Last week, I had the high honor and privilege of being asked to deliver a eulogy for a man that represents the essence of leadership. That man was my father-in-law George C. Dicus. George was a giant of a man who was recognized as a Leader’s Leader by those he came across thoughout a remarkable life. His is truly a life and legacy to be celebrated, and forever will be. I am honored to share my comments from the service…Richard
If anyone ever felt more unworthy to be anyplace at any time than I do to be standing here today, I cannot imagine who it would be. Of all of the children, children-in-law, grandchildren, nieces and nephews that George had, I have been around the shortest length of time, having married into his wonderful family just over two years ago.
But even though I have been in the family for just a couple of years, I have been around George for about 25 years. You see, we went to church together at South Highland Baptist Church in Little Rock back then. Among the people at South Highland were George and Linda Dicus.I didn’t really know them, and they didn’t know me, but I certainly knew of them. Everybody did. They were known as good people…solid Christians…leaders in the church…part of its backbone. And it wasn’t because of what they said. It was because of how they lived.
Eventually, I left South Highland when I moved to Bryant and joined a church here. And lo and behold who walks across the church one morning but George and Linda Dicus. For some reason, I clearly recall seeing them that morning.
George was one of those people you notice. Maybe it was that thick gray hair of his. Gray hair on a man, so people reassuringly tell me more and more, looks so distinguished. It sure did on him!
And I recalled that they drove a maroon colored Lincoln Continental with a one of those specially-made license plates. George surprised Linda with it on her birthday years ago: “L J D”…Linda Jean Dicus. And she still has that license plate…and I suspect she always will.
George and Linda became active members of First Southern, but again our paths didn’t really cross. But people there, too, just knew that these were good people…who loved people…and were people of extraordinary faith, integrity and service.
Fast forward several years to Geyer Springs First Baptist Church. Here I am sitting in my spot in the balcony and I look over and who do I see…George and Linda Dicus across the way. Now I have to say that I also noticed a special someone else sitting with them, but we’ll leave that for another day. I will just say that she is the reason I have the blessing to be part of George’s family.
By this time, I have come across these special people three different times in three different churches. I’m not sure who was following who! But at each church…from the smallest to the largest…what everyone knew about George and Linda Dicus was the same: that they’re good people. People of substance…significance…and service. No one had to be told that. It was obvious. Their lives spoke for them.
Something else I noticed: In every place it wasn’t George Dicus…or Linda Dicus. It was always “George and Linda”…”George and Linda.” When you heard one name, you heard the other. “George and Linda.” They’re one. And they have been one when it comes to commitment to each other, their family, their family and community.
Faith, family and friends were always most important to George and Linda. That has been made even more clear over the last several months…the past few days…here last night…and by your presence, love and support today.
And that’s the way it should be. This family…George’s family…is the model for what a family should be.
In fact, the word “model” is fitting for George Dicus.
He is the model of what a husband should be.
He is the model of what a father should be.
He is the model of what a son – and son-in-law for that matter – should be.
He is the model of what a brother should be.
He is the model of what a Pappy should be.
He is the model of what an uncle should be.
He is the model of what a friend should be.
He is the model of what a neighbor should be.
And he is a model of what a Christian should be.
These are the things that matter the most. And they are the things that mattered most to George throughout his life here on earth.
While George…Dad…Pappy…is gone from us for today, he is forever with us…in the lives of those he loved…in the lives he will always influence…and in his commitment to the Savior he served.
Let me say a word to the grandchildren. You will forever have the blessing when facing a difficult decision about most anything to be able to ask yourselves “What would Pappy do?” In that sense, he will always be with you and you with him.
This is the legacy George Dicus leaves to all of us. Since George was an accomplished athlete, I think it is fitting in George’s case, to borrow from the motto of one of the most respected, successful franchises in all of sports over the course of his life to speak to his legacy.
It is a motto that is directly over the door of the locker room from where the players enter the field of play. As they leave the locker
room, each player reaches up and touches the motto as they pass under the door. The players regard the motto as being words spoken to them by their predecessors on this legendary team. And it’s almost as though George is speaking
to us today. Those words are
To you from failing hands we pass the torch. Be it yours to forever hold high.
So maybe today, as you pay your final respects, you can pass by George one final time and touch his casket and, like the players, acknowledge, accept and advance the responsibility to maintain the legacy he leaves.
