It was Day One of my presentation skills seminar. I asked the participants to talk about their passion. The presenters spoke about a vacation, a hobby, a sport, an event. It was evident that their presentations improved when they spoke with passion.
Next up was Elliot. I asked, “What’s your topic?” He replied, “Inventory control.” A bit confused, I said, “No, Elliot, It should be something you feel passionate about. What excites you?” “Inventory control,” he countered. I could tell that this was going to be a LONG day. Subscribing to the philosophy, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, I acquiesced. After all, some people just have to learn the hard way. I hit the record button on the video camera, as I anticipated his painfully boring presentation.
Well, all of a sudden I snapped to attention. Elliot was so excited about his job in inventory control. As he described what he did, Elliot was animated, passionate, and truly enjoying himself. No nervous public speaker was he. As a public speaker, he came alive and was bursting with energy as he relived all his contributions and what he loved about his job. And in that moment I had an epiphany…
There are no boring topics. There are only boring speakers.
How often do we hear people in financial services or technology use their so called “dry topic” as an excuse to be boring? I remember coaching a manager in a large financial services company. He had to deliver numbers during his monthly reports. He would drone on and deliver digits like he was reading a death decree. The audience would fight to keep their eyes open. Yet, people who knew him socially would call him a “good time Charlie”. After work, he was funny and animated but somehow he’d lost himself during financial presentations. So we used his natural humor and applied it to his presentation. In the next meeting he started with a quiz.
He wrote a very large number on the board. Suddenly people were looking up at him with curiosity. “This number,” he said, “is a) the national deficit, b) my wife’s credit card bill, c) the current lotto winnings, d) our projected revenues. His peers started laughing. Soon, people looked forward to his attention grabbing openings. He realized that there are no boring topics, only boring speakers.
Fast forward to today. In New York City, during my morning commute, I see free local newspapers handed out. Some of the workers simply push a paper in front of a commuter, hoping they’ll take one. They think of their jobs as pushing paper.
But there was one man who caught my attention as I was going into the subway. He positioned himself at the entrance so people would pass him on the stairs. He’d move around and start chanting, “Get you A.M. paper.” “Get it here.” He’d bounce along as he connected with the crowd. This man was having fun. He took what could be a boring job and used his creativity to connect with the morning crowd. He brought a smile to my face. Here’s someone who knows instinctively that even delivering newspapers is a presentation. Watch him and you’ll know you never have to be boring again:
AM New York