Honor Your Everyday Heroes: Enjoy the Anatomy of a Speech Part Eight

Look for everyday heroes.

I was invited to deliver the opening keynote speech at the Toastmasters International Convention in 2001. In this 10-segment series, you view the anatomy of a keynote presentation. 8 of 10

“All right, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been talking to you for about, I don’t know, 44 minutes, give or take. For the first people in the front rows, what have you heard that can help you in preparing and presenting your powerful programs? Remember the rules: one sentence, learn to edit your words. Any hands, any takers? Good. I can see someone giving me the finger here. I’m sure it was several fingers, but in the dark, it’s difficult to see.”

‘Life is a series of sales situations.’

“Wonderful. You’ll notice on your speech structure sheet that it says repetitive reframes. If you want your audiences to say, ‘Every speaker on the conference quoted you afterwards,’ it’s because you reinforced your ideas in soundbites, and the key points of your speech are repetitive reframes. You repeat them. Good. What else have I said to you that might be useful?”

‘You gave me the solution for a good marriage.’

“Oh, really? Here I am a single woman. Please do tell me.”

‘Well, the real sale begins after the fact.’

“Ah, the real sale comes after the sale. Works in every situation. Wonderful. Anyone else want to tell us something they heard that might be useful to them? This is my impersonation of Oprah Winfrey.”

‘The answer is always “no” if you don’t ask.’

“Wonderful. Thank you. Now, how about something to structure a speech or make it more exciting? Good, somebody is waving something in the front row. Thank you.”

‘You’ve got to have the structure in place before you can work on panache.’

“Because it’s very difficult to focus on polish and panache if you don’t have your message internalized. Anyone over here who wants to tell me anything that might be helpful to you?”

Lesson: Audience members hear what you say and apply their own interpretation.

I did not say ‘panache,’ yet the definition is ‘flamboyant confidence of style or manner.’ I like it! I did not say it, but I will!

‘The stories will help them remember your message.’

“Which is a perfect transition into my next point. Remember, once you have your material organized into a structure, your audience will remember the stories.”

‘The best material, we never put into our talks.’

“It’s true. Don’t you ever find yourself saying to your friends, ‘Do you ever say that in a speech?’ And they say ‘no.’ And you say, ‘You should.’ And you, like me, sometimes catch yourself saying, ‘That’s good. I need to add that to my speech.’

“Rich, how do I pronounce that last name?” ‘Reiner.’

“You’re a very smart man because you agreed with me. Let’s look at the material, especially stories. Just down the street is Hollywood. Screenwriter Robert McKee said, ‘Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. An audience of 1 or 1,000, given the choice of hearing a trivial story well-told or a brilliant story badly told would always take the trivial well-told.’ Let’s face it, in Toastmasters we give a lot of short speeches, a short speech that’s going to have a point with some wisdom. Most of the time it is designed around one story or example.

“Let me tell you about Ed. Ed was one of my clients who worked for a large retailer. He came around one day, and we had an hour and 20 minutes to help him design an eight-minute talk.

“Naturally you know what I said: ‘Ed, we don’t have very much time. You need to do exactly what I tell you. First of all, whom are you addressing?’”

‘500 managers.’

“What does a manager look like?”

‘They are 26 to 28 years old.’

“What is your subject?”

‘The program where we ask the employees to come up with ideas to save the company money.’

“How long do you have to speak?’

‘Eight minutes.’

“Good. Where are you on the program?”

“He said, ‘10:45, right after the coffee break.’

“I said, ‘Well, your first words are not “Good morning.” Why? Because five other people already said “Good morning,” and your audience will forgive you anything except being boring. If you are too predictable, you will be boring.

“I said, ‘Ed, let us also look at the subtext. What is it you’re saying that you’re not saying? You just got promoted. In that eight-minute speech you are going to prove that you deserve your promotion or have wondering, “Why?” This is what I want you to do. Walk on stage and say, “We are here to talk about heroes.”‘ Everybody laughed. Fortunately, he had enough sense to wait and let them laugh. “We are here to talk about heroes.” In seven words, he’d just proved it wasn’t another dull corporate speech. “They may be sitting behind you. They may be sitting in front of you. They might be you in the trenches company heroes.”

“I said, ‘Ed, tell me a story about someone who actually did something that saved the company money.’ He gave me a page of statistics. ‘Ed, statistics aren’t sexy. Numbers are numbing. Where’s the made-for-television movie?’ We called the accounting department and asked, ‘What is the story behind the statistics?’ One little guy worked in the mailroom. One day he noticed he was sending seven FedEx packets to the same location, same day, the same thing inside – the company newsletter. He thought, ‘Oh, I wonder how often we do this. Multiple pieces to the same location, not that important. Why don’t I open them up, put them in one packet with a note to distribute at the other end?’ Beyond that, he walked over to the other guys and said, ‘Hey, guys, by the way, if you’re sending multiple items to the same location, ask if you can put them into one box if they’re not private. After all, we own stock in our company; we don’t own stock in FedEx.’

“That one idea saved the company $200,000. I said, ‘Ed, any time you say something, especially to a young audience, you need to answer the questions they have in their mind: “What did you do with the money?”

‘$200,000 is 18 miles of shelving. It’s another jean size we haven’t designed. It’s another month of commercials.’

“That’s a very simple idea. I have ideas all the time.”

‘We know that’s a very simple idea. You have ideas all the time, but do you write them up? Do you put them in the process so we can evaluate them?’

“What’s in it for me?”

“And then you talk about the cash rewards. We closed with a visual of big money and played David Bowie’s Heroes.’ Wonderful. A perfect circle, a perfect connection, the message got people excited.

“I mentioned, ‘Ed, the story has to be so good that when the store managers go back to their stores and hear, “Well, how was the company meeting,” they say, ‘We heard a great story.’ They can repeat it with a lot of detail and hopefully get the managers in their stores to say, ‘Well, hey, if a kid in the shipping room and the mailroom can come up with an idea that simple, we should be able to also.’”

Lesson: I encourage all leaders and executives to find and honor “everyday heroes.”

Lesson: When your message is vivid, it is remembered and can be repeated. You are then indirectly speaking to the audience of your audience.

“Well, as you know, you have to practice your stories. I said, ‘Ed, you have any kids at home?’ He said, “Yes, I have an eight-year-old daughter.” I said, ‘This is your homework. Go home and sit your daughter down and say, “Daddy is going to tell you some stories about some interesting people he works with.” My goal for you is that you are so good, every night that your daughter hears you drive up, she runs up to you saying, “Daddy, daddy, daddy, tell me some more stories about the interesting people you work with.” If you can thrill an eight-year-old, there is a vague possibility you can keep the attention of 500 26-28-year-old managers.

“How do you practice the stories? How do you get the material? As you heard, with many of the stories we tell, it never occurs to us to put them in a speech even though they’re part of our repertoire.”

Lesson: At the end of each day, review what conversations and situations occurred that could be used in a presentation or team meeting. Record them.

“Very often when I coach executives, I get them to bring their wives along because the wives are always saying, ‘Tell her this story, tell her that.’ They are all fed up with these stories, yet they’re saying, ‘Tell her that one.’”

Lesson: Ask your family members what stories they remember from the dinner table and family events. Who knows what you have forgotten?

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