Sunday, February 10, 2008

They Are All the Same

Last night I spoke at a Valentine Day get-together at a country church located on a dirt road in rural Schley County GA. In a few weeks I will be speaking to a convention at a hotel in downtown Chicago.

It is a long way from County Line Methodist Church in Schley County GA to the Intercontinental Hotel in Chicago. In many ways one would think the crowd will be much different. But I have learned over the years that they are all the same.

For those new to this blog, I started public speaking by accident. About 14 years ago I was asked to speak to the Taylor County Ministerial Association Christmas Banquet. The meeting, which included local ministers and their wives, was held at Mike Smith’s restaurant in Butler, GA. I had a difficult time trying to figure out what I would speak about to a bunch of preachers – most of whom I had known for years and had worked with often since I was the local undertaker.

I decided to tell them, from the perspective of the local undertaker, funny things preachers do. Actually the stories I told I had been telling for years. And many were about the gentlemen who were seated in the audience. And boy did they laugh. The more they laughed, the more stories I thought about and the more stories I told. I vividly remember Mike Smith, the owner of the restaurant and the person serving the food that night, standing at the door of the kitchen when I was speaking. He was laughing as much or more as the preachers in the audience.

I don’t know when I had ever had so much fun.

A few weeks after that I was asked to speak to a civic club in the Crowell Community in Taylor County. This time I told some of the same stories but was more organized and even had a few notes. This time I ended the speech with a few motivational/inspirational thoughts. Later I spoke at the Reynolds Woman’s Club and then ventured out to neighboring Peach County and spoke to the Fort Valley Kiwanis Club. Later I took a big chance and drove to Cordele GA to speak to a very large civic club. Halfway to Cordele, it dawned on me that I had never spoken to a group that did not know me or my family. I knew my little road show would be put to the test that day. I was overwhelmed by the reaction of that luncheon crowd that day.

The speech evolved and the speaking invitations came more often than I could believe or even keep up with. For several years I kept a map with pins showing all the places in Georgia I had spoken. Actually there are not many counties I have not taken my road show to at least once. And most a few times. After driving one afternoon from Columbus GA to Milledgeville GA to speak and realizing I was exactly one month early, I turned my scheduling over to my able administrative assistant Sheri. At that time I made the decision to start charging a fee for my services hoping the fee would slow down my very hectic speaking schedule. (I also had a rather hectic day job). Before that I came strictly for a “love offering.” Sometimes there was not much “love” in the offering. Sheri was a tough negotiator but the speaking invitations kept coming.

I remember one small church in southern Georgia called to ask me to speak at their mid week prayer service. When Sheri told the lady that I would be glad to come but the charge would be $300 the lady was appalled. She said she could get Billy Graham to come for that. They never called back to ask me to speak again. I doubt they got Rev. Billy to come either.

After Sheri left my employ for greener pastures, I turned my speaking schedule over to my brother in law. He took speaking negotiating to another level and my speaking horizons got expanded even more. Rudy pushed me to write the book and formed a company to publish it. When the book was released at the Georgia Strawberry Festival in Reynolds in April 05, I sold enough books that day to pay for the cost of the books.

I don’t know how many books I have autographed in the last 4 years but the number is a lot. I signed a few more last night at County Line Church. This morning a friend told me that his daughter’s middle school class teacher was reading my book to her class in their classroom. I asked him to talk to that teacher and let’s get a date for me to speak to her class.

Fourteen years ago when I stood in front of a bunch of local preachers and their wives I had no idea I was about to begin an incredible journey. The journey has taken me to audiences in 20 states now. I have learned that people are the same wherever I go.

People love to laugh. And they all have the same heartstrings that can be gently pulled.

It doesn’t matter if I am in Ellaville Georgia or Chicago Illinois.

People may talk a little differently but they are all the same.


Anonymous said...

I was just wondering if you have ever did anything thing on tv.

Anonymous said...

My mom's church in North Georgia wants to have you come speak to their Senior Citizens group. But I don't think they have the budget for it!

In case they are able to afford it, though, I plan to be there!

LL in SC