There are many reasons why Michigan State Quarterback Kirk Cousins has a bright future – and his public speaking skill is one of them. Cousins delivered a Heisman-esque speech last week while addressing the annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon. Cousins’ speech exemplified all that is right with college sports, and is a much needed contrast to the barrage of stories that are not so positive.
My ties to the Big Ten are strong – both of my parents were educated at the University of Michigan and I was born on the campus of Purdue University. My cousin (one of only two) attended Indiana University; I have guest lectured at other Big Ten schools such as Ohio State University (had to get that in for my parents). Until I went against the grain, we were a strong Big Ten family. This speech reminded me why.
Kirk Cousins did a lot of things right with this speech:
1. Message Discipline – There is no way to miss Kirk Cousins’ message, no matter how distracted an audience member.
2. Stories & Anecdotes – Whether reminiscing about his Tim Dwight jersey as a kid or his recruitment tale, Cousins wove a number of anecdotes and stories into a 5 minute address.
3. Preparation – This was not the first or fifth time Cousins delivered this speech. It was obvious the preparation he put in before talking the podium, something many professional athletes can learn from.
4. Vocal delivery – no shrinking violet, his tone and intonation were great throughout.
5. Respect – In paying homage to rival Coach Joe Paterno, not by name, Cousins implemented a lesson credited to Winston Churchill – praise in the beginning of a talk sounds like flattery, whereas the same praise in the middle of a talk come off as sincerity.
6. Anaphora – On different occasions, anaphora was successfully utilized – “It has been a privilege….”; “We have a responsibility…”
7. Smile – Cousins was warm from the moment he took the stage, not always the easiest image for an athlete to effectively convey.
8. “Big Play” Delivery – The set-up and effective pause around the story about the school boy who asked if he was as good as Denard Robinson was great.
As with any speech, there are areas to improve upon, and areas that, with a little work, will make Cousins even better. Here are a few things to think about:
1. Pausing – The speech was very quick, and pausing throughout would have made a big difference.
2. Eye Contact, I & II – In spots, the eye contact was great. More pausing and a slower tempo would allow for more eye contact; in addition, speaking while looking down is never an effective practice for myriad reasons.
3. Notes – Although not certain, it appeared Kirk was reading from a written speech; working to turn that into bullet points would allow for more eye contact and more effective delivery.
4. Religion – Religion is always tricky when it comes to a public address, and this is where knowing your audience is critical. While choosing to include religious references is a personal opinion, remembering that there are those from different backgrounds who will benefit from your message but may tune it out if your address is deemed “too religious” is something to consider.
My vote doesn’t count, but I would encourage all Heisman voters to take a long look at Kirk Cousins – the stated mission of the Heisman Trophy is to “….annually recognize the outstanding college football player whose performance exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” Cousins certainly achieves that.