Manner of Speaking

Analysis of a Speech by Ed Gavagan

Ed Gavagan is an architect who lives in New York City. He is the owner of a design firm specializing in boutique residences. In this talk at The Moth, Gavagan tells a very personal story about an incident that almost cost his life and definitely changed his life. It is poignant, emotional and inspirational.

Gripping stuff. Here are four things I particularly appreciated about this talk:

1. He told a story.

The Moth is a very special speaking forum, devoted exclusively to the art and craft of storytelling. And Gavagan’s story was a perfect fit. There was descriptive detail, there were characters, there was emotion. But there is always room in a speech or presentation for a story. Our brains are wired for stories. If you can tell a storyeven a short oneto emphasize a point, it will be more likely to stick in your audience’s mind.

2. He spoke in a conversational tone.

The more Gavagan spoke, the more it felt like he wasn’t giving a speech. It felt like he was sitting across the table chatting over a beer. It is important to know your material and there will be occasions when a certain level of formality is required. But if, instead of speaking to your audience, you can have a conversation with them, it will definitely help you build rapport.

3. He used humour very well.

This is a very emotional story, no question about it. And there are moments when things get very dark indeed. But Gavagan uses well-timed humour in order to allow the audience to laugh, catch its breath and get ready for the next part.

One example: When Gavagan talks about being stabbed and bleeding and running for help, the audience is completely silent. Then, from 5:40 to 6:10, he recounts how the garbageman jumped off the truck, grabbed him by the shirt, slapped his face and screamed, “Don’t you fuckin’ die on me!” There is laughter and there is applause. The audience is palpably relieved.

It is OK to bring your audience down emotionally. But don’t leave them down the entire time. Look for ways to add light moments to lift your audience back up.

4. He wasn’t afraid to show his humanity.

I cannot begin to imagine what it must have been like to go through the ordeal that Ed Gavagan went through. The fact that he was willing to talk about it publicly says something about his character. Not only did Gavagan talk about the experience; he shared some of his deepest fears, frustrations, insecurities and emotions. The result was raw and touching and memorable. Audiences do not expect you to be perfect; they expect you to be present. And Gavagan was just that.

Ed Gavagan has given this talk, with different variations, in several fora since speaking at The Moth in the video above. If you do a search on YouTube, you can find several of these other speeches. They are all interesting to watch as the story is told differently each time. But the one above is still my favourite, perhaps because I saw it first.

I don’t know what the future holds for Ed Gavagan, but he is one man who has had more than his fair share of ordeals. I wish him and his family smooth sailing ahead.