the sun is setting over the mountains and hills

#42: Brooks and the Eulogy Virtues

Bob Ewing
November 12, 2021
the sun is setting over the mountains and hills

Talking Big Ideas.

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
~ Simone Weil, French philosopher

The first happy hour I went to in DC was tough.

I was new in town. Sleeping on a buddy’s couch. While everyone else at the event seemed to have promising careers, I was broke with no luck interviewing.

Perhaps I didn’t belong. Nobody seemed interested in me. I left dejected.

The second happy hour was different.

The host was a guy named David. He gave a short talk welcoming everyone. Afterwards I walked around feeling uncomfortable and out of place.

But then David came up to me. He asked about my life and gave me his full attention. He made me feel important. When he found out I just moved to town, he introduced me to other people at the event.

That brief encounter with David changed my self esteem. Maybe I could make it in DC after all! I kept at it, got a job, and ended up staying in the area building my career for another 15 years.

Sometimes I wonder, if it wasn’t for that first interaction with David, how different would my life be?

Last week I was at an incubator event in Orlando. Entrepreneurs pitched ideas. Professionals gave feedback. Facilitators kept everything moving. It was intense. And awesome. I was honored to be there.

The creator of the incubator, Lynn, gave several speeches. She did a fantastic job.

But what stands out to me now isn’t any of her formal remarks. It’s how she came up to me afterwards. How she carved out time to sit down with me and ask for my thoughts:

How do you and Maryrose like your new house? What’s been your favorite part of this event? How can we make it better next year?

Like David, she gave me her full attention. She listened to what I had to say. She made me feel important.

I think about what this means for public speakers.

The author David Brooks makes a distinction between résumé virtues and eulogy virtues. Résumé virtues are the skills we use to make money. Eulogy virtues are the qualities we have that people discuss at our funeral: courage, compassion, helping people to grow and feel appreciated, etc.

Brooks argues that we typically focus most of our energy building our résumé virtues. But we often have the biggest impact on people through our eulogy virtues.

When it comes to public speaking, we can think of résumé virtues as the ability to control our voice, clarify our message, and persuade the room. These are valuable skills! My career is based on helping people build them.

But I wonder if the most important part of our presentations happen once we step off stage. When we get the chance to apply our eulogy virtues.

Brooks writes:

About once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people . . . . when I meet such a person it brightens my whole day.

Reading that reminds me of David and Lynn.

Brooks has us consider how we will be remembered. After our presentation is over. After the conference is over. After our lives are over.

What lasting impact will you leave? What will people remember most?

The anecdotes you share during your speeches? Or the moments of connection afterward?

We tend to put less effort into how we present ourselves after we deliver our talks. But those casual chats could be the most important part of the event.

The speeches we give matter. The conversations we have may matter even more.



You continue to influence people after you step off the stage.

Think about a recent gathering you attended. For work, family, fun, church, school, etc. Ask yourself:

  • How do the other people there likely remember me?
  • Who stood out the most in a positive way?
  • What attributes made them stand out?
  • What is one way I can apply these attributes over the next month?


PS: OBJ is in the news.

He’s an elite football player that was just released by his second team. He created drama on social media and has a reputation for being toxic in the locker room.

His former team played without him this past Sunday. They appeared more united than ever. They were underdogs, but they won 41-16. It was their best performance all year.

I wish OBJ the best and hope he succeeds in his next chapter. But I wonder if he’ll end up being a case study in how eulogy virtues matter more than résumé virtues.

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