Archive for Tuesday, May 4, 2010

5 questions: Stellar speeches, Tips on being a graduation orator

May 4, 2010

Terry Helmick, chair of the speech and debate department at Johnson County Community College, offers these tips for graduation speakers.

Q: What makes a memorable graduation speech?

A: A good graduation speech must contain interesting material but most importantly be delivered with confidence and enthusiasm. It will be remembered long afterward if delivered from one’s heart. Any good graduation speech should contain humorous anecdotes and short stories about the school year. If the speaker is an outside person, the speaker must know the school’s traditions and speak to those traditions. The speaker should refrain from talking only about him or herself because the speech is for the graduates, not the speaker. Yet, a personal touch is important to help the audience understand why the speaker was chosen as the commencement speaker.

Q: What topics should students consider when writing a speech?

A: Speakers can focus on several aspects of the school from which they are graduating, such as accomplishments made that year at the school; important events from the school year. Speakers should offer thanks to individuals, such as parents, teachers, friends, counselors, administrators.

Inspiring quotations can be effective if delivered properly. An audience wants to be spoken “with” and not “at.” The speaker should research other graduation speeches (many are on the Internet) to help with formulating ideas. If parts of other speeches are used, the speaker should give credit in the speaker’s speech.

Q: How long should a graduation speech be?

A: Student graduation speeches usually range from 5-12 minutes. A principal or an outside person would generally speak 15-20 minutes.

Q: Is it possible to come up with an original graduation speech?

A: Yes, and speakers should come up with a speech that is true to the speaker. If someone speaks and is not authentic, the words seem false.

Q: What emotions should a good graduation speech evoke?

A: Students should be made to feel pride in their accomplishments. Students should be encouraged to go forth and do good work in the world.

A speaker should strive to motivate the graduating class.


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