At just the right moment, a short, bald-headed man in a suit strode confidently and quickly across the stage carrying a plastic milk crate. Through the applause, it captured my attention immediately that he was carrying such an odd thing until I saw what he did next; he dropped it on the floor behind the lectern and stood up on it, giving him the height he needed to stand well clear of the lectern. The entire audience immediately broke into laughter. The speaker had quickly completed his first objective; to capture our attention.
Something happened in my mind during that man’s 90-minute presentation, something that would alter the course of my life from that point forward. You see… up until that moment, I had little clarity regarding my career and personal goals. But by the time I left that corporate conference room, a seed had been planted that would start me on a journey toward a more fulfilling professional life and a chance to inspire adults I would meet along the way. I didn’t know how I would begin that journey, all I knew was that I wanted to do what he was doing; using knowledge, wit, enthusiasm, and humor to inspire and motivate nearly 150 adults, all at one time.
Although his message of embracing change was an inspiring one and a well planned presentation that the company’s leadership wanted us to hear, I was paying closer attention to the mechanics of the talk. I took notice at what the speaker said and did that invoked laughter from my fellow professionals sitting around me. I also took note of the components of his speech, such as the pitch and tone of his voice, the body language and how well it matched each individual message in his talk, and how well his eye contact seemed to make me feel like he was talking to me personally.
Of all the speaking techniques the man on the stage used, one particular one really made an impression on me and is one I've recreated in my own presentations many times. As a means of reinforcing a point he was making, he produced a newspaper and read the headline of a particular article. The newspaper was a copy of that day’s local city newspaper and the article he was quoting was regarding a large scale event that had some affect on all of us in that room. You might be thinking that I’m making too big a deal out of something so common; a speaker referencing a newspaper article. While speakers do this all the time, what made it remarkable for me is that the speaker was from Utah and he had just flown in to our area just hours before taking the stage!
This technique was just one of many that I would begin learning over the next few years. I had become aware of the magic of engaging your audience and mastering the skill of professional presenting and I wanted to build a business that would allow me to do the same for my future audiences. Having sat through many managers’ presentations at the companies I worked for (most of them as engaging as watching paint dry), I had begun to realize that it was techniques like the milk crate and the local newspaper that helped to set apart the great speakers from all the rest. I wanted to be one of those who left their audience inspired, informed or moved to action.
The 90-minute presentation delivered by the professional speaker from Utah went by so quickly. I had filled several pages in my notes binder and my mind was exploding with ideas and craving more information about speaking. After the final applause, my coworkers all headed to the back doors to return to their respective cubicles. I however, made my way against the flow of people traffic to the stage. I wanted to have just a few minutes with the speaker to let him know how much I enjoyed it and how much I learned.