Writing A New Year’s Speech: Your Checklist (VIDEO)
by Elizabeth Van Den Bergh
Are you planning a New Year’s speech, but are you experiencing a writer’s block?
Know that’s completely normal. Writing a memorable New Year’s speech is tough. Because it’s a milestone speech, it can seem like an overwhelming task.
Still, it is the perfect occasion to look back and look forward together, and thank the members of your team.
Here are my tips to prepare your New Year’s speech. (See text below video for tip details)
1. Define your speeching intention
There are unavoidable elements to a New Year’s speech, which we’ll look into below.
But to start off, ask yourself: What do I want people to take away, say one week after the speech?
Think not only in terms of what you want people to know, but also what you want them to feel and do.
What will they know? That even if this felt like our best year ever, they can prepare for an even better one
What will they feel? Proud, excited and curious
What will they do? They will act motivated and keep the objectives clearly in mind.
This way, you get one clear message that gives your speech direction.
2. First, look back
New Year’s is the time to review the past year. There are different angles you can mix and match:
Spot trends: As a leader, people look to you to paint the bigger picture. What are remarkable developments in the world? Your industry? Your organisation?
Tell stories: Every year has its good stories. Which can you use in your speech, that illustrate your main point? Or maybe they are just plain funny.
Give credit: In true holiday spirit, call out those that have accomplished valuable things. You will win hearts and confirm your image of a leader who is well aware of the value of their team. Try to include people on every level — not just your management team.
3. Then, look forward
New Year’s is also the time to formulate resolutions. Leaders have a vision. What are the big goals you are setting for your organisation or team?
These can be numeric (growth in sales, staff or offices, for example), but it might be appropriate to formulate ‘softer’ goals such as what you as an organisation will make happen in the world.
People love to have a direction to work towards, and this is your occasion to provide it as a leader. This is your ‘I have a dream’ moment!
4. Keep it light
Every speech has a context.
In the case of a New Year’s speech, that context is: your people have the holidays just behind them. They’ve had their fair deal of family dinners and receptions. They’ve probably eaten and possibly drank more than was good for them.
The message here is: a New Year’s speech that is too serious or too long is a bit like a cold shower at this point. Better to inject some warm feelings and a sense of humour.
5. End clearly and on a high note
As always, the end of your speech determines the final impression you make.
Ever had a splendid meal at a restaurant, but the dessert was disappointing? Then you know what I mean. So don’t waste that chance.
In the case of a New Year’s speech, it’s good practice to bring out a toast.
You could prepare your audience by using a ‘bridge phrase’ toward the then of your speech, such as:
“So, as I close this toast and we bring in a new year…”
And then you bring out your toast. Here are a few of our favourite ones:
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” — T.S. Eliot
“Here’s to a bright New Year and a fond farewell to the old; here’s to the things that are yet to come, and to the memories that we hold.”
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” — Dan Millman
“Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.” — Brad Paisley
“May all your troubles during the coming year be as short as your New Year’s resolutions.” (a funny one – ideal for keeping it light 😉 )
You can of course find another quote about change or gratitude that you like, or write your own.
Good luck writing your New Year’s Speech! Which tip will you implement? Do you have additional tips? Let me know in a comment.
Last modified 11/06/20
‘My life after Nelson Mandela’: An interview with his former aide, Zelda la Grange
by Elizabeth Van Den Bergh
Today, 18 July is International Nelson Mandela day. A day that invites us to follow in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela who has fought for social justice for 67 years, to start with 67 minutes volunteering or community service to fight poverty and promote peace, reconciliation and cultural diversity.
Zelda la Grange was raised as a daughter of white apartheid. She would become President Nelson Mandela’s most trusted and loyal assistant after she started working in the presidential office in 1994.
Brussels-based Speaker Coach Elizabeth Van Den Bergh had the honor to help Zelda la Grange prepare her TED Talk for TEDxFlanders 2019. The day after they found time for coffee and a talk.
I was nervous for our first skype call. In the first few minutes of my online meeting with Zelda la Grange, I was presenting myself she said ‘Elizabeth, I think you are selling yourself short’ and smiled. The ice was broken and we had a fruitful talk about what she would say in her Ted Talk about Nelson Mandela’s legacy. Only two hours after our first Skype call I already received a first draft of her Talk in my mailbox. Zelda la Grange is that kind of person: warm, kind and committed.
