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.

Know Where You Are Speaking

Recently, Lanita and I went to a Charley Pride concert at a nearby casino. He did a great job, but not during the first five minutes. After he sang his first song, he said, “I’m glad to be in River City.”  He was specific, just as any good performer or speaker must be. The problem:  he was not in River City, the nickname for Louisville. He was at the Belterra Casino Resort in southern Indiana, with Cincinnati the closest city. His band members tried to alleviate a few awkward moments as they gave him the correct location.

Fortunately Charlie’s audience was made up of long time fans, so they were pulling for him to make the correction and get on with the show. He played off his audience by talking to people on the front rows and borrowing a handkerchief to remove perspiration from his face. This got him back on track and the audience loved him.

This embarrassing moment reminded me of the importance of you as the speaker knowing as much about your audience as you can—especially the name of the place where you are speaking.

A “Day” to Remember

Recently as I attended a speakers’ meeting, I saw at a distance a slightly built, noticeably short gentleman. My first thought was jockey. A person sitting close to me evidently saw me staring at him and said, “That is Pat Day.”

I’ve lived in Kentucky for almost four decades, and here everyone knows that Pat Day is one of the greatest jockeys of all time. He is the winner of nine Triple Crown races, including the 1992 Kentucky Derby, and the all-time leader in earnings as his races brought in nearly 294 million dollars. At the meeting break I made my way to his table and waited a few moments to introduce myself. He was very kind and patient as I told him of my admiration for his success over the years. He joked that he hoped I won when I bet on the horses he rode.

As we talked, he spoke openly about his personal life—he became a Christian in 1984 and that changed his life forever. He said that for a while he planned to leave racing and enter the seminary. After praying about the situation, however, he felt the Lord wanted him to stay and witness for him in racing circles, which he has done ever since.

I asked if he still rode horses after his retirement in 2005 and his response was, “Yes, I ride regularly and I love horses. I started riding when I was five years old and never plan to stop.”  He made me feel like I was his friend, and his happiness in the life he now leads was apparent. He told about the racing circuit he traveled each year; once his daughter was born, he and his wife decided to settle in Louisville so there would be stability in family life.

As I went back to my seat, I realized this was a conversation I would remember for a long time. Whatever knowledge I gleaned in the seminar I’d come for would be nothing compared to this chance meeting with Pat Day.

Never neglect an opportunity to meet and greet people around you. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you in line at a concert or sitting by you at a meeting. You may not meet a famous person, but every person has information to share that can be informative or even inspiring as was the case with meeting Pat Day.