Leonard Cohen’s passing offered us all an occasion to re-visit his art and impact.
In my fantasy of this singular man, he is introducing me.
I don’t even have to be on the stage with him. Or even in the concert hall. I just want him to use his poetry to evoke in one perfect sentence the essence of my contribution. And to do so in a way that makes every listener certain that I must be an extraordinary human being. The kind of person anyone would benefit from knowing.
Because the ability to do this was one of his many gifts.
I watched awe-struck from a seat in the National Arts Centre in Ottawa as he celebrated the musicians who shared the stage with him during one of his last tours.
The almost-octogenarian stood patiently in front of his still vamping band, waiting for the applause to subside. He then walked over to each of his collaborators, bent down on one knee, removed his fedora and, clutching it to his heart, brought the microphone to his lips to deliver a single magnificent line of tribute. His resonant bass lent every word – and the person he was describing – sophistication, brilliance and gravitas.
I wept at the grace and beauty of it all, and wished that I could endow others with such gifts when tasked with introducing them.
Alas, I’m not Leonard Cohen, and neither are you. But here are a few suggestions as to how we can all move past the tedious list of a speaker’s accomplishments to deliver something more inherently engaging.
Find out what the person is most proud of, and then talk about what that says about who they are
Describe the impact the person has made on the lives of others, using at least one concrete example
Tell a story that illustrates the core moral values and integrity of the person
In an ideal world, you have enough time to practice speaking your introduction out loud often enough that you don’t need a text. But if that’s not the case, write your notes in bullet form or short sentences so you can look down, absorb the point, and then look up and deliver the content, making eye contact with the audience.
The pause after each line required by this approach will allow them to reflect on the speaker’s experience and how it might be relevant to or inform their insights.
And you can always imagine a simple line of music underscoring your words, heightening the impact of the tribute you are paying.