Whatever Happens, Make It
In early summer of 2010, my
daughter graduated from high school. I was sitting
in an auditorium that held maybe a thousand people
or more, and I was enjoying the very elaborate
graduation ceremony. The valedictorian was scheduled
to give his speech in a few minutes, but, before he
got to do so, the power went out in the auditorium.
The entire stage went black, and the sound system
shut off, so nothing worked anymore. The emergency
lights came on, but they were positioned to
illuminate the exits, not the stage.
Now, if you’re a
seventeen-year-old, about to give your speech as the
class valedictorian, is this not pretty much the
highlight of your life up to this point? Does this
not rank up there as one of the most important
events in your life so far? I wonder what must have
gone through his mind, as his time to make his
speech approached, and he had no light from which to
read his speech, and no sound system with which to
project his voice. I can only imagine the anxiety
that must have been surging through him.
The Master of Ceremonies had
to keep the program going, so, with a loud, booming
voice, the MC introduced the valedictorian, whom no
one could see in the dark.
This young man stepped to the
front of the stage, where there was a single ray of
very dim light from one of the emergency lights,
and, from memory, he began to speak. The entire
auditorium went completely silent, as we strained to
hear the young man’s voice, but we only had to
strain for a moment. As the crowd fell silent in the
auditorium, his voice rang through the stands as
clearly, and with as much professionalism, as I’ve
ever heard from a speaker.
He had no light, had no
script, and had no microphone. Yet, he captured the
attention of every person in the auditorium, all
thousand-plus of us. His speech was profound, was
masterfully delivered, and was one of the best
speeches I can remember being a witness to. It was
like he’d planned it this way all along. Two minutes
after his speech ended, the power came back on, but
he had already won us over in the dark.
I have to tell you another
story, because it fits in so well with this topic.
A close friend of mine is a
master magician, and his name is Elliott Smith. In
late summer of 2010, while Elliott was performing in
a magic show, there was suddenly an earthquake. In
Ottawa, Canada, earthquakes aren’t common. This one
happened to hit in the middle of Elliott’s show. He
briefly stopped his performance and waited for the
tremor to stop, then looked at his audience and,
without skipping a beat, asked, “Now, who wants to
see me do that again?”
So, what’s the lesson? Expect
the unexpected. When it happens, make it look like
it was all part of the plan.