Dennis Quaid Gives A Keynote Speech – Real Life Speeches

by drjim on June 23, 2009

Dennis Quaid Gave A Keynote Speech That Missed The Mark

Dennis Quaid Gave A Keynote Speech That Missed The Mark

I just got back from spending the better part of a week up in Chicago at a big health care conference (HIMSS09). This was an amazing opportunity for me to sit back and watch somewhere in the neighborhood of about 100 different presenters get up and do their very best job at communicating. One of these presenters was Dennis Quaid – the actor.

What was Dennis Quaid doing at a fairly boring health care IT conference you ask? Well it turns out that he has a heck of a story to tell about how his newborn children were given the wrong medicine. Everyone attending the conference knew about the story, and so roughly 15,000 – 20,000 folks showed up to hear Dennis give his speech.

So how did it go? Well, in all honesty, not that well. I mean, it was ok – but not what everyone was really hoping for. Generally when you show up for a keynote speech, you are expecting a great speech. When the speaker is a famous actor, your expectations are that much higher. Things didn’t start as well as you would have hoped that they would have.

Dennis was introduced by a slick video that reminded the audience of all of the movies that he has been in. He then came out and took control of the podium. This is where things started to fall apart. His first few statements dealt with how he’s not really a doctor and how he really has never played a role in the health care industry. These are all true things, but what a lousy way to start a speech to folks who ARE in the health care industry!

Add to this a great deal of hemming and hawing, playing with his hands, and just all around nervousness and you end up with a speaker who is distracting his audience away from what is a very powerful message. So what was going on here?

I’ll never know the exact answer, but here are a few guesses. Dennis Quaid is an actor. He sure seems to do a great job of performing for a camera – in front a film crew of about 40 people or so. Put him in front of 20,000 folks sitting in chairs in a massive convention hall and he may feel the same way that any one of us would feel – incredibly nervous.

One other contributing factor may have been that the story that he was there to tell was a VERY personal story. It’s entirely possible that each time he tells it, the emotions that the story stirs up in him causes him to fall apart.

No matter what the cause, the effect was the same – a less than expected speech. Us mere mortals can learn much from Dennis Quaid’s challenges. First, practice, practice, practice – no matter how good you think you are, everyone is going to be able to tell if you try to “wing it”. Secondly, practice in front of people that you know – their feedback can tell you things that you can’t see yourself.

Questions For You

Have you ever seen a famous person give a speech? How did they do? What do you think that they could have done better? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Just in case you’ve forgotten it, the #1 question on the minds of any audience that is seated and waiting for you to begin talking to them is “Why should I even bother listening to you?“. This means that in order for you to have any hope of making an impact on this  audience, you’re going to have to answer this question right off the bat. But how…?

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Art Johnson June 24, 2009 at 8:39 am

Great actors are not necessarily great speakers. Think of some of the really awful acceptance speeches at the Academy Awards. Most notably I remember one by Dustin Hoffman and that famous one of Sally Fields, “You like me!”

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Dr. Jim Anderson July 2, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Art: good point! It’s all to rare that one of those awards shows has a really good acceptance speech. I guess actors should never try to “wing it”!

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Jeff Bailey June 26, 2009 at 8:53 am

It seems to me that a great actor could pretend that they are playing the part of a great presenter. Art is correct about the horrible acceptance speeches;)

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Dr. Jim Anderson July 2, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Jeff: as to Art’s point – it sure seems like there should be a booming business in writing acceptance speeches for actors. Clearly there is a need!

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Andrew Lightheart @alightheart June 28, 2009 at 5:18 am

The other point might be: make the build-up modest.

Disappointment is unfulfilled expectations – you gotta manage people’s expectations – better to surprise with better, than the other way.

I love attending conferences once in a while – refreshes my database as to what works and (too often) what doesn’t.

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Dr. Jim Anderson July 2, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Andrew: I hear what you are saying, but I don’t think that it could ever work that way. Your big-ticket keynote speaker has cost you big bucks, as an event organizer you want to get the biggest bang – a full house, and people talking (in a positive way) about it for a long time afterwords. Ultimately, it comes down to speech content – it’s got to be worthwhile.

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