That legacy is that he fought the good fight…he has finished the race…he has kept the faith.
George is hearing us say these words about him and I am sure he is more than just a little bit embarrassed by them.
But he is also hearing the words we all long to hear one day…and the words that matter most…from The One who matters most…
What makes for an effective spokesperson? What qualities should the one representing your organization to the media have? While a working knowledge of the media can be a real plus, there are “4 C’s” of communications that the best spokespersons develop and project as they speak on behalf of those they represent. Let’s take a look at each of them.
Concern – A trait essential to being an effective is genuine concern and empathy for the media’s and – by extension – the public’s desire to know about situations relating to your organization. Here I am speaking to issues and incidents that impact the community-at-large and draw public interest. Several years ago, a colleague of mine was counseling a client that experienced a large explosion at one of its manufacturing facilities. The plant was located adjacent to a residential neighborhood that had grown up around the plant over the years. Media coverage was very intense. As demands for information came in fast and furious, plant management became frustrated with the media’s scrutiny and demands for information….who, what, where, when and why. My colleague, himself a bit frustrated, but with his client said “Your plant blew up! Explosions are big news!” He was right. While we may want to wish away negative news and situations, the reality is that the public has a legitimate interest in and right to know about situations affecting them and the community. It is important that a spokesperson have a genuine empathy and concern for the public’s interest.
Comfort – Speaking to the media can be a daunting task, especially when they are seeking comment on a controversial or “breaking news” incident. An effective spokesperson is one who is able to project calm comfort in responding to media inquiries, especially when communicating in a crisis. Comfort is conveyed through a steady demeanor that reflects calmness and projects confidence, even in the face of a barrage of questions. Those able to communicate with a calm confidence and a sense of humanity are generally perceived to have greater credibility. If the spokesperson is perceived with credibility, that credibility more often than not extends to their message.
Conversely, the defensiveness or irritation of a spokesperson can and often does reflect negatively on the organization they represent. The demeanor of the spokesperson should not be the most memorable aspect of their interchange with the media. If it is, overwhelmingly it is for negative reasons. Great spokespersons should be regarded as great baseball umpires: critical to the game, but not its defining characteristic.
Concise Clarity – An effective spokesperson is able to speak clearly and concisely about an issue. They have clearly defined messages and communicate them in sentences, not paragraphs. The messages that have the most impact are those that can be expressed in 15 words or less. Of course, some messages warrant elaboration, but usually not to the extent one might think. The danger is that too much elaboration can compromise the impact of the message. If elaboration is necessary, it will be prompted by questions from the media. After elaborating, return to and restate the key message as you finish up.
Context – An opportunity often missed by spokespersons is offering context on an issue. Context helps ensure that information is properly perceived. Left to their own devices and limited knowledge, people can draw inaccurate conclusions. This is especially true when it comes to data or technical terminology.
For the purposes of illustration, let’s say a crime statistic in a certain jurisdiction shows an increase of 2% over the previous year. Is that a significant number? How does it compare with similarly-situated jurisdictions? Or with state and national statistics? Providing these sorts of comparisons is not “spinning.” It is essential perspective if the information is to be accurately perceived and understood.
Become a careful observer of spokespersons you see in and on the news. Consider their demeanor, the content and construct of their messages. What traits do you find positive? What turns you off and leaves you with less than a favorable impression. Then consider yourself or your spokespersons. How are you doing? How are they doing? What are they saying about your company by the way they present themselves to the public? What steps can be taken to sharpen their skills and impact on the public?
It is an adage of athletics that the level of training and practice determines the level of success in the game. That’s why athletes…and umpires…go through rigorous training before they take the playing field. It applies to the success of spokespersons, too. Those who go through media training and practice regularly are those who are most successful when the lights come on, especially when it comes to crisis communications.
A dilemma when it comes to business presentations is how and to what extent to incorporate PowerPoint. One the one hand, PowerPoint allows presenters to incorporate color, animation, graphics, video and a wide range of special effects. On the other hand, each of those aspects (much less all of them taken together) can be distracting and compromise the presentation…and the presenter.
There are a number of considerations and steps that should go into determining the role of PowerPoint for any presentation, especially when making a pitch for business. Here are four primary ones…
Must the Slides Match the Handouts?
