... or "Speeches, and how to avoid them"
I've written before on how painful speeches can be, and I had a reinforcing experience last night. Oh boy, did I have an experience last night!
The host of our gig did a speech where he personally introduced and thanked more than fifty (yes, FIFTY) individual people and couples before letting his poor bored (and starving) audience loose on the buffet.
It went like this:
"... And next I'd like to extend a very special welcome to Herr Schmidt, who is the Vice President of the local Association and has always supported us in so many ways over the last fifteen years we have been working together. Herr Schmidt, and Frau Schmidt, she's here too, where are you? Please stand up!
(Herr and Frau Schmidt stand up - squashed between chair and table, and bow awkwardly)
Thank you Herr Schmidt! And now on the next table we have someone else who I want to give a very special welcome to..."
Now repeat that fifty times, with very little variation. It was an hour of agony, even for the people who were being thanked. Some people were seen gnawing off their own limbs in an attempt to escape. The majority retreated into a glazed stupor. And the fifty percent of the audience who were not named could sit there and think, "Great, I'm not even in the top half!"
The result? The food was cold, the audience were bored, the (very expensive) evening was ruined. And the poor professional entertainers booked for later had a horrible, horrible job trying to lift the mood. (We failed.)
So, here is my golden rule for speeches at events.
THE GOLDEN RULE FOR SPEECHES:
There is NO REASON for anyone, ever, EVER to give a speech. Not EVER. Tie them up if you have to. I'm serious.
a) the audience is there specifically because they want to hear that person speak (eg President Clinton)*
b) the speaker is a very good paid professional speechmaker / comedian (eg Bill Shatner)*
c) the speech is less than three (3!) sentences long.
Here is how that opening speech should have gone:
"I'm so happy to see you all here... (pause, huge smile)... just so happy! There are so many fascinating people here you should get to know, which is why we prepared this picture wall / this information booklet / these name badges so you can all link up. Have a fantastic evening, and.... let's eat!"
Can you imagine the relief, the joy, the frolicsome skip to the buffet after such a speech? The relaxation, the wonder, the easy and light conversation? The hour of extra time which people could use to really make contacts?
"But, but", you add. "what about thanking those important people who did so much?"
So, here comes the silver rule:
THE SILVER RULE FOR SPEECHES:
If you absolutely have to thank someone publicly:
a) never thank more than three people (one is better)
b) explain why they deserve thanks (be specific, tell a story, refer to your own emotion at the time)
c) ask yourself - wouldn't it be better to unveil a plaque, print their picture on the menu, name something after them or just have the band play their favourite song (maybe with lyrics written just for them)?
Think about it - you know it makes sense.
* In cases a) and b) of the Golden Rule, the speech must be AFTER the food.
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