At 18, I couldn’t have been more terrified. I’d forgotten to consider this requirement when I ran for President of my high school class in 1996. Virtually everyone I knew would be listening and I didn’t have a clue what to say!
The truth is giving a graduation speech can be as exhilarating as bungee jumping. You have the opportunity to shine, but there’s also the risk of bombing.
My speech ended up going pretty well that day, and I’ve gone on to a career that requires me to deliver speeches quite frequently. To deliver a great speech, follow these 4 Keys:
1. Think of your audience
Ask yourself, “What do my teachers, parents, and relatives expect me to say?” So many in your audience have given their time and hearts to preparing you for this day. Put yourself in their shoes by asking, “If I were them, what would I want to hear?”
2. Prepare well
Great speeches are developed days and weeks before the big day. Write out what you want to say, then practice delivering it until you feel comfortable with it. Get to know your speech like a new class schedule. Understand where your speech is going, what comes next, how you will transition to get there, etc. Next deliver it to a trusted friend or family member. Get feedback, but accept only what sits well with you.
3. Speak from the heart
The most authentic and meaningful moments in any speech are the ones that come from your heart. Share specific memories that illustrate what you are saying. Since they are your memories, feel free to go off your script and just describe it in the moment. If it’s truly from your heart then it will be slightly different each time. Many young speakers make the mistake of memorizing their speech word for word. Memorized speeches often feel stiff and inauthentic. This is a speech not a play; speak from your heart!
4. Manage your nerves
Your nerves show that you care and want to do well, but they can also get in the way. Manage your nerves by focusing on clenching and releasing your abdominal muscles while taking short breaths (not deep breaths, as some believe). At the same time imagine being someplace relaxing or how great you are going to do. Above all, make sure you maintain a positive inner dialogue. After all, you’ve done the work, now it’s your time to shine!