SOURCE: Toastmasters International

June 12, 2007 07:08 ET

GRADUATE WITH STYLE: Commencement Speech Tips From Toastmasters

RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA, CA--(Marketwire - June 12, 2007) - How do students say good-bye to their alma mater, especially if they've been handed the onerous task of giving a commencement speech at the graduation ceremony? Here is some advice from Toastmasters, the public speaking experts. Tammy Miller, member of Toastmasters International's Board of Directors, says to pick a topic with a clearly defined theme to make the audience remember it. She developed the acronym BRIEF to help commencement speakers make a first-class exit from junior high, high school or college:

B -- Brevity -- Speak for 10-20 minutes. This will force you to focus on the most important aspects of your message while helping to make the overall event more bearable for the audience.

R -- Relate to the audience -- What are you offering your audience? Some schools try to secure a popular speaker, maybe a television or movie personality, or a politician, or person famous in a particular field. It doesn't matter how many accolades you have or how many letters are behind your name. As the commencement speaker, you are there for the members of the audience -- not to further your own platform.

I -- Inspire and offer hope -- Inspiring a graduating class is an awesome responsibility, but it can also be a fantastic opportunity. Leave them with a tidbit to ponder. School textbooks don't teach feelings from the heart. The Dalai Lama addressed this beautifully in his 1998 Emory University commencement speech, "Education and the Warm Heart," when he talked about a "good, warm, compassionate heart" combining with a person's knowledge to better the world.

E -- Engaging -- Audiences relate to stories about real people. Steve Jobs, in his 2005 Stanford commencement address, "Find What You Love," used three personal stories to illustrate his points, Each short story offered a valuable life lesson that resonated with the audience. He spoke about his early life as an adopted child, dropping out of college, and a close brush with terminal cancer.

F -- Fun -- This is a time of celebration! Interjecting humor is an important element in getting your message across. Fun and humor is not about cracking jokes, but about making the situation lighter. Humor can help you connect with your audience, lighten up heavy concepts, and make your message more memorable. Just remember, this isn't a comedy night.

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. The organization currently has 211,000 members in 10,500 clubs in 90 countries. Since its founding Santa Ana, California, in October 1924, the organization has helped more than four million men and women give presentations with poise and confidence. For information about local Toastmasters meetings, visit

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