Asking an audience to answer a question during your speech is unpredictable. I sometimes open a speech with the story of my getting braces when I was fifty years old. I introduce the story by showing my front teeth to the audience in an exaggerated manner. This usually gets a smile or chuckle and helps me connect with the audience. I will move into the audience and ask one of the audience members if she or he thinks I have nice-looking teeth. Of course a typical answer I receive is, “Yes, they look great.”
But I was not expecting the answer at the beginning of one speech when I looked at a woman on the front row and asked, “Don’t you think I have nice straight teeth?” I bite down on my lower teeth, show an exaggerated smile, and wait expectantly for her answer. She stares at me with that “deer in the headlight” look that tells me I might have asked the wrong person, and then blurts out, “I can’t tell. My eyes are dilated. I just came from the dentist office.”
After the laughter died down, I continued with my story. When you ask a question, be ready for the unexpected answer.
We all make dumb decisions at times. You have probably asked yourself this question more than once, “What was I thinking? That was really dumb.”
I was talking to a homeless man downtown today, and after putting some money in his cup I asked him some questions. His name is John and he hopes to get a job down the street later on this month.
I asked him what the circumstances were that made him homeless. He told me that he had been in prison from 2009 to 2011 and he had had difficulty getting a job since then. I asked him what he did before he went to prison. He listed several jobs but his best one was working for the city. The other jobs sounded less permanent, including working for a restaurant and working for a temporary services company.
I asked what happened with the city job. He paused for a moment and then said, “Well, I robbed a store next to the police station, and that pretty much ended my career.” He agreed with me that that was not a very smart move.
Before making a decision, get a second opinion (not from a person who has robbed a store!) Sleep on it. Talk to people who have made the same choice. Pray about it. Answer the “What if…” questions. Write down pros and cons of the consequences of the decision.
Of course sometimes the right decision is obvious. As one writer said, “If you don’t like to floss, just floss the teeth you want to keep.”
Recently I spent time with a good friend from high school with whom I played a lot of basketball. We started walking up Stone Mountain, outside of Atlanta, Georgia, and it is a rather steep walk. About a third of the way, I told him and my son who was also with us that I had had enough. So for my benefit we took the gondola to the top instead.
However, it was not always this way. In high school we both ran cross-country. I found hat running with Bob was just the right speed for me. He wore a size 14 shoe and like me was not graceful when he ran. You could hear him coming sometimes before you saw him.
But he never quit, and I could depend on his staying at the same pace and completing the race. I found that if I could keep up with him I could usually muster a little burst of speed near the end and finish in the ribbon category.
So it is in life. We tend to end up at the same place as the people we run with. When we pick the right people to run with, we end up finishing the race in the ribbon category.
Demosthenes, the great Greek orator, was also a stutterer. As a child, he was weak and unhealthy and children mocked him for his stuttering and called him Battalus. During that time in history, the term Battalus was used as a nickname for stutterers. One way he learned to cope with stuttering was to practice his speaking by putting pebbles in his mouth.
One public speaking instructor that I read about followed his example and would have his students practice speaking by putting marbles in their mouths. They began with six marbles and he permitted them to reduce the number by one each day. Finally, when they had lost of their marbles, they became effective public speakers.
I’m not sure the marble part will add anything to one’s skills, but I do know that practicing new material several times will help you overcome anxiety besides making you a more effective speaker.
Willie Shoemaker won the Kentucky Derby four times, but he may be remembered best for the race he did not win. That was in 1957. He was aboard Gallant Man and gaining on Bill Hartack riding Iron Liege as the two horses dueled down the stretch.
Then an incredible lapse in attention occurred. As the horses passed the sixteenth pole, Shoemaker thought he had passed the finish line and stood up. Quickly he bounced back into the saddle and began riding hard again. But Gallant Man could not overtake Hartack and Iron Liege, who won by a nose.
John Nerud, the trainer for Gallant Man, stated, “I never figured out why he pulled up. He was one of the greatest riders ever.”
The answer seems to be simply that he was not paying attention. Paying attention to what is going around you, especially when you are about to win the Kentucky Derby, is the difference between defeat and victory!
