Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Pitchman

He didn’t wait for the lights to come up, or for the normal din of small talk and chatter to die down. He liked his voice to be the first thing to hit their senses, to set the tone.

“Training seminar,” he said, and waited a beat for the heads to snap to the front. “Just say the words and you have to fight a reflexive roll of your eyes.” The lights came up on him and he waited for his eyes to adjust. He surveyed the crowd. Each head was turned in his direction. The hook never failed.

“I can imagine what you’re thinking right now. Memories of unimaginably long and over explanatory power point presentations, awkward and uncomfortable group exercises that require you to accomplish boring tasks using the same teamwork techniques you learned in high school, reviews of company policies and vision statements that have no meaning whatsoever… I know, trust me- I’ve been there.” He meandered across the stage with the lazy yet confident stride that had become his trademark.

“And I bet I even know what you’d think if I told you I had a better way. You’d think of overzealous salesman who conned your company into signing its managers up for the newest ‘experiential workshop’ that promised the audience ‘an awakening to real office dynamics’,” he continued, exaggerating the quotation marks with his fingers while lolling his head to the side. “Well, I’m here to tell you that this is not what Hamilton White is offering you.”

He paused again, letting the name of the company which he prided himself on pronouncing as if he’d said it a thousand times before, resonate in the minds of those looking at him. He held the pause for longer than was comfortable, letting the tell-tale cough ring out and the uncomfortable shift in their seats.

“No!” he yelled, and got the reaction he was looking for as people shot up in their seats. “No, friends- I am talking about honest-to-God knowledge that will actually equip you to be better at your job. Because the fact of the matter is that there is no one method for getting what you want out of your employees. “Strengths assessments” only works for people with strengths, company bonuses only work for those who actually believe in the company’s profitability and cheap incentives require a more in-depth knowledge of what each individual employee actually wants than you can ascertain in a single weekend. No, there is no short cut to getting what you need.”

He looked out at the audience, gauged the faces turned toward him. Some eyebrows raised, some heads shook and whispered to the neighbors, some just continued to look at him in anticipation. He held their gazes, waiting for the drop.

“But, there is a short-cut to genuine knowledge.” He paused again, shifted his stance, smiled. “Would you believe me if I told you that we could teach you the skills you need to accurately read, determine motive, and direct your employees in one weekend?” He waited. Some people nodded, some frowned, some laughed. “Seriously. I don’t claim to know how it works but I know it does. You know how I know? Because I did it.”

He stepped down from the stage, walked over to a man at the end of the third aisle. “For example,” he said, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder which caused him to look up. “You sir, are here because your HR director suggested me. Am I right?”

The man looked up at him with raised eyebrows and nodded.

“And you, ma’am- you’re here because you have to write up your company’s training plan for the year, correct?” he asked, walking over to a woman on the other side of the row.

“Yes, that’s right. How did you know that?” she answered excitedly.

“And you,” he said ignoring her and waving to a man three rows back, “Yes you- you’re don’t really believe in any of this stuff and you’re mostly in it for the free lunch, right?”

The man he referenced with the collar too tight to be comfortable nodded gruffly and folded his arms.

“I understand, and I used to be just like you. But that was before I signed up for these amazing courses and I learned the secret to reading people, just like I read you. Did I talk to any of you before I came out?”

Three heads shook.

“Did I have a chance to interact with you or ask you questions about why you came here today?”

The heads continued to shake and he made his way back to the stage.

“Everyone of us has our own foundation on which to build these skills. We all have a different way of getting to the same place. But I promise you that these trainings are the best way to discover how to motivate your employees, how to assign the right people to the right tasks and how to grow the talent you have in your company.” He paused, looking out at the crowd again, waiting.

“And now I will hand the stage over to Richard Blamin from Hamilton White and let him fill you on the details of this amazing training. Thank you.”

He stepped out of the room before the applause died down, allowing the front salesman to take the stage. The cold air hit him and he took a sharp breath, grateful for the reprieve. He could feel his heart beat starting to slow, his muscles starting to unclench. The adrenaline would linger in his veins like it always did, reminding him how much his show had taken out of him again.

He grabbed his pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket and banged one out with trembling hands. He could still hear them applauding his showmanship. He hated them for being so gullible and buying into his farce. But at the same time he loved them for making him feel like more than what he was.

A lonely man smoking a cigarette, biding his time until his 8:30pm flight.

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