By Tim Hayes


So I’m driving into Downtown Pittsburgh the other day for a client meeting, on a highway with a 55 mph speed limit.  There’s lots of traffic for some reason and it’s tough to change lanes or get ahead of anybody – and then I see why.


Moseying along in the passing lane is a rusty old pickup truck with city Water and Sewer markings on it, the left turn signal lazily blinking, mile after mile, the driver ignorantly, blissfully oblivious to both the safety hazard and the traffic backup his little 40 mph joyride was creating.  The only guy on the road in absolutely no hurry.


The wrong approach, the wrong time, and everybody else suffers.


Part of my practice occasionally requires that I save clients from themselves, to keep them from taking a wrong approach at the wrong time, and averting a situation where others suffer because of mistakes they might make.  Case in point – the assumption that every speech has to open with a joke.


Let’s face it, not everybody’s Jerry Seinfeld or Jerry Lewis.  Most business people in front of a group can barely muster Jerry Van Dyke.  Just because a CEO can crack up his executive staff at the Monday morning meeting doesn’t mean he’s ready for Open Mike Night at the Improv. 


I much prefer arming my clients with gentle self-deprecating openings like, “I promise to not make this a Texas longhorn speech – you know, a point here, a point there, and a lot of bull in between.”  Going for the big laugh cuts both ways, you can either bring down the house or bring down the curtain even before the show really starts.  Most times, it’s just too risky.


Another case in point – the fear of being bold.  A speaker typically is asked to appear before a group because he has a unique perspective, a history of expertise, or a wealth of knowledge on a topic that the host wants to learn more about.  When you are at the microphone, you are in command.  Everyone is eager to hear what you have to say.  Polluting your comments with a lot of hedging, halting, hesitating language like, “I think” or “It may be the case” or “Perhaps we can say” is just plain gutless in my book


Instead, once the material has been vetted and validated, have the bones to make declarative statements, to convey true belief in what you’re communicating so that your audience believes it and, more important, believes you.  “We know” and “Undoubtedly” and “It has been proven that” beats the wishy-washy stuff any day of the week.


An audience wants to be moved.  To get somewhere new through a speaker’s words and thoughts.  It’s my joy as a speechwriter and presentation coach to help clients achieve those objectives for their audiences when they step to the podium – and to not be the rusty clunker in the fast lane, holding everybody else up.


Copyright 2009 Tim Hayes Communications