What do commencement speeches and sales meetings have in common? I never thought that I would pose such a question until I was fortunate enough to attend a commencement for a very special person in my life, my girlfriend Katie. Her graduation was a great celebration of a hard earned achievement, but the commencement speakers were somewhere between bad and terrible. In fact, I asked over 25 people after the ceremony what they thought, and every single person mentioned that they thought the speakers left a lot to be desired. As I analyzed what made the speeches so difficult to sit through, I realized that many of the things that made the speakers ineffective also characterized unsuccessful sales meetings I had been a part of.

Below are 5 ways to ensure that your commencement speech (or sales meeting) goes horribly awry.  Avoiding these can help you deliver a better commencement speech (if you ever get the chance) or conduct a better and more productive sales meeting:

  1. Ignore the Audience: One of the speakers spoke in legalese, discussing case law and referencing people without identifying who they were throughout their speech. This made it literally impossible for 97% of the people in attendance to have any clue what they were saying. Considering that many of the people in attendance had come from long distances to be there and/or paid a very large sum of money for their loved ones legal education, this came off as incredibly disrespectful. Before you walk into any sales meeting, make sure that you know who the audience is and craft your message to meet their expectations.
  2. Don’t Have a Point: As one speaker rambled on, it was completely unclear what their point was or what they wanted anyone to take away. I know this one seems easy, but how often have you sat through a meeting where the point was unclear? Unless you want to ensure an unsuccessful meeting, make sure you have a point.
  3. Make Bad Jokes: If you want to really guarantee a bad commencement speech, start off with 3 to 5 jokes that no one understands or that just aren’t funny.  One of the speakers made a series of jokes with a delivery flatter than a 3 day old Coca-Cola. If there had been crickets in the auditorium where the event was held, everyone would have been able to hear them. Using humor can be a great way to break the ice, but unless you are 100% sure that your joke is a home run, keep it to yourself.
  4. Don’t Have a Call to Action: There were three speakers in total and only one of them had a call to action. If you want your time together with anyone to evolve into a meaningful experience, make sure that you have a clear action coming out of the meeting.
  5. Ask for Value Before Delivering Value: The one speaker who did have a call to action asked for one very simple thing: give money to the university. They did this after noting that most of the audience had significant student loan obligations, poor job prospects and were entering a very competitive field. Then, the speaker asked them to make sure that they always donated to their alma mater. How tone deaf is that? Before a single one of the graduate’s degrees had begun to deliver any financial, social or career value to them, this person was asking them to give money to the university!  Never ask a customer or prospect for anything before delivering value to them first.

Avoiding these 5 pitfalls can help ensure that you give a great commencement speech, or execute a productive sales meeting!



5 Ways to Guarantee a Bad Commencement Speech (Or Sales Meeting)