Based on all too many presentations these days, one would think that there is some inviolable rule in the business universe that says all slides must precisely match the handouts and vice versa. Either that or most presenters prepare their information, notes, etc., in PowerPoint and every piece of information ends up on the slides, and in the handouts. Or is it in the handouts and on the slides? The two should not and do not need to replicate one another, but all too often they do. The slides are primarily a visual medium. They are seen and sometimes heard. Handouts are primarily an intellectual medium. They are read.
SUGGESTION: If and when you prepare your presentation in PowerPoint, complete with points and sub-points and supporting sub-points, ad nauseam, let this comprehensive version serve as the basis for your handout. Save a copy and pare its information back to main points and whatever graphics you may be using. Let this version serve as the slide. Apply the “Six by Six Rule” for your slides: No more than six lines per slide; no more than six words per line.
A final comment regarding handouts: distribute them at the end of the presentation if and when possible. During the presentation you want the audience’s undivided attention. Of course, there are times when the requirement is that they be distributed at the beginning of the presentation, and in the case of a conference presentation, days beforehand. But that just makes the case for making the handouts and slides similar but not duplicates even more compelling.
Balance Between Objective and Subjective
We have all sat through presentations where the presenter basically read their slides to the audience. Or worse, you’ve been in the middle of making a presentation realize “I am not giving them anything that isn’t on the slides. Uh oh…” How does one avoid such a situation?
SUGGESTION: Use the visuals to depict objective facts and information; to convey the “what is” of the situation. You as the presenter then provide comment, context and perspective, or the “what it means.” Big screen = objective; Presenter = subjective. Bear in mind when I say “subjective” I am not suggesting “spin.” Rather, relate the information to the audience and their interests in the topic and help lead and persuade them to the understanding or action you desire.
This simple step will allow you to become the driver of not only the presentation, but of the outcome. The presentation will be infinitely more interesting to the audience and easier for you to make because it allows you to add the value of your perspective rather than merely showcase your ability to read out loud.
Visuals Don’t Necessarily Have to be Used Throughout the Presentation
At some point, PowerPoint became too much of a good thing…which made it something less than a good thing. Visuals can add much to a presentation, but their overuse can just as often kill it. There is no established standard for how many slides should be used in a presentation. But let me suggest that if you have more than 10 slides planned for a 20 minute presentation, you probably have too many. Bear in mind that YOU are the primary visual. If your presentation is overloaded with slides, you by default become like the potted plant at the edge of the stage: ignored. You become primarily engaged with the mechanics of advancing the slides rather than with the audience.
Seek to determine the number of slides you need based on the number of key points you want to make. The number of points in any presentation – if you want them to be remembered – should be limited to four, certainly no more than five. Let’s assume that each point warrants two slides. That makes for 8-10 slides. Admittedly, this is an arbitrary formula, but you get the point. Less is more, especially when audiences are routinely overwhelmed by slides. Your presentation in comparison will appear, and be, much more clear, concise and effective. In turn the audience will convey to you heightened credibility.
SUGGESTION: Avoid the use of “title” slide at the beginning and the “Questions?” slide at the end. Title slides typically include such scintillating information as the name of the organization (yawn)…and the name of the presenter (aren’t they being introduced?)…and maybe even (drum roll please!)…the corporate logo. How about just an abstract slide or a photograph with the name – expressed as the primary message — of the presentation? Of course, the handouts should have a title page but not the slides themselves.
What is Appropriate for the Position?
The last point I would make here regarding the use of visuals is to consider what is appropriate given the position and stature of the presenter. The more senior the position, the fewer the slides. It is simply not befitting a senior executive to be reduced to the role of a slide mechanic. Or worse yet, having to coordinate their display with a staffer.
Bear in mind that audiences are more interested in what leaders think, care about and feel relative to a topic than they are the topic itself. And perspective, passion and the art of persuasion just can’t be conveyed through innumerable slides. This is not to say that executives and senior leaders should not use visuals. Not at all. What I am saying is that visuals should introduce a point or convey a thought clearly and simply, to which the presenter speaks.
SUGGESTION: Some of the most effective senior level presenters I have seen and worked with use one or two slides, if any at all. And the slides they do use are usually simply designed and convey a single thought or point, perhaps through a wordless illustration or graphic from which they launch. They do not let themselves be overwhelmed by visuals. They recognize that they are what the audience is most interested in. Egotistical? Not really. It merely reflects an appreciation and respect for the role and expectation of the position they happen to hold.
Visuals can be an effective element of a presentation. They should not be the presentation itself.
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