September 6, 2010

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Guest Post by Irene Brennick

I hope you're all enjoying a lovely three-day weekend. As my brief Monday-through-Thursday vacation of last week has turned into Monday-through-Monday, I'm going to share one last guest post with you, by speaker and author Irene Brennick before I get back to work tomorrow. If you love analogies like I do, you'll appreciate the one below.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Great public speakers don’t just get up and talk, they inspire and motivate us to take action. If we want our audience to remember what we’ve talked about, or if we need to convey a message in a short amount of time, simple visuals can really do the job.

Although I’m not one for long, drawn out presentations, I don’t like to be so rushed that I don’t have time to make my point. Sometimes as a United Way campaigner, I had five minutes or less to motivate people to give back to their community. I was expected to stand before hundreds of salespeople and in just five minutes, get them to stop what they were doing, think about those less fortunate, forget focusing on making money, and make a decision to give back —- right on the spot —- by filling out a pledge form.

When I had to make a quick presentation like this, I would cut a long stem rose from the bush in my front yard and bring it with me. I borrowed this idea from a minister I saw do it in church.

I’d walk to the front of the room, flower in hand, and ask the company CEO to join me. You can bet this got everyone’s attention. Smiling, I asked the CEO to take all the petals off the flower. He’d usually pluck off the petals and throw them, trying to get a good laugh from everyone.

I paused for a few moments so everyone could see him holding the stem. Then I asked him to put the petals back on. A little nervous, he would laugh at first, then bend down and pretend to stick the petals on. Everyone chuckled as the petals fell back to the floor. Next, I thanked him and told him to sit down.

I faced the audience and showed them the stem. “This is the work of the nonprofit,” I said. “This stem is the person who comes to us every day —- lonely, scared, stripped of hope and dignity. It may have been the cruelty of their own family, abuse endured over and over, or a tragic accident, but for these people, life has been hard. One by one, their petals were ripped off.

“Non-profit organizations and the volunteers who donate their time, have the near impossible job of putting the petals back on. It’s so much easier to take them off though, isn’t it? I was just a stem when I came for help, but today I can look at you and say that I am healed, whole, and happy. We’re all busy trying to make money, but I’m asking you not to forget the people who need you.

“You’ve probably already received your United Way pledge form, and it may be on the bottom of your to do pile, but I’m asking you to put it on top, because nothing matters more than helping another human being.”

As you can imagine, the room fell silent, and the message came through loud and clear. I know people won’t recall exactly what I said that day, but I bet they remember the long, empty stem and what it means. Visuals can help make a point and leave a lasting impression.

Irene is the author of Bring Your Audience to Their Feet.

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