Tuesday, July 18, 2006

How To Speak In Church

I frequently fantasize during church about standing in sacrament meeting and giving a talk about giving talks in church. Eric touched on this subject a few months ago.

A couple of Sundays ago after some consecutive bad speakers, I stole a sheet of paper from Crystal and made a point-by-point outline of some of the concepts that I would include in such a talk. Tonight I've knocked out eight items on a to-do list in front of me, and digitizing this sheet of paper is the last item on the list.

I'm putting the list to good use. I strongly believe that the Spirit you feel in a meeting is equally dependent on presentation as it is on content. I frequently tune out talks because they're being presented poorly. My mind can't help it; if a message's medium isn't working (in this case the speaker), then my brain has better things to think about, which it promptly gets to work doing. I'm assuming that any message you present in church will be of some importance, so why would you want me to ignore it?

Please, church speakers of the world, take the following tips in the spirit in which they're given. I want to hear and understand your message, and I want you and your audience to feel good about the way you present it. I'm not being mean, I just want what's best for everyone.

  1. Don't tell a "When The Bishop Called" story. I've never heard a good one, and I bet you haven't either. We know that you were called, we know that you had a feeling not to pick up the phone, we know that you didn't know what to talk about, we know that you're nervous, and we know that playfully threatening the bishop is fun. It's all been done. Write your own material.
  2. Slow down, look at your audience, look at your text as needed. I don't get a thing out of a breathless, page-long talk that you delivered in thirty seconds. I'm too dizzy! PRACTICE....SLOWING....DOWN. Especially if you know you're going to be nervous, and especially if you're a fast talker anyway. And it's completely ok to read a sentence from your notes, look at the audience, deliver that sentence thoughtfully, and then look back at your notes for the next sentence. At least this way I get to process the information, and you might look thoughtful.
  3. Don't apologize for your material. Present your message unabashedly, and if a story you want to use is told every six weeks or so in sacrament meeting, show a little respect for your audience and take a few minutes to say it another way. If you must use something that's overused, don't apologize, just present it better than usual and move on.
  4. Favor stories from your own life over stories from other sources. J. Golden Kimball was really cool, but I'd rather hear a story about you. You are a real, live person who I know (or could know) personally, and J. Golden and most of his ilk are dead. Telling your own story will allow you to build a relationship with your audience, let you give more detail, and help you avoid telling the same old story again (See rule #3).
  5. Use quotations in context. It's pretty tricky to misquote King Benjamin, but it's a lot easier, and a lot more common to quote him out of context.
  6. Vary your volume. It's ok to be quiet, and it's ok to be loud, as long as you do both appropriately.
  7. Bring or memorize a small amount of backup material. General Authorities frequently tout "Speaking by the Spirit." This is not making things up as you go. It's knowing your material and a little more so well that if you feel that a certain part of your talk needs to be dropped, you can do so and you'll have other material ready to fill the gap.
  8. When you use a quotation, pretend you're the person it came from and speak accordingly. When I quote Brigham Young, I stand up straight, look up a little, and speak in a booming voice. Brigham Young wasn't just a bunch of words, he was a large, visionary, opinionated man who was also a prophet of God. Don't short change him and others who provide your talk with meat.
  9. Quote, then explain. This is really important when you quote anyone who died before 1950 or so. Old English is hard, and your audience need help with what Paul just said in his epistle. Don't let them down.
  10. Don't be afraid to stray from your text a little. Decide that you'll say what the Spirit tells you to, even if it isn't written down. Don't rob your audience of what the Spirit just told you to say.
  11. If you find you're off topic, take a moment to find an appropriate place in your text to continue.
  12. Never apologize for silence or weeping. These are powerful, and apologizing trivializes them. If you wish, you may explain the silence or weeping. An explanation can magnify the strength because it helps the audience understand you.
  13. If your talk is instructional, have a few copies of your text or notes ready to give away.
  14. If you need a moment to gather your thoughts, thank your audience for their patience and don't apologize.
  15. Have a clear goal of what you want the audience to learn, think, or do from your talk. Make sure that this goal stays the same when you're writing the talk, and when you're delivering it.
  16. It's a good idea to memorize your talk, as this allows you to be more flexible. This takes lots of practice, and if you don't have time to practice giving it from memory 10 or more times, still practice it, but plan on using notes.
  17. If you're an expert on your topic, you might try standing and speaking without a written talk or notes. This is a skill that grows with practice, and atrophies quickly.
  18. It's ok to address the audience, and individuals in the audience, briefly.
  19. Create a summary sentence that you will deliver at the end of your talk. It should state your goal for the audience. This will let the audience set their own goals, and it will give your talk a sense of purpose.
That's my list. I'm also really fond of the rule of opening with a joke or a lie, and I usually follow it. I like to use a lie that's so outrageous that it's immediately recognized as a joke. Also, one of my mission presidents told us to always close testifying. I like to lock the testifying into the theme of my talk, but I've seen the shotgun approach work as well.

