By Bill Scott, President, StoreReport LLC
I remember the first public speech I ever gave. It was in 1978 to a group of business people and professors at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. It must have been a horrible sight to behold. I worked on my speech for a month, and read it as fast as was humanly possible. 38 years later, all I can remember was the punch line. “Over the next decade, we will look back on today as if we were deaf, dumb and blind.” Not exactly politically correct. When I sat down, the faces of the audience had a horrified expression. I swore that I would never talk in public again.
By 1980 however, I was traveling around the country giving seminars at various IBM events throughout the U.S. More than once I have spoken at events where the attendees’ only grasp of the English language consisted of three phrases. “I want to eat, I want to sleep and I need to pee.”
One such meeting I remember in particular. It was at the Japanese American Institute of Technology in Honolulu, Hawaii. I spoke about Computer Aided Software Engineering tools through a female interpreter to a group of data processing engineers from Dai-ichi Kangyo Bank in Japan. I received a standing ovation. I have often wondered what the devil she told them.
Throughout the eighties I continued to haunt the halls of IBM talking about my software programs, thriving on those occasional standing ovations that came every now and then, but never often enough. The fact is that regardless of what you might pay, all public speakers cherish standing ovations more than anything else. You have to work for them though. Audiences can be stingy with them, you know.
The secret to public speaking is to focus on a positive connection with the group you are addressing. You can make them laugh, you can make them cry, you can make them scream, but you must exact an emotional response from your audience. Emotion is contagious, and once you have made that connection, it will roll through the audience like a tsunami.
I’ve come a long way from talking about computers, software and programming. Now I talk about how retailers must evolve over the next decade… anything past that is pure conjecture. There is no shortage of bad ideas and manufactured experiences going around purposely engineered to benefit someone else who might fear change. Fear is a powerful suppressor of the truth. My fear is that we are so far behind in the area of management, we may never be able to catch up.
Mark Twain said, “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” If you want to expand your horizons, give public speaking a chance. You’ll learn more about yourself and your industry than you ever thought possible. Once you have conquered the fear, you’ll wish you had thought of it sooner.