What a way to start out a day — sharing breakfast with Senator Barack Obama, funny lady Amy Sedaris, and noted novelist John Updike. Well, me and 1000 other Book Expo attendees.
BEA is the annual publishing extravaganza held every May that draws tens of thousands of agents, editors, publishers, and authors from around the world. Walk down the halls and, at any given moment, you could encounter Pulitzer Prize winning humorist Dave Barry or Dr. Ruth Westheimer (all 4’10” of her) pitching their Fall books.
What really stood out for me were the stirring words of John Updike who rose to the defense of good old-fashioned books you can hold in your hands . . . vs. the “electronic anteater” also known as the internet. He praised booksellers for continuing to operate brick and mortar stores that are “citadels of literacy in the neighborhoods in which they live.”
He said memorably, “Books have edges. Sometimes hard edges, sometimes soft edges, and it up to authors and booksellers everywhere to defend those edges.” I had an opportunity to talk briefly with Updike afterwards and he said that phrase and image had come to him the night before as he was searching for a way to wrap up his speech.
Which brings me to my two points.
1. Whenever we take the stage, whether it is for 3 minutes or 30, it is our obligation to say something thought-provoking that adds value to the people in the audience. Too many speakers, when giving a platform, run through a laundry list of thanks (think the Oscars) or invest little time in thinking what they could say that is intriguing and insightful. Updike honored his audience by spending time composing a message that was relevant and timely to everyone in the room. Kudos.
2. Saul Bellow said, “I never had to change a word of what I got up in the middle of the night to write.” Updike knew, as soon as those words “came to him,” that they were a gift. He immediately wrote them down and planned where and how he could include them for maximum impact.
When are you speaking before a group next? Whether it is to employees and colleagues at your weekly staff meeting or to a group of professional peers at a Chamber of Commerce function; take the time to construct a message that will pleasantly surprise your audience with its originality and topicality. Keep your antenna up for that strike of creative lightning that “occurs” to you. If it stops you in your mental tracks, it will probably stop others in their mental tracks.
Promise yourself you will not get up to speak until you have at least one thing to say that is fresh, useful, or potentially profound. Your audience will thank you for it and your reputation will benefit from it. Sam Horn samhorn.com