The best speech is 10 minutes or less

With April upon us, academic institutions are heading full bore into the season of pomp and circumstance. Now, I love picking up some nuggets of wisdom or amusing or poignant tales from the speakers who celebrate commencement. But having just weathered my daughter's two-hour "graduation" from an antidrug program - at which six adults whom none of the sixth-graders even knew held forth about backbone and so forth - I'm a bit wary.

My guess is that the wiser faculty and every student and parent wish all such speeches could be shorter. The only ones out of the loop are the speakers, who with few exceptions experience a total change of character once a lectern is placed in front of them. Their wisdom, unlike that of the thousands who have gone before them, is suddenly the stuff that people really want to hear - at length.

So, a few suggestions:

Keep it short. Deep down, you know you can say everything in 10 minutes or less, unless you're unveiling a new Marshall Plan.

Eschew linking yourself to the dinosaur age or comments that suggest you too were a kid once.

Choose humor - which kids remember - over deep wisdom. But please ensure it really is funny.

If children are young, let them be the stars. At my daughter's event, we had state senators and sheriffs wagging fingers. The students squirmed. Parents tried not to. Only the district attorney got our attention with some laughs. But then the program director gave a slide show, and the kids performed some lively skits. The audience came to life and cheered. For those 20-plus minutes, we were all joined in celebration.

* E-mail newcomba@csps.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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