Beside the fact that both are talented artists as well as skilled craftsmen, good motivational speakers and good cooks share other similarities. Both are seeking to engage their audiences. Both activities invoke a great deal of preparation. Both often draw from personal, life-time experiences. Both rely heavily on presentation. Both know that timing is critical. And, both are expert at adding just the right amount of ingredients to bring out the full flavor. Good speakers and good cooks garnish, measure, ad lib, and caramelize.
Good speakers and good cooks begin by identifying the major focus. For the speaker it is selecting the primary theme; for the cook it is selecting the main course. As part of identifying the primary theme and selecting the main course, the speaker and the cook need to know their audience and the occasion for which they are speaking or cooking. A speaker will approach a formal keynote address at an annual conference differently than an afternoon presentation at the town’s garden club. By the same token, a cook will approach a seven course pre’ fixe’ dinner with white tablecloths differently than a backyard barbecue of a whole roasted pig for a fortieth birthday party. Each event is equally important. But, the audience, the occasion, the preparation and the delivery will be designed very differently. So knowing the audience and the occasion is critical to identifying the major focus. It is what allows good taste and good fun to come together in a seamless presentation.
Assembling the right ingredients and putting them together in right measures is critical to both the speaker and the cook. The speaker mixes a splash of substantive expertise with a sprinkle of humor, adds a generous amount of energy, caramelizes a sweet thought, folds it all into poignant life experiences and bakes it with a good laugh. The cook gathers each ingredient, pre-heats the oven, sautes, grates zest, browns, sprinkles, drizzles, caramelizes a sweet onion, bakes, and finally plates the dish.
A good speaker will oftentimes draw from the memories of his or her youth and adulthood. Moments will be shared with an audience starting out like, ” I remember when Momma caught me…”, or, “I remember when my teacher said…”, or,” I remember the smell of my father’s after-shave…”, or, “I remember when the lights went out and I was alone in the dark…”, or, “I remember when I thought I could not go on…”. Listeners can usually resonate to these universal moments and the feelings they engender. These thoughts and feelings usually linger long after the speaker is gone. Similarly, a good cook will oftentimes tap the old neighborhood and long held family traditions serving up memories on a plate complete with the sights and smells of Grandma’s kitchen. “I remember my Mommas cannolli…”, Papa was a baker, so he…”, “Friends would gather at graduation, weddings or funerals and bring…”, “With a large family, making things from scratch…”, “Chili, a family favorite, was kept hot in a pot wrapped in …”, “Friend green tomatoes always remind me of…”.
A cook is striving to create a taste that is memorable and a speaker is striving to create a message that is memorable. Whether you are a casual cook or an aspiring pro with serious foodie credentials; or, whether you are a casual speaker or an aspiring pro with serious speaking credentials, chances are you have learned the importance of timing and delivery to the success of your efforts. The timing and delivery of the cook’s dish may call for being served immediately from the oven, or it may be better to let it rest and meld and set up. It takes practice to know when to deliver the food so that it is at its best in taste, in texture and, in aroma. But, for the good cook the hard work and practice are a labor of love. A good cook sparkles in his/her zest for the culinary arts. In like manner, a good speaker must time the words just right sometimes using dramatic pause, sometimes rushing up to a major point and then slowly unravelling it to the audience. Sometimes the language presented may be figurative, sometime literal, sometimes carefully couched, sometimes brutally straightforward. It takes practice to know how to deliver so that your presentation is at its best in meaningfulness, in motivation, and in style. But, like the good cook, the hard work and practice are a labor of love. A good speaker sparkles in his/her joy for the speaking arts.
So, to the speaker and to the cook: may your work be refined; may it also be big and bold; may you continue to push the boundaries with bursts of flavor and dollops of meaning. And, may the finish of your labors be as long as that of a truly world class red wine, lingering and continuing to develop for a long time.