Priceline Co-Founder Scott Case's Unexpected High School Commencement Address

What was Priceline.com co-founder Scott Case doing speaking at Greenwich (CT) High School's commencement? It so happens, Case is a Greenwich High School alum and obvious success story. On June 29,, 2010, he returned to where it all began to impart words of wisdom to my daughter, Lily, and 690 of her fellow seniors.

The ceremony took a typical route on with speakers exhorting students to "do good," and "find work they love"--boilerplate stuff. So, none of us were quite prepared for what came next. The class president who introduced Case gave us the first hint, mentioning during his intro that though they knew he was there somewhere, they didn't know exactly where Case was sitting or what his plan was for a speech. Clearly, he wanted it that way.

So, the introduction was made and from the audience, a figure with a red cap and gown--indistinguishable from the senior boys--stood up from among the 691. Microphone in hand, Case spoke as he made his way to the front of the audience area and ascended to the stage.

(Here's a photo of Case doing his thing.)

You could hear a pin drop.

Suddenly, what had been a humdrum, garden-variety high school commencement got game. Literally. A tradition of tossing around beach balls that administrators have for years unsuccessfully tried to discourage was instead encouraged by Case.

Already an accomplished entrepreneur and now the CEO and Chairman of non-profit, Malaria No More, he did not talk about himself. Uh-uh. He knew his audience. No, not the parents. The graduates. He told them that though they might be concerned about their future, in fact, they'd already won the lottery:

  • They lived in the USA
  • They had an education
  • They were loved and had been taught life's basics

Then, he asked them how many of them had cell phones on them and almost every hand (holding phones) went up. The administrators and many of the parents were chagrined, but not Case. He told them to text a nice message to the people that loved them.

Complete silence.

He spoke a little while longer, encouraging the grads to make the most of what they'd been given and then he hit them with the BIG CLOSE: under every one of the 691 chairs was an actual lottery ticket.

Wow.

And in that 15 minutes, Scott Case taught these young people some other, valuable, albeit indirect lessons about grabbing an audience and keeping them in the palm of one's hand:

  1. Show, don't tell.
  2. Do the unexpected.
  3. Keep it short.
  4. Close BIG.

By the way, Lily won $27. I think she's off to a great start.

Ruth Sherman Associates LLC / High-Stakes Presentation Skills Coaching, Consulting & Media Training for CEOs, Celebrities & Politicians / Greenwich, CT

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