Speech Writing: The #1 mistake, blunder and faux pas to avoid

Yesterday evening, I attended the annual installation of officers and awards ceremony for a very large Jewish philanthropic organization (of which I happen to be on the board of directors). Everything was going as planned, until one fatal mistake.

The function was lovely. There were lots of awards, amazing hors d’oeuvres and a room filled with powerful and influential people. The agenda was thoughtfully planned, fast paced and to the point. Purposefully, the night was kept brief - 1.5 hours. Speeches consisted mainly of the importance of helping others less fortunate, the need to fundraise … the power of giving.

oops.jpgThen it happened, a keynote speaker made a terrible faux pas. She started strong. Her speech was moving and heartfelt, hundreds of members of our major Jewish organization were captivated by the heartfelt message. And then, the speaker paused effectively before delivering the quote that was to be the cornerstone of the speech: words from Henry Ford.

That Henry Ford. A man remarkable for many things, not least of which was his anti-Semitic politics.

There was tangible discomfort in the audience. An enormous buzz went around the table I was sitting at. Immediately the “whispers began” about Henry Ford’s well-known anti-Semitic campaigns.

What a major blunder.

If you are going to make a speech in front of hundreds of people, my #1 tip is to think like a fact-checker. Make certain that quotes are appropriate for your audience. Review your references. Double-check your stats.

Public speaking mistakes can happen to even the most seasoned presenters. Ann Curry, the Today Show’s news anchor, delivered the Wheaton –Massachusetts – College commencement and noted graduates of Wheaton – Illinois – College by mistake. Curry made a public apology and was forgiven by college administration.

Know your audience. Know your history. Do your research. I will remind myself to do the same.

Have you ever made a terrible blunder in a speech? How did you recover?

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