After having been so close to Madiba for 19 years, how did you deal with his passing?
Writing the book Goodmorning Mr. Mandela was cathartic. Madiba (a title of respect for Nelson Mandela, deriving from his Xhosa clan name) is still very present in my life because I talk about him every day and that helps.
It is almost 6 years since he passed away. I have not really taken two months off to mourn and process what has happened to me. I haven’t had the time to sit and think about it. I prefer it this way because otherwise I could have become conceited.
Working alongside Madiba with everybody from Bono, to President Clinton and everybody who felt they needed some of his time and a photograph alongside him, must have been so intense. After 19 years of working at times day and night, what kind of life did you see for yourself and what actually happened?
Haha, good question. At some point I just longed for a quieter life and was thinking of opening a florist shop, but things turned out quite differently!
People ask me ‘Zelda, do you have a five year plan? I don’t!’
Looking back at my life, I did not have the ambition to become so close to Madiba.
I believe my life purpose is revelations.
I am revealing the person that I worked for. In doing so I am also pursuing my passion.
Looking back now, how did you end up working alongside one of the most famous presidents in human history?
At the age of 23 I didn’t want to be the office assistant, this rookie job. But I committed and became the manager. I am extremely hard-working, I simply get things done.
I don’t know why President Mandela picked me to be his personal assistant, but he did.
I am an all or nothing kind of person. If my heart is not in something I cannot engage and then I’d rather leave it. In my work with Nelson Mandela my level of commitment is what differentiated me. I was 110% in the job, you cannot ignore such commitment.
It is important to be in the moment and doing the best you can with what you have.
It’s really about becoming the best in your craft with dedication, loyalty and commitment, just like Nelson Mandela.
If I would have said ‘I can’t do all this by myself, being a personal assistant, being a spokesperson and being a crisis manager, I wouldn’t have gone through the wonderful rollercoaster I have.
I didn’t always like my job, but it gave me opportunities. And that’s the thing, we don’t always see opportunities. But I have learned do what you do with complete conviction then the next step will be a secure one.
If I had had children I would have been the best mother. But motherhood is not what life presented me. Life presented me a different path.
But, I had such a privileged life. To be so close to someone like him.
I have an obligation. It is my way to show gratitude. Gratitude that I am paying forward by making people understand what Madiba’s work is all about.
How did you become a professional speaker?
My speaker career started in 2010, when we were cutting on Madiba’s public life because physically it was not possible for him anymore.
A friend of mine who works for the rugby association invited me to speak to the Sprinkbok national women’s team.
Not being used to public speaking. I actually I enjoyed it. And then more and more speaking engagements come from that.
In 2010 Madiba was still alive, but I stopped taking on speaking engagements 3 months before he passed away. There was a lot of admin work around his office and supporting his wife Graça Machel.
I didn’t plan that my book would come 6 months after his passing, but that’s what happened and then the speaking engagements picked up.
There was the desire to hear his story. I must say I was completely overwhelmed by the selling of the book. People asked how many books do you want to sell.
I have no idea about the sales numbers. The demand for it just didn’t stop.
I had other plans. Around publishing time I had plans to go to a more simple life.
Dealing with the politics around Nelson Mandela is exhausting. This was the moment I was determined to open a florist. But as you can tell, things turned out differently.
You are getting caught up in another roller coaster?
Yes! So many things have happened to me since the book and the passing.
I am getting involved in interesting things. I co-curated an exhibition in London.
There is a documentary in Afrikaans about the young life of Nelson Mandela.
8 years have gone by since he passed away and nothing has been done in terms of broadcasting. Nothing about the history and I am passionate about that.
I am involved in a weekly women’s talk show that I present in Afrikaans. I enjoy the variety of all these many things.
And then life enfolds itself?
Indeed, from all of these things the next opportunity will come. I believe the universe reveals itself in time. Whenever I want to stop I’ll meet someone who will inspire me, encourage me. To continue. I take it as a sign.
So, I don’t sit down and think I have a particular role to play. Or my voice is important.
I just do. And when I do, I do with complete conviction.
If it was in my nature to sit down and reflect I could have become conceited.
Like look at me, but I don’t. Even now I don’t have time to think, and that’s good. It goes to your head. I find satisfaction from doing.
