Tips from Three Camp Counselors and a Maitre d’

In the last week, we have dropped our three kids off at camp.  You can learn a lot about how to greet your audience from the way counselors greet kids at the beginning of camp.  The same is true from a maitre d’ at a restaurant.

Kids are nervous at the beginning of camp. They’re leaving they’re parents. They’re also uncertain about what to expect for the next several weeks of their lives.  In those first moments, their minds are on high alert as they try to glean anything they can about what to expect. 

The camps all know this. As a result, they all do the same thing. They show lots of enthusiasm for the kids. They want to establish the feeling that “This is going to be fun.” 

When I dropped Benjamin, my 17-year-old, at Stanford (he’s spending eight weeks there studying linear algebra and computer science as well as playing Ultimate Frisbee), the kids all had to run a gauntlet of cheers, welcoming them to the eight-week program. It was fun and the kids couldn’t help but smile. Benjamin raised his arms like a victorious boxer.  It established a positive tone, the exact tone the camp was trying to establish. The other two camps (Elliott, 15, went to Clemson Tennis Camp and Annie, 10, went to Gwynn Valley in Brevard NC) did the same kind of thing.

Similarly, great speakers understand the need to establish an upbeat feeling at the beginning of a presentation.  Listeners to a speech are like campers. They don’t know what to expect. They’re a little anxious about whether the presentation is going to be a waste of their time. “I wonder if this presentation is going to stink like all the other ones,” is the unspoken context. 

Great speakers seek to dispel that anxiety. And they do it by establishing a positive tone even before they open their mouths.  They walk into the room with a spring in their step, making eye contact and wearing a postive look on their face. They’re “wearing their boots and spurs” as we like to say at Speechworks. That upbeat approach tells the audience that the speaker is confident that everyone will find the next 30 minutes of their lives valuable. It gets the audience in a positive frame of mind. Everyone relaxes.

On the other hand, you establish a far different tone when you greet your audience like the maitre d’ greeted us yesterday at the brunch spot in Brevard, NC. 

We walked in around noon. The place was crowded.  “We’d like a table for four,” I said.

She didn’t look at me. Instead, she looked down at her clipboard and said, “Well, you’re going to have to wait. It’s probably going to be 30 minutes.” Her tone made her sound like we might never get served.  We decided to go somewhere else.  Why bother with something that was starting out so negatively?

Many people start their presentations with the same low energy and sense of forboding. It’s a mistake. It makes people nervous and makes them want to leave.

You have a choice at the beginning of a presentation. You can act like an upbeat camp counselor greeting a nervous camper. Or you can act like an overworked maitre d’.  From my point of view, the decision is easy.

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