Speeches for Audiences

by Jinryu

When I was in High School, I was in the band. It was a pretty prestigious thing (at least, I thought it was) because it was one of two activities that you could do that fulfilled two extracurricular activity credits in one go. (The other was being a prefect, which I also did– but prefecting didn’t actually require any skill).

As a result of being in a band, and eventually going on to play in a division of the concert band for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, I’ve been at several functions– things like commemorative dinners and graduations and that sort of thing– that have people at podiums giving speeches.

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Consider the differences between:
-Giving a lecture
-Facilitating a group
-Delivering a press conference
-Giving an address/speech
-Doing a product demonstration
-Giving a toast

What are the things that you think about when you consider these situations? Yes, the can overlap. But what do you think of when you think of a good speech?

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Public speaking is a great fear for many people, sure, but some people don’t mind it and are called upon to give speeches.

I was just at [CM]’s graduation ceremony, and Someone lmportant gave a speech about Something. I don’t remember what it was, and to be honest, I didn’t give a shit even 10 seconds after every sentence that person mentioned. People just get so caught up with the pomp and circumstance that they understand, by looking around at the person sitting next to them, that this is the point when we should all be quiet and listen.

You wouldn’t put up with a boring movie. You wouldn’t normally listen to someone who does nothing but talk about themselves. So what is this social phenomenon that results in the captive audience?

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Have a think about certain things about speeches that might help you the next time you have to give one. Mostly, have a think about the types of speeches you hate, and the kinds of reasons why you want to hear what someone has to say. Think of the context, and the purpose of why you were asked to speak.

For example:
A graduation speech is supposed to make you feel special, and to let everyone know how much you’ve acheived.

As someone from the profession looking on at a hall full of graduates, you are doing the wrong thing, if:
-all you talk about is what you accomplished when you were at school (nobody gives a shit)
-you speak about lessons that you learned, in a way that makes you sound like a wise guy (this new generation is about them, not you, and while there may be wisdom to be gained from you, it is with you as a case study in a larger system, and not with your individual epiphanies which you assume to be applicable to the larger lot)
-you tell people that it was all worth it (this is the same sugarcoating fallacy as “America is the Greatest Nation in the World) and that you all have bright futures.
-all you do is give a history lesson, because your age makes you the resident expert
-all you do is reminisce about what you did in their place (again, irrelevant)

You are doing the right thing if you spend more time telling them that it is imperative that they learn more about themselves, and get prepared for the institutional spoonfeeding to stop.

You are doing the right thing if you tell them, in no unspecific terms, the wild things they can do with their degrees.

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Yes, I am jaded. I am displeased at how the majority of speakers at inaugural events are so irrelevant, and that a culture of irrelevance has perpetuated to the point that some people in the captive audience actually feel really good about these tablescrap speeches and dull embers in their hearts warming.

Graudation– it’s freedom! This is release from institutionalism that means that you finally have the collection of silly papers that says you will be recognised for potential that you always had. Yes, so you picked up skills along the way– but when you get to the real working world, you’ll realise that you’ll learn it mostly on the job anyway. You’ll wonder why systems of apprenticeship ever got replaced by so much abstract theory (read: moneygrab!).

It is your chance to become real women and men because now, you are in a social position where you will make choices, and you will not only live be consequences, but you will create consequences that others will have to live with as well.

A graduation speech that does nothing but celebrate the past and look at the future with rosy glasses on?

No. Give me the graduation speech that says we are going to war with humanity– that you have been given some of the tools, and the credentials, now go and take back those dreams of a kinder world when you were 10 years old.

Give me the graduation speech that says that we are bad people and that we’re going to have to do more bad to get to the good.

Give me the graduation speech that takes a stance and says that, within 20 years, despite all this promise and pomp, a select few of you will be the elite, and the rest of you will be the rest of the poor majority. And that for all the bright futures, the select few of you will become oppressors.

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If you have an audience… how often do we just tell people what they want to hear? How often do we assume that our life is the norm, or that we know what “common sense” is, or that we in any way set a “reasonable standard”?

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