It’s the same old story: I wish I knew then what I know now! Since there is no way to go back in time, though, I am thrilled to pass this information along to seniors who are giving graduation speeches. Armed with just 3 tried and true speaking principles, you are sure to go out and conquer that daunting graduation speech.
Back in 1989, I gave a senior speech to my school’s entire high school student body. My topic was Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I must admit that the entire experience was a blast! I “researched” my topic by traveling to New Orleans and visiting a friend attending college there. Armed with all the “information” I needed, I then wrote my speech. After some revisions, my speech was ready to be delivered. I practiced a few times, then the big day came, and I did make an “A.” However, now that I am actively involved in Toastmasters, a worldwide public speaking organization, I know that I could have done much better! At the time, I did not realize the importance of these 3 keys to successful public speaking. If students can apply these 3 principles, they will walk away from the podium smiling and proud.
Before I jump into the 3 keys to a successful speech, I want to give you a bonus tip, which is probably the most important one of all. Visualize success! See yourself in front of the room, poised and confident, delivering a mesmerizing speech. Then see your audience applauding wildly. If you can see it in your mind, it is far more likely to happen. Now, the 3 keys:
1. Know Your Stuff. This sounds obvious enough, right? Surprisingly, though, too many speakers do not follow this rule. Common sense tells us that it is easiest to speak on topics we know well. It is also possible to deliver a very successful speech on a topic you are not familiar with, as long as you put in the time to research your subject thoroughly. You must be knowledgeable enough on the topic to feel like an expert. If you feel like you are qualified to be in front of the room teaching your topic, you will exude confidence. If you feel, however, that you are “winging it” and you really do not have any expertise, your nerves and insecurities are likely to take over. Use this rule of thumb: If, standing in front of an audience, you could easily speak on the topic without any notes, and you could easily answer common questions about the topic, you are in great shape.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice. This, too, sounds obvious. Guess what, though? Most speakers do not practice nearly enough! I am guilty of this myself. And I was very guilty of it when I gave my senior speech. I think I went over my speech a few times, then decided that was enough. And I think I did so a day or two before the speech. Bad idea!! If you have your graduation speech written weeks ahead of time, be sure to begin practicing weeks ahead of time! The better prepared you are, the better your speech will be. This makes all the difference in the world. These days, I give speeches regularly at my Toastmasters club. When I come prepared, having written my speech in advance and practiced it plenty, I am happy with my delivery. When I “cram” and write it the night before, not leaving enough time to practice, I am usually lacking confidence in front of the room, and I feel regretful afterwards. So, practice! Lots! And practice out loud, in front of a mirror, and in front of your family or friends.
3. Connect with the Audience. Do you watch American Idol? If so, you hear Randy and J. Lo preaching this constantly. How does a senior who is giving a graduation speech connect with the audience? Through eye contact, personal stories and a confident, enthusiastic voice. You need to “lose” your notes as much as possible. If you are looking down at your notes, you are not connecting with your audience. This goes back to #2. If you have practiced enough, you will not need to rely on your notes. You can look around your audience, making eye contact with people in different parts of the room. Also, pack your speech with some stories and personal examples, if possible. Your subject matter will be far more engaging and interesting. Lastly, practice until you can deliver your speech with enthusiasm. The audience is likely to become uncomfortable if the speaker is uncomfortable. Jittery nerves have a compounding effect and can derail a speech. On the other hand, a confident voice combined with enthusiasm for the topic is a winning combo. How can you achieve those? You already know the answer: Practice!
I hope this article helps you to deliver a stellar, epic, A+ senior graduation speech!