Most of us have probably asked ourselves what it is about the training business that keeps us where we are—standing up before people day in and day out, sometimes with participants eager to learn, other times with their evil twins who act as if they’ve been forced to attend at gunpoint. Why, in a field often lacking appropriate financial reward and company pats on the back, do we continue to do what we do? And, more importantly, what are the ways we measure whether what we do is worthwhile and is making an impact?
A VIRTUOSO PERFORMANCE
I had these questions answered for me six years into my career when I was asked to present at an exclusive dinner meeting with a prestigious group of Denver sales and marketing executives. I soon would give the best presentation of my life—and I would clearly be the second-best speaker.
When I was asked, I felt honored. I prepared for that presentation as never before. I worked hard on content, developed an amazing handout, worked and reworked my illustrations and visuals. I also made background calls to check on the make-up of the expected audience, people’s levels of experience, typical responsibilities, special needs, and special vocabulary. I was ready.
A month before the meeting, the committee chairperson called. He was apologetic. His co-chair had scheduled another speaker. It was an embarrassing situation, but he wanted to know if I would be willing to shorten my presentation so the other announced speaker could make his presentation.
The other speaker was Dr. Buddy Bonar, a high school dropout who received his high school equivalency in his 30s, went on to college, and in his 40s got a doctorate in education. Dr. Bonar’s lifelong hobby had been interviewing famous people about their various strategies for success. He had interviewed Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Andrew Carnegie, to name a few. He also owned the Dale Carnegie franchise in eastern Colorado, and the year before, he had won the Dale Carnegie International Speech contest. He was the No. 1 Dale Carnegie speaker in the world! And his speech that evening was on what made these great people great—and how you could apply the same principles to your life.
Every speaker’s dream, right? Sharing the platform with someone considered the best Carnegie speaker in the world. I was in my 20s (and looked 15!), and he was in his 50s. I agreed to shorten my presentation on the condition that I speak first.
That night I gave what I considered a great presentation. I received a warm round of applause. And then Buddy got up. He gave one of the most moving presentations I have ever heard. He made the audience laugh and brought them to the verge of tears. It was a virtuoso performance, and when he was finished, the audience leaped to their feet as if a single person and gave him a standing ovation.
Afterward, about 25 people crowded around Buddy. Four or five came up to me, but one made all the difference in the world. He shook my hand and said, “You know, I really enjoyed Buddy’s presentation. It was terrific. But I felt you were really here to benefit me.”
In that moment, I thought, “If that’s all I ever hear after a presentation, it will be enough: ‘I felt you were here to benefit me.’” Those words made all the preparation time worthwhile, and ended any comparisons I was making between me and Dr. Bonar.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE AUDIENCE
For every presentation I give—every word I write—my goal is to benefit the participant. Theatrics and appeals to the emotions have their place in the training environment, and can be effective tactics. But at their core should be the singular goal of helping participants acquire the knowledge and skills that will enable them to perform their jobs at a higher level. The trainer may occupy center stage, but the spotlight should never stray from those in the audience. Hopefully, this column is written every time to benefit you.
Until next time—continue to add value and make a difference.
Bob Pike, CSP, CPLP FELLOW, CPAESpeakers Hall of Fame, is known as the “trainer’s trainer.” He is the author of more than 30 books, including “Creative Training Techniques Handbook” and his newest book, “The Master Trainer’s Handbook.” You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook using bobpikectt.