Florida and Hugs

You know that feeling you get when someone gives you an emotionally lingering hug, the kind you get or give when you rush to the hospital because you have just found out about someone who has been in an accident or had a life threatening event? These hugs are often joined with tears and are about emotional support and hope for a good outcome.

On a recent trip to Florida, I was scheduled to speak for a conference and screen one of our broadcast specials to an audience of 600 Rotary International leaders representing more than 20 countries.

The program was about a Rotary member in Sumter, South Carolina, who started an organization that raises funds for Alzheimers disease research.

It was the kind of room a speaker loves to be in front of if the message is relevant and smartly done; these people are leaders, after all. As it turned out, I was well prepared and I followed the brief comments from the organization’s Executive Director and two very well spoken and entertaining researchers (which you dont often hear combined). When my turn arrived, I started with an on-point seven minute introduction talk followed by the premier screening of our special, which also included myself as the host. This is always the time when I am a little on edge and hoping that our work will in fact reach the audience in a powerful way.

Its one thing to deliver a good speech — you can tell if your talk is working or not, its almost like you can feel the energy in the room, its either there or not — but when you do a good talk and the lights go down and you step of the stage and the video starts, you do so in hopes that when its over you get a good response. 

About midway through the screening, I began to hear a few sniffles. I could not see anyone in the audience other than the people at my table and a few people at the next table, but I took it as a good sign that at least some people were responding emotionally.

At that moment I relaxed just a little and before I knew it the final credits were running, and even before the house lights came up, the applause started. And with the lights up, the applause continued and I could then see that everyone was on their feet. Then it happened…The lady sitting beside me turned to me with tears in her eyes and hugged me and thanked me for telling such a wonderful story. I thanked her, and I also breathed deeply and felt profoundly grateful that our storytelling approach worked for this important topic.

I lost count of the lingering hugs, tears, and handshakes I received. The line did not move fast and there was not enough time to get to everyone, so the greetings continued as I met people later in the day and on the following day as well, even up to the time I was getting in the car and leaving the property on my way to the airport. Many people shared their stories of family members and friends who have been touched with the pain of Alzheimers. I have thought much about those conversations.

Most people go to Florida for vacation or retirement, and I understand why. The weather is agreeable most of the time and the numerous activities and warm waters are inviting. My reason for going was a bit different this time. I went to talk, share stories, hugs, and a few tears. The resort was great and the food was fine, but the people were outstanding.

I write this down so I can remember a visit to Florida with friends who spend their life doing good things for others.