I always wake up with the idea that I am going to learn something new. Today, speaking to a really neat group of folk at a conference, I had the chance to learn something from them — a thirst for knowledge from a fellow carbon-based unit is still in high demand. We spent about an hour talking about the fine art of “standing and delivering” — just like in the good old days. It is always refreshing to look out on an audience and see their eyes, all of them paying attention; not half of them with their heads bowed checking status updates or emails. One giant leap for human communication this morning — ah!
Greetings beloved and belovettes! I trust this communique continues to find you well, fulfilled, and leaning forward in life. As for me, I am standing in the need of some comfort philosophy. Meaning? Some common sense slinging. Times being what they are, it seems like a good conversation.
When I first started teaching, Moby Dick was a minnow. My teaching assignment was a public speaking class or a class in interpersonal communication. Students had an option and either course would satisfy the core requirement for graduation. Since most people are more afraid of death than public speaking, you can imagine how quickly the non-public speaking class filled up. Faster than sinners RSVP-ing to a bodacious tent revival. Now to say I have ever been a predictable professor is — well, if you have had a class with me you have stories to tell and I will deny them all, they are despicable lies.
As I prepared to teach my first interpersonal (non-public speaking) class I thought, maybe I can find a way to create a teachable moment that has nothing to do with me or my classroom. Maybe I can derail the, “This-class-is-a-blow-off-class” reputation. Let’s face it, sitting thru a touchy-feely class on the surface sounds awesome and easy, but I’d rather be blindfolded, shackled, and waiting in line for the next available cashier. What to do?? How can I possibly push back the frontiers of ignorance regarding interpersonal communication, good grief. Ah ha! Create an experience. Something to chew on. That arguably specious reasoning spawned an assignment that remains one of my favorite in terms of impact and filled with oozing take-aways. The assignment was simple, in theory:
Find an elevator, preferably one that carries a lot of passengers, e.g., the mall, hospital, office building. When you get on the elevator and the door closes, turn around so you are facing the occupants. Do not speak. Ride up or down for one floor. When you exit, immediately write down what you observed. Be specific. Be ready to report in great detail next class.
As you can imagine, the class discussion was always interesting and most definitely entertaining. Over the years, the vast majority of my students have reported witnessing reactions from puzzled looks to bawdy laughter and everything in between. This assignment always did exactly what I had in mind — demonstrate the raw principles of interpersonal communication and reveal an even more compelling lesson — the absolute power and breathtaking awe generated by the noise of silence. I mean, no one ever talks on an elevator. It is so jacked up, someone had to invent elevator music to drown out the silence. Silence is a good thing, I have never been very good at it. Sorry, I’m working on it.
After several years of “running” this assignment, I have noticed a common theme that has emerged when I ask students, “So, what if this assignment had required you to say something? What would your elevator speech have been?” As you can imagine the typical response is always something like, “Come on Professor, no way you can give a speech in such a short amount of time! 60-90 seconds, tops, no way.” More common, and accompanied with the look of a goose staring at the lightning, “Elevator speech, what’s that?” My moment to pounce.
To be honest, that is a predictable response from the increasingly emoji rich culture we live in, I get it. No harm, no foul, just human. What I leave my students with are examples of the greatest elevator speeches I have heard. They usually start with something insanely simple, like — “Hello!” Or maybe, “Hope your day is super!” If your feeling especially frisky, “Cool hat!” You get the idea. Human beings doing what we used to do with more frequency, being human, on purpose. Perhaps realtime interactions with fellow human strangers, what?!?
The fine art of delivering an elevator speech isn’t fine art at all. It doesn’t have to be an impassioned plea to save endangered jackasses from themselves, although I’d love to hear your perspective. It shouldn’t be a well rehearsed soliloquy, we apparently just sent them all back to congress and the statehouse. An elevator speech is your golden opportunity to speak kindly, honestly, encouragingly, and with civility. Who knows, you might even tilt someone’s otherwise wonky orbit in a totally positive way. How cool would it be for the elevator door to close behind you and your audience of 1 or 2 say, “Wow, I needed that.” Not a bad way to roll beloved. What’s your elevator speech? Remember, it is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice.
So now, I will return you to your regularly scheduled programming. Be cool. Be nice. OH, this is my floor, see you later.