Disclaimer: I’m not a Los Angeles Laker fan. But watching LeBron James’ speech honoring the passing of Kobe Bryant Friday night at the Staples Center, it was hard not to be. Before a packed arena overflowing with emotion, after other moving spoken and musical tributes, LeBron James strode out to center court and was handed the microphone.

After paying tribute by reading the names of Kobe Bryant, his 13 year-old daughter Gianna , and the other seven souls lost in the helicopter crash earlier in the week, LeBron looked down at the written notes for his speech, and decided, no.  He tossed them to the floor and told his audience that he’d rather speak from the heart, and for the next three and a half minutes, did just that. After his closing line, “In the words of Kobe Bryant, ‘Mamba out’, but in the words of us, not forgotten. Live on brother.”, you’d be hard pressed to find a dry eye in the house.

There are many critical speeches in life, and speaking on behalf of any lost life is both an honor and a challenge. When the great Muhammad Ali passed away in 2016, I wrote a piece on the art of the eulogy as it pertains to public speaking, by using actor Billy Crystal’s eulogy to “The Greatest” as the centerpiece. Yes, Billy Crystal is a fine actor and writer and so you’d expect a well written, smoothly delivered speech. For the rest of us, it can be an emotional, rugged road to travel.

To Toss or Not To Toss?

For most critical speeches, I advise clients to have either the entire speech written down, or at least the main topics and key bullet points, allowing them to speak about it a bit more naturally, but still stay on track.  Even then, there are speeches that either because of the setting, the relationship to the audience, or the emotion of the moment, merit speaking from the heart and not the written page. The question is: how can you tell when then moment is upon you?  A few things:

  1. Consequences: If you depart from your written speech what is the downside? Are there statistics that you absolutely must get correct? Best to have those at hand. If other facts or data are essential, proceed with caution on departing from the script.
  2. Q&A follow up: If it’s the kind of speech that allows follow up from questions from the audience, better know your content thoroughly, if you’re going to wing it.
  3. Emotion: Compassionate, heartfelt, stirring speeches may seem like they shouldn’t be scripted so as to be more genuine. The risk is getting either swept up in the emotion of the moment (can be good, but often detracts from the speaker’s effectiveness), or wandering off into tangential thoughts as the mind improvises.

It is said, a speaker will never have a more supportive audience than when giving a eulogy. I personally can attest to that when I, an only child, spoke at my father’s funeral. As for LeBron’s speech, it hit all the right notes. Emotion, sincerity, and honesty to a full arena of supportive, loving fans.

So, is it OK to “toss the speech”?  Answer is maybe. You have to listen to your gut, your heart, and your brain.

The Ganon Group offers communication coaching for executives and employees across all departments: C-Suite Leadership, Sales, Customer Experience, Technical / Product Development, to improve their communication and presentation techniques. We believe everyone can “up” their game when it comes to communicating initiatives and ideas within the organization, outside to new prospects, to existing clients, or to outside media and trade organizations. www.theganongroup.com