A couple of weeks ago I was invited by Westwood College to speak at this year’s commencement ceremony for their graduating class. I have to say, this will not only be my first commencement speech I give but also the first commencement address I’ve ever attended. It will certainly be interesting.
So why ask me to give a commencement speech? It is not like I’m particularly noted for my speaking skills, or my dazzlingly public life. What I am is someone who didn’t do at all well academically but figured out my way in life enough to get to a point where I’m running my own reasonably successful business.
The hardest part for me so far has been deciding on a focused topic. In my research over the past couple of weeks since I was asked by Westwood College, I’ve read a lot of commencement speeches. Some fun, some poignant, many self-indulgent, but very few of the speeches have any kind of overall theme or structure.
The best way I have decided to approach this problem is treat it like any other talk I’ve ever given and take away all of those lessons I’ve learned with my time being a Toastmasters member.
- Pick a topic of focus. I’m reasonably well known for my work on video games so that is going to be my focus.
- Keep myself to two or three major points. I’m going to talk about failure, educational adversity and finally, success through repeatedly trying again and again.
- Find my style. Do I want to be humorous or profound or controversial?
- Write my outline with topic of focus and main points at the top of the page.
- Flesh out the speech with anecdotes or quotes from my life that will make the speech uniquely mine. Make the writing as tight or loose as I deem necessary depending on how comfortable I am with the topic.
- Make sure I have a conclusion and definite closing remark to indicate to the audience that I am done.
- Timing is everything. I need to get the delivery just right, practicing the timing until I feel comfortable with the pacing of the talk. This is especially important if the speech has humour to it.
- Time my speech, make sure that I’m not running over time or worse, running out of things to say and have only “dear air.”
- Keep practicing the speech until I have the timing and phrasing just how it should be.
- Determine what “props” I will need to carry out my speech. This can be a printout of the speech, note cards with the main points I wish to make, or actual props if I am attempting to illustrate a point.
- Prepare for the speech by ensuring I have everything I need long before I set out from the house. This includes not just writing the speech out and practicing it but all of those secondary items like directions to location, contact numbers of people in case things go awry, etc.
Because of my neurological makeup before I even thought about the subject I would speak on, I wrote out my checklist of things to ensure everything went smoothly on the day. The big things in life generally don’t stress me out, but the small things like being late, or something out of place, cause me no end of mental anguish.
- Do I have my speech and speech notes with me?
- Do I have directions to the college?
- Do I have the correct start time?
- Do I have my Dictaphone and lapel microphone with me to record my speech?
- Do I have my wallet & drivers license with me?
- Do I have the cell phone number of the two people I should call in case there is a problem en route?
- Is my cell phone in vibrate mode?
Which is really point #11 in the list above, be prepared. It lets me relax knowing that I have everything under control and there won’t be any surprises I could have prevented. There will of course still be surprises, but like backing up my computer and financial planning, I hope for the best and plan for the worst.