My Speedster Mother-in-law

My wife has a very heavy foot when she drives but it’s a genetic problem. Her mother has a family reputation for speeding.

Over the years, my mother-in-law never seemed to remember that patrol cars lie in wait on county roads as well as interstates. She was often stopped en route to take her invalid father to the doctor. She would tell the officer her sad, sad story—how sick her dad was and how they were running late for their doctor’s appointment because she’d had such a hard time getting him into the car—and he’d buy into it and let her go.

Mrs. Bradley kept count of how many times she was stopped for speeding, and took pride in the fact that she never got a ticket. In fact, our son is her oldest grandchild, and on his 18th birthday, she, hurrying to his party, was stopped for the 18th time. She couldn’t wait to tell it at the party, because she thought it was quite the coincidence!  Of course the officer let her go because she told him she was late for her grandson’s birthday party.

Finally, after she’d been stopped an even 25 times, she decided it was time she paid her dues. She never denies that she’d been speeding, you understand—she’s just good at talking her way out of situations. So she resolved that the next time she was stopped, she’d take her medicine without a word.

It didn’t take long. Upon hearing the siren and seeing the flashing lights, she calmly pulled over to the side of the road and got out her driver’s license. The officer came to her window and she started pushing buttons to get it down. She pushed and punched and nothing happened. She threw up both hands in disgust.

“This is a new car, and I have no idea how to get the window down!” She shouted to the policeman. She opened the door and he started examining the buttons on the door, finally figuring out how to lower the window.

He showed her how to operate the windows, and then gently said, “Now Mrs. Bradley, I can see this is a new car and you just aren’t familiar with it yet. You were speeding, but it’s understandable, so I’m not going to give you a ticket this time. You just be careful now, you hear?”  And he let her go. Even when she thought it was time to pay for her excessive speed, she got a pass.

Class Attendance

A professor talking about class attendance said that he had no illusions that attending his class was essential to get “A’s” in his course.

I recall the story of a student who attended just the first class of the semester and did not show up again until the final exam. He scored 95% on the exam. The professor was shocked because she knew he hadn’t come to class all semester. She wrote “See me” on the cover of the exam. After the exams were passed back and the class was over, the student approached the professor and said, “You wanted to see me about my exam?”

The professor responded, “Yes. How did you get a 95 on that exam?”

The student answered, “Well, it would have been 100, but I went to your first class and got confused.”

Light This Candle

Alan ShepardI’m always looking for quotations I can use in a presentation. I have found that historical events often provide stories that include powerful quotations.  One such example is the story of the first flight into space by Alan Shepard.

On May 5, 1961, he crawled into his little Mercury spacecraft with very little room to move around.  One writer said that it would be like sitting in the driver’s seat of a small car with two heavy raincoats on.

Because of weather conditions and minor repairs to his radio system, he remained cooped up in the small space for four hours as NASA pondered whether to launch him or not.  Finally, tired of waiting, he asked this vivid and powerful question:  “Why don’t you fellows fix your little problem and light this candle?”  Shortly after, they launched Shepard for his 15-minute flight. (“Light This Candle” became the title for a biography of Shepard by Neal Thompson.)

This story could be told to emphasize that at some point you must take action on a problem you have been working on, or you never know if something will work unless you try.

Diogenes’ Search

A company was having trouble with stealing in the workplace. So they hired an actor to play the part of Diogenes—the Greek philosopher who carried a lamp around the city looking for an honest man.

The CEO of the company thought the dramatization would underscore the seriousness of the situation.  They hired this man to roam around the offices. He went into the accounting department and the manager said, “Diogenes what are you doing here?”

He said, “I’m looking for an honest man.”

“The next day he went to the marketing department and the manager said, “Diogenes, what are you doing here?”

He said, “I’m looking for an honest man.”

The next day he went to the shipping department. The manager said, “Diogenes, what are you doing here?”

He said, “I’m looking for my lamp.”

Favorite Lines

Sometimes a two-minute story is not what the speaker needs. What is needed is a one liner or a short dialogue. Here are some of my favorites.

A message posted near a handicapped sign:  “If you are not handicapped when you park here, you will be when you leave.”

Sign in a middle school homeroom:  Laugh and the class laughs with you. But you go to the principal’s office alone.”

Mark Twain had this to say about a certain person he did not like:  “I didn’t attend the funeral but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”

During the presidential debates in 1980, some complained that Reagan was too old to run for office. Reagan began his comments at one of the debates with Mondale by saying, “I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

A friend of mine told about her kindergartener getting into her car after school one day and saying, “Our class learned how to tell time today, except for one person.”  “Who was that?” my friend asked. His reply: “Me.”

A salesperson for a certain Chicago cemetery presented to community groups a program he called, “Grave Happenings.”

Sometimes it can be a message on a bumper sticker or refrigerator magnet, such as: “Why am I in this handbasket and where is the world going with me?”

Be ready to write down a line that makes you laugh or makes you think. You never know when what you write could be the great beginning of your next presentation.

The Scientist and the Chauffeur

[I first heard this story in a speech by Jerry Clower.]

A famous scientist was often called upon to give his signature lecture, and he had a chauffeur who drove him to his engagements. The chauffeur would always come in, sit at the back, and listen.

One day, the scientist was speaking at a place where no one had ever seen him before, so the chauffeur proposed a switch. “Why don’t we trade clothing,” the chauffeur said, “and I’ll deliver your lecture?  I’ve heard it enough times I feel pretty confident that I can give it as well as you can!”  The scientist agreed to the switch.

The chauffeur did a brilliant job while the scientist sat in the back of the room in the chauffeur’s uniform. After he concluded, however, there was time for questions and answers. The first question was highly technical, and, of course, the chauffeur had no idea what to say. Without missing a beat, however, he simply said, “That question is so elementary I think I’ll allow my chauffeur to answer it.”

