The one-minute speech


Published on: October 2019

Written by: Suzanne Bates

Not long ago I gave a one-minute speech – an experience that I thought I should share.

The occasion was the Boston Chamber of Commerce Pinnacle Awards. I was one of eight winners, mine for entrepreneurship. It was a lovely event and I’m very grateful to the Chamber for the recognition not only for me, but mostly for our team.

Each of us was given one minute for our remarks. I’m guessing that this may have prompted mixed reactions. “Only a minute?” some of the winners probably thought with glee. “I can do it in my sleep.” “Only a minute?” others were thinking, with a vague feeling of panic.

The caveat was that you were NOT supposed to use your time on stage to check off the list of people you wanted to thank. “Please send us a list of the people you want to acknowledge in writing, and we will print their names in the program. Use your acceptance speech to share a piece of wisdom or advice.”

This is a great idea for EVERY event. Isn’t it a bore when people get up there clutching awards and run out the clock tipping their hats to mom, dad, spouse, children, pets, colleagues, first-grade teachers, friends and mentors? I don’t mean winners should be ingrates, but for the audience, listening to an hour of thank yous is dull. Look at the Academy Awards speeches every year. The TEDIUM.

So, the guidelines were a good idea, but…the pressure. What to do with just one minute?

Well, several of the winners handled it beautifully. They told stories from their careers; these stories were self-deprecating, funny, and poignant. Their moment on stage gave you a little insight about them. At the end of this blog there are five lessons I learned from them.

Before I get to that, let me share something about my own experience on the stage, and it’s kinda personal.

As you know my first book was called Speak Like a CEO, which means when I go up to give a talk, I have a feeling that audiences have a certain…well…expectation. And honestly, I have to work at it just like everybody else.

I started preparing a few weeks in advance and constructed an outline that I thought would work.  My plan was to share three “snapshots” I called them – from my life. I started with one of my father. As I told the audience, “It’s a picture I never saw but had a profound impact on me… my dad with his sleeves rolled up, over a sink, washing pots and pans, one of four jobs that he worked to put himself through college and law school. From him, I learned the value of a work ethic.”

The speech had two other “snapshots,” from my life, peppered with a couple of quotes from famous people. I frankly forgot humor. Once up there, I had one line that kinda made people laugh but it wasn’t planned. And, I didn’t really give it a chance to breathe.

I did get many nice compliments. The folks from the Chamber were really happy because I stuck to my one minute.

It was my husband who delivered a flash of the blinding obvious. “Good,” he said, but not my best. Why? “You weren’t as conversational as you usually are,” he explained.  I had to admit I probably overengineered it. Every word planned, and famous quotes. After I got over wanting to kill him, I realized he was 100% right. I debated whether to tell you and decided I should.

It’s not easy to admit you didn’t get an A plus from your spouse, which is precisely the point. You don’t get that much honest feedback from anybody – including the people who love you. Most spouses, friends, confidantes, mentors and bosses are reluctant to go there.  “Who am I to judge?” They may think.  Or, “Hey, it isn’t easy to get up in front of 1,000 people and say anything coherent!”

So I’m fortunate to have a husband who is a big enough fan to be honest. We all need someone like that. And most of us don’t have them.

This is why you hire a coach. Our clients are always telling me how valuable coaching has been for them, far beyond their expectations.  They are pleasantly surprised and incredibly grateful to feel they finally have a confidante. A trusted adviser. There is nothing in the world as powerful as having someone who has your best interest at heart, tells you what’s working, and what isn’t, and helps you become the best you can be. A coach is there to help you be your best.

I guess I could lend out my husband, but I don’t think he’s up for that. And anyway, our coaches are awesome.

So now that I have that off my chest, here are a few “Do’s and Don’ts” that I took away from watching the other good speeches this year. If you ever have to give a one-minute speech, whether you are receiving an award, introducing another speaker, kicking off a panel discussion, opening a team meeting, closing a conference, these work. Anytime you have limited time and want to make a powerful impression, these apply.

1.  Don’t use all your time to thank people.  That’s a bore.  Be interesting.

2.  Do be conversational – act as if you’re talking to one person over a cup of coffee.

3.  Do tell a personal story – or a relevant story from the event – and make a point that will make your audiences nod their heads in agreement and feel good about being there.

4.  Don’t overpack the talk with “stuff” like famous quotations from other people, which can make it sound over-engineered. (My bad.)

5.  Do put in some humor and don’t trip over the laugh lines when you’re up there. Let people laugh.

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