The Three-Minute Keynote


Sometimes less is more.

I had the honor of presenting a motivational message at the scholarship award event for Project Joy and Hope today. The organization founder/executive director, Jan Wheeler, began the nonprofit after she lost her daughter to cancer. (Learn more at their site and support them if you can.)

I was honored to be able to provide the inspirational message as part of the program, partly because my mom and dad lost their first daughter to leukemia decades ago. Long before the type of support services available now, mom and dad tried everything they could as mom carried Ann on a pillow to keep the pain of touches to a minimum. Ann died at five.

As a speaker, my jobs involve presentations ranging from ten minutes to a few hours. I was asked to speak for eight or nine minutes today. I honed and practiced my message, working to get to the kernel of my message. (I’ve been known to admit that it can take me eight minutes to say hello.) It was important to keep things on schedule and, considering the lives of these young people who have lost parents to cancer, they didn’t need me rambling on just because I could. I focused my message and focused it more.

Prior to my time to take the microphone, there were many wonderful messages. Everything was short and sweet, to allow as much time as possible for the scholarship awards. Projected images of the honorees and those they honored flashed with quotes from the students’ essays. They are amazing young people of courage, wisdom, patience and peace.

My time to speak arose and I walked to the mic. I mimed picking up a heavy treasure chest and placed it on the lectern. My topic, Discover and Polish the Pearls Within, uses the analogy of an oyster that makes treasures from the disruptions of sand…the sand becomes a treasure. I’ve delivered versions of the topic dozens of times, but never in as short a period at the eight minutes scheduled for today. I then began my speech.

As I began my points, I “heard” a message akin to “they don’t need that example, just honor them,” and “they don’t need that description, just let them know they are treasures and treasured.” This editing-in-the-moment led to a three minute speech. Three minutes!

It took me awhile to get past the notion that I only spoke for a few minutes, but then I realized…people don’t need long stories when they really need to hear, “I love you.” People don’t need eloquence and verbosity, when they really need to hear that they are respected and celebrated. I believe the editor in my head that modified my speech wanted the honorees, family members, friends, volunteers, staff and board members to simply know they were loved and appreciated. I was not to be the main carrier of that message today, but merely be a small voice among the chorus of people and actions that said, “You are loved and we celebrate you.”

Sometimes less is more.


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