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Speechwriter Suggests Ideas for Commencement Addresses

For Immediate Release

Speechwriter Suggests Ideas for Commencement Addresses

Graduation season is coming and you can sound amazing.

Atlanta, Georgia – January 10, 2023 – Commencement season is coming, says speechwriter Anthony Trendl, principal at American Speechwriter. You’ve a chance to say something extraordinary.

Trendl, who has heard a lot of bad speeches over the years, has been writing university commencement addresses for over a decade. They’ve spoken at Harvard, UCLA and Princeton. Too many speakers underestimate the opportunity, he says, and “phone it in.”

“Maybe you remember the commencement speech at your university. I don’t. I don’t know who spoke or about what. My attention wandered after the first five minutes,” says Trendl.

There have been a few noteworthy commencement speeches through the years. More often than not, the noteworthiness is buoyed by the speaker’s fame. Sometimes, in the case of Apple founder Steve Jobs famous commencement speech at Stanford, his simple message is powerful magnified by how we know who is speaking. His fame and brand were well-known long before he spoke.

He told three stories that many of us could have told, but because we know his success and his impact on technology, those stories are validated beyond the mere facts of the story.

What are the elements of a good commencement speech?

“Being famous helps. Being wildly successful like Jobs helps. But even Jobs required good content told well. His life story offered the good content. The rest was just putting the words in the right order, in his voice. Non-famous people can achieve this,” Trendl suggests.

A commencement speech affords the speaker a platform to say amazing, unlimited things. The speaker can play. It is an opportunity to share your experience, values and advice. The precise form is up to you.

Usually, they are from 15 minutes to an hour, with a preference declared by the committee inviting you. They might suggest a theme, or a few ground rules. Honor them and speak with integrity. But within those few parameters, you can be dramatic, philosophical, poetic. You can break into song, or read from a novel, or wear a clown nose. Should you? That’s another question, but that’s the point: use your freedom of speech.

Ask yourself the question, “Why did they invite me?” Did you build a business from failure into success? Are you a recent Nobel Prize winner? Are you well-known in the arts community? Steve Jobs knew the answer. Next, “Who am I speaking to?” Students, yes — but which students? MIT? Yale? Julliard? The student body at each is different. Part of that question includes, “Who do they think they want to be?”

Then, consider your speaking skills. If you can’t sing, doing so from a podium will entertain no one. If you can, have at it. Slip a line in here and there. If you have a strong dramatic streak, consider telling stories. The point is to work within your strengths, weaknesses and personality.

Once you know the goal of the speech and what you bring to it, you can start hammering out ideas for getting it done.

Anthony Trendl is the principal of American Speechwriter, a global strategic executive communications firm out of Atlanta, Georgia.


Anthony Trendl

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