C. Richard Reese, CEO of Iron Moutain Inc., who now speaks to large groups of people all the time, discusses his first brush with public speaking.
C. Richard Reese, 55
Present life: CEO of Iron Mountain Inc., a $986-million information-management company in Boston
Former life: Graduate student in ceramic and materials engineering. In 1968, Reese received his master's degree from Clemson University, where he specialized in the study of semiconductors. "Nothing in my background suggests that today I should be running a records- and information-management company," he says. "I was a cracker from the South, and I still remain one. I just live up North."
Lessons learned: Reese's mentor in grad school was a brilliant drill sergeant of a professor named Gil Robinson. Says Reese: "Another student had submitted a technical paper to a national trade organization. Then he got drafted into the army. And all of a sudden we needed someone to present the paper. Gil said to me, 'You're going to do it.' He didn't always ask.
"He made me do several dry runs of the presentation in front of what seemed like a million people, including other professors and my fellow graduate students. His advice was, 'You may not know the topic as well as you'd like to, but you know it better than anyone in the room.' As obvious as it sounds, that advice helped me out. In the end, the presentation went well."
For Reese, who had grown up in the small textile-mill town of Union, S.C., that experience launched his interest in public speaking. Today, as the CEO of a company with 11,000 employees and countless shareholders, that skill is crucial. And Reese doesn't forget his fundamentals. "You have to have themes and messages. You have to have evidence that supports them. And you have to weave the themes together," he says. "Before a speech I mentally run through which themes I want to communicate. I don't worry so much about how I'll support the themes or weave them together. If you know your subject, you can usually do that on the fly."