Mouth for Sale: Mark My Words

Mark Scharenbroich gets attendees motivated to move.

It's not often that you find someone able to draw a reasonable comparison between Harley-Davidson aficionados and corporate meeting attendees, but Mark Scharenbroich does just that. Scharenbroich's message crystallized on a 2003 visit to Milwaukee when he inadvertently ran into thousands of riders heading to the 100th anniversary celebration of the motorcycle giant. From his beige rental sedan, Scharenbroich mulled over what would make these tattooed, leather-clad Harley-riders smile, and he realized it was the simple phrase, "Nice bike."

Scharenbroich developed his idea into a complete method of effective communication, breaking the "Nice bike" motto into three steps: acknowledgement (a genuine awareness of others), honor (understanding what is important to those around you), and connect (creating a bond that positively impacts someone).

With past experience as a member of an improv comedy group, he also understands the nuances of humor and the power of characters and stories to deliver a message—he often works characters into his presentations to help drive home the significance of a narrative. In college, the comedy group traveled for performances, often hitting the "stage" in high schools.

"It's like working vaudeville houses; anything can happen," he says. "You're on a lousy sound system in a gym talking to the entire student body—it makes walking into a Marriott with a perfect sound system a dream."

Past clients have included cardiac surgeons, financial services companies, and ceramic tilers, but Scharenbroich is able to customize his program to each group by starting with a pre-program questionnaire that helps him to understand what the goal of the meeting is and what unique challenges the group faces.

"People want really strong content, but it needs to be memorable, actionable—give them something people will apply, not just a week, but a month later or a year later. But it also has to be delivered in an entertaining manner, and that's the fine point; you can find a lot of speakers with great content, but a very dry delivery, or speakers who are really entertaining but don't deliver a lot of actionable information," explains Scharenbroich. "People want to listen to a speaker who can give them great ideas, some 'aha' moments, some moments where you say 'hey, I forgot about that,' and deliver it all in a compelling, fun way."

And Scharenbroich had a bit of fun himself in January when he spoke to a group of 700 at a Harley-Davidson meeting in Washington DC; never mind that he has yet to hop on a hog himself—the "Nice bike" message still delivers.

FEE: $15,000

Originally published March 1, 2009

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