Monday, July 17, 2006

ROCI #6: Fans Who Buy Tickets Own The Show (Logan City Fireworks)

Those are powerful memories. I wrote about them more than I had planned, so this Rule Of Customer Interaction is a separate post.

This will be a special ROCI, as I’ll be emailing a copy of the post to Logan Utah’s Mayor, Randy Watts. If there’s something you’d like to tell Mayor Watts, his contact page is here. Mayor Watts, if there's something you'd like to say here, I'll be happy to post anything you send me, good or bad. My contact information is available elsewhere on this blog, and you also have my information in my email to you. I sincerely hope that you find time to talk to us.

The Logan fireworks shows written about in the previous post were formative for me, and they still hold a special place in my heart. But as sad as I am to say it, I think I’ll only attend one more year before giving up on Logan.

A lot has changed about the show in the last several years. Some of the changes are good:
  • The stadium’s been remodeled, and there’s a new ticket booth.
  • Security personnel now check every bag and cooler entering the stadium for alcohol, glass and weapons. The show in 2002 was a very paranoid affair, but paranoid was popular at the time, so it’s forgivable.
  • Logan City cops now direct traffic out of the parking lots. They fell down a little this year, but the last few years have been a much smoother experience where getting out of Logan is concerned.
But there are also bad changes:
  • The gate opening times keep getting moved back, forcing people to stand in line longer. I should be able to walk in with a purchased ticket at 5:00 PM and save seats for my family. This year the gates opened at 7:30.
  • They don’t open the ticket office until 30 minutes prior to the gates opening. What’s the deal? I can’t give you money until the line I’ve been standing in for two hours is a half mile long? Why?

These are small complaints. What I really want to talk about here is the show itself. The show is killing my experience, and I want to talk about it in an open forum (such as this one), and create an opportunity for Mayor Watts and anyone else of his choosing to talk about why things are the way they are, and possibly see things get better.

So let's get right to it.

First, nobody sounds good in a stadium, guys. The only person who sounds like he should in your pre-fireworks programs is the announcer (Craig Hislop?), and even he doesn’t sound good, he just sounds like you expect a football announcer will sound.

This year you had Imagine, a Beatles cover band perform. I saw Imagine at the Dee Events Center at Weber State University a few years back, and they killed. They really looked and spoke like the Beatles, and the music sounded just like my Dad’s Beatles LPs (and my MP3s). They were great.

But in your stadium, they sounded like crap. And when the utterly forgetable band you brought in last year couldn’t carry a tune to save their lives, of course the stadium acoustics didn’t do them any favors.

Simply put, your shows for the last six years or so have been agonizing, and there’s a very simple way you can make it better. Please, please, I beg of you, turn the damned volume down. One quarter to one half of the volume you’ve been using would be acceptable, if not ideal. I would be able to hear my family. I would be able to talk to my kids. I would still be able to hear the band, and the announcer, and Miss Cache Valley loud and clear.

And most importantly, I’d have the choice of putting in my ear phones and listening to an audio book instead of the terrible band, or the good band that sounds terrible in your stadium, or the kids who’ve written fawning pieces about the beauty of democracy that brims with clich├ęs and non-sequiturs.

