Monday, September 8, 2014

Make it personal

Over the past ten years, I'm pretty sure I have delivered about 500 talks to elected officials, homeowner's associations, non-profit agencies, professional organizations and other groups. And, at those talks I figure I may have spoken directly to 30,000 people.

That's a lot of talking.

There are a few things I have learned from doing all of those presentations. First, if someone says they have a projector for your PowerPoint presentation, be sure to bring a spare. You never know when a bulb will choose that exact minute to blow on you.

Second, always bring a bottle of water with you. Public talking can leave you parched, so it's important to ensure you have a good supply to wet your whistle.

And, most importantly, come to realize there will always be a skeptic in the audience. Here in Pinellas County, the last time we took a direct landfall from a hurricane was in October of 1921. This means that there are 93 years worth of 'reasons' why we are immune from hurricanes here in the Tampa Bay area. Believe me, I have heard them all.
  • The Native Americans lived here, and put a blessing on the area to protect us.
  • Our geography makes us immune from impacts.
  • The shape of the Sunshine Skyway bridge creates an atmospheric harmonic that turns storms away from us.
  • There is a deposit of iron ore in the bottom of Tampa Bay, and when the wind blows over this deposit, it creates a negative ionic flux, which repels tropical storms.
But, the worst of these skeptics are the ones who claim that hurricanes aren't all that bad, and that we are just trying to scare people.

When people tell me that, I always tell them that storms can be terrible, life-changing events. But, the best presentations are the ones where someone else in the audience has actually lived through a hurricane somewhere else, and starts to tell their story.

I have heard people tell tales of hiding under mattresses during Hurricane Andrew, climbing onto tables to escape flooding from Hurricane Hugo and riding out severe winds during Hurricane Charley. Hearing their stories gave me an idea a few years back, and it launched a program that has been one of our most popular on YouTube, Project StormStory.

We put the call out through the media looking for people who had survived a hurricane to tell their tale, letting viewers hear first-hand how bad things could be. And, did we ever get some great submissions. We sorted through the best of them, and we put together the following video:

We have the expanded versions of the stories from each of the survivors here:

These videos have proven to be valuable in our hurricane education program, and the number of hits on each of them increased dramatically as hurricanes threaten the United States - something we are happy to see.

The lesson here? If you can get people who have actually been through an event to promote preparedness, it will improve the impact of your message.

Seek them out. Believe me, they are there,  they are willing to talk and what they have to say is very important.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

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