It was the shortest talk I’ve ever given. About 28 seconds.
It was also with some big wigs! To name a few: the COO & President of FedEx, CEO Kristy Kreme, President Ford Motor Co,, Retired CEO of PepsiCo, International & National President’s of Salvation Army, & about 50 more CEO’s, Presidents, VP’s… you get the point.
The venue was the Westin hotel in downtown Detroit, Michigan.
Why? The Salvation Army recognizes they need to mobilize a youth movement for sustainability so they’ve established about 15 emerging leader chapters across the US. These chapters are called Echelon. Stephanie Herrera Freedman and I are co-presidents of the newly founded Salvation Army Sacramento Echelon Chapter. We are about a month into existence and just getting our feet wet.
The situation was that the Salvation Army National Advisory Board was meeting to make decisions. Chapter Presidents and leadership were invited from across the country: New York, Texas, California, and everywhere in between to present. We each were given about 5 minutes to share about our people, service, and futures. We, Sacramento were slated 7th to talk out of about 10 presentations.
The background is that Jennifer Barcus, Director of Donor Stewardship and Community Engagement prepared a beautiful PowerPoint with details about our leadership team, past successful events, and the future of Salvation Army Echelon in Sacramento. Prior, we were part of conference calls, emails, and multiple correspondence to put together a great presentation. I mean come on there we’re going to be some heavy hitters in the room!
The days before I prepared for the talk. As with every speaking engagement, I put together flash cards and prepare. I practice that and then get it down to one flash card with all the points followed by another flash card with about 7 words on it that remind me of stories to share. The process has more steps but regardless I was prepared and ready to rock. It was going to be about 4 minutes.
The problem was I was presenting 7th and we were already about to exceed our time allotment with the National Advisory Board. The first 4 or 5 talks were absolutely incredible and I was taking a bunch of notes. Here we were Sacramento the newest chapter in the room. I was learning from all these presentations different nuggets of wisdom to take back to our new infancy stage chapter. The information, content, and deliveries were all very good. We all had a lot to share and I had a lot to learn.
After the 5th speaker, a board member got up and went over to the moderator and said, “How many more do we have?” She answered, “we’re halfway through.” How do I know this? Because I was sitting near the conversation. The conversation resulted in we need to move this along quickly because we are going into our allotted time for committee meetings to follow.
Before the 6th speaker, the moderator said in front of the entire room, “these presentations have all been really good. We need to focus on just one highlight for the rest of the speakers because we are tight on time.”
When you read a room, what cues do you look for when it comes to engagement? You know them and I know them. Why? Because we do them as an audience. Members started to get up and take a bathroom break. Some that were in the back were on their laptops and phones. Remember, these are the CEO’s of some of the biggest companies in the US and arguably the world. We all have short attention spans and we were already over our time. They loved hearing our presentations but they also had more to get done. Mind you this was a one day conference from 6am to 9pm to maximize one day with these important decision makers under one roof concerned with the present and future of the Salvation Army.
Brad from Chicago was now up as the sixth speaker. I was next. I was thinking on my feet quickly. Here’s what I knew… Jennifer and our team put together great notes and an awesome slide presentation. I also knew we weren’t going to really present anything that hadn’t been said before by the amazing presentations. Remember, our chapter is a month young and we haven’t even met yet! We were on a time crunch, I was reading the room and I knew we weren’t going to say anything new so what was I going to say?
I’ve been working hard on my craft as a speaker and I’ve learned a few things from those I admire and respect in the field. I’ve learned speaking it’s not about me. When you speak the audience immediately are waiting for that moment for “when does this connect with me?” Naturally, we all care about ourselves as we should. So if you are speaking, people care about themselves.
As a speaker, my mission is for people to walk away with a feeling. Why? It goes back to my favorite quote from Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The kicker was that I knew the advisory boards next meeting was going to be hosted in Sacramento. That was going to be our time!
So here it goes, Brad was done. Please welcome Echelon Sacramento! I’m walking up to the podium and I’m thinking what am I going to say? How will I engage them?
The self talk in my head was running miles a second. Talk about what you know. Play to your strengths. It’s game time, be yourself!
A blank white PowerPoint slide with Sacramento Echelon in bold black letters was projected on the drop down screen and on about 6 televisions across the room. The microphone was on and I arrived at the podium.
Below is a copy of the script of what I said. How do I remember it all word for word? It was 28 seconds silly!!
“60 seconds on the clock. Imagine back when you were in high school. Imagine you are a freshman and it’s the first day of school. That’s how we feel. In a moment, I’m going to ask you to repeat after me.”
All replied, “Sacramento.”
All, “Is new!!!”
And I walked off.
Cheering, laughing, applause! Most importantly, feeling! Impact! I’ll give you the opportunity to imagine what the room felt like. As the kids would say, it was lit!
What was important? That everyone knew we were new and that we need support, resources, and access. We’re freshmen! What do freshmen need?
Was it effective? Immediately afterwards, that evening at the dinner, and the next morning in the lobby board members came up to me and said, “SACRAMENTO IS NEW!” It was widely talk about and the powers at be gave us a hand up to be successful as a new chapter. Granted some of the chapters had been around for 5 or 6 years and some were still in their first year but we were the baby. The freshmen.