The public speaking manuals all give you the same advice:

  1. “Keep it simple, stupid.” (The KISS Formula)
  2. Be brief. Be concise. Be memorable. (The Three B’s)
  3. “Say what you’re going to say. Say it. Say what you’ve said.” (The Say it Formula)

Speaking is like blowing up a bridge. You go in, position the dynamite, light the fuse, and get out – fast.  What matters is making a big bang.

The books and manuals make it sound easy, but it isn’t. Conception is one thing, execution another.

There aren’t all that many really good public speakers around. Some say Obama, but his failing sometimes is to sound too professorial, too nuanced, too complicated. He takes too long to blow up the bridge.

For my money, the best speaker around is Bill Clinton. (In Canada, our best is Bob Rae.) He’s funny, he’s folksy, he’s memorable. Very early on in the medicare debate in the US (he’s a strong supporter of Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act), he said, “You’ve got to get the corn to where the hogs can reach it.” Something like that. And true enough one of the difficulties of Obama’s bill is that the benefits—of which there are  many—don’t kick in immediately. You have to wait to get many of the goodies.

One of the best talks I’ve heard in recent years is by Aston Kutcher on YouTube (I still prefer Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men”) receiving his Teen Choice Award for  Lifetime Achievement.

He said he was going to make three points and he did.

First point was “opportunity looks a lot like hard work.” If you get a job, don’t quit it until you have another in hand. No job is beneath you. You can learn something from sweeping floors, stacking shelves or delivering newspapers – something about yourself or other people.

Second point was about being sexy.  “The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart and being thoughtful and being generous.” This was the heart of his talk; this was his big bang, his most memorable line.  It deserves to be in caps: THE SEXIEST THING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD IS BEING REALLY SMART AND BEING THOUGHTFUL AND BEING GENEROUS.

When he said the word sexy, the audience went wild. He looked sexy: a baseball cap on his head, a surfboard in his hand, an open shirt, sneakers. His image reinforced his message.  He made being smart cool when for the longest time being dumb, or pretending to be, was considered cool. “ So,” he repeated, “be smart, be truthful, be generous.”

Third point was about building a life. He credited Steve Jobs with this metaphor: you don’t live a life, you build one. Remember, he told the screaming teens, “everything we call life is built by people no smarter than you. So build a life. Don’t live one.”

Bravo Mr. Kutcher. And thanks for the perfect speech.

(With thanks to my friend Crystal Philp for making me aware of Aston’s speech)

J.S. Porter