This blog was inspired by the speeches at the divine Sydney Winter Festival last night and the shockingly rude guests in attendance. The word fick is a nod to the fact I was standing in a German Bier Hall at the time, am sure you don't need Google Translate to work out what it means. This is a major grumble of mine at events, and one that needs to be addressed because, seriously? You've been cordially invited to a fabulous soiree, you're drinking for free, you're eating for free, surely the least you can do is shut the fick up while the formalities take place? And yes I'm one of those people that yell SHUT UP! if you don't, even when it's not my event. I generally leave the fick part out.
Last night the two gorgeous Viennese guys who started the festival around the world began their speech - and within less than a minute practically the whole room was talking. It was appalling. OK, so English isn't their first language but come on! They created this amazing event and the people in the room were invited to be a part of it (the ice rink really is awesome, I highly recommend a twirl). Show some respect. The divine Rupert Noffs came on next, and thanks to his drama training was able to project his voice and gain some attention back, but still a gaggle of people continued to talk, loudly. Then the two singers from the Noffs Foundation Street University came on, and one of the guys requested silence in respect for their friend "who isn't with us anymore". A hush descended on the crowd, then he revealed that his friend hadn't in fact died, but just wasn't with them last night...in the physical sense. This is seriously what he was driven to say just to get everyone to shut up - hilarious. I deeply admired him for it.
The only time I believe it's OK to talk through speeches is when someone goes on for longer than 10 minutes during a cocktail-style event. Noone should speak for longer than this, and if you need to, the event should be a sit down, or better yet a seminar. As far as I'm concerned, after this point all bets are off. I was once running a large scale event for an international luxury brand, when my client said that the CEO wanted to say a few words. I am always hesitant when an 'unknown quantity' wants to speak, so I politely asked whether he was an experienced speech maker. My client informed me the CEO was Japanese and couldn't speak English very well, so I strongly advised that he literally say a few words, with an absolute deadline of a minute and a half. They understood and promised...but of course come event time he stumbled in broken English for well into 15 minutes. It was beyond excrutiating, and I didn't blame people for starting to talk amongst themselves. I almost wanted them to increase their chatter to max volume just so he'd work it out and put everyone out of their misery. Cue loud Academy Awards orchestra here.
When you're running an event, try your very best only to have great speakers make speeches. If someone pivotal needs to speak and you know they'd be a better sleep aide than Valium, give them another important role like making the toast or simply welcoming guests before they pass the mike over to an expert. An amazing speech has the ability to inform, delight, and move your guests, sometimes to tears. A bad one can kill the party vibe and have your guests running for the hills. You want to move them, just not out of the venue.
And the best rule of thumb when you're listening to a speech, no matter how dull, is to simply imagine it was you up there. To many people it's quite simply the most terrifying thing they'll ever have to do. And if you want to be really gracious to your host? Cheer for their sponsors. Event speeches generally start with a series of thankyous to the various donors, and whilst not the most scintillating list to listen to, give them a clap and a cheer if it's appropriate. Without them, there wouldn't be a party and your host will love you for it.
So how do you pull off the perfect event speech? Keep it short and sweet - and make it warm. Additionally, and without question, leave the sheets of paper at home. The fabulous Jonathan Pease's blog this week has a piece titled Public Speaking not Public Reading about a keynote speaker at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival currently taking place. He states: "The session read by David Harris called ‘When inspiration strikes’ was less inspiring than white noise. I just can’t tune into a speech that’s being read off an A4 page." I couldn't agree more.
My Dad always drummed into me that if I was ever asked to make a speech, to never, ever use notes. It was sage advice that I always uphold, despite being nervous that I'm going to forget everything. When in doubt, I take a small, single piece of paper with bulleted one word prompts, or better yet write them on the palm of my hand. The funny thing is, I never seem to reference the paper or my hand, they tend to just be there for security. As long as you're prepared, speaking off the cuff will always be more believable, warm and engaging. This couldn't be truer than at a wedding. If you're invited to speak at a wedding, chances are you have a special, intimate friendship with the bride, the groom or both. Speak from the heart. Noone is going to judge you if you fluff it up here or there - but to read something heartfelt word for word from prepared pages just doesn't have the same resonance.
And if you ever find yourself in a room and I'm making the speech...please shut the fick up and I'll love you forever.