Story by Zach Spicer – Seymour Tribune
No matter where he is or who he is talking to, professional speaker Scott McKain starts his presentations by talking about his hometown.
In the past 30 years, more than a million people from all over the world have heard of Crothersville. That’s because of the pictures of the community he shows on slides and the things he says about growing up in the small southeastern Jackson County town.
From his parents running a business in town to his involvement with FFA in school, McKain’s life has been shaped by his upbringing in Crothersville.
|Name: Scott McKain
Residences: Henderson, Nevada, and Fishers
Education: Crothersville High School (1973); Franklin College (bachelor’s degree in political science, 1979)
Occupation: Author and professional speaker; chief executive officer of Distinction Institute
Accomplishments: Sales and Marketing Hall of Fame; Professional Speakers Hall of Fame; named a “Hoosier Hero” for contributions to youth and philanthropy; named a Kentucky Colonel and Arkansas Traveler by the governors of those states; author of “Create Distinction” (original edition named by 30 newspapers as one of the “Ten Best Business Books of the Year”), “ALL Business is Show Business,” “What Customers REALLY Want,” “Just Say ‘YES!’” and “7 Tenets of Taxi Terry: How Every Employee Can Create and Deliver the Ultimate Customer Experience”
Family: Wife, Tammy McKain; stepsons, Corbin Byler and Faron Byler; mother, Polly McKain; father, Dallas McKain (deceased); sister, Shelley McKain Erwin
Since becoming a professional speaker, he has spoken in all
50 states and 17 countries, written three best-selling books, been named a Hoosier Hero for his contributions to youth and philanthropy and been inducted into the Professional Speakers Hall of Fame and Sales and Marketing Hall of Fame.
Soon he will be able to say he has a stretch of road named in his honor. The Crothersville Town Council recently approved installing signs reading “Scott McKain Way” along Armstrong Street or U.S. 31 through the heart of town.
McKain said when his sister, Shelley, recently shared the news, he thought she was playing a joke on him. He then realized it was real.
“I make my living with words,” he said. “But I can’t find the ones that adequately express how grateful, amazed and appreciative I am that they would even consider this. I certainly don’t believe that I am worthy, but I am honored beyond description. It’s the greatest thing that’s happened to me in my life.”
Council member Chad Wilson introduced the idea during a meeting earlier this month. Wilson said before joining the council at the beginning of the year, he had thought about honoring McKain in some way.
“Scott McKain is proud of his Crothersville heritage,” Wilson said. “He opens up every speech, whether it’s for the president of the United States or the president of a local organization, with a slideshow talking about Crothersville, Indiana, and him growing up in a small town.”
This action does not rename Armstrong Street. Signs will just be placed at both entrances to town along U.S. 31 recognizing it as Scott McKain Way.
Once the signs are approved by the Indiana Department of Transportation, a dedication ceremony will be organized.
“I’ve spoken in front of crowds of about 25,000 on at least three occasions. Strangely enough, that’s easier than 100,” McKain said. “And nothing will be more difficult than when we have the ceremony in Crothersville to dedicate the street.”
McKain credits a lot of his success in life to his involvement in FFA, which started while attending school in Crothersville.
“We didn’t live in town, but we weren’t full-time farmers, either. We farmed just a few acres. I had a small livestock project,” he said. “However, the extraordinary ag teachers at Crothersville and the really terrific FFA chapter there motivated and excited me about the program.”
After graduating from high school in 1973, he was elected state FFA president, so he delayed his entry into Franklin College for a year.
After that, he was elected secretary of the national FFA organization. That required full-time travel, so he delayed starting college for another year.
“I absolutely loved the opportunity to speak as an FFA officer,” he said. “We figured that I gave about 1,000 speeches over those two years to service clubs, high school assemblies, agricultural organizations and FFA meetings. It is really the experience that allowed me to enter the profession at an early age.”
During college, McKain worked for WCSI, a radio station in Columbus. That followed his stints with WMPI in Scottsburg and WJCD in Seymour while he was in high school.
