For those of you new to this blog, I’ve been sharing some highlights of the INC. 500 conference so you get to vicariously experience this impressive event.

Of the many intriguing speakers (e.g., Seth Godin, Tom Peters, Jim Collins, A. E. Hotchner, Elon Musk), a favorite was Keith McFarland, author of The Breakthrough Company.

Here’s the 3rd reason he received my Edge-of-Your-Seat Speaker Award.

Edge-Of-Your-Seat Speaker Tip 3. He illustrated vs. explained

Instead of simply telling us that Fastenal’s renowned customer service has contributed to their dramatic financial success, Keith illustrated his points with first-person stories and meaningful props.

He told us, “Our research team headed to Minnesota to try the Closing-Time Test’ on a Fastenal store. I’ve found if you show up at a store five-ten minutes before closing, you find out really fast how committed employees are to customer service.”

At this point, Keith walked over to a small table on the stage, picked up a bolt and said, “We walked into the store a few minutes before 5 pm and started wandering the aisles, loitering long enough to become a nuisance. Ten minutes after they were supposed to close, I picked up this bolt, walked to the front counter and started asking a lot of dumb questions.

The assistant manager, Keith Henderson, patiently answered all my questions and acted as if he’d be happy to spend the rest of the night there if that’s what I needed. I finally confessed I was there to do some research for my book and we all had a good laugh.”

What’s the point? Keith created a vivid, word picture so we saw what he was saying. He didn’t just tell us what happened, he relived it. He put us in the scene with a real-life example, complete with back-and-forth dialogue and the actual names of the people involved. We might as well have been there in the store with him.

He did not use, as many speakers do, an apocryphal, made-up story that strained the truth and undermined our respect for him. We all knew this story had actually taken place which added to his credibility. Plus, bringing the bolt with him and holding it up at a pivotal part of the story made his concept concrete and visually punctuated his point. Well done!

When and where will you be asking people for their valuable time and attention? How are you going to keep them on the edge of their seats? Could you keep them intrigued by using an illustrate-don’t-explain example that puts them in the scene? Could you bring a meaningful prop that illustrates your idea to help audience members visually grasp it? Invest some time and effort to keep audience members intrigued and everyone in the room will benefit — including you.