Next time you have to give a short speech, remember this example--and then basically just do the opposite.
I'm talking about is Madonna's rambling tribute to Aretha Franklin at the Video Music Awards last night. Actually it wasn't really a tribute to Aretha, who died last week. Instead it was (no surprise) a self-tribute to Madonna. By the numbers:
- It lasted 10 minutes and had 776 words. Fully 612 of those words were devoted to stories Madonna told about herself. (By comparison, this entire article runs 544 words.)
- Only 164 words had anything at all to do with Aretha Franklin, and that's being really generous, by counting a long story Madonna told about singing ""You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman" during an audition as being "about Aretha."
- 51 words: that's the combined total of times she said "I," "me," and "my." She also referred to herself in the third-person as Madonna, twice.
Now, I know there's an element of, "Hey, it's Madonna, what did you expect?" here. She's made an entire career of making everything all about her.
So perhaps we should put the blame on the producers of the VMAs.
Also, maybe save some blame for Camila Cabello, who literally dropped to her knees and praised Madonna after Cabello got the Video of the Year award. But really, it seemed like Madonna lost most of her audience as she rambled on and on about herself.
So here are the five takeaways--things to remember next time you have to make a speech so you don't do a terrible job like she did:
1. Stick to the subject.
Basic, Speech 101 kind of stuff. Have a point and stick to it--especially in a short speech. At one point, Madonna had to stop and comment: "So, you are probably all wondering why I am telling you this story." That's a really bad sign.
2. Make it about the audience.
This rule isn't 100 percent ironclad; sometimes you do want to speak about yourself and your experiences. And a truly authentic and personal speech can connect. But all else being equal, focus on why what you have to say is relevant to the audience.
3. Get out.
It is always better to wrap up a speech too quickly and leave the audience wanting more than to drone on and on.
4. Edit in real time.
This is hard to doo, but sometimes you can tell you've lost your audience and need to go in a different direction. Here it seems like Madonna was losing everyone, but plowed forward anyway.
5. Ask yourself to begin with: Should I even be giving this speech?
I'll defer to the millions on social media who objected to Madonna on this one--but why was she a good choice to give a tribute to Aretha Franklin, in the first place? In a way she was set up to fail. It's always worth asking if you're sending the wrong message by making the speech yourself.
Camila Cabello got on her knees and praised Madonna and dedicated her undeserved Video of the Year award to her......after Madonna just gave a self-indulgent "tribute" to Aretha Franklin.-- Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens) August 21, 2018
And that describes how #VMAs treated Black artists the entire night...