How to Say Everything By Saying Nothing at All

DinnerAt the PCMA Education Foundation Dinner Celebrating Professional Achievement on Wednesday night, three accomplished meeting professionals — Sue Dykema, CAE; Janet Sperstad, CMP; and Carol Wallace — were honored for their many contributions to the industry. It was a fun, emotional evening, full of gratitude and laughter and a few tears, but if there was one moment that seemed to capture the heart of everyone in the room, it belonged to Dykema. And she did it without saying a word.

Rather than delivering her acceptance speech out loud, Dykema presented it silently. She stood onstage next to an easel with a blank white poster board propped on it and, to the accompaniment of “Thank You for Being a Friend” — better known as the theme song from TV’s “The Golden Girls” — she removed the poster board. Under it was another piece of poster board, with the beginning of her speech, handwritten in large, black letters, and then another, and another, and on and on. A few words at a time, Dykema traced her professional growth, thanked her mentors and colleagues, her friends and peers, and credited PCMA as a sort of unifying force for her career.

It sounds very simple, and it was. Yet somehow, the effect was mesmerizing, and deeply touching. In a quiet, understated way, she compelled the Education Foundation dinner’s notoriously distracted audience to stop what they — what we — were doing and truly pay attention to what she was saying; within that context, reading became a group activity that was more profound than listening. And that song, maybe a bit corny, and terrifically heartfelt, tied it all together.

It’s something to think about the next time you have to communicate something meaningful to an audience of people with other things on their minds.

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