Ashton Kutcher’s speech at the Teen Choice awards is getting a lot of attention, as well it should. It offers some solid public speaking tips that we can all learn from.
Kutcher does a lot of things right. He clearly connects with his audience and speaks with passion and intensity (he is, after all, a professional actor).
But what really struck me was the simplicity of his approach.
These days, with the ubiquity of TED Talks and tons of books and advice from experts, we’ve become increasingly sophisticated in our expectations of what a good speech should be.
We marvel at the grace and beauty with which TED speakers weave their stories and the creative ways they share their ideas.
I know I’ve said many times that presenters should dispense with all the dull, ordinary ways people have traditionally structured their speeches: This is who I am and this is what I’m going to talk about, blah, blah, blah.
Keep It Simple (Stupid)
But Kutcher shows that there is still a time and place for the old, “Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you just said.”
I think this is a fine approach, especially in any of the following circumstances:
- You don’t have much time to get your message across.
- You’ve got a tough audience (like a bunch of antsy teenagers who are expecting to be entertained, not schooled).
- You’re not comfortable with your storytelling or public speaking skills.
Sometimes the simplest approach is the most effective.
Stick to Three Things
Kutcher is also very disciplined, sticking to just three points (which, again, he reinforces in his intro and closing).
I didn’t pick up on this right away, but a number of people are saying that he might have been influenced by having just played Steve Jobs. Jobs was famous for making his speeches about just three things.
If so, he learned from the best.
Four Other Public Speaking Tips
Here are four other things that made this speech work:
He started by humanizing himself, telling a self-deprecating joke about this being “the old guy award.” (And giving the screaming young girls in the audience an opportunity to voice their disagreement.)
He added a little surprise, saying, “I feel like a fraud,” and leaving that hanging out there for a moment to pique the audience’s interest. He then revealed that his name isn’t really Ashton—it’s Chris. Ashton is his middle name and became his show business name. This creates some intimacy with his audience—they now share a secret with him.
He didn’t just tell that story for the hell of it, he tied it in to his message: three timeless life lessons he learned when he was just plain old “Chris.” Too often, speakers start with a story or quip that may be entertaining but is unrelated to the point they’re making.
Knowing his audience wasn’t there for a lecture, he sweetened the deal. One of his lessons, he promised, would be about “Being Sexy.” And he managed to turn that into something substantive.
Ashton Kutcher—Who Knew?
Aside from technique is the fact that he delivered some really excellent content. Important messages about hard work, education, generosity, thoughtfulness, creativity and independence.
So I think a lot of people are reevaluating their perceptions of who Ashton Kutcher is. I know I am.