Heart Word CloudCould you deliver a commencement speech from a Post-it Note? That’s what one brave speaker did this spring. Thankfully, he was the third and final speaker of the day. The first two were co-captains of the All Drone Team. No heart. All head.

Speaker #1 looked down at his script for 20 minutes and spoke as if he were reading the assembly instructions for an IKEA book shelf. Both the graduates and their family members started fidgeting with their programs ten minutes in. He mumbled something or other in a bored, quiet tone with an overall theme of “Do this. Do that. Don’t forget this. Don’t forget that.” Ask anyone in the audience what he said and they would look to the ceiling for a few seconds and then shrug.

Speaker #2 was not much better – just longer. She also chose to read from her script. Another round of advice-giving that sailed right past the ears – and the hearts – of the graduates. At that point, people were either yawning or texting. You could see the thought cloud over each family member’s head: “This is what we have to endure to celebrate our loved one’s accomplishments.”

The third speaker had already decided to change it up. Instead of giving advice, he planned to share what he wished for the graduates throughout their careers. The post-it note he brought to the podium said, “What I wish for you,” followed by three bullet points. That’s it. Because of his choice to leave the five-page, double-spaced, 16-pt text back at the office, he was able to make eye contact with each graduate, smile, add a little humor, and be completely in the moment.

One of the bullet points was about wishing them setbacks early on in their career so that they could build the all-important quality of perseverance. This got everyone’s attention because it was so unexpected.  Another was that he hoped each of them would find a mentor during their first year on the job, and then shared a story about his lifelong mentor. The final notation on the yellow sticky note was about showing up; being fully present every day. He gave several examples of how that simple act can make the difference between merely going through the motions and actually loving what you do.

Audience members came up to him afterward and thanked him not only for his inspiring words, but also for bringing some life to the ceremony. The connection he made with each graduate was significant.

When I congratulated Speaker #3 on his performance, and shared how impressed I was with his delivery, he said, “Thanks…I decided it was time to be brave and just speak from the heart.” His comment reminded me of the lyrics to Sara Bareilles’s song Brave:

…I wonder what would happen if you
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you wanna say
And let the words fall out…

When it comes to motivational speaking, being human is so much more valuable than being precise. Giving up your carefully-crafted script may feel like a risk, but it’s one worth taking.

– Barbara

Barbara Roche