Speaking Tip from Tennis Legend Michael Chang

What do we want to hear from Michael Chang when he is inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame? 

I say we want to hear detailed stories about life on the tour and how he achieved greatness. We want to hear an interesting or insightful anecdote that we can only get from Michael Chang. Unfortunately, what we hear is the same thing we hear almost anytime someone accepts an award: cliches.

I’ve been watching reruns of this weekend’s induction ceremony for the International Tennis Hall of Fame (What can I say. I’m a tennis nut and I’ll watch almost anything broadcast on The Tennis Channel. And I mean anything. Just ask my wife.)

The featured speaker this year was Michael Chang, the legendary baseliner who won the French Open and was renowned as one of the great scramblers and fighters ever.  Of course, what we want to see from a great tennis player is easy.  We want to see Michael Chang hit an amazing passing shot. Certainly the players know that.

But it’s unclear that the players know what their audience wants to hear when they give a speech.  That’s because these acceptance speeches, like almost all such speeches, are rarely anything more than a bunch of trite truisms about hard work and gratitude. Here’s just a taste from Chang’s speech.

As I reflect upon my career, the words dedication, perseverance, hard work, sacrifice, faith, unity and love come to mind and you would think that I was referring to myself through all these years but in actuality, I am not.  You see, for any champion to succeed, he must have a team. A very incredible, special team.

The whole speech was filled with that stuff. It’s trite. Sorry Michael.

Now I understand that he’s accepting an award and it’s his job to thank people.  And I know that he’s a tennis player who has always done his talking with a Prince racket. And you can call me churlish if you’d like.  That’s fine. I love Michael Chang. I once sat in the stands and cheered my lungs out when he pulled out an amazing four-set battle on one of the outside courts at the US Open.  To me, he stands for the word “fight!”

And I also know that the induction ceremony is “his day.” So Michael Chang can say whatever he wants. Sure. 

But I think Chang and the rest of the world needs to understand that when you accept an award, no one wants to hear a bunch of cliches on hard work and “doing your best” that could have been lifted from a motivational book by Norman Vincent Peale.

Tell us a story! Tell us what you were thinking when you decided to serve underhanded to Ivan Lendl in the finals of the French Open. Set the scene and and tell us what options you weighed. Take us to the day when you first learned that you were faster than anyone else on the tennis courts. Take us to the hotel room when your brother and coach gave you a lecture on how to beat Jimmy Conners.  Tell us a specific anecdote that illustrates what it’s like to be Michael Chang.

So here’ s the lesson: If you have to give a speech where you accept an award, thank people. But then give at least one or two stories that the audience can only hear from you.  Tell the story about what happened late at night when no one was watching and you were sure everything was going to fail. Tell the story about the moment you realized that everything was going to succeed.

Spare us the cliches.

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