Videos can be a powerful way for speakers to get their messages across.
After 30 years of covering association conferences for three magazines, I’ve encountered two types of motivational speakers. There is the guru, who carries around with him or her a briefcase full of platitudes designed to make you feel good about yourselves and get yourselves fired up to take on the world.
Then there is the inspirer, usually someone who has overcome great odds or hardship such as blindness or a missing limb to accomplish a tremendous feat. The inspirer is supposed to make us realize that if he or she can be successful, so can we.
In my experience, both types of speakers accomplish their goals in the heat of the moment. But most of us fail to carry the messages back with us once we leave the conference, or reality strikes us so hard once we return to our jobs that the inspiration fades to black very quickly.
Because one of my main goals in attending a foodservice conference is to network with operators, track trends and come up with story ideas, I have learned that motivational speakers are a good time for me to get caught up on emails, phone calls or overdue copy for the magazine. So I almost ducked out of the opening session of the 2014 AHF National Conference this week.
Something stopped me, however. I think it was because the opening session was not a speaker, but a pair of speakers—a husband-and-wife team, no less. That intrigued me enough to stay in my seat. I am so glad I did.
Kevin and Jackie Freiberg, who bill themselves not as motivational speakers but as “leadership experts,” didn’t fill their 75 minutes with words we are used to hearing from such speakers. There were no “rah-rah” moments, no exhortations to get fired up and carry that back to your operations and infect your teammates. Instead, the message I came away with was simply this: It’s easier to think outside of the box than you think.
Using real-life examples and tying their message very carefully to their audience, the Freibergs explained that “innovation is everyone’s job.” They didn’t challenge attendees to go back and fire up their teams. They simply laid out some ways that operators can encourage innovations in their units. Here are a few:
- You have to make it safe for people to question the “unquestionables”.
- Trade “yeah, but ...” for “what if ...”
- Creativity loves constraints; limitations can lead to great innovation.
This last one surprised me at first, because I was thinking in terms of having my hands figuratively tied, preventing me from thinking outside the box. But then the Freibergs showed a video of a poor rural town in Paraguay, where residents make musical instruments out of trash they collect from a nearby dump. The sight of people, especially young ones, making music on cellos, violins, flutes and other instruments shaped from discarded 55-gallon drums, pipes, cans and the like was the best possible example of that message in action.
So my takeaway was not words on paper, like a plaque on a desk that you look at when you want to be “inspired.” Instead, it was an image, burned into my brain, of what thinking outside the box truly means. That alone was more than worth my time.