Tag: public speaking

“Some Guy” Named J.R. Smith Speaks

“Some Guy” Named J.R. Smith Speaks

One of the biggest sports stories right now is how the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in the finals. I think it’s the finals. Maybe it was for the title. Maybe the finals and the title are both the same thing? I’m not really sure because I don’t keep up with basketball.

I know it’s supposed to be a big deal because the Cavaliers lost… something… beforehand. And there’s also a guy who’s on the Warriors who’s name is Curry. That’s cool. I like curry.

The bottom line is, as significant of a moment this might be to many, it really didn’t do much for me until I saw this tweet:

And now, I give a damn. Boy oh boy, do I give a damn. That’s not the Curry man up there. That’s not even critically-acclaimed athlete turned actor Lebron James. That’s “some guy” named J.R. Smith.

I’ve watched it ten times already. C’mon, you should catch up. Watch it again:

I’m sure every athlete looks forward to the winning moment. I’m sure everybody has some idea of who they’d like to thank and the words they’d want to share. But I doubt they’re ever prepared for the wave of emotion that comes.

It’s overwhelming, uncontrolled, and from what I can tell, it must be awesome.

You can’t tell me this was rehearsed. If J.R. did any kind of run-through in his mind, there’s no way he’d have it come out like this. But I’m glad he allowed it to happen. I feel incredibly honored to see this kind of rawness from another human being.

When it comes to emotion, you’ll often hear the word “heart”. You got to have heart. It’s a good message that’s been overdone into a cliche.

But thanks to J.R., I feel it’s worth repeating. With all the speech work that I do, I give lots of guidelines. Many of my clients ask me for “rules”. I’m often reluctant in how to advise that front.

Sure, with more rules you get more structure. And more structure can mean more of a coherent system. But then you get too systematic. It gets mindless. You can hit the right beats, execute reasonably well, but your message? It’s just sterile.

Sterile’s not a good descriptor for anything or anybody.

In the end, emotion from the speaker and the emotion that can be drawn out from the crowd trumps any rules out there on speech. When you move your mouth, less tongue, more heart. 

How to Give a Wedding Speech

How to Give a Wedding Speech

“I hope today is the worst day of your lives. [Dramatic Pause] Because I know today is going to be great. And if this the worst? I can’t wait to see what else is in store for you two. Congratulations.”

That’s an excerpt from the speech I gave at Chase Erwin‘s wedding back in 2010. I wish you could’ve seen the look on his Mom’s face before I broke the pause. Pure shock and confusion!

Looking back, I think I did okay, but there’s plenty of parts I’d change today: I would’ve made it shorter. I’d stay away from making it sound so rehearsed. And most importantly, I would’ve done a better job on putting the focus on the bride and groom.

These days I don’t really get the opportunity to test myself– all my friends married in the early 2010’s! If only something like The Wedding Ringer were real, eh?

The best I can do is pass on my knowledge to my readers. For all you who will soon be a best man or maid of honor, here’s some tips on how you can give a wedding speech.

The Easy Wedding Speech Model

You’re welcome to make it as convoluted as you like, but the bare bones structure includes:

  1. How you know the bride/groom (Introduction)
  2. What quality of the bridge/groom you want to highlight (Body)
  3. Congratulations (Conclusion)

The introduction serves as a bridge, showing the connection you have between the newlyweds and your audience.Maybe you have a deep history (i.e. “Ever since we were little kids…) or maybe it’s something more recent (i.e. “I met her in college/work).

The body of your speech is the sweet spot. It’s a story that should pave the way to highlight some characteristic of the bride or groom. Maybe you’re stating the obvious, but that’s okay (i.e. he’s helped me out of a jam more times than I can count, and I’m sure it’s the same for many of you out here). Maybe you’re bringing attention to a side that not so many people know about (i.e. I bet you don’t know how much of a clean freak this guy is; he’s the one who got me into the habit of ironing my clothes).

After everything’s all said and done, that’s when you give your congratulations. You don’t have to do anything crazy. The word “congratulations” is enough. And no “one more thing”, okay? The congratulations is the clearest mark of a conclusion.

Stressing to Impress


Since most people don’t do public speaking on a regular basis, getting nervous is fairly common. The key is to avoid adding more pressure to yourself.

I’ve seen guys who “needed” to knock a couple shots back for some extra liquid courage. C’mon, man…Yeah, you want to do a good job, but this moment really isn’t about you. You’re just the medium that’s honoring your friends– the couple. And if you think about it in that way, all you got to do is talk about your friend? That should be pretty easy if you remember to keep it just like you’re talking with your friend.

Now, if you’re usually crass with your buds, you’ll want to clean it up a bit. The parents are in attendance, you know? And if it’s you’re usual shtick is embarrassing each other and giving each other a hard time, you’ll also want to cut that out. That’d be a prime example of being too caught up in the limelight. This ain’t your big day, pal!

Here’s where I like to emphasize the conversational approach. I think that’s the key to relieving the pressure. When people hear the word “speech”, they get all stiff. It sounds unnatural. You lose a lot of personality. And that’s because people try to emulate the most familiar type of speech they’ll see: political speech.

If you can keep it like a dialogue you’d normally have with your friend, it makes it so much better– and easier. You’re just there to add praise to your friends, and you’re surrounded by a group of people who love them just as much as you do. Believe me, they’re already impressed.