Speech Preparation

There are many stories that stress careful preparation for a presentation you must deliver.  Here is one of my favorites.

There was once a preacher who got into the pulpit week after week relying on the Holy Spirit to tell him everything he was to say.  Each Sunday before entering the pulpit, he would pray, “Lord, give me your message for this morning.  What do you have to say to your servant?”

Finally, one Sunday just before he got up, he said again, “Lord, give me your message for this morning.  What do you have to say to your servant?”

And the Lord finally answered him, “You’re not prepared!”

Two Weddings and a Flight

I had two weddings at which to officiate on August 23, 1995, the day my son got married, and his was the second. My wife and I hosted the rehearsal dinner on Friday night, the day before the wedding,  in Nashville, Tennessee. Then I flew back early Saturday morning to Cincinnati to perform a wedding at the church where I preach. The wedding was at noon and went off without a hitch.

I was to catch a 2:30 EDT flight back to Nashville to arrive there at 2:30 CDT for 6:00 pictures and the 7:30 wedding. I got to the airport with a ride from a friend who was at the noon wedding. The schedule showed the plane on time, so I had a leisurely lunch and went to the Comair counter.

There the ticket agent greeted me cheerfully with this statement:  “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the plane is on the ground. The bad news is that the engine has been taken apart because of a mechanical problem. The flight is delayed and I don’t know when it will depart.”

I said, “That is not acceptable because I am officiating at my son’s wedding in six hours. I have to get to Nashville quickly.”

His supervisor overhead the conversation and left her line of passengers and rushed to the next counter to check on the status of the plane and to find a definite time when the plane would depart. The information was not available, she told me. I then said, “Can I charter a plane?  I have to get to Nashville now.”

She said, “Let me check.”  She made a phone call and then told me of an office to go to nearby and a phone number to call. I ran to the location and called  and Mike answered. “How soon do you need the plane?” he asked.

I said, “Immediately.”

He told me he would have a crew ready by 3:30 and it was now 1:30. He told me to go back to Terminal A, which was a bus ride and tram ride away and wait for a white van which would pick me up in 15 minutes. I rushed to Terminal A and waited five minutes, ten minutes, and fifteen minutes and no white van.

As I looked inside the terminal from the hot August air of outside, long before I had a cell phone, I thought I faintly heard my name being paged. I ran inside and heard the second announcement asking for Steve Boyd to report to the Comair desk. I rushed to the desk and there beside the person paging me was a former student of mine.

She smiled cheerfully and asked, “How are things going, Dr. Boyd?”

I said, “This is not a good time to ask that question.”  She could tell things were a little tough by the expression on my face.

The person who paged me said there was a call from Mike who was chartering the plane for me. He said that Comair had found another plane to substitute and that we would leave at 2:30. It was now after 2:00 and a good fifteen-minute ride back to Terminal C.  He said that they would hold the plane for me if I wanted to go commercial instead of chartering the plane. Of course I was all for that.

I ran back to the bus and as I got to the terminal the Comair manager was waving me inside and a ticket agent had already stamped my boarding pass. I rushed to the plane and found to my chagrin that all the luggage had not been transported and so we waited another 30 minutes before we could depart. I got to Nashville at 3:30, Nashville time, and my son was waiting for me. We made it to picture taking on time and the wedding went off without a hitch.

Later I talked to my former student and she said it was rare for the company to be willing to charter a plane and still rarer for a plane to be found to so quickly substitute for the grounded plane. Usually when that kind of problem occurred the flight was cancelled or you would wait several hours or the next day for a plane to be flown in from another city to take the waiting passengers.

It seems to me that Someone with more authority than Comair wanted me in Nashville to officiate at my son’s wedding, for which I am eternally grateful.

Misty of Chincoteague

This is a story told by my wife, Lanita Bradley Boyd.

The island of Chincoteague (chink-uh-TEEG), off the coast of Virginia, became famous due to the book, Misty of Chinoteague, by Marguerite Henry.  In a poll of the most famous children’s horse books, Misty of Chincoteague came in second only to Black Beauty and has had over twenty hardcover printings.  Misty became the ideal horse that any child longs for.

Chincoteague Island has also developed into a “destination wedding” location.

Recently, our friends went to Chinoteague Island  for a wedding.  Many of the guests heard talk about the book, Misty of Chinoteague, and were eager to get to the local bookstore to buy books for children or grandchildren.

In the front window of the quaint bookstore was a sign, “Misty is here.”  Yes, the horse Misty has been preserved through the art of taxidermy and stands for all to see there in the back of the store.

One of the wedding guests, knowing only that it was a famous book and she wanted to buy it, was excited when she saw the sign in the window, “Misty is here.”  She picked up a book from the display and went straight to the store employee. Misty

“Where is Misty?”  she asked, “I want to get her to sign my book.”

Smiling, the clerk said, “That will be a little hard to do, ma’am.  But she’s right around the corner here.”

Imagine the woman’s surprise when she saw a horse!

Hurrying back to the car she said to the other passengers, “Well, you could have saved me a lot of embarrassment if you’d told me Misty was a horse!”

Keep It Concise

Mark Twain had a clever and often humorous way to make a point through his stories. He told of a Missouri farmer who ran five times for the state legislature without winning. It wasn’t because he didn’t practice his speeches. He practiced his campaign talks every day while milking. He referred to himself as “my humble aspirant.”  He referred to his audiences as “my enlightened constituents.”  He talked of “obtaining a mandate” for his “legislative mission.” He did not understand the concept of being concise.

Then one day even his cow balked at these speeches and kicked him in the teeth. With his front teeth knocked out, the farmer could speak only words of one syllable. The result was he won his next election and kept getting reelected.