For some reason, even the smartest, most seasoned professionals lose all sense of perspective and proportion – e.g. time, place, purpose – when they have to make a formal announcement. I have seen the mere suggestion that someone needs to make a statement, or hold a press conference, or speak at an event escalate into nothing short of the need to draft a new version of the Gettysburg Address.
For example, I recently had a client who was asked to make brief welcoming remarks before dinner to a visiting industry group. Knowing full well there would be other presentations during dinner that evening, this client and his handlers still came up with a full-blown speech that not only welcomed everyone, but addressed and empathized with the biggest challenges facing that particular industry. It was meant to be meaningful for the audience, but it was also long, philosophical, and dissertation-like. Great stuff for a keynote speech, but way overboard for “brief welcoming remarks.” I offered to help, and we cut his remarks back to be much shorter and somewhat more entertaining. He still empathized with the industry for its woes, so he was relevant, but he did it in story format, using some lighthearted humor, which gave it a less formal and more conversational feel. In the end, it was much better suited to a welcome!
Another example was a client in the early stages of a multi-year project to build a new, much-anticipated state-of-the-art facility. At the point in the design process when the client was due to announce the selection of the firm that would create the look and feel of the interior space, I caught wind that the executive in charge was planning to say this: “Today is the culmination of 10 years worth of dreaming and planning and hard work by many. We are so proud and thrilled . . . ” Huh? Really? To see if I could awaken this client to a sense of proportion, I gently asked, “um, so, like, what will you say at the ground-breaking when construction begins, or at the ribbon-cutting for the grand opening? Don’t you want to save the 10-year dream-come-true theme for one of those occasions?”
Here are three tips to help you keep it all in perspective and maintain a sense of proportion:
1. Think about the audience and the occasion. Why is the audience in the room and what do they care about, want, and/or expect?
2. Know your role for the occasion. Are you the only speaker or one of many speakers? What specifically were you asked to do?
3. Know your “job” for the occasion. Are you introducing, informing, inspiring, entertaining? What verb describes your primary communications task for the occasion?
You’ll be just fine if you keep the audience in mind, stick to your assigned role, and do your “job” – nothing more, nothing less!