How to Say Something Valuable in a Speech
When I am asked to give a speech, I try to think about this question: what is one truth that no one agrees with you on? No matter how many times I answer it for myself, the question forces me to think deeply about saying something valuable to an audience that has invited me to hear my thoughts.
This question is the paradox that venture capitalist Peter Thiel asks potential job candidates, and it creates a genuine challenge for anyone that tries to answer it. If you say something that people readily agree with, you have failed the paradox. If you answer it truly, you have created a new problem for yourself, you now have to persuade the audience of the correctness of your view which they by default do not agree with you on.
At any given moment, an audience member could pull up his or her phone and access any piece of digital information in the entire world, more knowledge is at our fingertips than ever resided in the Library of Alexandria. Not only is the information available, but the very best speakers in the world are waiting to give their most intriguing speeches at the push of a button on YouTube. When you are speaking, your value is that you have something to teach, share or expose, and if you abdicate that responsibility, you will have wasted the chance to change the world in some small way.
The value of speaking in-person is that you can hone your message to be something that the group needs to hear, but would not find if you were not there. You must think deeply about what you are going to say when you get invited somewhere. Opportunity resides precisely in the place everyone else has neglected. If you can’t think of a truth that no one agrees with you on, then perhaps you are only entertainment, or only delivering a message that many other people could have carried.
If you genuinely attempt to say something true that no one agrees with you on, you will get to feel the passion that comes from searching for meaning, it will make you feel fully alive. It is in those moments where you push the boundaries of what others think, and testing if your model of the world is as accurate as you imagine. This is the edge of chaos; the place between the known and the unknown. Speak that truth and you will discover something new.