Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Speeches: when to call an audible

This past weekend, tennis fans were treated to an extraordinary match in the final of the Australian Open in Melbourne, in which world #1 Novak Djokovic beat world #2 Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5. 

The match lasted almost six hours; as the Telegraph put it, it "was certainly the longest, surely the hardest and arguably the greatest Grand Slam final in history.

The players were both physically spent by the time it was over, having covered miles of court (I can't find the stat, but it must have been miles!) and hit the ball incomprehensibly hard over and over again, for hours. When it was finally over, these fine competitors were understandably in pretty rough physical shape.

And that's when I started thinking about PR.

Enter the tournament sponsor

The Australian Open's main sponsor was Kia Motors. As part of its sponsorship, a Kia executive had the opportunity to open the trophy presentation ceremony.

His prepared remarks were appropriate for the occasion, content-wise... but the circumstances of the match might have called for a bit of a last-minute re-write.

As both players' bodies began to cool down after the match had finally ended (six hours!), they began to cramp. The Kia spokesman, who had his back to the players, couldn't see their discomfort from where he stood: but judging by the booing that eventually came from the crowd, everyone else likely did. (The feed I was watching on TSN actually kept the camera on the players almost the entire time, like this YouTube clip -- so the players' worsening pain was all the audience could think about.) 

Those poor guys... and the poor guy from Kia. Oblivious to the pain his speech was literally inflicting on the players, he kept going.

When the moment is right, call an audible

Without corporate sponsors, tournaments like this wouldn't happen; it's entirely appropriate for the main sponsor to have the opportunity to speak with the tennis world listening.

But imagine the great impact this opportunity could have had, if the Kia rep had simply stepped up to the mike, thanked the players for what may well become the match of a lifetime, shared how honoured Kia was to have been a part of it, acknowledged not wanting to make them wait a minute longer than necessary, and turned the presentation over to the emcee.

If he had, I think fans in Rod Laver Arena and around the world might have felt a connection with the sponsor, rather than willing him to just stop talking... and his appearance could have earned Kia more than polite applause (and saved him the "boos").

Always be aware of your audiences' circumstances when you step up to speak; if they might be better-served by a different speech than the one you've prepared, consider making changes on-the-fly.

Doing so well could turn your routine speaking engagement into a memorable moment shared with your audiences.


  1. Just seeing this now, I realize how uncomfortable it is when the sponsor's speech goes long. Many sports get this right, only allowing a few words before handing the trophy to the tournament brass.

  2. Wow Melanie, that's a fascinating post. Made me think what I would have said if I happened to be in that exec's position. Thanks for the thought-provoking content!

    Alicia Austion | PR in MetroWest MA

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