Before I retired from speaking in 2016, I spent decades giving talks about heating systems across the U.S., Canada, Europe and even in the Caribbean. Several times, I even did steam-heating seminars in Hawaii. Life’s funny that way.
I’ll be the first to admit that hydronics can be a boring topic if the teacher (or the salesperson) gets too wrapped up in droning on and on about how to determine gallons per minute, if you know Delta-T or how to figure pump head if you don’t have the plans for the job, and blah, blah, blah. I’ve watched teachers and salespeople do this to a point where their students fall off their chairs or their customers walk away.
Back in the days when I worked for the manufacturers rep, I got to proctor a two-day class that The Hydronics Institute was sponsoring on Long Island. The teacher, a nice-enough fella, gave each student a two-inch-thick binder. He then put an overhead slide of the first page on the deck of his projector and told the students to turn to Page 1. He read Page 1 from the overhead slide and then told his students to turn to Page 2. He read Page 2.
Several hours later, the classroom looked like a slumber party. On the second day, more than half the students were absent. The teacher never even noticed they were missing. He just carried on.
When it was my turn to teach, I figured it was time to make it fun, so I got our four daughters involved.
“We were driving home from Cape May in our big Ford club wagon,” I said when I was 10 minutes into my seminar. “We were on the Garden State Parkway when a state police car entered at Exit 3. He was right in front of me. I slowed down and for a great reason.”
I could tell my students were wondering what this had to do with hydronic heating, so I kept going.
“On the trunk of that police car was a hand-written sign. It was about 4 feet wide and 2 feet high. They had duct-taped it to the car. It read 55-MPH pace car. Obey the Rules.”
The students leaned forward in their seats.
“`You’d have to be out of your mind to pass this guy,’” I said to The Lovely Marianne. She nodded. “We drove behind that car in the right lane, leaving the proper amount of space between us and the cop, and never going faster than 55 MPH. The cars in the left lane were doing exactly the same thing. You would have done the same thing, too.”
The students all nodded. They weren’t stupid. Neither was I.
“This went on for two full exits,” I continued. “The cars were backed up for miles behind us, each driving at exactly the same speed.”
My students nodded.
“But then an unexpected thing happened,” I said. “The cop pulled off at the next exit. He was gone for good. Gone!”
Now the students were really paying attention.
“`What are you going to do?’ The Lovely Marianne asked me. “I’m going to keep going 55,” I told her. “But the cars in the left lane didn’t want to do that. They couldn’t get around me fast enough. They were going around me at 80 MPH and faster, trying to make up for lost time. They flipped me off as they roared by. I kept going 55 MPH.”
The students were hanging on my every word.
“Then we came to this slight bend in the road and around that bend was a squadron of cop cars. They pulled over every single car except ours. Us, they waved by. I waved back. See girls, I said to my daughters in the back of the club wagon. It pays to obey the rules.”
The students chuckled and nodded.
“And then,” I continued, “my eight-year-old daughter, Kelly, said, ‘Daddy, this is just like when we’re troubleshooting a hydronic heating system, right? We need to obey the rules. High pressure goes to low pressure, head has nothing to do with the height of the building, things like that, right Daddy? Right?’”
“Of course, sweetie,” I said. “Exactly like that.”
That brought down the house. And they were now ready to listen to anything else I wanted to tell them. They listened because I made it fun.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Christmas arrived that year and we had a wonderful holiday. New Year’s Eve followed and that was also nice. A few days later, The Lovely Marianne said it was time to take down the tree and put away the decorations. We were ready to settle in for the winter. I had a busy travel schedule coming up and I knew I would miss them all when I was on the road, but I had to keep talking to make my living.
And that gave me an idea.
“Girls,” I said. “I need your help.”
“I need you to pretend it’s Christmas morning all over again.”
“OK!” they shouted.
“But first, I have to do something. We’ll pretend tomorrow, OK?”
I visited a local supply house and asked a friend if I could borrow some stuff. I promised to bring it all back the next day and in good shape.
“What do you need?” my friend said. I gave him my list.
“What are you doing with all of this?” he asked.
“I’m wrapping them up as Christmas presents,” I said.
“For my daughters,” I said.
“You’re nuts,” he said.
Not that nuts, though. Here’s what I did. I wrapped each box in holiday paper and put it all under the tree. I let the girls in on the gag and I told them to put on their PJs while I put on the holiday music.
Then I set up the video camera on a tripod.
The four of them came bounding down the stairs, all excited and rubbing make-believe sleep from their eyes. “He was here! He was here!” they shouted.
“Yes, he was, my darlings. Open your presents. Let’s see what Santa brought you this year.”
And they all did. Colleen got an Extrol tank and she giggled with delight. Kelly got a relief valve, which nearly caused her to lose her mind. Meg got a fill valve, which she hugged and kissed. And then Erin, who would grow up and someday buy our business and keep it going, opened her package, which was a 26-pound circulator. She tried to lift it but just grunted. “It’s just what I wanted, Daddy!” she shouted. And that ended the video.
I showed that video to my students for years. Before I did, though, I explained how The Lovely Marianne and I had raised our four daughters to be lovers of all things hydronic. I told of how I would read to them not from storybooks, but from the ASHRAE manuals at bedtime. I explained how we vacationed at boiler factories. Eyes in the audience rolled.
“What? You don’t believe me?” I said. And that’s when I’d pop in that video. It always brought down the house.
I spoke to more than 200,000 people before I was done. Our girls went off to college, got married and blessed us with six grandkids. Each year, when we get together at Christmas, they always bring up our special Christmas video. It was a gift that never stopped giving. It’s been 30 years since I made that video but people still mention it to me. They never forgot it because it kept them awake in my class so they could learn new things.
It’s a magical time of the year. Make a resolution to gift-wrap your message in stories, no matter what that story is.
Your students and your customers will love you for it.