A friend of mine once hosted at the University of Cincinnati a special committee which included both business leaders and university people. After they assembled around the conference table, she turned to one gentleman and said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know you. What is your name?”
With a gentle smile, he responded, “Neil Armstrong.” She had certainly “dropped” his name, but not in the way we usually think of. Not recognizing the first man to walk on the moon was embarrassing.
In speaking, name-dropping can add positive impact. Let’s examine how we should “drop” names in a speech.
First, mention the name of someone in your audience in the introduction of your speech. Before the speech, talk to enough people that you can refer to a person in the audience in a way that connects to you or your topic.
For example, I sometimes have in the audience a former student who now has a responsible job in the organization for which I am speaking. I will say, “___ was one of my students who majored in communication and now he is one of your managers. It is always great to see our graduates doing well.” Or “I met ____ earlier today and found out he too is a Hoosier and grew up in Southern Indiana as I did.” A specific reference to a person shows you have thought about and given attention to this specific audience. Such a reference helps establish your credibility.
A second way to drop a name is always to tell the name of the person who is responsible for a study you reference or a statistic you use. Stating the name connected with the study or statistic indicates you have done your research and also removes any pressure for you to be responsible for the statistic or study results. You are simply the reporter of the information to prove or illustrate a point.
Thirdly, quote a famous person. If the person is not readily familiar to them, you should also make a qualifying statement about the person. For example, I might say, “William James, an early American psychologist, said, ‘That which holds attention determines action.’” Or “Bill Gates said, ‘How you manage and use information will determine if you win or lose.’”
Adding a literary quotation of a famous person will provide quality to the language you use; mentioning the name will add depth to your content. One of my favorites is from Goethe: “One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”
When another person can say something better than you can, drop his or her name. For example, I like Thoreau’s statement, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”
The last way that “dropping names” can add to your presentation is to mention someone who can be a source for more information on the topic of your speech. For example, if I were talking about learning to pay attention in a world of distractions, I might mention Alan Alda’s Never Have Your Dog Stuffed (and Other Lessons I’ve Learned) or another author who has written an article or book on the subject. If I wanted the audience to take action, I might say the name of a person who will assist in taking specific action. Doing so gives reality to the content of your speech.
Dropping names in a speech can add depth and interest in your next speech. I’m thinking about talking to George W about how he could use some of the tips in this and other newsletter articles.
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor of Speech Communication in the College of Informatics at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky. He works with organizations whose people want to speak and listen more effectively to increase professional and personal success. He can be reached at 800.727.6520, or visit www.sboyd.com for free articles and resources to improve your communication skills.