Recently, at a graduation ceremony, two speeches stood out. It wasn’t because they were funny or contained remarkable advice or insights. Instead, they stood out because they were boring at best, and perhaps even inappropriate.
The first speech was from the class valedictorian. She began by describing her childhood and what had impressed her to go in a certain direction later on in life. A statement or two about that topic might have been interesting, but the rest of the speech continued in the same vein. She eventually got around to thanking all the people who had been important to her achievements, including her classmates. She ended by simply wishing them all great success (like hers?). If you divided her speech into segments, seven segments were about some aspect of her life. The remaining few moments focused on the graduating class.
The next speech was given by an administrator who was leaving to take a job elsewhere. She used her podium time to thank everyone who had personally helped her get ahead and to tell people how much they would be missed. Once again, the speech was about—you guessed it—her.
A similar approach is used by many individuals who are asked to introduce a winner of some award or to acknowledge a significant achievement. Too often the opening line is something like, “I first met Dr. Smith when I was in her undergraduate class.” Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t stop there, but goes on to describe the continuing linkages. It is almost like the presenter is claiming that she or he vicariously deserves some of the award recipient’s honor. (The next time you hear one of these presentations, count the number of times the presenter uses the pronoun “I.”)
In the span of your career, you will have ample opportunity to acknowledge and applaud others. It may be when giving a report on a team project, or discussing some research findings or organizational success, or being chosen to bestow an award on a colleague. When doing so, keep in mind the purpose of the presentation, and remember that it isn’t all about you. In fact, it may not be about you at all.