Want to influence decisions? Give a good speech.

Never underestimate the power of a good speech.

Recently, a nearby county conservation department proposed constructing a new shooting range on a piece of ground they owned. This proposal was two decades in the making and the county had come a long way toward getting all the permits and designs squared away. But before the range could be built, the local Zoning Board had to approve it.

Since I manage a rather comprehensive range facility in my county, I was consulted on some of the design and management considerations. I was also invited to the Zoning Board meeting, which I attended. I figured I could at least provide some insight into my own ranges' operation, even though I didn't have any skin in the game for this particular project.

Now I should note that even here in the rather rural Midwest, the topic of shooting ranges is an unpopular one. Actually that's not completely true. People love the ranges that currently exist. People hate the idea of having a new one built anywhere near their own properties. I had learned this some years ago when, predicting the rapid expansion of youth trapshooting teams in my county, I proposed building a five-house trap & and skeet range on one of our own county properties just outside of town. The location would have been ideal for nearly all the schools that had either just started teams or soon would.

The short version of that story is that I took a verbal beating for the majority of the three public hearings we held to discuss my proposed range. The biggest crux of the issue was that the nearby homeowners were not going to stand for such a thing to be built within earshot of their homes. Those 20 or 30 very outspoken individuals convinced the board, and me really, that it wasn't worth the battle.

It's also worth noting (and no, I'm not trying to be cocky) that last year over 150 kids from my county, all between the ages of middle school and college, participated in organized trapshooting. The majority of them have to practice and compete on ranges outside of my county because we still lack sufficient facilities to accommodate their numbers.

Having had previous experience, I suspected I knew some of the feedback this other county would get and I figured they were looking at an uphill battle. I was right.

At that first Zoning Board meeting, there had to be 100+ people packed into that little meeting room. And for every one person that spoke in support of the range, there were five or ten against it. As expected, the most vocal opposition was from the neighboring landowners.

The Board actually tabled the decision that first night and took it up again at its next monthly meeting which saw lower public attendance but still packed in a good crowd. By the middle of that meeting, I was still cautiously optimistic for my fellow conservation director that his proposal might pass.

Then it happened. A guy stepped up to the lectern to add his comments and from the very start of his well-prepared presentation, I knew he was going to play a big role in how the board voted.

"Board members, I don't envy your position. No matter what you decide tonight, you are going to upset a lot of people."

Boom! Instantly he had earned the respect (and ear) of every board member. But he didn't stop there. He built rapport with every other person in the room simply by recognizing their concerns. To the nearby homeowners, he sympathized with their safety and noise concerns. To the shooters and law enforcement members that would use the range, he recognized the need for a safe, well maintained place to shoot. He made sure to note that he was a shooter himself.

Then he did something that I found incredibly persuasive. He presented a case for denying the range in such a way that made it look like the decision was to the benefit of both sides.

Basically, he said that on a scale of 1-10, the parks and facilities in that county ranked pretty high. He spoke about some ranges he'd visited in other counties (mine included) that were near-10's. He talked about what great assets those places were to their respective communities. He said that the people of his county deserved a range that was a 10. Or at least a 9. After all, not everything can be perfect.

Then he laid out the fact-based (not emotional) reasons why a range at this particular site was nowhere near a 10. The idea for a range, he said, was a good one. A range certainly was needed. But this proposed site, due to its proximity to some of the neighbors, it's location in a floodplain (though it was behind a levee, apparently it was still prone to flooding), and its sandy soils which raised concerns about lead pollution.

By the time he concluded - and he had only talked, I think, maybe five to seven minutes - there was no way anyone could argue any of his points. Not only were they rock solid, but the way they were presented were sympathetic to everyone's perspectives.

When he walked off to thunderous applause, I knew then that the fate of the range, at least at this location, was all but sealed.

Shortly after, a Zoning Board member who had been openly supportive of the range made the motion to approve the request. After several long, awkward moments without a second, the chairman called the motion dead for lack of a second and the range's fate was determined.

Now I don't know whether the vote would have gone differently had that guy not given such a powerful, well-delivered presentation. But I am certain his speech played a role in how the decision did turn out.

My point here is to never underestimate the power of a good speech. There are few things as powerful as well-delivered spoken word. Think about it. Powerful speeches have landed us on the moon and created civil rights movements. Imagine what you could accomplish with the right speech at the right time to the right people in your community. You don't have to be MLK or JFK to inspire people with a good speech. Heck, just think what a difference you could make if you gave the right speech to a potential donor. Or to the right lawmaker. You don't have to change the entire world. Just your little part of it.

So I guess I'll end with this. I've seen the power of a good presentation many times over and I'm convinced that being able to deliver a strong presentation is one key to success not just in my career, but in life. So I've taken to studying speeches and how to deliver good ones. My current focus in on TED talks and some of the books that delve into what makes a good TED-like presentation. Those talks are some of the most inspiring, motivational, and powerful speeches out there. Just look at how many times they've been watched and shared. I've also read a bit about Steve Jobs, known to many to be one of the best corporate presenters of the modern era. I've even joined (sort of) my local Toastmasters club where other people with an interest in giving good presentations get together to hone their skills speaking in front of groups. I'm still far from an expert but I've learned a lot and I think it's certainly improved not just my speaking, but my ability to motivate and inspire others.

And if I can motivate and inspire others to share in what I think is important...well, then I think there's a lot of good that can come from that.