My Father Told Me Never to Miss an Opportunity to Give a Speech

A few days ago I was sitting in a beautiful dining room at a lodge / resort in Vermont and at the conclusion of our dinner people started doing toasts. There was a silence after a couple toasts, and then my friend Dan Saper stood up and said, "Well, my father told me never to miss an opportunity to give a speech, so…" It was a great opener which got some laughs.

At another table I was sitting next to Dan’s dad, Jeff Saper, Vice-Chairman of Wilson Sonsini, the premier law firm for Silicon Valley technology companies. After Dan said his bit, Jeff — who’s a great guy and super successful — said with a laugh that some time ago he told Dan to use that opening line at another function and Dan’s been using it ever since.

It reminded me that a few good opening/closing lines go a long way in public speaking or interpersonal relationships in general.

Yesterday my friend Geoff Shaw had to deliver a brief speech. He received a very flattering introduction. Every time you are introduced to give a speech it will be flattering! The simple way to respond to it is: "Thanks Jane for those kind words." Geoff had a better response: "Geeze, I wish my parents had heard that. My father would have loved it and my mother would have believed it!" This is a great way to both accept the praise and be self-deprecating.

What interpersonal, universal techniques do you employ?

7 comments on “My Father Told Me Never to Miss an Opportunity to Give a Speech
  • I’ve found I use “I’ll be brief” as a preface quite a bit in meetings – especially meetings with multiple attendees…I think it conveys a sense that I recognize people’s time is important, and that I’ve takien the time to organize myself to the point where I’m not spouting meaningless drivel (it drives me crazy when people do that!)

    Also, even if I know I have quite a bit to say, I think that intro peaks people’s interest – “if he’s going to be brief, I guess I’ll listen to what he has to say, rather than tuning out right off the bat.”

    I actually used this the other night at the marathon sports night – this time I actually was brief…although my colleagues obviously didn’t follow suit!

  • Excellent point, I agree “I’ll be brief” is an effective line to use in an opener. Even the phrase “I respect your time” is also effective. People love to think of themselves as busy and love when people recognize that.

    The best way to avoid spouting drivel is to write down what you want to say. You did that, and were better than most. All it takes is 5 minutes of prep beforehand!

  • In most cases I’ve found that body language is also very important.

    If someone is stiff and “stand-offish” from the begining, people usually react with disinterest or hesitation.

    Getting close to your audience and smiling also help a lot, too.

  • Not only that, Ben, but I know I would rather be the speaker who made a fool of himself than someone who sat silently with an unexpressed viewpoint.

  • I’m an Aussie living in Colorado. So when I speak to audiences in other parts of the US I start with this. “You can probably tell from the way I talk that I’m not from around here.” Heads nod. Pregnant pause. “I’m from Colorado.” Always works.

  • If your best friend is a new mom, rather than trying to shop for baby clothes that may not even fit, give her a gift card with a Visa or Mastercard logo so she can get whatever she wants or needs.

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