You Don’t Need to Be Ostentatious to Stand Out

There were basically two things I wanted to do growing up:

  1. Eat candy (banned at our house aside from the two weeks following Halloween); and
  2. Meet a professional athlete.

I loved sports so much and if I could only meet an athlete, my life would be complete. There were rumors that the Phillies backup catcher lived in my hometown. There’s really not much to do in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania. If I hang out at the 7-11 long enough, he’s bound to stop in for a Slurpee or Super Nachos.

Sadly, professional athletes do not go to 7-11 for Slurpees or Super Nachos. Nine-year-old Mike didn’t know that. Every trip to 7-11 was a disappointment.

Imagine how enthusiastic Mike would have been to know that just 13 miles away, his dad was the guidance counselor for the future coach of the Buffalo Bills. Yup. True story.

I learned this last year. Here’s the relevant text exchange with my dad:

This was a student from 30+ years ago. He remembered the mom’s name? His IQ? Honors classes? Thousands of students later, how did he remember this one? Dad must have known Sean McDermott would be a star.

Actually, that had nothing to do with it.

The reason he remembered Sean so well? “Both parents came to parent-teacher conferences,” dad told me, “that was very unusual.”

Lesson: You don’t need to be ostentatious to stand out.

People often ask me how to make their speech stand out. When I hear that phrase – stand out – my brain goes straight to pink hair or metallic pants or pyrotechnics. I need to be creative and loud and force people to listen to me.

That’s probably true for, like, TikTok. But for a speech? You stand out if you’re clear. And if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s: most speakers are not clear.

Sounds good so far. But you might be thinking “okay, Mike, but how do I know if I’m clear?”

If that’s you, try this:
Rehearse in front of someone
Ask what the speech was about
Ask what action they are supposed to take as a result

If their answers are close to what you’d have said, you’re in good shape.

Then, watch what other speakers do. They overtalk. Almost everyone does. Watch how their point is murky. It happens all the time.

Limit your information. Speak clearly. You’ll stand out every time.


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Metaphorically speaking, a lot of us do the same when we start a speech: we make it all about ourselves. We read our resume to the audience.

Y’all. We don’t need to do that. At best that comes off as braggy; more likely it comes off as insecure. 

Don't be that guy.

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These are stories, hacks, speech critiques and recommendations. I spend an inordinate amount of time writing these.


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