Pyramid Scheme

As told by Barry Maher, author, motivational speaker, and workshop leader, Barry Maher & Associates


Illustration by Graham Roumieu

I was doing a keynote for a convention at a hotel — normally a great venue, but they were having one of those days. Everything that could go wrong had: wrong room setup, not enough seating, a sound system that kept cutting out, and a microphone with a cord so short that it kept me tethered to one corner of the platform. The meeting planner and I spent 90 minutes before the presentation trying to get the situation straightened out, with little success.

I turned the problems into a running, self-deprecating joke at my own expense. The keynote came off well, and I got an ovation. Then, as scheduled, I went out into the hallway to sign copies of my new book. When the doors opened, I saw that, in atonement for all the problems, the hotel manager had supplied a large assortment of pastries and fruit and ordered a huge pyramid of champagne glasses set up.

A chef dressed in white was standing on the table next to the glasses. As we watched, he began to fill the topmost glass with champagne. It filled and overflowed, the champagne cascading down and filling the glasses on the levels below. While the entire convention gathered around him, he poured bottle after bottle into the top glass, and eventually filled every glass from top to bottom.

Then the manager himself appeared before the pyramid. He made a short but gracious speech apologizing for the day’s problems, assuring the group that the hotel was at fault rather than the association or the speaker, and concluded with a flourish: “Since the title of Barry’s new book is Filling the Glass, I thought it would be appropriate to fill all your glasses with champagne. So let’s raise a glass to the success of the conference and the book!”

Then, caught up in the moment, he grabbed the first glass his hand encountered, near the bottom of the pyramid. There was a quick gasp from the crowd, a millisecond of complete silence, and a cascading sound of breaking glass and spilling champagne.

At least the pastries were delicious. From that point on, the manager and the hotel were looked upon with nothing but affection. More important, the group now had the perfect conversation starter for networking.

Convene Editors