How has Madiba’s way of being affected you?
The learnings from Mandela become part of ones nature.
I have adopted a different regard for other people. Mr. Nelson Mandela was a very mindful person by nature. Being mindful takes practice. It is so hard these days surviving in today’s fast moving world, you would easily forget to be mindful.
For example, when someone serves me at the restaurant, I make eye contact and connect with that other human being.
We live in our little silos and that’s why we have become so unaware of each other’s struggle. Many of us are just making it through the day. So if you look up at the person serving you, and say’ thank you very much are you having a good day’ you are making a difference in someone’s day.
Or, like in the supermarket, the person taking your money, I look at the name tag and say something kind. This is important for someone’s survival. Other people are human beings as well.
Nelson Mandela also taught me to think about people’s circumstances, specifically in the South African context.
It has to do with empathy. For example, you are driving your car and someone cuts into you. Despite of the tensions and road rage, I would not get angry because the person made a stupid mistake.
Not judging but asking why is this person behaving in a particular way. Realising that there may be a very good reason. That I would not understand because I am just in my moment dealing with my frustration. We are all so full of prejudices and that’s only human, but our challenge is to question our prejudice. I don’t reduce other people to their actions.
It will shock people but if I look at the most hardened murderer, I still feel empathy.
Nelson Mandela believes no one is beyond redemption. He would reach out to a murderer and say ‘you have made a mistake, you have to deal with the consequences, but it doesn’t mean we have written you off.‘
When you speak in public do you act or are you being yourself?
It is not about not being yourself it is about the delivery. I am very much at ease with one on one conversations, or talking in groups of friends. But as an introvert I find it challenging to speak to big crowds or strangers. On stage I bridge that for myself. It is out of character for me in that big room. That’s where the acting comes in. I dramatize in the delivery. And the storytelling behind it.
I wanted to be an actress growing up. I didn’t become one, but in my 19 years with Nelson Mandela I was surely given the opportunity to act. Being the frontperson for him requires acting and role play. I was not skilled but got to do it. In speaking it is also exactly that.
I use a lot of humor. Nelson Mandela also had a great sense of humor. I use that and it’s entertaining. I add both prepared and unprepared jokes.
Certain stories people find funny.
When Madiba (Mandela’s clan name, editor’s note) met Queen Elizabeth, he first looked at her from the other side of the room. He had every intention to respect the protocol. But he also wanted to break the ice.
He took a long time to cross the room, and finally he said ‘Elizabeth. You lost weight!’ And she burst into laughter.
Ms. Machell, Madiba’s wife, quickly tried to correct him: ‘You cannot call her Elizabeth!’ ‘Why not?’ he replied, ‘She calls me Nelson’.
In any situation he could use his sense of humor to diffuse tension.
If you meet young people what do you tell them?
I believe things will happen as they should and that we should know that we are at the right place and right time.
So, I tell young people ‘Be present in the moment and do everything with complete conviction. Because we never realize which opportunity could come to us.’
And remember, ‘It always seem impossible until it’s done.’
Scroll down to the bottom to see our bonus video tip on writing victory speeches.
Writing an effective victory speech is tough.
You won something (hooray!), and you’re likely to be either in a state of euphoria or complete overwhelm.
Now is the time to express gratitude and all you can do is stutter ‘Oh, oh, I didn’t expect this, I am so grateful, I don’t know what to say, …’
Other people shut down their emotions and start endlessly (and boringly) thanking everybody and their grandmother.
A great victory speech is actually a balancing act. You want to acknowledge your own efforts while at the same time putting the spotlight on others.
Here’s a 3-part structure to help you compose your victory speech. We’ve illustrated each part with examples from Barack Obama’s famous 2008 Chicago Victory Speech.
1. Be grateful
A sympathetic winner acknowledges that many others helped him achieve his goals. This acknowledgement should be explicit: thank all the people that were important to you and if there are just a few, thank them extensively. Obama even goes as far as addressing the victory to someone else – those who elected him – and does not just thank others but praise them too.
“I just received a very gracious call from Senator McCain. He fought long and hard in this campaign, and he’s fought even longer and harder for the country he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine, and we are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader.”
