You Gotta Have a Gimmick

gotta-have-a-gimmickYes, it happens to many of us profs at least once in our careers: we are asked to give a speech.

And yes, you would think that folks who spend their time speaking in front of students would naturally say, “Yes, of course!” to such a request since it’s pretty much all in a day’s work.  But alas, this is far from the case. Many professors I know have the usual fear of public speaking, arguing that speaking in front of their class of students is just not the same thing.

Well, that’s true, to a degree.

I’ve given speeches before (and I’m not including the “reading the paper” sort of speech at the MLA), usually to local groups off campus who selected me from a list of speakers that my college publishes each year.  But this year I’ve been asked to give a speech at the annual awards ceremony for academic achievement, and although I said yes, way back in December, I’m now stumped.

It’s not exactly a graduation speech, since many of the students invited to this event are at the end of their first year at our community college, and even those at the end of their second year may be transferring, rather than graduating. Thus, all the ideas and tips about what goes into a graduation speech don’t really apply here.

Having attended this event for 10 years, I do have, in my mind’s eye, models of other speeches, but they were either very witty (wittier than I can ever be) or very serious (more serious than I can ever be), or the speech included actual juggling (and no way:  I’m very uncoordinated). Then there is the sprinkling of famous quotations strategy: and yes, I have been collecting those, but I’m not sure how many I can actually hide behind in my 15 minute speech.  I’d like to be a little bit witty, a little bit serious, and a little bit something else.  Yes, I’ll praise their success, and encourage them to thank those that helped them; and yes, I’ll push them to keep going with their educations; and yes, I may even remind them that there is more to life than a 4.0 (though frankly that seems rather cruel to say to students who worked their collective asses off for just that reason).  

But all that seems so old hat: as the experienced hooker said in Gypsy, “you gotta have a gimmick”—and I need one!

So anyone, do you have a gimmick idea for me?

10 responses to “You Gotta Have a Gimmick

  1. Geez, this is a tough one. I’ve only been asked to give a speech somewhat like this once. I pulled a classic switcheroo. Started very stiffly with a bunch of high minded “the value of knowledge” type stuff and then pulled the “is this what we are all really doing?” question, and transitioned into focusing on the practical, often comical, reasons for pursuing knowledge. Wrapped up with the classic “we need both” in our lives. Original? No.

  2. Ah, Dr. No. If only I could pull that off since it sounds like a wonderful gimmick;-)

    The tension is being somewhat witty, while not insulting the grandmothers in the audience!

  3. Oooooh, I like it. An infomercial. That means I get to dress up like Cher or Marie Osmond or someone like that, right?

    (And FYI, I would sooner ask for advice from a prostitute than punch one out;-)

  4. Have been thinking about this, Annie Em. What’s the main point you want to make in the speech, and is there a metaphor that could provide structure (the underlying backbone would be something like “doing well academically is a lot like X”)? And of course, if there’s a famous quote relating to that metaphor to kick off or to end the speech, so much the better. That’s logistically gimmicky, yes?

    Love Dr. No’s idea and wish I could have heard that speech.

    Ooh, or you could do paper plate awards: draw a humorous picture on a paper plate that captures something the individual has done or is known for (and give it a funny award category name). Though I suspect that might not fly at your formal-sounding event. 😉

    In any case, what an honor–congrats and good luck!

  5. Inky
    That’s just the sort of prompt I need to start somewhere: thank you so very much! I’ll be brainstorming metaphors all night—Ideally, one I can illustrate during the speech! (It’s usually held outdoors, unless it’s raining, so it’s not all THAT formal, luckily for me).

    Of course you’ve obviously figured out that I’m VERY nervous about this speech. I know how hard they worked, I know how important the event is for them. I just need to focus on that (and my metaphor–you are brilliant, Ink!).

  6. How’s it going? Have been thinking about your speech and sending lots of positive vibes your way!

  7. Hi Inky,

    It’s one of those heavy grading/meeting weeks, so the speech prep is on hold till the weekend….I will definitely keep you posted–I’ll probably just post it here! The speech isn’t for another month (luckily for me, or not, depending on how stressed I want to make myself)….

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