Lesson from the Hall of Fame: Don’t read speeches!

I grew up with the dynamic duo of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice leading our San Francisco 49ers to championships and Superbowl victories. Joe Montana was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. I was thrilled when Jerry finally made the 2010 class, and was inducted earlier this month.

What I love most about Jerry Rice is his work ethic – it’s unparalleled. We even use him as THE epitome of continuous improvement in our programs. Whether you’re a wide receiver, financial advisor, sales engineer or operations manager, you’ve got to stay on top of your game. That means working hard to keep beating your personal best.

So here he is, the inspirational, talented, greatest-wide-receiver-of-all-time delivering the speech of his life:

Ouch. It’s halting. Stiff. Choppy. He misreads it with broken syntax and wrong words. And worst of all, he’s completely disconnected…an empty yellow jacket. (If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can see the whole thing here.)

Regretfully, the comparison that popped immediately into my mind is a scene from last year’s big comedy, The Hangover. No disrespect Jerry – it was just this bad.


What happened?
The content looks great – you can read the full speech here. It’s well written with emotion and great, specific examples. But therein lies the rub. When it’s not delivered with emotion and completely lacks any connection with the listeners (he barely glanced at Joe Montana when he mentioned him), the communication experience tanks.

The bad news:
We ALL do it. Content takes over and we think, “If I just say the words, people will get it.” But you have to speak to the hearts and minds of people to get their attention, buy-in, motivation to act. And there’s nothing like reading a scripted speech that will kill that experience.

The good news:
Jerry CAN do it. In fact, he did. Here’s a fantastic interview following the announcement of his Hall of Fame selection (before the big induction day). No notes, nothing written down – just him being himself – genuine, affable, confident and showing raw emotion. If he only delivered the speech this way. (The entire thing is great, but watch from 3:45’ and on.)

How to avoid it:
Don’t script! We teach people to use post-it notes with trigger words (3-5 words ONLY). Most of the time, you KNOW your content well, the key is to remain organized and focused in your delivery. You just need a few notes for reference.

Practice! This is a huge high-stakes presentation. Word on the streets is that Emmit Smith – who was superb in his induction speech – spent weeks practicing. Not unlike Steve Jobs prepping for a MacWorld keynote or major product launch. Please note: we wouldn’t normally advocate practicing for weeks on end (after all, you just don’t have the luxury of time to do it for a routine staff meeting), but this IS a pretty big deal, and worth the time and focus.