A Key Lesson From David Letterman's Retirement Speech

As you’ve heard by now, talk show legend David Letterman announced his retirement last night. What struck me about his retirement announcement was that he chose to frame it within an anecdote.

Letterman told a lengthy story about spotting a rare bird while fishing with his son. He didn’t know what breed of bird he had spotted, so he spent his next day at work trying to figure it out.

When he got home and his wife asked him how his day was, he told her what he had learned about the bird. When his wife asked who was on the show that night, Letterman shrugged. He couldn’t remember.

It was at that moment, it seems, that he realized he had lost the passion to host his show. When the “How was work?” question led to a bird tale instead of conversation about the show itself, he knew it was time hang it up. 

When making his announcement, Letterman could have simply said, “I’ve lost my passion for hosting,” or “It’s time.” Instead, he chose to frame that message within a story. As a result, his retirement announcement was a lot more colorful, memorable, personal, and understandable.

David Letterman Retirement

I’ve written about this topic before—about looking for “smaller” stories to help make a larger point. It’s a great device, one you should consider for your own presentations.

Here’s a post I’ve written about telling small stories.

And here’s a wonderful example of a TED Talk that accomplishes that beautifully.