What Education Leaders Can Learn from Wedding Speeches
Spring and summer bring wedding season: eternal love, boundless joy, stifling humidity, and speeches, good and bad. In my work, I think a lot about storytelling and the various forms it takes, so perhaps it’s natural that the wedding toasts are an area that always catches my attention. Just like the first steps toward becoming a “thought leader,” getting up in front of a group of revelers and giving a speech honoring bride and groom can seem daunting, humbling and far outside one’s comfort zone. But, with practice and a few basic tenets, success in either endeavor is achievable.
There are a few basic tenets that stand out as foundational to giving a good toast, and these are also beneficial to planning the way you tell the story of yourself or your company, regardless of the medium. Here are some lessons from wedding speeches that should inform your thought leadership:
Know your audience
The first rule of storytelling in any form is to know your audience and understand their needs. Even with something as simple as a single tweet, you should always consider which of your company’s potential audiences that piece of content is designed for.
We’ve all likely seen the wedding speaker who has forgotten this rule. Perhaps it’s at a celebration where the families lean more toward a PG-rated sense of humor, but the best man thinks of himself as some sort of late night “roast master.” Or perhaps it’s the maid of honor who shares 25 consecutive minutes of inside jokes nobody outside of she or the bride can follow. In either case, a bit of forethought can go a long way.
The same applies for telling the story of your company. In thought leadership, think about the different audiences―whether purchaser, user or influencer―who are interested in your work, and consider who you’re speaking to at that particular moment. Is this for teachers or administrators? Is it perhaps a message for the broader community, including parents and/or lawmakers, to get buy-in for a high-level initiative? Should I lean on personal insights or practical strategies? Without the right context, content won’t be valuable, so thinking through these questions is an important first step.
Be honest with yourself… When you tell a “joke,” are you laughing harder than anyone else in the room? Perhaps there are a few polite chuckles that communicate…pity? Or, if you begin to tell a story with even the slightest sentimental bent, are you unable to hold back tears long enough to complete it?
Thought leadership in the education world, unlike wedding toasts, may not fit neatly into the two buckets of “funny” or “sentimental,” but the same concept applies: choose the wrong path and your message will quickly get lost. Know yourself, understand your background and its relevance to your audience, and consider what you do best.
Did you start your career as an educator before starting your own company? In that case, you may want to surface some real-life anecdotes from your classroom days to establish credibility. Are you a researcher with lots of hard numbers at hand, backing up the efficacy of particular tools and techniques? Use that to your advantage (but also know that if you’re the kind of person who gets too far “in the weeds,” put a limit on yourself―you’ll best keep the audience’s attention with one or two key data points, not 15). Are you better with practical strategies or insightful anecdotes? Writing articles with a list of references or winging it extemporaneously? Consider what you do best and you can present your best self.
Say one thing
Okay, don’t literally say only one thing in an article or interview. But think about the one key thing you want people to remember and ensure it is given prominent placement, articulated and reinforced. Consider the numerous speeches you’ve ever heard, even the good ones―whether a wedding toast, a sermon or a TED Talk. For 90 to 95 percent of them, you probably can’t remember anything at all. And with the very best ones, you probably remember just one interesting, funny, enlightening or emotional tidbit.
Part of the tug here is between feeling accomplished in the moment, and the fact that it’s sometimes incompatible with long-term success. Consider that you’ve probably read articles or books with good idea after good idea presented in sequence―”Wow, this is smart stuff!”―but two days after reading, you can’t remember any details. By contrast, you’ve likely heard at least a few speeches in your mind that were repetitive and didn’t seem too exciting in real time, and yet several years later the key point sticks with you. The bottom line: if you’re committed to getting the word out, you will have plenty of opportunities, so don’t try to jam everything into one article. Focus on one memorable point each time and you’ll make progress.
When you’re out of stories, borrow some
“I can’t think of any stories that will interest this audience…what do I do?” Many a best man or maid of honor has faced this question (based on some of the speeches I’ve heard, at least, there are many who should have thought through this question). The good news is that the audience is much more interested in hearing something entertaining than they are in fact-checking. So maybe your telling of the story makes you a bit more of a main character than you were in reality, or maybe you borrow a detail or two from a totally different story…
When it comes to sharing your company’s story in education, no, don’t make up details. But in this case, “borrowing” means borrowing a different perspective. Invite one of the educators who uses your product to tell their story, by extension sharing a narrative that highlights what your company or product is all about. Ultimately, highlighting diverse perspectives not only enables you to tell more sides of the story and engage more audiences, but it also adds a built-in authenticity that you can’t buy.
So, as you consider how you will communicate about your company and tell the stories of your mission, your work and successes, think through these four rules and you’ll make a positive impression. Cheers to your future thought leadership triumphs!
About the Author
Ross Romano is the Managing Director of Communications and Public Affairs for MindRocket Media Group, a strategic advisory firm providing communications, brand-building, media production, network development, and go-to-market support to companies operating within the K-20 education and education technology sectors worldwide. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org