The tragic events in Newtown, CT have left us all reeling. That a fellow human being could kill innocent children in their school classroom is unthinkable. It happened and it is still unthinkable. I guess this is why I have been focused on how President Obama must have felt when he heard the news and realized he would have to appear on national TV and say something meaningful.
Given that I teach and coach aspiring presenters, it is no surprise that several people forwarded me the clip of Obama’s emotional moments on Friday afternoon and asked me what I thought. Here was my first thought: Thank you, Mr. President, for showing genuine emotion. We know that he tends to be cool-headed and detached in most other situations, so it was heart-warming to see him shed tears for the innocent victims.
I had two trains of thought going throughout the speech. The first was as an American who was trying to grapple with the unfolding events. The other was as a presentation coach, which is why I noticed immediately that 55 seconds into the speech, he paused for 12 seconds. Twelve whole seconds of not speaking, while he tried to gather himself in order to continue, and all the while the cameras are snapping so loudly that it sounded eerily like gunfire.
Then he said, “So our hearts are broken today, for the parents and grandparents, the sisters and brothers of these little children and for the families of the adults who were lost.” Nothing flowery or overly-decorated. Just the truth.
I also noticed that he was not standing up straight, like he did during “A More Perfect Union” speech, for example. He seemed burdened by the weight of sadness he was feeling. And that seemed more authentic to me. As did his looking down when he felt overcome with emotion.
And then I started thinking about what elements go into a well-delivered, heartfelt eulogy. What could SpeakWell Partners offer anyone who must stand up and say something about the recently departed? I remembered reading an article in Esquire magazine a while back on how to think about a funeral audience. It’s such good advice that I am sharing the link here: Tom Chiarella advises eulogizers to see the audience as concentric rings of loyalty. He goes on to say, “The people in the nearest ring, those in the front row, are owed the most. You should speak first to them. And then, in the next measure, to the room itself, which is the next ring, and only then to the physical world outside, the neighborhood, the town, the place, and then, just maybe, to the machinations of life-muffling institutions.” Such great advice.
I think these are the best techniques for delivering a memorable and pitch-perfect eulogy: don’t try to hide your sadness; speak the simple truth; don’t rush – pause here and there to take a breath and reflect; focus on the most important people and speak to them first; and if you tell a story that gets people to laugh, well, you’ll have exceeded anyone’s expectations.
Charlotte and I wish you and yours a happy holiday season and we will see you in the New Year.