What Country Music Taught Me About Public Speaking

When I was 16 years old, I had a girlfriend who slowly but surely converted me to country music. It started with Garth Brooks’ Standing Outside The Fire. – (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jh499tJV_sY)

Then it was Tim McGraw, Toby Keith and pretty soon I was hooked.

Country music songs are great because they have much more of a story to them than most other genres of music. (I know what the haters are thinking – “my dog died, my wife left me, etc…)

And within the stories of country music songs there is an incredible lesson for anyone who speaks to groups or gives presentations.

I first recognized this pattern with Tim McGraw’s song – Don’t Take The Girl.
Read the lyrics and then I’ll tell you how it applies.

Don’t Take The Girl

Johnny’s daddy was taking him fishin’
When he was eight years old
A little girl came through the front gate holdin’ a fishing pole
His dad looked down and smiled, said we can’t leave her behind
Son I know you don’t want her to go but someday you’ll change your mind
And Johnny said “Take Jimmy Johnson, take Tommy Thompson, take my best friend Bo
Take anybody that you want as long as she don’t go
Take any boy in the world
Daddy please don’t take the girl

Same old boy
Same sweet girl
Ten years down the road
He held her tight and kissed her lips
In front of the picture show
Stranger came and pulled a gun
Grabbed her by the arm said “If you do what I tell you to, there won’t be any harm”
And Johnny said “Take my money, take my wallet, take my credit cards
Here’s the watch that my grandpa gave me
Here’s the key to my car
Mister give it a whirl
But please don’t take the girl

Same old boy
Same sweet girl
Five years down the road
There’s going to be a little one and she says it’s time to go
Doctor says the baby’s fine but you’ll have to leave
‘Cause his momma’s fading fast and Johnny hit his knees and there he prayed
Take the very breath you gave me
Take the heart from my chest
I’ll gladly take her place if you’ll let me
Make this my last request
Take me out of this world
God, please don’t take the girl

Johnny’s daddy
Was taking him fishin’
When he was eight years old

The central message “Don’t Take The Girl” that ran through the song is what we call in speaking a through line or a foundational phrase.

A foundational phrase encapsulates your message into a short, powerful takeaway message and it becomes a through line when you can weave it through your entire speech like the song – leaving your audience crystal clear on what your message is.

When you prepare a speech or presentation I want you to try and clearly state the central message in one sentence. Can you do it? Do you have a foundational phrase that is succinct, clear, poignant, and memorable?

I often speak to High Schools and High School Leadership Organizations and the speech that I give is titled, “Playing To Win.” My foundational phrase comes in the form of a question, “Are you playing to win or playing not to lose,” and I come back to it with every point that I make. What do you think I want those kids to remember from my speech and in decisions they make? Right – “Am I playing to win or playing not to lose?”

I know what you are thinking – what if I am making several points in my presentation? Well, most presentations are an opening, 3 points and then a close – so my question is what is the main message? I know you have three points – but what do the three points lead to? If you could only make one point, what would it be?
If you become clear on the overall message, it will actually strengthen your three points because it gives them and anchor and context.

A strong foundational phrase and through line will make any speech or presentation more impactful and more memorable.

So as you prepare your next speech – take a lesson from country music.

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