Avoiding the Biggest Mistake (aka Shut Up Already)

Should I have my speech memorized or have it all written out? How much should I rehearse? What kind of props should I use?

None of that really matters. Also: don’t use props.

Pick whichever option is easiest for you because again: the point is to honor your friend. So if you stumble, it’s okay. If you forget some parts, it’s okay. Just don’t drone on and on. The worst thing you can do for any kind of speech is go on for too long. 

To rephrase and old Ghandi quote, “Be the Wikipedia that you want to know of the world.” People want just enough information to get the gist and feel like they’re in the know. Brevity is the way to go. No one complains about a speech being too short, especially if you hit everything in the model I pointed out above.

So instead of trying to be the speaker to end all speakers, you’re just a messenger to fill the crowd in on two of your favorite people.

Photos courtesy of Aaron Spagnolo Photography— if you’re in Boston and want the best wedding photos? You got to go Spagnolo! 


Public Speaking: Mohammed Qahtani Case Study

Public Speaking: Mohammed Qahtani Case Study

When I came back from teaching in Japan, for a short while I joined the Hi-Noon Toastmasters in Little Rock. The group was a real welcoming bunch, and I liked the format and atmosphere.

But with a club format, it’s very procedural. While it provided a great environment for the intimidated to really practice and hone their speech craft, it was a little too basic for me. And, I didn’t feel like I was given enough time to test myself.

I’ve had several friends join different chapters all over the world, and I hear the experience really varies from club to club.

At my chapter, you had some who loved to talk (sometimes too much) and needed help in whittling down a focus. Then you had others who would completely freeze and needed help in getting the momentum going.

It wasn’t until after I left that I found out about the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking.

Let’s take a look at 2015’s winner: Mohammed Qahtani.

Mohammed starts with a real gimmicky opening, but you’ll notice the audience is eating it up. As he continues on, it becomes clear that Mohammed is a dork.

But it works!

He fully embraces his inner dork, and that provides a nice contrast to when he hits on the heavier stuff later in his speech. I think being a middle-aged guy catering towards a middle-aged crowd enables him to make his jokes work. I can’t imagine the dynamic playing out quite the same in a college crowd.

He really sticks with his theme: “Words when said and articulated in the right way can change someone’s mind. They can alter someone’s belief.”

Each story he shares builds on that theme. Each story serves to reinforce that idea. He has a cute moment talking about his son. He has a great bit about the problems of scientific lingo.

But near the end, when he talks about things being “clear”– I just wish he would’ve laid off the overacting. It doesn’t take away from his message at all. I have no doubt he was completely sincere in that moment. Instead, I think he could’ve relished in the simplicity of a serious statement, especially after he spent most of his stage time working up to that moment.

When you put a lot of work and effort (correctly) into your setup, you should let things coast in the end.

Grade: B+ 

Communication: Like Driving a Car

Communication: Like Driving a Car

Riding the momentum of the New Year, I wanted to take a moment to expand on a theme from The Architects of Aesthetics‘ about being consistent. How you start doesn’t matter as much as just getting started. After that, it’s just a matter of time spent traveling down the road.

When it comes to effort and time, I think it helps to think of communication in terms of driving a car.

Getting Gas

This is the area most of us are familiar with. You need fuel to run a car. You need information to expand your knowledge and shape your words when you speak.

We buy gas at a station. We can consume knowledge through a variety of media these days, but most of us get some form of foundation at school. Of course, there’s different types and backgrounds of education. Not every academic source is equal, just like how super-unleaded and premium gasoline exist.

Spending too much time in this phase is bad because it’s more important to…

Put the Foot on the Gas Pedal

You can fill up a car with the highest grade fuel, but it’s not going to go anywhere until you put your foot down. Likewise, I see people fall in love with their education yet never put it to use.

You can have the best teacher or gone to the best school, but what’s more important after that phase of education is done? It’s how you use it.

Too often, I see excellent students fail to improve their speaking skills. They put all their time into the classroom or in preparation for the classroom. They rarely put in the time to apply it outside in “the real world”.

This is why the concept of “immersion” doesn’t always have the impact people expect it to. Just being abroad isn’t enough. That’s like buying a race car and expecting yourself to suddenly know how to drift.

Sure, they see some development. They become fairly proficient in small talk. They know how to ask and answer the basic question. It becomes comforting in a way. But it’s a very faulty approach. It’s like thinking that being able to drive around your neighborhood makes you a good driver. You need to be able to drive on the highway. And in order to do so, you need to…

Drive on the Highway

You can’t  get comfortable driving on the highway by never driving on the highway. You get comfortable with the highway by spending more time on the highway.

The people who stick with empty conversations are missing out on the fun stuff. Sure, it takes time to get used to the quicker pace and dynamic, but you can’t spend all your time hovering at the slow speeds.

They’re completely different tracks, and one doesn’t necessarily help you handle the other.

Put in the Mileage

Don’t make the mistake of thinking buying the right gas will have you ready to drive on the highway. Don’t think getting the best education will prepare you for speaking and handling life situations.

The more you experience life, the better you’re equipped to handle it.

This is probably the one aspect that strays from my car metaphors. Eventually an automobile will get over-driven and break. But for us, as people, the miles and effort we put in will only help us for the better.

Just as long as you’re on the right track.

Need help getting on the right speaking track? Contact Jon for a free 15 minute consultation for improvement in public speaking, English speaking, and personal communication.