Practice makes perfect – or pretty darn close to it.
A few weeks ago I told you about the magician who spoke at my local Rotary Club. While his “abracadabra” visuals were minimal, just hearing an older magician talk about performing before different generations of audiences through the decades was fascinating. The magician’s singular pride in his craft was something only our grandparents could adequately describe. It was that uncommon. And you couldn’t help being envious of his lifetime bond with the magician’s brotherhood, either. There had to be some great secrets shared over “tea” at their conventions – and their handshakes were probably pretty cool, too. (Who knows what they’d palm off on each other…)
I couldn’t imagine a better 20 minute presentation to our Rotary Club.
At least that’s what I thought until I heard Greg Herbruck of Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch (Premium farm-fresh eggs, Saranac, MI) speak about the significant PR problem hurting his industry.
I never thought an egg farmer could alter the perception – or build support for – his entire industry better than a magician could. And neither did anyone else in the Rotary audience. Greg Herbruck’s state-of-the-egg-industry presentation surprised us all.
On Wednesday and Thursday I will review a few of the touchpoints that stood out in Greg’s presentation. Naturally if I was able to catch them, a mental skill set including the mastery of “rocket surgery ” wasn’t required, but his presentation included some communication fundamentals worth remembering. And when we’re on top of our fundamentals, all is good, right? (So says every coach heading into the Big 10 B-Ball Tournament in Chicago, anyway.)
In brief, here’s how I think Greg prepared for his actual presentation. This was no “night before” cram job. He asked – and answered – all the right questions.
#1 He prepared for the audience. He knew we (and every other audience he’d speak to) would not be farmers. There was not one agricultural or egg-processing acronym in his presentation, nary a one. With the task of changing perception, he started from the premise that most of us knew very little about how eggs got to market, and it was hihgly likely that most of what we did know came from some field trip to a farm back in 2nd grade. He prepared himself by thinking about our values, our interests, our hopes for our future, etc. – and then he made this the foundation for his presentation.
#2 He did not prepare alone. This was obvious even to me. He and his other regional egg-processing association members accepted that to change the perception of their industry, a homespun “Green Acres” portrayal of life on the farm would be a disaster. They contracted with professional communicators and followed their advice. They created a draft presentation and practiced. They critiqued each other internally, made corrections, and only those who were the best presenters (like Greg) then went out to represent their industry. This wasn’t a rambling personal perspective. This was a broader “let me tell you about my profession” mission.
#3 He built his presentation on a universal connection. He didn’t leave it to chance. His intro jumped out of the gate by asking us directly, “Whatever your line of work, whether you are a banker, auto mechanic, educator, physical therapist, or own a restaurant, do you think the public really understands all that goes into what you do? They don’t understand my profession, either. Let’s talk.” (Good way to start, don’t you think? No egg joke or riddle needed.)
#4 He deliberately chose a presentation style that avoided whining or complaining. He took his assumptions about the values and interests of the audience and incorporated (again following, not fighting, the advice of the communications consultants) a pleasant balance of relevant visual and audio aids into his presentation.
#5 He knew he had to challenge our current perception about farming and egg-processing without disrespect or insult. He understood that attacking perception is tricky. After all, the objective of his presentation was to tell us we were wrong about some the things we believed to be true. Most of us do not give up our notions easily. But he found an effective way to do this. (More on Wednesday.)
#6 And finally, after the solid 20 minute presentation was prepared, rehearsed, and the team of farmer-speakers was ready to hit the road, the egg-processing association began reaching out to audiences of all kinds. Their’s was not going to be a preach-to-the-choir (even if it’s in a neighboring church) kind of effort. Their association used a speaker’s bureau who sent out emails and made phone calls. They asked, “Does your community club or organization need a speaker for an upcoming breakfast or lunch meeting? We’ve got a great 20 minute presentation for you.” And my Rotary Club program chairperson took the bait. (Thankfully!)
The egg-processing presentation creators impressed me by embracing everything that goes into “not-gonna-wing-it” preparation: considering the audience, connecting quickly, helping people care so that they’d want to change their perception on their own, and closing strong. Plus, the association strategically reached out to numerous non-agricultural clubs and organizations all over the midwest.
Presentation magic in the making. I’m curious to see what you think on Wednesday and Thursday.