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How to deliver a Hall of Fame speech

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Well, I have no idea how to do that! I mean, I’ve never delivered one. But recently, a legendary group of Hall of Fame Inductees did. Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Tony La Russa, Frank Thomas, and Joe Torre all went from legends to immortals as they were officially enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Few classes can boast this kind of quality from top to bottom. Thomas, Glavine and Maddux were among three of the most successful stars on the field in the 1990s, while Cox, La Russa and Torre all won World Series titles en route to incredible careers from the bench.

What always catches my attention at big events, whether it’s the Academy Awards, political events, or the Hall of Fame are the speeches. Nothing like a great speech and these days they’re captured forever.

You figure at a big event where the media is everywhere and there are flash bulbs and tweets popping from all directions, mistakes wouldn’t be made. But Joe Torre made a big one. Torre was a very good baseball player, great coach and manager, and a terrific speaker. But in his 28-minute speech (very lengthy), Torre forgot to thank George Steinbrenner who probably made it possible for him to be in the HOF in the first place. Hey, it happens to all of us.

There may come a time when you have to give a speech, whether at a wedding, funeral, or award ceremony or you might be introducing the next speaker.

Here are some ways to prepare yourself for your next big speech, presentation or talk.


1. Make a list

And check it twice! Craft a list of all the people that made it possible for you to give this speech. Who do you need to thank? Clients, associates, friends, family members, former bosses, current bosses, staff, etc. You may not remember everyone and you certainly may not be able to mention everyone. Although, Frank Thomas did list 100 people by name (and nickname). If it’s a laundry list of people, feel free to have the names written and read them from the stage. Nobody will care that you’re reading them, but those that were mentioned will appreciate being mentioned.

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2. Prepare your three most important points

If you only had three points to share in your speech, what would they be? Of course, a big consideration might be if the three points are about you or someone else’s impact on you. Heck, the points may not be about you at all! I spoke at an event last week where the first speaker was a former reporter for Sports Illustrated. His entire speech was about big time sports figures – Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, John Wooden, and the impact they had on everyone around them. What would be the three most important points you need to make to your audience?

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3. Start with your best stuff

Never start a presentation the way most people start a presentation. If appropriate, perhaps start with a brief thank you. Otherwise – launch into a great story. Open with a powerful quote. Set up a “have you ever…” moment. Deliver a great joke (it better be appropriate and funny). Ask an insightful question. If you’re really good, create an engaging discussion (again, if appropriate). This all depends on your comfort level, skill, the nature of the presentation, the purpose of the approach, and the relevance to the audience. Of course, this will all get considered in the planning phase.


4. End with your best stuff

How can you start and end with your best stuff? Find a way. You absolutely want to end with a bang! Again, an interesting story to make your points and wrap things up, a quote, reflection, or my favorite – a call to action. You want people to remember that you did a great job as a speaker. Other than the occasional story, joke, or the mention of a name, people tend to only remember one or two things from a speech. Leave your audience with something to remember or something to do as a result of your words. The reality is most people forget the actual words in a speech but never forget how the words made them feel – so create that for them.


5. Have an outline

This gets back to making a list of all the people that made it possible for you do to whatever it is you’re doing. While you’re at it, create an outline of all the topics you want to cover. In most cases, it’s only going to be:

  • your opening – your best stuff,
  • your three most important points – of course it can be more than three, but probably not much more than three,
  • and your big close – best stuff.

As you create your points, think about a story you might tell for each bullet in your outline and what each story may have meant to you or your audience. Always bring it back to the audience, if appropriate. Try to stick to your outline and not go off on tangents. Of course, tangents are sometimes fun and add more of an ad lib nature to your speech, but keep your outline nearby so it can serve as a GPS that gets you back on course.

You don’t need to be a professional speaker to deliver a great speech. You just need to be genuine, organized, occasionally self-effacing, humble, occasionally relatable, and meaningful.

Now how hard can that be?


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