Here’s the situation… You just finished a run-through of your presentation. You love it. It works. You have one problem with it though. You keep getting feedback that one particular part of your presentation confuses people. It is really clear to you, and you love it. You know it is brilliant. In fact, it is the exact line that inspired the writing of the speech!
That is exactly what happened to me in 2001 when I was creating my winning speech, “Ouch!” While deciding what to put into my speech and what topic to write about, I was watching the Discovery Channel and heard this quote by Dr. Robert H. Goddard:
“Every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it;
once realized, it becomes commonplace.”
I thought it was perfect! I loved it. My idea was that I could parallel the metaphor of going for my goal of being funny with Dr. Goddard’s goal of sending a rocket to the moon. I would use his brilliant quote and turn it around to say,
“My jokes were just a vision until I was willing to fall on my face.”
It was perfect! I was convinced. I loved it!
One problem. The audience loved the speech, but no one loved the quote even half as much as I did. It was my baby! It may sound harsh, but sometimes you have to kill your babies. It hurts. It was the exact line that inspired the speech. I remember where I was when I was watching that show. Then I remembered that it’s not about me. Later on I realized that the quote served its purpose. It inspired me to create my greatest speech. It did its job; now I had to let it go.
Ironically, that is also what happened to me this week while I was re-inventing my presentation, Sponge! What’s Filling You. I got lots of feedback over the past few weeks while giving practice speeches. I created a new graphic about the conscious versus the subconscious mind. It came out really slick, and I love explaining how it works. I know it is important, but my big challenge was that my practices were coming in at thirty minutes. The problem? I only have twenty minutes. Ouch. When I gave the speech tonight, I asked for help to clarify what was not so powerful to the audience. Though there was a range of feedback, it seemed unanimous that the part about the mind needed to go. Again, it’s not about me.
I had a great idea to start off the Toastmasters Convention by opening with my Toastmasters Anonymous comedy routine. It’s funny! It would have been a great opening to connect to everyone with a laugh, but it did not set up my message well. It got the hatchet after one practice. I realized that it had been a dream of mine to use it from the main stage at Toastmasters, but it didn’t fit my message.
I also got some great advice from Accredited Speaker John Kinde. He said that if you need to cut that much time, cut chunks of material rather than lots of words. Smart! Thanks, John.
When tightening a speech, we sometimes need to find a hatchet. It hurts, but the bottom line is, barring a time warp, something has to go. I need to take a dose of my own medicine when I say,
“I can either cut my time or my relationship with the event planner.”
When we are in a crunch and need to cut time, we also need to revisit our message. What is its essence? What are we really trying to say? We need to weigh how on-point each part of our presentation is. What adds and what detracts? When I stepped back and looked at it, I realized that the graphic I had created and the explanation of how the mind works are a bit off target from my main point. If I had an hour, I could make it work. I don’t. It gets the hatchet.
There is amazing power in cutting off-target stories or explanations that we have been trying to force into our presentations. Cutting them alone usually makes the entire speech stronger. We too often try to justify our favorite lines because we love them. Love your audience more than your babies. The result? The audience will love you back.
Please share your thoughts below and read comments from other Stage Time subscribers!
Perfect Darren. It has happened to me and to many others whose speeches I mentor. We get caught with what we think is the best according to our version / vision, but eventually have to let go either because it does not fit the audience or the speech or the occasion. Thank you.
This example reminds me of my attempt at a movie script. The idea has been floating around in my head for years. I finally started writing it in late 2013, and finished a (very rough) draft back in May.
At that point I passed it along to a friend for an initial review. Needless to say, she ripped it to shreds. All in good faith, of course a la Toastmasters. (We’re both Toastmasters alumni.) Talk about having your baby destroyed!
As was the case with your speech, there are lines and scenes in my draft that I was sure were good; I was so proud of them (and still am). Alas, a lot will have to go.
I’m also a member of a writer’s club. It’s the members’ job to offer helpful advice, even though you know the author is so proud of the material.
Constructive criticism comes with the territory. People have to understand that if they want to produce any written or verbal content.
While watching you on stage at the WCPS in 2001, I did not get to hear this”turned around version” of Dr. Goddard’s quote. You cut it.
And this week in Vegas, I will get to not hear it again. 🙂
Rich Breiner See you soon!!!
Thanks Darren! Great advice and a reminder that we all have faced this dilemma at one time or another. I recently had to let go of a comment in one of my speeches that I loved and thought it made the point, however, I seemed to be the only one who got it! Felt like I was abandoning an old friend. I kept remembering what you said that it is about the audience and not the speaker and I finally let it go. (Hey! I think there may be a song in that expression)
Thanks for your insights, Darren. Like many others, I have had a similar experience of needing to let go. Some years ago I was inspired by the words of Margaret Mead and developed a speech around her thoughts. With gathered material, the original length was over 11 mins. Needing the reduce this to contest limits, one by one I discarded those elements and words which added least value. With the need to still reduce the timing below 7.30, the final item to go was the very quote which inspired the speech. (NB. The speech worked well even without her quote and I placed 2nd in the District final.)
Darren: after practicing at 60 plus clubs this year (on your advice), I have just a one word response to your article … AMEN
Good job, Darren. Excellent and timely message to those of us who struggle with “the cut” BOTH FOR OURSELVES AND THOSE WE CARE ENOUGH ABOUT TO COACH. Sometimes, we begin with one thought, retain the message and wind up with a completely different presentation than we thought our audience would like to hear.
If we are to survive the arena of public speaking, it must always be about the audience!!!
‘sorry that I will not be there in person this time, but I will be with you in thought and in prayer for your wildest success yet.
Hi Darren, thanks again for more excellent advice. I am forwarding your email to my club members.