2. Be modest
People want the modest, unexpected candidate to win. Therefore, you should emphasize the unlikeliness of your victory. Frame yourself as the underdog, state that you never expected to win, that this achievement is beyond expectations. Obama does this very strongly in his speech and portrays himself as a very improbable winner.
“I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn’t start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington – it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.”
3. Be visionary
Victory is never a goal in itself. Victory should serve more noble goals or is just a step towards new, better or more victories. Also, victory might be just a first step of a long process. The winner should show that he oversees this process and knows where he stands. Obama emphasizes “change” as the highest goal and warns that this goal has not been reached and can’t be reached quickly nor easily.
“There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can’t solve every problem. […] This victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change.”
Bonus tip: Speak to people’s potential
Watch this video for a bonus tip on how create even more impact for your victory speech.
Since I am a competent communicator at Toastmasters and I regularly speak for an audience for my work, I think it is fair to share with you a very helpful piece of advice on overcoming fear of public speaking.
Whenever I speak for an audience, I remind myself of this advice.
Number one fear
Many studies on the topic with tell you that for the majority people public speaking is what they fear the most. Most people fear public speaking even more than death.
“This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy” says Jerry Seinfeld.
Although I would certainly not claim public speaking is my biggest fear, I do get very nervous when the moment is approaching.
Why are we so afraid of public speaking
Valid question! Why are we so afraid? What can possibly happen that’s so bad?
Apparently our fear goes a long way back into the history of human kind. Early humans survived by their wits and their ability to collaborate. Those that worked together well, helping others in their group, probably survived and passed on traits that contributed to social behaviour.
Failure to be a part of the social group, getting kicked out, probably spelled doom for early humans. Anything that threatens our status in our social group, like the threat of ostracism (being expelled from the group), feels like a very great risk to us.
Will it kill us?
Early humans could not survive without the group; they would be an easy prey to predators and have difficulty to find enough food. A rejection from the group would be fatal.
This explains our fear of public speaking. When standing in front of a large audience, we start sweating because we fear rejection.
Living in the 21st century we can easily understand this fear is not grounded. So rest assured, no one ever died from speaking to an audience.
Don’t bring your ego on stage
What did I learn over the years that really helped me perform better on stage delivering a speech or giving a workshop?
Realizing that public speaking is not about me. Understanding that it is about the audience.
Oprah said “When we operate out of ego, we operate out of fear.” Operating out of fear is never effective, this is exactly why we should not bring our ego on stage.
The advice is ‘the speech is not for you; it’s for your audience’. Once I understood this I became even more motivated to speak up.
When you think of famous, inspiring speeches, like Obama’s inauguration speech, like Martin Luther Kings ‘I have a dream’ speech, you can clearly see how they were given for the audience. Barack Obama and Martin Luther King understood it was not about their own persona.
Preparation is everything when talking in front of an audience, but that’s for different post. For now, I gladly give you five practical tips on how to control your fear:
Be nice to yourself before addressing your audience
Tell yourself ‘it’s not about me’
Arrive early at the venue talk to the people already there. Ask them sincere questions. Why are you here? What would you like to take away?
Once on stage, allow yourself a few seconds to breath deeply and take a good look at your audience before you start speaking
Only rehearse your strong opening in the last moments before you start. Be sure to open with a bang.
Advice from a professional speaker
Q: There’s an art and science to motivating others. What does it take for a speech to stick?
A: I think speaking is more science than art. Before any speech, I do my homework and try to understand the audience. I get to the venue early and ask about the people who will be there and the way they may think. Once I get that down, I can focus on the art – the style of being engaging and trying to develop humour. (Exerpt from an interview ‘Inspiring the Next Generation’ with Jess A. Mejia in Toastmasters magazine May 2014)
Set yourself free
Understanding your fear of public speaking and controlling it, is only a first step to become a good public speaker. Getting rid of the fear is liberating. I would even go as far as saying that speaking for an audience can be a fun thing to do.
Does your speech suffer from the Curse of Knowledge?
by Elizabeth Van Den Bergh
Have you ever experienced the following:
You are having a conversation with someone, and you seemingly agree on a topic. You’re both nodding and saying “‘yes, yes” … only to find out a few minutes into the conversation that you were not talking about the same thing at all.
Another example. Imagine that — without any preparation — you need to teach somebody how to drive a car. What would you say? Probably you’d start with something like, “Press the clutch”. Your student would likely reply: “What’s a clutch?”
