Making the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Memorable

(March 1, 2011) The grand task of all Halls of Fame is to make the induction ceremony a memorable event. The honored guests will always remember their day in the sun, the unique and special honor bestowed, the moment of a lifetime; but what of the audience? Can a Hall of Fame create a ceremony that provides such unique and lasting value that it is truly memorable? Every part of the program needs to be evaluated toward the goal of making it so special for all that the ceremony becomes the experience of a lifetime for everyone in attendance and for others who might view it later via the wonderful world of technology. The core target is to capture people’s hearts. No induction ceremony can be considered a truly successful one unless we meet the lofty goals that Jim Valvano presented in his speech at the 1993 ESPY Awards on accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award: If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. “(It actually brings tears to my eyes just remembering it!) That’s what we are charged with searching for!

I suggest there are two major elements that must be right for an induction ceremony to have a chance of becoming memorable: 1) the introduction or presentation of the inductee, and 2) the inductee’s acceptance of the honor. The other elements of the program recede in importance to these two, though they can clearly have a pejorative effect on the memory of an event if, for example, the setting or seating is distracting or uncomfortable. But these two core elements can overcome minor annoyances if they are done well.

As the creator of the induction ceremony, the challenge is to balance those elements under your control with the advice given for the elements outside of control. For example, the induction/presentation can include a video component that can truly be a significant part of making any event memorable and one over which control can be exercised. The video, if used, must be well crafted with exciting and emotional action paired with an audio track that captures the highlight moments presented. That audio can be an announcer’s call of the action or music, usually in combination, that makes important moments jump off the screen into the hearts of those attending.

If video is paired with a spoken introduction, there is incredible importance in coordinating the two. At the National Soccer Hall of Fame we learned to use this technique by highlighting the soccer career via video and asked the presenter to speak about the inductee as a person. This spoken introduction is critical. I strongly suggest limiting this presentation to three minutes at most – it calls to mind that oft-repeated idea: “Anyone can give a 20 minute speech, but it takes real work to give a 3-minute one.” This is surely true. While the Hall of Fame does not control this aspect in total, working with a presenter to refine and re-refine this element can have real rewards. First, it is important we make clear to the presenter that it is not about you! This is a simple idea that I have often seen forgotten. Remember, our goal is to speak to the heart of the audience, not necessarily to their brains. Make it full of the truly important elements that make the life being celebrated.  Paring this to just a few truly emotional moments will provide the audience with the core of the inductee. That’s what is needed and required. Getting this speech right with the Hall of Fame’s active engagement is critical to success.

The same can said of the acceptance address by the new inductee. While the time limit can be more flexible – I continue to believe it is the inductee’s day and the Hall of Fame, while providing guidelines, should not present a hard limit. At the same time, I believe every speech needs an editor and questioner, someone who helps the inductee say exactly what needs to be said and helps him/her do it well. I believe you need to offer that assistance. I’d even suggest that you ask the inductee to send you a written copy and a DVD of a practice session. You can help them refine and redraft, focusing on the key moments of importance to the greater world, emphasizing those elements which are emotional. This will be accomplished by stripping some parts away and adding to others. It can be a challenging, fun, tedious, and ultimately, extremely rewarding process.

While all the associated parts of an induction ceremony are important, they will never overshadow the central importance of the presentation/introduction and the acceptance speech. Working hard at these is well worth the effort expended.

Jack Huckel, Founder & Principal of J.R. Huckel & Associates, offers election and induction consulting services to Halls of Fame. More information is available at the firm’s web site. Jack can be reached at jack@jrhuckel.com or 518/852-3033. He has observed more than 100 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies and been a participant in more than 25.

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