Madonna’s Aretha Franklin Tribute from a Public Speaking Persepctive

Madonna is getting slammed on the internet for her recent VMA appearance, a “tribute” to Aretha Franklin. Here’s a snippet:

The obvious problem is she spends a lot of time talking about herself, and not a lot about Aretha Franklin.  She has tried to clarify recently, saying that MTV asked her to “share an anecdote” about Aretha, not “give a tribute” but that hasn’t quelled the backlash.  Here’s my take; if you think that your speech has the possibility of being misconstrued, ask the organizers for a clarification!  When you take on a speaking event, it’s important to think very carefully about your material and your audience, and this is doubly true for solemn events like tributes, funerals and the like.  Madonna would have done well to ask directly if her speech was meant to be a tribute beforehand, and then tailor her speech accordingly.

What do you think about her speech?

Brilliant Content for Your Speech? Great, but Delivery Is Everything

Majora Carter gives an impassioned, brilliant speech in the video above, taken from TED in 2006.  There’s a number of things she does very, very right from a public speaking perspective.  What’s most impressive is the way she uses personal stories to illustrate larger social problems; her family’s migration story became a basis for stats and facts about redlining and economic injustice in the South Bronx, the story of her childhood neighbourhood’s tragic downfall and her brother’s death is used to contrast her experience with her largely white audience, and to point out economic inequality.

But, alas, Mrs Carter falls prey to the same problem that bedevils many TED talkers; she speaks much, much too fast.  Facts and figures rush by the audience in a blur.  I would guess that is because she is trying to cram a 45-minute speech into her 20-minute time allotment.  She would benefit greatly from pairing her speech down and breathing at the end of each thought.   A recent study found that pausing 5x in a one-minute speech makes your material more memorable.  So take your time!  If you are a quick talker, try using a metronome to control the rate at which you speak.