By Karen T. Braeckel
HSPA Foundation

After his near brush with death on a flight to Indy, our contracted speaker barely noticed the pain from his recent back surgery.

His broad smile proved his genuine joy to be in Indianapolis – or anywhere for that matter.

The night before, somewhere between Denver and Indianapolis, his thus-far pleasant flight took a sudden nosedive – literally.

The plane lost cabin pressure, and the pilot needed to drop from 35,000 to 10,000 feet in seconds. When breathable air from the lower altitude filled the cabin, the mixture of warm and cold caused a fog so thick passengers couldn’t see across the aisle.

Amazingly, the presenter said, no one screamed or panicked.

He said about 10 minutes after the adventure, the pilot announced he guessed his passengers might wonder what that was all about. He finally explained the cabin-pressure problem.

Mark Henschen, vice president of operations and circulation at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson arrived in Indianapolis sometime after midnight Friday, Sept. 20 – about five hours late following an emergency landing and plane change at Chicago’s Midway Airport.

But nothing about this harrowing experience stopped him from presenting an outstanding workshop for Indiana circulators I wish all publishers and managers heard.

Speaking at The Indian­apolis Star’s Pulliam Production Center, Henschen gave encouraging updates about the Consumer Confidence Index that he calls a valid key number. He predicts customers will feel good soon with numbers over 80 last month.

When that index hits 90, watch out.

“The newspaper industry has a small window of a golden era,” Henschen said.

He reminded his audience that print still pays the bills for now. But we know digital readership continues to increase.

Henschen spent the afternoon discussing independent contractors and the digital future.

The morning session, though, took an unexpected twist. Rather than throwing numbers around in a session called Rising from the Ashes of the Great Recession, Henschen began discussing changing the culture in the workplace.

He tackled, of all things, people skills.

I certainly cannot do justice in this column to a session that received a 3.75 out of 4 in content on evaluations. (High evaluations do not come easily in our brutally candid industry. Trust me.) I will try to share a few tips that might help everyone.

Henschen recommended three books.

• The first he gives to his new hires and calls an entertaining airplane read – “Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment: How to Improve Quality, Productivity and Employee Satisfaction” by William C. Byham, Ph.D.

• He also suggested “How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age” by Dale Carnegie – an update of the classic.

• And he named a third – “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” by John C. Maxwell.

Henschen shared a story about himself that others could relate to. At 27 public speaking terrified him. His publisher made him take a Carnegie course that taught him to overcome his fear.

As a young adult he could not stand in front of a group and say his own name. He now enjoys public speaking – and even gets paid for it.

Some of his examples sound like plain, ol’ common sense – except too many leaders do not practice them.

I compiled a list of questions for myself from Henschen’s presentation. (I hope he pardons my adaptation. He spoke much more eloquently).

Do I:

• Stop working when someone comes in to talk to me, or keep staring at my hypnotic computer screen.

• Complete something soon after someone asks me, or make him or her wait until I feel like doing it?

• Make an effort to remember a person’s name by repeating it twice when I meet him or her? (Can I remember my own name also comes to mind.)

• Make eye contact when I speak to people – in fact look them in one eye?

• Listen – to a whole sentence or statement – or just to the first few words and then fill in what I think they will say?

One last exercise deserves mention.

Henschen distributed cold, hard cash. Yes, he did – three pennies to each participant. (He uses 10 himself, but prudence prevailed.)

He suggested they put the pennies in one of their pockets. Each time they make a positive statement to someone, switch a penny to the other pocket. At the end of the day, he told them to check their pockets to see how they did.

Need an idea for a place to practice? Start at home. He guarantees it will change the way you interact with people.

I found HSPA staff listening to this session. We seldom get the opportunity, but this guy knows how to hold his audience’s attention.

Luckily Henschen made it here in spite of mechanical failure.

I hope anyone – regardless of job description – makes it if they have the opportunity to hear him speak.

Karen T. Braeckel is director of the HSPA Foundation.