These situations illustrate a cognitive bias called The Curse of Knowledge: we routinely assume that others know the same things we do. But our conversation partner or audience might not be on common ground at all.
This phenomenon can lead to misunderstanding and even conflict. And it will almost always limit the impact of communication.
How the Curse of Knowledge manifests for speakers
Most speakers are experts. They know more about a topic than 98% of their audiences.
Interestingly, the Curse of Knowledge leads better-informed parties to find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed parties.
Put simply: experts have a hard time connecting to, and engaging, newbies. There’s a gap to bridge.
A striking example from science: tapping tunes
The effect was first described by the economists Colin Camerer, George Loewenstein and Martin Weber, though they give original credit for suggesting the term to Robin Hogarth.
In one experiment, one group of subjects “tapped” a well-known song on a table. The other group listened and tried to identify the song. Some “tappers” described a rich sensory experience in their minds as they tapped out the melody.
The tappers on average estimated that 50% of listeners would identify their tapped tune.
In reality, only a sad 2.5% of the listening group could identify the song.
This suggests we overestimate other people’s understanding of our communication by a factor of 20!
And that goes just for tapping pop songs. What would the factor be when we try to get across more complicated ideas?
5 tips to avoid the Curse of Knowledge
Being aware that the Curse of Knowledge exists is a great first step. Here are 5 tips for dealing effectively with the Curse when speaking:
Do not be afraid that your speech might be too simple. This is a mindset thing. Most experts fear that their speech might lack substance, so they over-complicate it. In reality, the knowledge gap between them and their newbie audience is so big, that what the expert feels is “dumbed down”, is just the right level of complexity for their audience.
Carefully dose the amount of information you share. This relates to the previous point. Newbie audiences are saturated with information much sooner than you think.
Take plenty of time to explain possibly unknown concepts. Take different angles in your explanations and use plenty of examples.
Catch yourself using jargon in front of a newbie audience. Jargon can alienate non-expert audiences very fast. If you have no choice but to use jargon — for technical topics for example — be sure to explain it.
Rehearse your speech for a non-expert audience. Friends or family might qualify.
Last modified 18/01/18
Get rid of online bias when you organise a webinar and perform like a pro
by Elizabeth Van Den Bergh
Avid fans among my newsletter readers remember that I am fascinated by cognitive biases.
Today I am writing about a cognitive bias, which I call online bias.
Online bias: online tasks, in reality not so different from their off line version, are mistakenly perceived as more difficult compared to their off line counterpart.
I take the case of organising webinars (online) compared to trainings (off line).
Ask a random colleague if he or she would like to host a webinar, and he or she will look back at you slightly scared at the prospect of being online, live and in front of a webcam.
From my own experience and from my recent experience accompanying a client with the organisation of their first webinar I am happy to share a few tips.
First rule, always and everywhere: know your audience and make sure you are speaking to their interests and needs.
Run a pilot
When you prepare a training, you run a test to check your flow, your time keeping, your anecdotes. Simple as that.
For a webinar it is the same principle. You run a pilot. You master the techniques.
Welcoming the participants
When you organise training you’d be welcoming the participants as they enter the room and connect with them. Even ask a few questions.
Use the first 5 minutes of your webinar to welcome participants. Check if they can hear and see you. Then explain what is going to happen. Add this to your agenda.
Talk to your webcam as if your participants were with you in the room.
Timing is important
During your training you follow an agenda and regularly refer back to it to provide a helicopter view.
In a webinar it is even more important to respect your timing. Plan moments for interaction carefully.
Important note: off line a trainer would revert control to the group during training, in a webinar the host always keeps in control of content, time and interaction.
Exchange of knowledge
The presentation itself should be higher-level points, which you will detail in the conversation. Present your info in clear steps, like baking a cake. Have enough examples, add pictures on the slide, and make it visual.
Whilst off line training is a better format for exchange of knowledge between trainer and participants. As a trainer you can take also a lot of feedback from participants. Via short, specific questions during the webinar and via a survey immediately afterwards.
In conclusion, when preparing your webinar, think of all the things you would do when giving off line training and do them as well in your webinar, albeit slightly different.
If you are organising a webinar soon, I’d be happy to know how it went. If you want to receive more tips on webinars, just pop me an email at: [email protected].