As presenters, no matter what the topic is, I believe we have an awesome responsibility. We are given the opportunity to be lamplighters every time we take the stage. Do you understand what I mean?
The analogy for us as presenters comes from the 1942 World Champion of Public Speaking, Cavett Robert. Cavett was famous for being the Founder of the National Speakers Association. He was known to close his keynote speeches with Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, “The Lamplighter.” He said that all leaders, speakers, and dreamers should be lamplighters.
First, though, what is a lamplighter? For our younger readers, believe it or not, we did not always have electric street lights! The streets used to be illuminated by gas lamps. Those lamps had to be lit one at a time. The lamplighter was the person who was employed to do just that. This is what I remember Cavett’s saying when he talked about the lamplighter: “You don’t know where he’s going, but you know where he has been.” Reflect on that for a minute. That is such a beautiful analogy for us as presenters. You know where he has been.
We do have an awesome responsibility and opportunity to touch members of our audience and bring light to their lives. Picture a dark, chilly, crisp, snow covered street and a line of street lamps. Pop! One more is lit in the darkness, and that’s where the lamplighter is. Keep watching, and we will see where he is going.
Here is the poem:
— The Lamplighter —
Poem by Robert Louis Stevenson
My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky.
It’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by;
For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,
With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.
Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea,
And my papa’s a banker and as rich as he can be;
But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I’m to do,
O Leerie, I’ll go round at night and light the lamps with you!
For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And oh! before you hurry by with ladder and with light;
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him tonight!
I think it is impressive that the voice of the speaker wishes to light the way for others more than he wishes to be rich. He chooses to be a lamplighter. As presenters, so do we.
Many times, though, we do not realize our impact. We deliver a presentation and come home and prepare for our next presentation. We are fortunate when we meet someone for whom we have provided light. Most of the time we do not know the depth of our impact.
In 2002 I spoke in Taiwan. I offered to do other meetings in addition to the big conference. Little did I know then that in the audience at one of those joint meetings was a woman named Teresa Chang. She had not known of Toastmasters but accepted an invitation from friends who were promoting the joint meeting. I had no idea until a few weeks ago, fourteen years later, when she told me the story.
She is now the D67 District Director and leads an amazing team that held a powerful conference. I see a lot of conferences, and Teresa is an impressive leader. While traveling between events in Taiwan, she happened to tell me that she still remembers, to this day, one of the stories I told back in 2002. She heard me tell my “Stitches” story about how my hands were shaking the first time I was on stage. Wow. That is meaningful to hear.
I’m not telling you to brag. I’m reminding you of two important things. First, if you care about your audience, have the right intention, and tell purposeful stories that stick. You are a lamplighter. Sometimes we get the privilege of hearing from past audience members, but not always. Had Teresa not told me, I would have never known that had I played one tiny little part in her journey to become a great leader. I hope you meet all of your Teresas, but even if you don’t, what you do matters. If you continually work on your craft, you will light more lamps.
Secondly, I want to remind you that there is a Teresa in every audience. Someone needs to hear your story, the one that only you can tell. You may not notice them, and you may never hear from them, but let me assure you that they are there. They need your message and your hope. All of it. Take no audience for granted, and if some people aren’t listening, know that Teresa is and focus on her.
We never know the seeds we are planting or what they will become in the hearts and minds of our audience. The question is not whether or not we are lamplighters; the question is what kind of lamplighter are you? How bright is your light every time you present? How long does your light last after you leave?
“You don’t know where they are going, but you know where they’ve been.”
Darren LaCroix, AS, CSP
World Champion of Public Speaking
See Cavett on video: https://vimeo.com/28167606
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