June 12, 2009

"No me gusta mortarboards"

Thus began the speech of the seniors' chosen speaker at the high school graduation we attended yesterday.

"Señor Aguas," as this beloved teacher is known, has been teaching Spanish at the school for decades; he was my sister-in-law's Spanish teacher when she was a student there.

With his statement about mortarboards, Señor Aguas removed his and replaced it with a giant sombrero. He greeted the graduates and audience in Spanish for the first few moments of his speech.

He then went on to give one of the most fun, memorable and entertaining speeches I've ever heard, especially at a high school graduation, and here are some reasons his speech was so effective.

1. Props

Señor Aguas changed hats three times to illustrate different themes in his talk. He even brought out his leather "man bag" and pulled out additional props: a Coke can, cookie wrappers, and a Dr. Seuss book, which he proceeded to read from. These props created anticipation: What does it mean, and what will he do next?

2. Stories and humor

Each prop illustrated a story, and his stories revealed his experiences as a coach and teacher over his 30-year career. In the course of his stories, he used humorous transitions to mention various students and other teachers by name, which brought a cheer from the students each time. Every point he made had a story attached, and just about every story had a person or two attached.

How could the audience not be entertained and engaged when they were the stars of the speech?

3. Knowing the audience

Beside the fact that the stadium was full of parents, relatives and friends, Señor Aguas knew that his primary audience was the graduates, and he clearly had a goal of making his talk fun and meaningful for them.

At one point, he talked about how difficult it is to learn a foreign language, and gave his own example of having to learn blogging, tweeting, teen speak and texting. He then delivered the next part of his speech in a combination of all of these "languages," complete with OMG, l8r (spelled out), "tight", "sick," "chill," and "shizzle."

It was an example of knowing what would entertain his students, but knowing that the rest of the audience would also get it.

(In contrast, the valedictorian -- winner of many speech contests -- seemed intent only on demonstrating how smart he was; when he mentioned the senior class's "jocularity," I wondered if he wrote his speech with a thesaurus open in front of him).

Señor Aguas is used to being in front of an audience, having been a teacher for so many years. But he was not overly rehearsed, slick, or flawless.

He was human, approachable, friendly, funny, warm, silly and sincere. He expressed his passion for teaching, his pride in the success of the senior class, and his love for his students and fellow teachers. And he did it with humor and humility, making his audience the focus of his talk, making them the star of the show.

Easy to see why Señor Aguas was chosen to speak for this class -- and probably many others before them!

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4 comments. Please add yours! :

j said...

What a great example -- and from your family event! So clever. You are ALWAYS in the zone! Thanks for sharing, Lisa.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks, Jean. You should see me whip out my notepad in the middle of a concert. I can't help myself. :-)

Presentation Skills said...

Love this blog site. As a presentations trainer, I will certainly recommend it to others!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks, PSkills! I appreciate it!

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