I’m on my way to the office from the gym, feeling hungry and wondering what I can have for breakfast that won’t take too much time, when I pass the Hunger Construction Baked Potato Food Truck. Two guys in the truck are arranging homemade goodies wrapped in cellophane in the high display window. One of the goodies falls out of the window onto the sidewalk at my feet.
“Can I pick that up for you?” I ask.
“If you don’t mind, that would be great,” one of them says. I hand the goodie up to him. It looks like a piece of sweet potato cake. He turns it over in his hand.
“Would you like to have it?” he asks.
“Yes, I would,” I say. He hands it to me. I say thanks, and then, “I was wondering what to have for breakfast.”
Gifts are everywhere, to be given and to be received. Manna falls from food trucks and other unexpected places. If I’d ignored the sweet potato cake that fell from the food truck, or simply said, “Hey, you dropped something,” and kept on walking, what would have happened? No manna for me at that point.
For manna to fall, it seems, we need to take the first step, go out of our way, be responsive to someone, put ourselves out there, take a risk.
And what does this have to do with speaking and presenting? In some cases, it is the crucial ingredient of a good encounter with an audience.
Good speakers take the first step by establishing the tone of the talk and the expectations in the room. They take time to prepare material that is relevant for the audience. They are responsive to their listeners: they watch eyes, faces, and fidgets in the crowd and respond as best they can. They put themselves out there by being authentic, concerned, and engaged with the issues under discussion. They take a risk by taking a point of view, defending it, and engaging in debate. In other words, good speakers don’t “wing it;” they give to their audience.
And when they’re done, they are (let’s hope) showered with the gifts of applause, admiration, and all the other sweet commendations that accrue to a high stakes presenter.
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