As most of you know, I do a lot of public speaking. I recently sat down and tried to determine approximately how many different talks I have done in my lifetime. Conservatively speaking, I have done over 30,000 talks. By any stretch of the imagination, that is a lot of talking! I have learned a great deal about audiences and how to keep them interested in my topic. I have learned to be animated and use humor to keep my audience engaged while I am speaking. However, even though I have learned many techniques over the years, I must admit that I have occasionally been caught off guard by some unexpected occurrence. I believe those learning experiences have served to make me a better speaker and communicator. One such incident completely blew my mind!
When I speak, I like to use a handout because I have discovered that it helps the audience to follow along with me better. And, I have noticed that audiences enjoy having some notes to refer to when they get home. But, on one particular occasion, I realized that even though I may have the best handout in the world for my audience, it still might not work.
I had a great talk prepared and a handout for each of the two hundred people in attendance. When everyone had received their handout, I noticed that several people were looking around, asking if they could borrow a pen or pencil. I thought that was odd since I always carry a pen with me so that I am prepared to write. I had wrongly assumed that everyone else did, too. So, I asked the audience if anyone needed a pen. Almost everyone in the audience raised their hand! I was totally shocked, not to mention being taken completely off guard. I thought perhaps they had misunderstood my question, so I asked in a different way, “How many of you have a pen with you right now?” Would you like to take a guess how many of the two hundred people had a pen? If someone had asked me that question, I would have guessed that at least half of them did. But, no! The answer is, three! That’s right – THREE! I could not have been more shocked – or unprepared!
What was I going to do? I had already been talking about what a wonderful handout I had for them and how they would enjoy being able to take it home afterwards. Now I had to scramble for a solution. I asked a couple of people to go to the front desk of the hotel where we were meeting to see if they could find some pens for us. In the meantime I occupied the audience by talking about several things while I waited for someone to return with pens. In about fifteen minutes they returned with a box of golf pencils. You know – the little ones that golfers use to keep score – the ones with no erasers. They were better than nothing, but not much!
I learned a good lesson that day. I learned to think ahead and I also learned to take a bag of pens with me whenever I go to speak! (Bonus Tip: I used to purchase boxes of cheap pens with tops on them and hand them out to everyone in the audience until I realized how many of them never made it back to me. I don’t believe people intentionally stole them; it is almost an automatic response to just drop them in your pocket without thinking. Then a friend taught me a great trick – take the tops off the pens before handing them out to everyone. Almost no one will drop a topless pen into their pocket or purse! And, you know what? It works! The return rate is almost 100%.)
Now, I know that all of this may sound like nonsense to you, but the reason I am sharing this Tip is to say that if I want my audience to be prepared, then I have to be prepared. I have to think ahead and ask myself, “What could possibly go wrong?” so that I am prepared and can head off problems before they happen. I will be much better off and so will those be who are associated with me.
Someone reminded me this week of the title of Earl Nightingale’s classic book, “Think and Grow Rich.” It isn’t, “React and Grow Rich,” or, “Get Excited and Grow Rich.” It is “Think and Grow Rich.” Learning to plan ahead requires thinking, regardless of whether it is having a pen for everyone in your audience or making sure you get your loaned pens back. It is all a matter of technique and taking the time to prepare for the unexpected.
If you are not happy with the way things are going in some area of your life, perhaps there is something you can do by thinking ahead and developing a strategy that will minimize problems in the future. Remember that if something as little as having extra pens (without tops on them) can make a huge difference in a presentation to an audience, then there is likely something you can do to make things better in whatever situation you may be facing. I believe it will not only increase your personal effectiveness, but it will also increase the success of whatever you do!
Robert A. Rohm Ph.D.
Personality Insights, Inc.
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