The Best Speakers Leave a Lasting Impression

We have all been witness to public speakers who are entertaining in ‘the moment’ but fail to make a lasting mark on our personal or professional psyches. They are the living equivalent of an enjoyable romantic comedy flick that makes you laugh a bit while viewing, but unable to recall a single moment 48 hours later.

Here’s a quick look at two speakers that have made a lasting impression, and shared some experiences and expertise that have actually impacted my approach to work and to life.

Mark Eaton
The former all-star center for the Utah Jazz and one of the great shot-blockers in NBA history, Eaton towers over an audience at 7-4 and is probably the last guy you might expect an uplifting ‘underdog’ story from. But the real truth is that Eaton earned all of 11 seconds of playing time in his high school basketball days, and was a fish out of water on the basketball court.

Even after being admonished to continue playing in junior college and later UCLA, and improving his game considerably, his pro hopes seemed dim, as he had few offensive moves or overall hoops prowess. It was only after the great Wilt Chamberlain, then retired, took him aside during a summer pickup game that things changed. Chamberlain had been watching Eaton haplessly chasing a speedy point guard around the court to no avail and could sense his frustration.

“That’s not your job,” Chamberlain told him. “Your job is to stand under the basket and protect it for your team, that’s all. Do that and you’ll be fine,” was the essence of Wilt’s message—and at the heart of what Eaton shared with the crowd at the Caesars Entertainment Educational Experience last fall.

The proverbial light bulb went off in Eaton’s head, a true ‘a-ha’ moment as they say, and he never looked back in becoming one of the greatest defensive players of all-time.

Eaton shared a number of other key tips on teamwork and leadership, but that was the one that stuck with me. Know your role, do it well; forget the rest. 

Pictured: Mark Eaton with Zach Chouteau of Meetings Today.

Dan Heath
Can you learn how to make better decisions in an hour? If anyone can show you how, it’s Dan Heath, who has written a national bestseller on the subject (Decisive) with his brother Chip. Heath will also make you laugh so hard your head hurts, but that’s another matter.

I saw Heath present the closing talk at ASAE in Atlanta this past summer, and would like to think I’ve been making better decisions ever since.

The wisdom and insights he packs into a presentation are almost overwhelming, but the heart of his philosophy—from my perspective—is that we make poor decisions due to tunnel vision and lack of emotional objectivity. Better decisions, he says, normally don’t require more time—they require more distance (emotionally).

The simple act of expanding your options rather than falling into a ‘whether or not’ decision, is one quick way to make considerably better choices. Another is taking the time to seek out objective counsel rather than going to ‘yes men’ who will just tell us what we want to hear.

And the main golden nugget was this: When making a crucial decision, what would you tell your best friend to do in the exact same position?

Asking that question provides the emotional distance necessary to keep your objectivity. 

Do you have any favorite memories of powerful speakers who you have witnessed at a meetings industry event? Feel free to share your story in the comments below.

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