By Tim Hayes []

Some years ago, our family traveled to New York City to shoot the works.  We stayed in Times Square, went to a Yankee game, traveled to the top of the Empire State Building – all the touristy things you’re supposed to do in the big city.  And, naturally, we attended a couple of Broadway shows, one of which was “Wicked.”

Now understand, “Wicked” at that point in time was more than a Broadway musical for my daughters.  It was a way of life, a shining Polaris, a zenith.  Seeing this show at the Gershwin Theater was nothing less than a pilgrimage to Mecca.  I took the girls to the show while my wife and son saw a different musical playing at the same time a couple of blocks down Broadway.

Using one of the kids’ new digital cameras, we shot pictures of the theater from the street, the girls standing next to the marquee, the ticket window, the staircase inside the lobby, the souvenir stand, everything – including shots of the show’s stars as they emerged from the Stage Door following the performance.

My wife and son were heading to the Gershwin to meet up with us again when it happened.  Even now, we don’t like to bring it up, but I feel I can trust you, so here goes.

The girls, purses and souvenir bags and Playbills in hand, were so excited to tell their mom and brother about the “Wicked” experience, that one of them lost her grip on the digital camera and it fell to the sidewalk.  That wouldn’t have been so bad…

If she hadn’t been standing over one of those metal grates embedded in the sidewalk. 

And if the camera hadn’t snapped open when it hit the grate. 

And if the digital card holding all of the photographic images we shot that day hadn’t flown out of the camera.

And if it hadn’t then fallen down through the grate, lost forever in the bowels of Manhattan.

As a result, all any of us could rely on were our mental memories of what happened that unintentionally wicked day.  The permanent record plunged into oblivion as the camera hit that grate.

When I work with clients to develop their presentations, I think of this episode.  The similarities can be interesting.

Think about it.  People in an audience have no idea what the speaker is going to say.  Their only tools to retain the information being shared by the speaker are the verbal and rhetorical cues the speaker employs during the presentation.  When the speaker’s voice goes up, or when each word receives special attention, the audience knows that those words carry special meaning, for example.

But one of the most powerful means of helping an audience retain the essence of a speech comes in what I call the “Sunrise Statement” – the single thought an audience member can recall if asked to cite the takeaway message of a presentation the next day.  The audience has nothing else to go on but the speaker’s words and how those words get delivered.  By taking the time to arrive at the Sunrise Statement as the presentation is being written – and peppering it throughout the speech as the single notion from which everything else flows from and leads back to – the speaker can be sure that the audience will remember it and act upon it.

Mental memories can be powerful, if properly seeded and cultivated.  Sometimes it’s a wicked lesson that’s learned in an unexpected setting, say, along a crowded sidewalk on Broadway.  But when speakers consciously build a “Sunrise Statement” into their presentations, it can work magic.

Copyright 2011 Transverse Park Productions LLC