Today I attended a session sponsored by NDSU’s Career Center about the popular professional networking site LinkedIn. The presenter, a fellow named John Hill, was billed as “LinkedIn’s Higher Education Evangelist” – quite a title, right? I teach a career and professional development seminar for emergency management students and recommend to my students that they get established on LinkedIn so there was no way I was going to miss a LinkedIn evangelist. I went to the presentation with my Amens and Hallelujahs primed to roll off my tongue. I was ready to be wowed and wooed by his message.
The presentation ended up being a standing room only proposition. I got there early enough to get a seat close enough to the front (four rows back), but I avoided the front row. This is counter to my typical behavior, as friends and colleagues will tell you I normally head straight for the front row in presentations. But not in church. In church I like to lay back a bit and John Hill being an evangelist and all I deferred to church behavior.
So, as I was saying, I arrived and sat in the fourth row and waited while folks continued to file in and John Hill prepared his material up front. The first thing I noticed was that he was chewing gum. That gave me pause. I tried to recall if I had ever seen a gum-chewing evangelist before. I was still pondering that when he walked over to the trash can and threw out his gum. I had to wonder if he had used some magic evangelist powers to read my mind. After a few long seconds on that thought I concluded that he must know better than to try and chew gum and preach at the same time – an accidental expulsion of chewed and saliva rich gum in the middle of an evangelical note could be ugly and not at all evangelic-like.
I must say though – at first blush, John Hill did not look like the typical evangelist. He wore a hoodie, sweater, and jeans. He did not strike me by appearance to be the type of fellow who would elicit heartfelt Amens and Hallelujahs. When the time to begin his presentation arrived and he started to speak his voice was calm and his delivery was even-keeled. After he owned his Boston roots in the introductory part of his presentation, I thought he would start to bring the East Coast flavor to his presentation once he settled in. Who wouldn’t love an evangelist with some Boston edge and attitude?
Alas, none of that arrived. He was pleasant and funny in a great presenter kind of way, but not once did I raise my hands and nod my head knowingly in an Amen or reach for the heavens with a robust Hallelujah. Instead, this man in a hoodie with an even-keeled delivery garnered my rapt and completely undivided attention as he talked about the power within the LinkedIn site to do a dozen things I never knew were possible. He showed the power of LinkedIn’s aggregate data and search capacity in such a nonchalant and user-friendly way that it was like the heavens opened up and a giant beam of light shone down upon all the folks in the room. It was awe-inspiring, but downplayed at the same time.
He was passionate and enthusiastic about the power and potential of LinkedIn without being overzealous or overbearing. He was profound without being preachy. He was in a word – effective.
Evangelists are nothing more and nothing less than enthusiastic advocates for something they believe in. My definitional framing of evangelists prior to today was fairly narrow – religious leaders delivering moral messages that resonate in one’s soul…or something like that. In that framing was an expectation of dramatic flair, a resounding and commanding voice, and a larger than life personality. Today I expanded my definitional framework to make room for the John Hills of the world – those who are passionate and enthusiastic messengers of the power of a changing world and the tools we have to harness and benefit from that change. Evangelists don’t need to be larger than life, loud, and bring the crowd to their feet. They can be mellow, quiet, chew gum, and wear a hoodie. And therein lies the lesson learned from LinkedIn’s Higher Education Evangelist.
Day one thousand two hundred and twenty-two of the new forty – obla di obla da