an intellectual connection. Speakers ought to talk about themselves when they can connect experience in a powerful way to the topic. It's stronger than explanation, audiences enjoy the personal touch, and many speakers, though they are loath to admit it, are pleased to stand in that spotlight.