After graduating from Franklin College in 1979, McKain was offered a position at his alma mater as director of public affairs and annual fund.
“I was very fortunate to raise what was then a record amount of cash gifts for the college,” he said. “However,
I also realized that it wasn’t going to be my career goal. My passion was in becoming a professional speaker.”
During a speech at the University of Illinois, a professional speaker also on the program, the late Grady Nutt, went up to McKain and said, “You should be doing this for a living.”
McKain said that moment changed his life, and Nutt became his mentor and friend and helped him start his own business, Distinction Institute.
“My first wife and I were married in Grady’s living room in Louisville, making us literally married at the ‘Nutt House,’” McKain said. “Unfortunately, Grady was killed in a plane crash returning to Louisville from a speech a year later. I also lost my wife, Sheri, to ovarian cancer after 25 years of marriage. My continued work in speaking, I hope, is also a tribute to what these two wonderful people helped create with me.”
As a professional speaker, McKain’s goal is to help organizations create distinction in every phase of business.
He said he wants them to walk away with three points:
Your success is going to be based upon how you stand out from your competition in the marketplace.
You only achieve that when you deliver an “Ultimate Customer Experience” that keeps people coming back for more and telling others how distinctive you are.
In life, we all encounter tragedy and trouble. How we soak up the good things around us and make each day count will determine our success and satisfaction with our lives and careers.
McKain said he likes how every day on the job is different.
“For the big events, with the lights and great sound, you feel like a rock star,” he said.
“For the smaller programs, you are looking people straight in the eyes, and you’d better be great at speaking and know your stuff. Speaking at home is the toughest because these are the people I care the most about, and I get emotional.”
McKain said one particular experience from his upbringing helped him become the speaker he is today. It involved his father, who had a country band with two of his brothers that played around southern Indiana.
“Watching the way that Dad treated people with kindness and generosity made a huge impression on me,” McKain said. “And I saw how much people loved and cared for my dad, too. I joked that I could be elected president, but I’d still only be ‘Dallas McKain’s boy’ to many folks in Jackson County. And that’s absolutely fine with me. Observing my dad, Uncle Max and Uncle Dean in the band taught me a lot about being onstage and dealing with people.”
He said the people he grew up around encouraged him to think big and be the best he could be.
One of his books was named by 30 major newspapers as a top-10 business book of the year, and McKain said that was based on how he learned English and composition in high school.
He also said his speeches still are based on what he learned through his involvement with FFA.
“The terrific opportunity that I had in my youth was to be involved in so many diverse aspects, from working in radio to writing for the paper, from FFA leadership to announcing our Tiger basketball games,” he said. “That would never have been presented to me if I had been from a big city.”
McKain said he hopes his story is an example that everything a person needs to become successful is in their hometown.
“It’s not easy to succeed, but it shouldn’t be. That’s why success is valued,” he said. “You’ll have heartbreaks and betrayals, trials and tribulations along the way. However, I can promise any young person that if you will take the lessons that you learn in your small town and put them to use, they can be the foundation of a life of significance.”
Even though he travels all around the world to speak, he said he finds time to come back to Crothersville to visit family and attend local events.
“I try to get back to the Red, White and Blue Festival when I’m not on the road with a speech,” he said.
“The Jackson County Fair is still as good as it gets. I will always call Crothersville and Jackson County home, no matter where I may be.”
McKain said it’s still difficult to comprehend a street being named in his honor.
“Never in my life did I imagine that I would be onstage at the White House, looking at the audience to see President Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger listening,” he said. “I acted as the villain in a movie that Roger Ebert named as one of the 50 great films in the history of the cinema. I’ve walked in the big Barnes and Noble store in Manhattan to see a book I wrote prominently displayed on the front table.
“I’ve been blessed beyond my ability to describe,” he said. “But to have the people of my hometown think that I am worthy of something like this is better than all of those combined.”