Commencement ceremonies typically last for two hours, and believe it or not, most, if not all, of the audience just wants to get it over with. At some point in a graduation rite, a chosen person gives a commencement speech addressed to the graduates and other attending audience.
The speaker hopes to connect and resonate with you and inspire you to take a hopeful step out of university or college and into your future. But sometimes, they tend to fall short or overdo their speeches.
A speech that is too short is usually lacking and unsatisfactory, and one that is too long can be too dull or dragging. But how long should a commencement speech be?
Famous Speeches and What Made Them Stand Out
Many famous individuals were invited to speak at a graduation ceremony, but not all have made a popular commencement speech. Commencement speakers who have effectively delivered their speeches know for a fact that personal experiences that are inspiring to you may not be the same to everybody else.
Anyone can give a speech to inspire, but you cannot do so with uninspiring words and without resonating with your audience.
Famous speeches by noteworthy persons of different fields like Barack and Michelle Obama, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk, Mohammad Ali, Chadwick Boseman, and J.K. Rowling have impacted the minds of the audience, especially the graduates, for several reasons.
Their graduation speeches stood out because they built a connection with the audience from start to finish. They talked about the good and the bad experiences without insecurities or hesitations and how the lessons they have learned shaped them to become a better version of themselves—a version that can overcome the challenges that the future holds.
Ultimately, these people wrote their speeches to inspire you at a personal level, building that connection to you as listeners and basically telling you, “Hey, I have made mistakes—too many, in fact. But that does not matter now. Let’s rise above them and celebrate all that life has to offer. And if you have braved college, you can brave anything that’s to come.”
How to Make Your Commencement Address a Success
Giving a commencement speech is a form of art. It is not just a congratulatory address to the graduates but also a motivational talk on what comes after graduation. Granted, giving a speech is hard, but knowing helpful tips and suggestions makes your commencement speech more straightforward and effective.
Here are some do’s and don’ts you can take note of and apply to make a memorable commencement speech.
Do know your audience
You know that a commencement ceremony is attended by various persons—from professionals to laypersons like your family, friends, and other graduates. Not everyone shares the same culture, religion, and background.
Do think about and speak for the graduates
If your commencement speech contains too many first-person pronouns such as I, me, my, mine, or myself, maybe you need to rethink what your address should really be about. Even if you are a student commencement speaker, your speech should not only be about you.
Do be funny
Injecting some humor into your graduation speech is one key to make it memorable. You can balance humor and sense in one piece while driving home a hopeful message. But don’t make people laugh at someone else’s expense. It’s not comedy you’re doing.
Do it briefly and lively
If you talk for hours, people will get bored at some point. The graduation ceremony itself is already a drag to those attending and participating. Don’t make your speech be one as well. Keep your graduation speech concise yet full of life and personality.
You can’t just write your speech and stop there. The day you’re delivering your graduation speech should not be the first day you are reading it. After you write your piece, read it out loud in front of other people.
And notice if there are awkward words or sentiments in place and correct where corrections are due. Practice making your speech delivery sound natural.
Do it with originality
Suppose you are invited or asked to speak at a graduation ceremony. In that case, it is because you are a noteworthy person and people believe that you actually have something inspiring to say. Use your words, ideas, and messages to connect with your audience.
It is you they want to listen to, not someone else. Be yourself.
Don’t talk about crucial differences
Not every person in your audience has the same religion, political views, race, sexual orientation, and personal opinions. So, do not force your beliefs onto your audience, and do not negatively comment on other professions as members of each are usually present in an audience.
Don’t attack graduates
You’re not to give a speech to condemn or call out what anyone has done wrong in the past. Instead of airing out the dirty laundry, you can provide a brief message on professional responsibility and how everyone can work toward a better and hopeful future.
A quote or two can help you drive home a point, but anything more can give the impression of a preachy or smug speech. Too many quotes in your graduation speech can make your speech unoriginal and even insincere.
Don’t drag, but don’t be in a hurry
A lengthy speech can be dragging and boring, especially if you’ve repeated the same points over and over. Choose your words carefully, get to the point, and end it quickly—but not too quickly. A graduation speech isn’t a “hi-bye” kind of thing. Take your time, but not everyone else’s time.
General Word Count of a Commencement Speech
Your speech should last less than 18 minutes. On average, a five to ten-minute commencement speech is just about right. Practicing your speech delivery of 200 to 250 words in one minute will sum up your speech to having at least 1,000–2,500 words.
Steve Jobs and George Bush are among the many well-known commencement speakers to deliver a great speech with a 1,000–2,500 word count.
Composing and delivering a commencement address is not just a one-day process. It takes correction after correction to make sure you drive home some valuable and memorable points to your audience. But no matter how inspiring the written piece is, your delivery is still what matters in the end.
When you’re up on that stage in front of thousands of people, be confident and remember your speech is not only about you.