What would a speech coach say?
University of Houston 2015 Commencement Speech
First, let me say that this is Matthew McConaughey. He’s a movie star and not a professional speaker. He’s a celebrity brought in to give an inspiring commencement speech. For those graduates, that alone makes the event even more unforgettable. I think it is very cool that he delivered it.
Also, it is very easy for me or anyone to critique as an after the fact. I have no idea if Matthew had a speech coach or not. I have no idea how much he prepared. I’m just watching along with the other 1.2 million viewers just like you. And, I am a big fan of his. I felt it might be educational for you to see this speech critiqued.
I encourage you to open up a separate window and watch alongside me as I critique it. I will use the specific time code from this video.
- 0:00 If you give presentations, here is your first lesson before you even begin. This is Matthew McConaughey, a literal movie star! Notice he has over 14 thousand likes and 508 thumbs downs. Not everyone will like you, so let the 508 go. Because we love to present, part of our DNA gets us to look at the few who do not like our presentation. Know that people bring their past, insecurities, and attitude to your presentation. You won’t please them all. You need to focus on the 14 thousand and get your energy from them!
- 0:13 The crowd goes wild, and they love him already. He takes off his jacket and sits down on a stool. In my opinion, this is Matthew being Matthew. He is a cool dude, and he is authentic. It is not what I’d recommend to anyone, but for him, it works.
- 0:32 He acknowledges immediately to the graduates that he is there for them. He even mentions his connection to the school through his dad. Cool.
- 1:10 He mentions thinking long and hard about what they needed and what he wanted to say. Short and sweet or long and salty? He mentions that, as the saying goes, to take what you want and leave the rest. I feel this is casual while creating a great casual connection with his audience. Other types of speeches, it may not work as well as it does in this situation.
- 1:25 He gives us the structure of what he does know and what he does not know, which helps the audience preview the speech’s organization. Nice.
- 2:13 I love how he uses his brother’s and his college degree and how the meaning of this changed over time. He then asks a question, “What does your college degree mean?” I like that. Very relevant to his audience.
- 3:44 I like that he wasn’t to skip the platitudes and the “ata boys.” Though he had just delivered one, it was very brief. I do love that he implies he is going to get real.
- 4:19 I appreciate that he says, “Don’t think of them as mine because you cannot own a truth.” Great wisdom.
- 4:42 He starts with his number one. At this time, we are not sure how many points he will make, but his structure is clear. I do like that he is getting to the body of his presentation in less than five minutes. In a commencement speech, many go too long on the platitudes, but Matthew does not. Graduation audiences will give extra slack because it is a special occasion, but please follow his lead. For all presentations over thirty minutes, we should be in the body of the presentation within five minutes. Though there are always exceptions, the audience’s thoughts are the best judge. We should not feel like you are dragging out the opening too long.
I love his first point when he says life is not easy. The graduates need to hear it, especially from him. Their parents may have told them multiple times, but it will land more deeply coming from a celebrity.
- 5:33 You may notice he is reading from the teleprompter in front of him. For you and I to have cheat notes is OK, but we should not be reading as much as he is. His delivery is great and sincere and in a conversational style. It does not sound like he is reading it. Good.
In his defense, he will probably not deliver this again for a while, if ever again. So, he should not memorize it. He has internalized well enough for it to flow. For this situation, it’s perfect. If you are a professional who presents and delivers the same presentation many times, the rules are different. It is expected of us that we do not read our presentation.
- 8:25 I like his if/then statement. It is a beautiful point about joy. “Joy is that feeling we have when we are doing what we are fashioned to do,” he said. He mentions that he started enjoying his work and not looking at happiness as something he was trying to attain. I love that Matthew mentioned when he started enjoying the daily work on the set, he started having better box office results and accolades. It is revealing and what the audience wants. They want to hear transferable wisdom from a celebrity. Well said and done!
- 11:05 “Don’t choose anything that would jeopardize your soul,” he said. He was talking about defining success in your own way. I appreciate that he knows he can influence these young adults. He was taking it seriously and dropping some wisdom.
- 11:41 Here is where he gives us his five measures of success for him. I’m OK with him mentioning each of them, but now it can confuse the audience a bit with the numbers. He is dropping points of wisdom 1,2,3,4 then one of the points has 1,2,3,4,5. In this situation, I would not number each of his categories of success. One, or the other, not both. He could also make his success categories A, B, C to help avoid confusion. I see many corporate executives make this same mistake when presenting.
- 12:01 I like that he uses concrete examples like his career may be taking off, but his wife may need some more attention. I like the debit/credit analogy for this one.
- 14:33 I appreciate his transparency here, and this is good. A celebrity will rarely be this open and bring forth their mistakes. It is a concrete example from his early days as an actor. He makes his point well because many know the film character he is referring to. It becomes more memorable. He is talking about the congruity of the character. It helps illustrate that just going for the money can be detrimental. Matthew’s bigger point was, it is just as important where we are not-as where we are. He closes the loop well when he gives the audience an example of where this may show up in their lives. As he does, always bring your example back to their lives. That is why you are there.
