The musings of Tim Minchin are genius. Irreverent, foul-mouthed and derisive, but genius.
Minchin bestows his advice on a group of graduates at his alma mater, The University of Western Australia. This is a familiar engagement for many celebrities including; Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Natalie Portman and even Kanye West. These are usually presentations worth watching – well crafted, polished, insightful and thought-provoking.
But none are quite like this.
Let’s unpack this oration, both style and substance, to understand how to deliver advice that sounds nothing like a lecture.
Beginning with more than the usual introductory quotes, because they are that good…
“Learn as much as you can about as much as you can.”
“Arts degrees are awesome and they help you find meaning where there is none.”
“Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook. You won’t find it and you will bugger up your soufflé.”
“Truffle oil is overused and slightly obnoxious.”
“You can’t be Kant and you don’t want to be”
The Mojo of Minchin
As an entertainer, songwriter, composer, actor and musician, Minchin is no stranger to the spotlight. In this address he steps into a new role – that of sage.
He delivers brilliantly with trademark humour and intelligence. Combining common (truck driver) language with highbrow literary and philosophical allusions, Minchin serves up nine life lessons to his receptive audience.
1. You don’t need to have a dream. It’s OK to be micro-ambitious.
2. Don’t seek happiness. This is a futile pursuit. Just keep busy and try to make other people happy.
3. Everything comes down to luck. Starting with your birth.
4. Exercise some. ‘pasty, pale smoking philosophy grads…’ you will need your body because you might live to be 100 and that could be depressing.
5. Be hard on your opinions. Art and Science are not at odds with each other. Intellectual rigour requires constant attention and examination. Identify your biases, preferences and privileges.
6. Be a teacher. Please. This is admirable and important. Be a teacher even if you are not a teacher. “Rejoice it what you learn and spray it.”
7. Define yourself by what you love. Be demonstrative, show admiration and give thanks. Be ‘pro-stuff’.
8. Respect people with less. You can assess a person’s character by how they engage with the waitress.
9. Don’t rush. You don’t need to have all the answers right now.
The Method of Minchin
More than just entertainment, there is structure and technique at work.
- Audience first – clear understanding of the demographic in the room.
- Plenty of self-deprecation. In this case, it works to increase credibility ‘you might find some of this stuff inspiring, you will definitely find some of it boring and you will definitely forget all of it within a week’.
- Context – This is a formal event. Minchin makes the obligatory concessions in the form of academic dress, appropriate acknowledgements. This is also a room full of graduates – they are idealistic, educated and informed. To be impactful the presentation must challenge. It does.
- Even the vice-chancellor cannot suppress the giggles
- Content matters – There is substance here. Nine pearls of wisdom that are neither trite nor derivative.
- Structure matters – a clear beginning, middle and end. A list is used as a device to frame the entire presentation. Providing a scaffold for the speaker and the audience.
- An effective and well-chosen hook in the form of a story.
- Language – aligned to the audience and the context. Lots of 100 point+ words and academic references tempered by vulgarity and derision to create the authentic Minchin performance.
- Presence – rather formal as dictated by the circumstances. Academic robes, lectern and microphone serve to the Minchin’s physical presentation (hair!) and impish glances over the top of dark-rimmed spectacles.
Whether or not you appreciate Tim Minchin’s brand of wit and performance, there are plenty of lessons here.
A Speech a Week Series
Words have the power to change the world. Speeches are used by leaders, revolutionaries and evangelists to persuade people to think differently, to feel something new and to behave in remarkable ways.
In this series we will examine one notable speech per week. We hope to cast a wide net – including politicians, business leaders, preachers, entertainers and philosophers. These articles will consider matters of content and style to uncover the secrets of oratorical success.
By examing the components of speechcraft we can improve our own powers of persuasion. We will come to appreciate the craft of eloquence – guarding against silver-tongued miscreants whilst gradually building our own expressive capability.
If you would like to contribute to the series by suggesting a speech, please send us a message via the mojologic website.