On a recent business trip to London I had two train journeys on my last day there. The first was taking the Docklands Light Railway and the second was getting the Stansted Express from Liverpool Street to the airport.
The highlight of both journeys was the public announcement from the train driver as the train pulled into the final destination. Seriously, I am not kidding!
What happened? On the first journey the driver gave the usual blurb about the train terminating at Bank and asking us to exit through the doors on our right. His last sentence then took everyone by surprise. In an uplifting tone he said: –
“To those of you getting off here – that’s all of you – have a great morning. I am told it is a bright and sunny day, so enjoy your walk to work.”
Everyone in the cramped carriage (it was rush hour) smiled and glanced around at each other. We all left that train with a small spring in our step.
The second journey happened at the end of a tiring day. Like many others on the 45 minute trip to Stansted Airport I had zoned out for the duration. As we approach the airport, a pre-recorded message played reminding us we were nearly there. Then the driver added his thoughts: –
“Right, as you just heard from the recording of the rather posh lady, we are now at the airport. I know you already know this but please, please, please take all your belongings with you and keep an eye on them. Enjoy your flight.”
A previously sleepy carriage had an instant change of atmosphere. For a few moments the passengers smiled and forgot about the upcoming tension of check-in, security queues and overhead lockers.
Something really resonated with me at that point. Twice in the course of a day I had seen a carriage of people (including me) briefly touched by the spoken word. In each case the words in question had lasted only ten seconds.
So what can a presenter in a more conventional business setting learn from the drivers of the Stansted Express and the DLR? I think there are three things to reflect upon.
Lesson 1 – Enthusiasm trumps most things, most of the time
In both cases before I had comprehended the actual words used, the drivers had my attention. Their sheer enthusiasm and rather sunny disposition captured me instantly. It only took a second or two – there was something in their voices that was different. I am not sure how many announcements the typical train driver will make in a day but in those instances they sounded like they cared and were not just going through the motions. At conferences I have often been able to predict the enthusiasm of the speaker from the first two words i.e. the way they say ‘good morning.’
Enthusiasm in your presentation will get you through many obstacles and can camouflage some of your mistakes. Next time you speak put an extra ounce of energy and enthusiasm into those opening few sentences.
Lesson 2 – You can make an impact in a very short speech
A lot of speakers will say to me ‘Gavin, I can’t do much with this speech, I only have a few minutes.’ It is possible to achieve an enormous amount in a few minutes of a presentation. Speech length is not the defining factor – I have seen short speeches land perfectly and long orations miss the mark completely. Depending upon the politician I listened to when I was a legislator, a six minute slot could be way too short or way too long.
In both train examples earlier in this article the entire announcement was over in thirty seconds and part that really stuck was less than ten seconds. Both announcements have stuck with me since then.
Going forward, never feel that you do not have enough time in your speech. Focus on turning the time you have into the highest possible quality material.
Lesson 3 – If your topic is dry, even a little effort pays large dividends
In theory, a standard train announcement is as dry as it gets. Nobody is listening, the speaker lacks zest (or is automated) and the wording is inflexible. People have low (or no) expectations in that scenario. This is one reason why the announcements I witnessed had such an impact on me and the other passengers.
For a dry topic, almost any effort will be appreciated by your audience. Say something different from the norm and include a personal touch. The audience will reward you.
In any future presentation, add in some extra energy right from the start and find areas where you can give the audience something of yourself. They will be glad you did.
For readers of this post I make two small requests: –
1. I would love to hear any examples of similar experiences. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or share on Twitter @speak_with_impact
2. Please forward this to any train drivers you know – I am looking forward to my next journey already!
Speak With Impact