Please don’t misunderstand me; democracy is great, kids are great too, and even a band that sucks needs to eat. But I paid cash to get into that stadium to see fireworks, and I don’t want to lose my hearing over it, and I do deserve to have the choice of what to listen to.

But short of wearing can-style hearing protection with earphones underneath the cans, there's no way I can listen to the medium of my choice instead of your PA system. And it just shouldn't be this way. I should be able to enjoy the show even without 85% hearing loss.

Next, let’s talk about your tradition of honoring those who have served in the military. This is a good tradition, and those who have served deserve recognition. I voluntarily served in the Air Force, and nearly died there. I have strong feelings of sacrifice, loss, and pride associated with the experience.

I appreciate being honored for this, as I’m sure many others do. So why did you wait until dark this year, to play the songs of our military branches, when we couldn’t see the people we were honoring? Did someone lose the almanac?

And you goofed again, perhaps even worse when the fireworks were finally underway. First, “Anchors Aweigh,” the Navy’s song played to fireworks. Then, “The Marine Corps’ Hymn” played to fireworks. Then, “The Army Goes Rolling Along” was played to fireworks. And then, instead of playing “The U.S. Air Force Song” (more commonly and incorrectly called “Off We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder”) you played “Stars And Stripes Forever!”

Who overlooked the fact that the Air Force will be far better represented in numbers at any given show in Utah than any other military branch? Who decided that no one would notice, and if they did notice, they wouldn’t care?

You honored me in the dark and then neglected to play the song of my military branch alongside the other military songs with fireworks. I'd rather you just skipped the whole military lineup, rather than doing this.

I love the Logan fireworks show. The Fourth of July and my birthday nearly coincide every year, and each year, I drive my family up from Layton and make an event of the entire day of the show. I spend money at Willow Park, at local restaurants, local gas stations, local grocery stores, at Logan Lanes, and then I pay to get into USU Stadium.

But I could just as easily spend that money in Provo, and begin a new tradition of taking my family to the Stadium of Fire.

I’d rather not. I like Logan, even if the much-touted Fireworks West shows are decidedly not what they used to be, and even if Main Street is busier every year, and even if it takes a little longer to get home every year. I don’t know of another place in the world quite like Willow Park. The LDS Tabernacle downtown is an amazing piece of art history in its own right. And I’ve never been as fond of a campus as I am of USU’s, nearly in the mouth of Logan Canyon.

I really want to keep coming back to Logan. Please fix my fireworks show so that I can do so.

Rule Of Customer Interaction #6:
  • Running a public show for profit is all about selling an experience, and the old saw that one person talking represents a multitude of other silent people is never truer.
  • But sports fans get their own entire section in the newspaper, so when ticket sales take a dive, Larry H. Miller has a pretty good idea where the problem is.
  • If you're in a special market, such as a seasonal one, or one that doesn't get much customer feedback, it's important to listen to the feedback you get and act quickly. Damage control in this situation is inherently reactive, and will always be too late for many who gave up because they didn't know who to contact, how to contact them, or what to say.
  • The legalese on the back will never say so, but a customer's ticket is a tiny piece of vested ownership in your event. Show them that you care, or they'll buy stock in someone else's endeavor.

If You're Wondering What Drives Jake...

Apologies to the blogosphere; June and July are my very busiest months. I've had a couple of surges in business, a birthday, a family vacation, my daughter's birthday, several fireworks shows, and Guilder to frame for it. I'm swamped.

I know that apologizing for lack of posts is one of the big blogging no-no's, so I'm sorry for that, too. Damn, I just did it again.

Thanks, Eric, for the birthday post. I'm sorry I didn't post in reply sooner, I really meant to, but see above.

EDIT: This is not an ROCI. This one got too long, so the ROCI will be my next post. The ROCI, like this post, will be about fireworks shows.

I attend a few a year. I've attended the Clearfield show for the last four years or so (this year it got rained out), and I see the Weber State University show about every three years. I went to the Clinton City show for about four consecutive years there, and I've been to Kaysville and Layton shows also.

