I wonder why they build these airline seats so narrow these days. That doesn’t make much sense.
I’m more relaxed than usual on this trip, which is surprising. There is certainly a lot more riding on my shoulders than usual this time. There’s always a lot of pressure, but ordinarily if I couldn't get the job done… the only one to suffer would be me. Perhaps we wouldn’t get the follow-up business, or we wouldn’t get the sister divisions we’re hoping for. So far nothing like that has ever happened.
But this is different.
These people have been working for month’s to gather an audience to come and hear me speak. They are way out in front of all of the other partners in this new venture, and word will travel fast.
That must be Greg waiting for me. He looks like a big kid, with thick hair and a grin that you can see from the top of the escalator. As we shake hands, it’s pretty clear that he’s excited to meet me, which is still mind-blowing but I’m getting accustomed to it. When they treated us like rock-stars at the national kick-off meeting last July, it was actually embarrassing. Some of them made such a fuss.
After more than 23 years of providing classroom training and consulting services, to corporations all throughout the country and on foreign continents around the world… the recession demanded a different delivery model.
So after a considerable amount of trial and error, we created an online curriculum including all of our best stuff. We split up the curriculum content, wrote the courses, animated, recorded and narrated the lessons, and spiced it all up with surprise videos, innovative tests, and background music selected specifically for each course. We had a ball.
But it’s even more fun now that the demand is growing.
And I suppose that if you spent hours listening to my voice, with my picture in the upper left corner of your display… it might be interesting to have me suddenly come to life in front of you. But that didn't make it any less embarrassing.
As it turns out this is not Greg after all. This is Al. Greg is waiting for us out in the car. He’s a really tall, Carolina country boy with grey hair and casual attire. The baby seat in his trunk belongs to his grandson. The fact that I’m still older than this grandfather isn’t lost on me.
Both of them are vaguely familiar to me. They assure me that we all met at that kick-off meeting last July, but frankly it was all just a blur. There were speeches, “bug-eyed” introductions, dinner meetings, evening events, an endless sea of grinning faces… and more speeches.
We drive back to their offices so that I can meet with the other “voices” that I’ve been talking to on the phone. I feel like visiting royalty, except for the fact that I’m gonna be expected to pull a great big rabbit out of my hat, unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.
I can guess what they’ve had before. Someone shows up with 40 or 50 elaborate PowerPoint slides, and stays chained behind the podium. He’ll open with some well-rehearsed humor to assure them that this is going to be special, and then he’ll put them to sleep after slide #10.
Wait ‘til they get a load of me!
The rest of the afternoon flashes by. I meet new eager and hopeful people. I see where I will be expected to perform on the following morning. I make a few suggestions and a few requests, and I’m taken to my hotel. It’s a Crowne Plaza, but it’s got a spectacular restaurant from a chain that I recognize. I’m happy.
The night is alien to me. I cannot help but contemplate my upcoming keynote engagement. I am well accustomed to large audiences, but most of the time, my audiences are all from the same organization. It matters little whether it is a multi-national corporation, or a relatively small partner or subsidiary, I will have already tailored my messages based upon prior discussions with their executive leadership.
Except that this audience will feature a wide variety of household name business logos, and they are all here to see what they can get out of this new partnership they’ve heard so much about. Greg and Al and the others have done a great job in securing potential attendees. New potential customers for them... and indirectly for me as well.
Now it all falls on me.
Most of the time, I am teaching a class, facilitating a planning session, or leading a workshop that runs on for days. Opening comments are typically only a little shorter than my entire keynote speech. I’ve done comparable engagements like this for the last twenty-three years.
Still... this is different and and the difference is palatable and wriggling around in my mind. Unlike every other event in my background, where the people in the seats showed up to hear the content… these people will show up to hear me. My picture and my name were used to advertise this event. If people show up… that means something. If no one shows up… that means something.
I’m actually more concerned about the absence of evening jitters. The familiar butterflies before an engagement keep me sharp and focused. I typically rehearse only the first few opening comments, over and over and then I just talk to them. I do remember the one time ages ago, when I stood in front of a classroom people frozen with the knowledge that I’d completely forgotten what I wanted to say. It’s a panic that grips your colon and squeezes until the appropriate amount of sweat has soaked through to your suit jacket.
That was so long ago. It happened because I was forged from a culture that did not indulge speakers reading a handwritten script or speakers who kept a death grip on the lectern all throughout their painful diatribe.
I watched the corporate leaders of that culture... and all of the up-and-comers... walk to the edge of the stage and simply begin talking to the audience. No notes. Just an easy conversation between the speaker and each person in an auditorium filled with a few hundred people. That’s who I knew I had to be… so I endured the requisite bumps and bruises you had to absorb to get there.
So now… the day and time have arrived.
The Vice President of the organization is saying my name and the crowd offers genuine and polite applause, … nothing too raucous, but once given they cannot take it back. There are no surprises on their faces when I walk on stage. They all saw my picture in the promotional invitations.
I don’t run up on stage like some of the speakers I have seen, eager to prove how energetic they are. It’s as if they think such displays of youth will fool someone. I’m gonna be 60 years old in March. I make no attempts to fool anybody. They can wait for me to walk on stage.
Standing there now is like coming home. These men and women of all ages, have come here with needs. They have left their place of work and their daily trials, and they’ve come out on this dreary day in hopes that I might just offer at least one golden nugget that will help them grow their business.
Their facial expressions run the gamut from eager anticipation, to blatant and outright skepticism.
From experience, I know that it is the hardcore skeptic who will corner me after the session and set up a follow-up meeting to help him solve his issues. I spot a skeptic almost immediately. He’s skeptical because surely, no one else has ever faced the kind of overwhelming pressures and troubles that currently afflict his company. I watch for subtle changes in his body language as I repeatedly give him illustrations and examples of tactics that just might fit his needs.
There are parts of my keynote designed to make them laugh… and they laugh. There are other parts designed to make them think… and they do. They are engaged because clearly there is a PowerPoint cover slide on display behind and above me… but I’ve made no move to show them any slides.
I am my own best visual aid.
I could never memorize all of this. I could never do it exactly the same way twice. What would be the fun of that?
My hosts are seated in the back and they are obviously happy and just as engaged as our soon-to-be new customers. It occurs to me that this is not a bad way to make a living.