When my daughter Sarah was a teenager she worked at a camp every summer. One year she asked if I would come and do a program for the counselors. I said, “No.”
It was, after all, a “freebie” with no potential clients. In addition, the trip to the campsite and back was over four hours– each way!
In spite of my response, Sarah was persistent. Every summer she would ask if I would come and address the counselors. Every summer I would make some excuse why I could not– my busy schedule, my writing, my fee integrity!
Then, at one National Speakers Association conference, I heard a fellow speaker give a powerful talk. His main theme was how each of us as speakers can make a difference in a discouraging world. At one point, he mentioned that teenagers have the highest suicide rate in this country. I thought about the teenage counselors Sarah asked me to address. I immediately phoned her and said, “When would you like me to come and speak.”
After the long drive, I arrived at the camp and tried to find my daughter. She was not around at the time but from the moment I stepped out of the car everyone I met knew me. “Hello,” they said, “you’re Sarah’s dad. Aren’t you?”
It wasn’t until later that I learned that everyone knew who I was because, unbeknownst to me, Sarah has posted hundreds of small signs around the camp with my picture. The headline read, “Do you know this man?”
In my ten year speaking career, I have never had such great pre-publicity. Nor have I ever had such unusual accommodations– a cabin shared with two other counselors, a lumpy cot, holes in the screens, and the bathroom facilities 1/4 mile down the road.
The accommodations were less than ideal, the food was mediocre and the fee was nil but the experience was golden.
In the past, I have addressed 1,500 case managers at Opryland Hotel’s grand ballroom, an audience of cancer patients who no longer had all of their original body parts, and people dealing with or dying of AIDS. But this is the speech I will remember most.
I could not begin my talk until near 11 PM- yes PM- after all the kids were put to bed and the counselors had some time for themselves. The room was packed with young eager but tired faces. They had been working since 6 AM.
As I started to speak, I scanned the room in search of one counselor that I was concerned about. He was a friend of Sarah’s who I had met previously. He was very shy, and from Sarah’s description, frequently severely depressed.
I didn’t see him in the crowded room and thought to myself that because of his depression, he probably chose not to attend my upbeat program. Then I spotted him peering at me from behind the couch.
The speech went very well and near mid-night it ended with a standing ovation.
I didn’t see Sarah’s friend again until months later. Though he never wanted to chat much in the past, this time he was eager to share something with me.
It seems that several days after my talk things weren’t going well at camp so he decided to leave. Since he did not get along with his dad, he couldn’t go home. So he left it up to fate and began hitchhiking. For most of the day, one car after another passed him by. He began to feel more and more depressed and deserted. He started to plan how he would kill himself. Then he put his hand in his pocket and discovered the clown nose he got at my talk. He put it on. Immediately someone stopped and gave him a ride.
“Maybe lightening up a bit can get me further than I thought,” he told me. “Thank you, for coming to speak to us. And thank you for saving my life.”
Allen Klein: Award-winning professional speaker, Lifetime Achievement Award recipient from the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, Certified Speaking Professional from the National Speaker’s Association. Author of The Healing Power of Humor, The Courage to Laugh, Inspiration for a Lifetime, Change Your Life!: A Little Book of Big Ideas, Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying, and the audiobook TeacherLaughs www.allenklein.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org