I love how he wraps up this point succinctly, “Eliminate who you are not first, and you are going to find yourself where you need to be.”
- 18:30 Here, he swears, but I think it is realistic and authentic. He is using it to emphasize a point. Though I may not encourage it, I’d be willing to bet that most people did not have a problem with it. If delivered ten years ago, it may have landed differently. I believe he was staying true to his own character. To others, I would not advise. Remember, celebrities get some extra slack, and he was not just going off with f-bombs. It was realistic, and I believe, acceptable.
- 22:23 I like that he covers that he seeks constructive ideas in his bad reviews. He says that they can reveal some areas that he may need to address. I think this is excellent advice for the graduates. I agree we do not want to obsess over the negative, but we can improve by seeking some truth from qualified critics.
- 23:21 Number eight? Now I’m starting to wonder how many points are there? Though I appreciate the wisdom, it is dragging now to me a bit. His examples are good, but his tone while seated the entire time is starting to feel like a “sameness” in his delivery.
- 24:23 “Although no one is going to throw you a party if you abide by them, no one is going to arrest you if you break them either.” Poignant and relatable wisdom. I also like his funny reference about his well-known bongo incident. That example from pop culture is perfectly woven into his speech. Well done. I love the, you vs. you idea in a speech like this.
- 24:53 “An honest man’s pillow is his peace of mind.” Brilliant. I admire his sincerity of delivery when he says, “It’s on you. It’s on you.”
- 26:09 We can all learn something from his first “big check” story and the line in his jeans. He does, as we teach, had his friend deliver the “aha” moment. She delivers the revelation. Personally, I love this story but wish he told it in a bit more visceral way. It was very good but could be more memorable. Just a bit more showing us the scene and more dialogue with reaction. It worked as he told it, but he just told it in the past tense.
- 28:15 Very effective use of curiosity here. Matthew told the story of one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history and asked, “Why?” He held the pause to draw his audience in. Well done.
- 32:09 “Always play like an underdog,” he said, and applause soon followed. His point about the roof was good, but parts could have been more clear tying back to the point. Get rid of the roof to me was a bit confusing. I understand he is saying to remove limitations, which is good. I think the actual point was to always play like the underdog, which is different from remove limitations.
I really liked his idea about letting other people tell you that you won. Let others acknowledge our success and keep striving. Cool.
- 34:00 The Larry and coach story was deep and brilliant. I loved the line, “Guilt and regret have ruined many a life before their time.” We will make mistakes. Just own it, make amends and turn the page. Again, great wisdom is delivered in a personal story that Matthew had a connection to. Do you have any stories like that which can deliver your point? I bet you do if you look for them.
- 35:06 Number twelve? How many are there?
- 36:56 Number thirteen? Will you remember them all? I won’t.
- 37:34 This is real, and it is part of his success most do not know about. It is what the audience wants to hear.
- 42:10 OK, my truth here, the first time I heard this part of his speech, I got choked up. I felt so connected to him, and it was, for me, a powerful story. I loved when he said, “For the first time, I stopped anticipating what was around the corner.” I appreciate so much that he admitted he got right with his God and himself. When he said he did his penance and used Sherpa’s dialogue, it was really good. We hear them say that they noticed a change in him. Whenever you tell stories, consider this idea that can be very powerful when others notice a change in dialogue.
- 43:48 This is really good, “So what do we do.” When we tell a story as he had, it can be good and powerful, but again we must bring it back to the audience and what it means to them. It is why we tell the story. Sometimes we need to make it super clear what it means to their situation or what we are suggesting they do as a result of this wisdom.
It made me think about myself and what I’m doing, and how I’m acting. That is good. That is the intent of a good speech.
I would have suggested a bit clearer conclusion and wrapping up the entire speech. A recap possibly, but not essential. Matthew did not clearly communicate when he had completed the last point and was going into his close. He may have, but I may have missed it.
At 17:32, he said, “Get rid of the excess, the waste of time.” Though I thought all of his wisdom points were good, I believe it would have been life-changing for some if there were fewer points while being more deeply developed.
I appreciated Matthew’s commitment to bring wisdom, and it is apparent that he took this opportunity to influence seriously. It is obvious he prepared and thought deeply about it. It pains me when celebrities do not take something like this seriously. That was not the case here. I do not doubt that the graduates will remember the speech for years to come.
My biggest question is, what will they do differently as a result of hearing him? I know there were probably some great moments that people in the audience will remember, but it would be nearly impossible to remember all thirteen of his points. I know that he said in his opening, “Take what you want and leave the rest.” I’m not a fan of that approach. Remember, it is easy for me to sit back and be a critic. Matthew did not ask for my opinion or critique. After twenty years of coaching people, I chose to use this as a teaching tool to help you.
If you would like world-class feedback on your speech, check out Stage Time University and get coached on next week’s call. Go to: https://www.masteringpublicspeaking.com
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