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Speaker's Digest

April 2016
Volume 15, Number 4

In this issue:

Oh, Canada. We’re not thinking about hockey (since our Blackhawks have already been knocked out of the playoffs), but rather about two Canadians that touched our lives this month. One was Professor Fred Gottheil, a popular teacher of Economics at the University of Illinois who passed away last week. The other, David D., is a customer service representative for Hertz in Calgary who helped us when we dropped off our rental car after leading a workshop there. Both Fred and David had much to teach us—and our readers—about the kinds of presentation skills that really make a difference.

Always Teaching, Canadian Style

We don’t write obituaries in the Digest, nor do we simply tell stories about our family members. But this month we write of the passing of Professor Fred Gottheil, who taught Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for over 50 years. He was also Eric and Brett’s beloved uncle.

The reason we’re writing about Fred is that he stands out to so many of his students as one of those few memorable teachers in their lifetimes. He taught the introductory Economics class (Econ 101) at Illinois, and lectured three times each week to well over 1,000 students in the largest lecture halls on campus, including the school’s renowned Auditorium. We mourn his death, but this month we also share—for your benefit—some of the reasons why he was such a great presenter and a wonderful teacher.

After his passing, many of his students from years ago recalled him as one of the most popular instructors on campus, and even their favorite professor of all time. “He actually made economics fun,” one former student wrote, while another said: “I learned more in his Economics class than I did in all my other business classes combined.” “I never wanted to miss his lectures,” recalled another, who also wrote: “he recognized that his subject was bigger than economics—he taught about life.”

How did he consistently win over new generations of students, and keep them engaged by the thousands over a fifty-plus year career? Perhaps more importantly, what can we learn about presenting from Professor Gottheil?

He made his topic relevant. Gottheil took a relatively dry subject (when was the last time YOU read about economics for fun?) and made it relevant to his students by showing how it applied to their everyday lives. This meant focusing less on the business pages and more on topics that his audience found interesting, such as music or sports. In doing this, he was able to show how economics affected them. One student, in recalling Gottheil—a parent of a son and daughter active in the music business—remembered that he included questions about indie rock bands on his tests. Take a lesson from the Professor next time you give a presentation, and make your subject entirely relevant to your audience.

He was passionate. Fred Gottheil loved teaching. He loved his students—he welcomed their questions, their criticisms and their ideas, and was willing to go to great depths to explain even the most trivial concept (or to argue why they were wrong!). This is where his passion came through, because he knew that welcoming questions from his students was a way to actively involve them in the learning process. When you can get your audience to ask questions, you know they’re engaged in what you’re saying.

He was authentic. Fred brought his authentic self to his lectures. This meant sharing some of his non-professional interests, often finding ways to talk about his family or hockey—as a Montreal native, he loved the Canadians. Many remember fondly a distinctive ‘cluck’ that he made with his tongue to emphasize a point. He wasn’t overly formal—quite the opposite. During one memorable lecture, he sung for his class a song that he used to sing to his daughter Lisa when she was a baby. Then he taught them —all 1100 of them—the song, and he recorded them singing it, giving the recording to Lisa as a birthday present. Take a lesson from Fred: be yourself!

He simplified complex topics. To take a complex topic and make it understandable without “dumbing it down” is a particular skill that Professor Gottheil had. He was able to teach subjects while removing the jargon, adding understandable metaphors and examples. The book he wrote, Principles of Economics, now in its seventh edition, is one of the most widely used textbooks for college introductory Econ courses in the country, mostly because he was able to adapt his teaching style—and his ability to simplify—into book format.

He shared stories and used humor. We were able to find this video of a short speech that Gottheil gave about the role of health insurance in people’s lives. If you take a few minutes to watch it, you’ll notice that he spends the first half of his time telling stories—some humorous, some intensely personal—to draw his audience into his topic. Then, he turns to his slides, the first of which is a picture of The Simpsons. Using America’s favorite animated family as his example, he spoke about the healthcare needs of a typical family with a father, Homer, who could have a heart attack any day, a mother, Marge, so stressed out that her hair turns blue, a son Bart with attention-deficit disorder, and two daughters who could have many future healthcare needs. Fred knew how effectively you can use stories and humor to connect with your audience. Click here to see him in action.

He smiled. It was infectious. His students knew he was enjoying himself, and they were drawn in. It was easy to tell that he enjoyed teaching his students as much as they enjoyed learning from him.

For so many people, including many of our readers, Professor Fred Gottheil was influential and memorable and beloved. Thankfully we can still apply the things we learned from him to our own lives. We’ll miss you, Freddie!

Closed Circuit to those who like to share personal stories: Make them relevant. If you watch the video clip of Professor Gottheil, you’ll see how he shares an extremely personal story about losing his son Josh to lymphoma at age 19. Then, he uses the phrase: “The reason I share this story is…” Without saying that phrase, the story is just a story. But by adding that line, you're forced to explain why the story is relevant to your topic, and why it supports the point you are making. Personal stories are great ways to be authentic and to connect, but they are so much more effective when you can show WHY you are telling that particular story to that particular audience.



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Always Presenting, Canadian Style

The chore of returning a rental car while rushing to catch an early morning flight seldom qualifies as a highlight of a trip. But our recent encounter in Calgary with a Canadian named David D. taught us otherwise.

We had just finished a busy two-day workshop for a client in Calgary and were headed back to Chicago. Driving up to the Hertz facility, we expected the typical questions like “Did’ja fill up the tank?” or “Ya need a receipt?” But David proved to be a great ambassador for Hertz, engaging us in conversation, asking us if everything worked well with the car.

But he proved to be an ambassador for his city and his country as well, asking us what we did in Calgary, was this our first trip there, and did we enjoy our stay? The entire time, he was pleasant, conversational, and seemed genuinely interested in talking with us. His manner made his authentic closing all the more effective: “Thanks for renting from Hertz, we really DO appreciate your business,” adding “I hope you’ll visit Calgary again sometime soon.”

At this point he had engaged us, so Eliot introduced himself, shook David’s hand, and told him that this was the best experience he’d ever had with a rental company. David responded with: “Guess how long I’ve been doing this job?” Then he proudly exclaimed that he had been there for 30 years!

As part of his spiel, David told us about a website where we could go to rate our rental experience, a process most of us usually ignore. Not this time—Eliot was sure to go online to rave about the experience, and we hope that David’s supervisors got to read the comments.

Here’s what David taught us: everyone representing your company is a salesperson, a customer-service agent, and a leader, no matter what their actual title is. It takes no extra effort to be nice, to be considerate, and to show that you care. And it might even get you mentioned in Speaker’s Digest!

Chicago is clearly the place to be for baseball so far this year. Is it too early to predict a “Subway Series?” See you next month!



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