But the show that I most avidly attend is the Logan City show in USU's Aggie Stadium. I've been there for the last 17 consecutive shows or so, except for the two years I was in Milwaukee. My annual schedule for Logan usually consists of:
  • Lunch at an old A&W in downtown Logan (if there is such a thing).
  • A tour of Willow Park and the Willow Park Zoo on the southern skirt of Logan.
  • A couple of frames or a couple of racks or a combination thereof at Logan Lanes.
  • A final stop at Albertson's or Smith's on the way to the stadium for drinks and snacks.
  • Find a parking spot that we can get out of quickly at USU Stadium. We have a traditional lot.
  • Wait in line for a couple of hours at the gate, as they keep moving back the gate's opening time.
  • Enter the stadium, find our seats (which are dictated by preference and tradition), and save seats for the rest of the family.
  • Eat the dinner that my parents bring in exchange for us saving them good seats.
  • Wait for the show.
  • Enjoy the show.
  • Drive home.

This year we added a stop in nearby Smithfield during the day to hit the Pepperidge Farms outlet. Now I have Mint Milanos and Goldfishes to last another week at least.

The day that I go to Logan for the fireworks show is hands-down, one of my top two favorite days of the year. I honestly look forward to it all year, and have a hard time sleeping the night before. Yes, I know that I'm an adult now. Shut up.

What few people outside of politics know is that city fireworks shows are money-making enterprises. Sure, shows in the dark ages before ROI was a buzz-acronym were probably hosted solely for the public enrichment, a la "Music Man," but these are animals long extinct.

The Logan show in particular is a booming endeavor. I know this first-hand, as I was once a peripheral part of that machine.

You see, my family were light rope pioneers. Fifteen years ago, when light ropes were a brand-new novelty, my Dad saw a market for them at firework shows. So he bought a few hundred and tried selling them at a couple of shows. The very first light rope you saw at a fireworks show in Utah was probably ordered, activated, and sold by my Dad and I.

We did this on contract with the organizers of a couple of shows, and we did it on the fringes of some other shows, carefully staying off of the official show grounds so that we wouldn't be bothered by organizers with law-enforcement types standing behind them.

Finally, we landed at the Logan show. My Dad made some calls, spoke to the people who could cut a deal with us, and we got booths. And it's a good thing we got booths, because navigating the crowd was a risky proposition in those days. Now the light rope guys walk around with the tubes full of them, and they get takers every now and then. But we were mobbed. Our booths were surrounded, and we couldn't take money as fast as the crowd was shoving it at us. We'd sell out and desperate fathers would beg for the light ropes we'd forgotten we were wearing.

We'd usually sell out right before the show, take a few minutes to clean all the cash out of our booths, sit down just in time to see fireworks, and then go straight to the business office on the southeast corner of the stadium with our lunchboxes stuffed full of cash.

Then, with a stadium representative present, we'd sort the cash, count it, and the stadium would take their cut...I think it was 30% of our gross. This process alone would take more time than preparing and selling the light ropes, and then watching fireworks combined ever took; two to three hours.

The Domino's Pizza booths at the stadium would always have unsold pizzas, and I'd usually leave the stadium with ten to fifteen personal pizzas that would go in the downstairs fridge, about four feet from my bedroom door at home. It was summer, and in the week or two after the show, I enjoyed a pizza and a (glass!) bottle of Dr. Pepper whenever I pleased.

On the way home from the stadium, my Dad and I would always stop at a certain gas station downtown and put gas in the car while we made sure we still had our filled-to-bursting lunch boxes and laughed about the night's events. I'd usually request a soda and some jerky at these stops, and my Dad would see no reason not to be generous.

I get so emotional thinking about the years we sold light ropes. I think that it was at these shows that I came to understand the difference between the people selling hot dogs and nachos, and the people in the management offices, or the entrepreneurs in the crowd who looked and worked just like everyone else. The people in the booths would get a check in two weeks and a bad complexion from the fryer. The people with their own businesses went home with golden lunch boxes and the pizza equivalent of spoils of war.

It’s no wonder that I don’t work well for other people. I’ve seen what’s on the other side of that curtain.

Friday, July 07, 2006