College Commencements: 3 Great Presentation Lessons

By May 29, 2013March 30th, 2020SpeakerEvents

College graduation… a time when young adults step up to receive their diplomas and step out to launch their careers.

I recently had the privilege of cheering on two special young women during their commencement ceremonies – Laura, graduating from George Washington University (GW), and Maggie, from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).

As a communication and presentation consultant, it is only natural for me to listen and watch with a keen eye and ear, looking for the dos and don’ts. While attending these commencement ceremonies I found many great moments that translate into several lessons you can use in your next presentation.

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Lesson one: Be Hospitable.  

At GW, Dean Michael E. Brown presided over the Elliot School of International Affairs commencement, providing opening remarks and introducing the speakers. He had a conversational style that created an intimate environment, despite the hall that held close to 5,000 people. Carnegie Mellon achieved the same conversational tone and sense of intimacy with personal warmth and hospitality.

When speaking in large venues to large audiences it is important to create a warm, inviting, personal feeling to engage and hold the attention of your listenersHow?  Smile, look out at your audience (everyone), take your time and think about what you are saying as you speak. 

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Lesson two: Don’t Panic.

Highlights for me were watching Maggie (who I have known before she could talk) speak at her Modern Language graduation – one of 2 students chosen to do so, and hearing Laura share her greatest fear of tripping as she walked up to receive her diploma. Both young women managed their fears and performed impeccably.

Maggie was confident and engaging when she presented and Laura did not trip (nor did any of the other graduates). Many speakers have that same fear of “tripping up” and looking foolish. And just like those college graduates, the best strategy is to keep a bold face and forge ahead.

Lesson three: Participation Prowess.

In most cases, the talks at both universities were thought-provoking and contained metaphors that captured “life”. One of my favorites was Dean Brown speaking of shared responsibility saying, “Life is a relay race and it is all about the hand-off from one generation to the next.” He gained attention and participation when he asked, “Please raise your hand if you were alive in 1964 when Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream speech.”  Raymond Lane, Chairman, Board of Trustees, CMU, invited the same type of participation by greeting the 7,000 audience members with a resounding “Good Morning” and receiving a heart-felt response.

With over 800 graduates and thousands of family members sitting in the audience, these simple techniques made the audience part of the presentation, transforming it into a conversation.

While watching and listening to so many diverse speakers both young and old, there were many memorable moments that made a lasting impression on their audience, which of course is the goal for any presenter… study these lessons and make a lasting impression on your audience next time you step up to speak!

Bravo and congratulations to all the graduates in 2013!