STEPHEN HEMELT — Porterie a master at public speaking

Published 12:05 am Saturday, September 28, 2019

Reading a room and using that information to work the room to your benefit is a tremendous skill.

Not all speeches work for all audiences. Are you the first speaker or the last speaker?

Can you break from your prepared remarks to adjust to what your audience is telling you?

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Those who apply the answers to these questions to best fit their audiences are truly talented.

I was lucky this past Tuesday morning to see many strong and informative speakers during the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce City and Regional Breakfast Update.

The event started at 7:30 a.m. and lasted approximately two hours, during which time more than a dozen people took the microphone and addressed the crowd at Bob Bowers Civic Center.

One of the first featured speakers was County Judge Jeff Branick, who talked about vital Tropical Storm Imelda recovery information.

The storm is already in the top-5 for wettest tropical cyclones in U.S. history, and Branick noted weather officials told him due to the horizontal fall of the rain at its wildest, the collected totals are likely below what actually took place.

Branick said he has been told as much as 60 inches of rain fell on those areas hardest hit, flooding 1,300 Beaumont homes and 3,300 Hamshire homes.

Following Branick, numerous individuals from important organizations in and around Port Arthur took turns on the microphone, each sharing important information while also trying to be as brief as possible.

That’s when Dr. Mark Porterie took the microphone. His turn came up halfway through the event, and as an experienced speaker, he could sense a natural lull in the audience.

The Port Arthur Independent School District superintendent displayed the skills mentioned above — those I admire from afar. They are certainly skills I do not possess.

He started with thanks and updated student buy-in.

“We are happy to be back. On Monday 8,000 students returned to school. We didn’t have a problem with tardiness. We didn’t have a problem with dress code. We didn’t have a problem with parents. They just wanted to get back to school and they were there early.”

He mentioned the school district’s ongoing celebration of 120 years and talked about next Spring’s graduating seniors who are also earning Lamar State College associate degrees.

“Our petrochemical industry and everyone else was asking us ‘please get us workforce-ready students,’” he said. “That is what we are trying to do: To make sure they are ready to get those jobs. We want our students in this community to be able to take on those jobs.”

Porterie adjusted his delivery — moving in and out of high volume and excitement — to pace his remarks through just under five minutes.

“We received so much in Port Arthur when we were hit two years ago. Now it is time for our students to give back to the community,” he said. “We have to show our children that it is not, all the time, about receiving. You have to be a giver and not all the time a taker.

“We’re getting them off of welfare. We don’t want them to think welfare is good. We want them to work.”

He ended with a flurry, using great volume to say: “Without an educated community, your community will die. We are so happy that you are with us and supporting us as we move forward. That’s it.”

And with it, the room’s attendees erupted in applause, leaving the follow-up speaker in a difficult spot. He addressed it, joking that his boss “looked and saw that he was speaking after Dr. Porterie and said ‘there ain’t no way.’”

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher of The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at