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From the desk of Steve Lowell, Master Speaker and Mentor to those who speak in public.


Whatever Happens, Make It Look Deliberate

In early summer of 2010, my daughter graduated from high school. I was sitting in an auditorium that held maybe a thousand people or more, and I was enjoying the very elaborate graduation ceremony. The valedictorian was scheduled to give his speech in a few minutes, but, before he got to do so, the power went out in the auditorium. The entire stage went black, and the sound system shut off, so nothing worked anymore. The emergency lights came on, but they were positioned to illuminate the exits, not the stage.

Now, if you’re a seventeen-year-old, about to give your speech as the class valedictorian, is this not pretty much the highlight of your life up to this point? Does this not rank up there as one of the most important events in your life so far? I wonder what must have gone through his mind, as his time to make his speech approached, and he had no light from which to read his speech, and no sound system with which to project his voice. I can only imagine the anxiety that must have been surging through him.

The Master of Ceremonies had to keep the program going, so, with a loud, booming voice, the MC introduced the valedictorian, whom no one could see in the dark.

This young man stepped to the front of the stage, where there was a single ray of very dim light from one of the emergency lights, and, from memory, he began to speak. The entire auditorium went completely silent, as we strained to hear the young man’s voice, but we only had to strain for a moment. As the crowd fell silent in the auditorium, his voice rang through the stands as clearly, and with as much professionalism, as I’ve ever heard from a speaker.

He had no light, had no script, and had no microphone. Yet, he captured the attention of every person in the auditorium, all thousand-plus of us. His speech was profound, was masterfully delivered, and was one of the best speeches I can remember being a witness to. It was like he’d planned it this way all along. Two minutes after his speech ended, the power came back on, but he had already won us over in the dark.

I have to tell you another story, because it fits in so well with this topic.

A close friend of mine is a master magician, and his name is Elliott Smith. In late summer of 2010, while Elliott was performing in a magic show, there was suddenly an earthquake. In Ottawa, Canada, earthquakes aren’t common. This one happened to hit in the middle of Elliott’s show. He briefly stopped his performance and waited for the tremor to stop, then looked at his audience and, without skipping a beat, asked, “Now, who wants to see me do that again?”

So, what’s the lesson? Expect the unexpected. When it happens, make it look like it was all part of the plan.

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