Practical jokes can cause serious consequences. In 1996 the Taco Bell Corporation announced it had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell.
Hundreds of outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell was housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed, a few hours later, that it was all a practical joke.
The best line of the day came when White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the sale. Thinking on his feet, he responded that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold. It would now be known, he said, as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.
This touch of humor broke the tension caused by this practical joke.
Look for the humor in frustrating situations.
Locally, a recent issue is money used by the city to bury unclaimed bodies. It is hard to visualize a person so alone in the world that when he dies, no relative or friend cares enough to claim the remains. This is becoming more of a problem because of the increase in the number of unclaimed bodies. In 2011, Cincinnati spent $82,000 on pauper deaths compared to $43,000 in 2007.
Recently, in a neighboring city, a man died, remains unclaimed. No pallbearers were at his burial, and the cemetery director delivered the eulogy. Since he had served a tour in Vietnam, two soldiers came from Ft. Knox to represent the military. This story is repeated often in every large metropolitan area.
It is hard to imagine being so alone that when you die, no one cares enough to bury your remains except the state.
This story demonstrates the need to be a friend to those without friends and to keep track of people who live alone. As actress Anne Hathaway said, “Loneliness is my least favorite thing about life. The thing that I’m most worried about is just being alone without anybody to care for or someone who will care for me. “
My son has always been interested in coins and bills and as a child would often examine my coin stashes before I deposited them in the bank. Before he left home 20 years ago, he always rolled the coins for me.
This past week he received a fifty-dollar bill when obtaining cash from his bank. As he started to place it in his billfold, he noticed it looked a bit different from the other bills. So he looked more closely and discovered it was a series from the 1960’s, printed before he was born. Since the average life span of a $50 bill is 55 months, he thought perhaps it might be worth more than $50. So he priced the bill on E-bay for $75 and sold it in two days for the $25 profit. All the result of paying attention.
Simply giving careful attention to the ordinary and common can yield positive results. It pays to pay attention.
My son, Josh, had a student in his public speaking class deliver a speech on the importance of recycling. As visual aids, she had several items one could recycle. When she finished, she gathered up her visuals and on her way to her seat she tossed her recyclables into the wastebasket. I’m not sure she got the point of her own speech.
For many years I felt no inclination to recycle. I hardly knew what the word meant. I am the only one in our family of six adults and three children who disdained recycling. But over time, they have set good examples, exhorted me, and shamed me into being a “greener” citizen.
Recently, I finished a can of mineral water immediately before I went to the pulpit to speak. Two regular waste cans were only a few feet away, but no recycling bins were in sight. Remembering a recycling barrel one floor below me, I sprinted down the steps, tossed the can in the bin, and rushed back upstairs to avoid keeping the audience waiting.
Later I thought of the influence of my family; I had not only changed my outlook about reusing our resources, but the habit was so ingrained in my thinking that I could not bear to throw the can in with the trash.
The lesson? We can’t help but be influenced by the people around us. We must choose our associates and friends carefully. Habits much worse than being green can rub off on us, too.
One of the most successful coaches in the NBA is Jerry Sloan. He is the fourth winningest coach in the NBA with a record of 1,221 wins and 803 losses. He was the first coach to record 1,000 wins with the same club, the Utah Jazz. He was the longest-tenured coach in any of the top four American sports.
One of the traits he was known for as a coach and player was his intensity. One of his star players, Karl Malone, said about him when he was in one of his “intense” moods: “I just say, ‘Hi Coach’ just to let him know I’m around.”
He gives new meaning to the word “intense.” Once as a player for the Chicago Bulls, he got a technical foul for arguing with a referee during pre-game warm-ups.
He was so single-minded about the game that his Chicago coach, Dick Motta, suggested he get a hobby, which he did. With the same intensity, he began collecting antiques and pursued it so avidly that he needed annexes at his home to store them. According to the Wall Street Journal, He called them his “Sanford and Son” hoard.
I’m not suggesting that we carry the trait of intensity to the lengths that Jerry Sloan did. I do believe his success in a profession where the average length of an NBA coach is a little over three years underscores the value of adding intensity to our efforts.