04 January 2009

Role Model

This is Brent Jeffery. I met him tonight on MARTA's Orange-line train from Atlanta Hartsfield airport to Lindbergh Center, and I'm in awe of what he does.

To put it in perspective, I speak to audiences for a living. I've done it for a long time (more than 25 years), and I had a lot of training - 9 years of drama, speech and debate in Junior High School, High School, and College. I'm a good presenter. I study presentation experts like Garr Reynolds, and I watch the best of the best at places like TED to see how I can improve. I spend a lot of time making my presentation materials informative, entertaining, and attractive. But for an old throat injury which forces me to clear my throat a lot to keep my voice from breaking, my delivery is fluid and natural. My audience ratings are consistently high.

I couldn't do what Brent does, though - at least not without a lot of practice and preparation, and not without developing a kind of courage I don't need to have to do the presentations I've been doing up til now.

I do sometimes talk about sensitive subjects - privacy, for example - but I speak to audiences who sign up to come to my talks, who know what I'm going to be talking about, and who want to be there.

Brent talks about the Bible to complete strangers on public transit. His audience paid two bucks to go home, and a lot of them are tired and crabby after a hard day at work or a series of delayed flights. They're not expecting entertainment, and they're sure not looking for a sermon.

After the MARTA train's doors close at the start of the trip, Brent gets up and asks a car full of Atlanta's weary travellers if they can spare two minutes to hear about God.

A lot of them listen. I did. He promises that it will only take two minutes. It's an exaggeration; it's really more like ten minutes. But it seems like two, because Brent's a great presenter.

And he hands out a presentation. Nothing fancy; just a xeroxed page containing a four-paragraph sermon on one verse of the Bible. Today's verse was Proverbs 13:20 ("He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.") Here's the handout:

When he gave it to me, he assured me it wouldn't bite. I guess a lot of people don't reach eagerly for the paper.

Like I said, it's nothing fancy. But Brent respects his materials; at the end of the talk he comes back around the car and asks you not to throw the paper away; you're free to keep it, but if you're not going to keep it, he'd appreciate having it back. Part of the concern is surely for saving money on printing, but I bet if you asked him he'd say that a paper which might bring someone an important message shouldn't be wasted in the trash.

Brent's an inspiration to me as a presenter, and he's reminded me of something important: the most important part of a truly outstanding presentation is a profound belief that the message you're trying to communicate really matters to your audience.

If you're reading this, Brent, thanks for the lesson. It was a pleasure to meet you.


Blogger Lydia Fiedler said...


January 05, 2009 7:46 AM  
Blogger Cynthia said...

What Brent has is something very rare - humility. Very few of us posses it. When a stranger can speak to you about the Bible without scaring or offending you, they have a humble heart filled with genuine love and pity for their fellow man. I wish I had been there.


March 17, 2009 8:58 PM  
Blogger Juanita said...

I am glad the world has folks like Brent in it.

March 27, 2009 8:41 PM  

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