Following up on the last post below concerning good graduation speeches, here's one more from the great Bill Cosby. Now 73, Dr. Cosby may not be on the radar screens of a much younger generation, but ask any successful comedian working today — young or old — and they will tell you that Bill Cosby is the Obi-Wan Kenobi of comedy. What makes Bill Cosby one of the most compelling entertains of our time is his ability to connect with people and deliver his messages naturally in the form of story. He's the master storyteller. He does so well what most leaders and presenters of all kinds should do: tell real stories from your own life in a way that is relevant and engaging to your audience. If more people could just remember that great speeches or presentations leverage the power of the speaker's own stories, we could rid the world of a good deal of boring speeches overnight. Watch Bill Cosby's keynote address at Carnegie Mellon University's 2007 commencement ceremony below.
"Don't talk yourself into not being you."
Cosby's main story began about five minutes in and is one anyone can relate to. All of us have talked ourselves into thinking we don't belong or battle with self-confidence, etc. His point — which his true story brought out — is that we must not talk ourselves out of being who we really are. Cosby touched on the idea that being nervous ("but I was nervous") or other such excuses that we often use get in the way of us bringing our true self to the job (or school, etc.). People do not care about your excuses, they care only about seeing your authentic self. As Cosby said "people came to see you" not some version of what you think they want or need. "I don't care what you do," said Cosby, "when you are good, then you bring you out." "It's not for you to stand around and measure yourself according to diplomas and degrees. You are you — and you are not to put yourself beneath anybody!"
Tell stories from your own life
People crave authenticity just about more than anything else, and one way to be your authentic self and connect with an audience is by using examples and stories from your own life that illuminate your message in an engaging, memorable way. Below are three more examples of Bill Cosby telling stories during stand-up or while being interviewed. Watch and learn (and try not to laugh...if you can).
Above: This clip is from the early 1980s. No multimedia at all, and yet his presentation is very visual — he is the visual.
Above: This clip is also from the early 1980s. Notice how he does not rush things — timing is paramount.
Above: This time the situation is a bit different as he is being interviewed on The Dick Cavet Show in the early 1970s. Musicians (especially drummers) will particularly relate well with his story.
The point is not that you need to be as funny as Bill Cosby —or even that you need to be funny at all. The point is that you have a great deal of life experience from which to build your stories on. In fact, as you get older and your experience grows, your stories should in theory get even better and more diverse. Bill Cosby was great at 25 but he was even better on stage at 50 (and he's still great at 73). You do not have to be as polished and as smooth as a professional entertainer, but your audience will appreciate it very much if you take a lesson from entertainers like Dr. Cosby and bring your true authentic self to the stage and engage, teach, and illuminate through your own stories and examples.
H/T Al Pittampalli