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There were 11,700 people in the audience with me on that November day in 1976. The venue was “The Mabee Center at Oral Roberts University”, the biggest auditorium Tulsa, Oklahoma had to offer and every seat was filled. We were there to hear our heroes; Earl Nightingale, Art Linkletter, Norman Vincent Peale, Paul Harvey and Robert Schuller. I was just launching my career as a professional speaker and couldn’t have found a better place to be that day. Every speaker was excellent and I was profoundly inspired by their messages and their examples. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the unexpected star of the day; Zig Ziglar.
This man with the funny name was introduced by emcee Don Hutson and he took the arena by storm. We were laughing, taking notes, ribbing each other (“That is a great point!”) and being spellbound by this virtually unknown speaker. I remember Zig’s signature kneeling and pointing gesture as he emphasized key ideas, and I recall one of his humor lines. He asked us, “How many of you would like to see me on The Tonight Show in January of 1977?” We all applauded our congratulations. He then replied, “Well call them right away for me because they book those dates far in advance.” We roared with laughter.
I recall his opening of the speech. He said, “You have just won an all expense paid trip for two to Acapulco, Mexico.” Then he paused and said. “The only catch is, the trip begins tomorrow.” Then he asked for a show of hands as to how many of us could find a way to be ready to take that trip with just one day of preparation. Most of us said we could. That set up his first point; that when we really decided to do something we could surely find a way to do it.
His entire speech was like that. Nobody left that auditorium untouched by Zig Ziglar.
I am among the fortunate few who ultimately got to know Zig personally, shared the platform with him on multiple occasions, attended church with him and his wife Jean in Dallas one Sunday, and joined with others in celebrating his 75th birthday. In fact, very early in my career after another of Zig’s big presentations, Zig agreed to meet with me and two of my new speaker colleagues; Mark Victor Hanson and Keith DeGreen to give us some career advice.
We sat in the lobby awaiting his wisdom. When he approached us he asked, “What can I do for you boys?” I replied, “We want to know what we need to do to become the ‘heirs apparent’ to the ‘throne of Ziglar.’ He smiled at the compliment. He asked, “What are you doing now to grow your careers?” We told him our ambitions and how hard we were working to master our craft and become known in the marketplace. Zig paused and thought about what we had shared. Then he said simply, “Don’t stop.” That was it. Don’t stop. At first I was disappointed but then he made me realize that we were already doing all the things we needed to be doing. What we needed most was the encouragement to keep on doing it until we achieved the payoffs from our labors. Zig was correct by the way. We didn’t stop and each of our careers grew quite nicely.
Zig became larger than life when he was on the platform. He was still the down-to-earth, Southern good old boy that he was one to one, but on stage…he was huge! More than any other speaker of his day Zig could fill an arena with his personality and yet make you think he was talking directly to you. He was funny too, really funny. Laugh so hard your sides ache funny. And he could tell a story better than anyone. Like many from the South he learned how to take an ordinary experience and turn it into ‘learning theater.’ One of his great quotes, and there are hundreds of them, is; “It’s a mighty poor speaker who can’t tell a story better than it happened.” I love that.
Zig’s Christian faith was at the core of his messages. He genuinely believed in God and knew how much that could improve your life. He proved it in his own life. He was a giver, an encourager, a friend, a mentor and a guy who was lots of fun to be around.
Our world is much better off because Zig Ziglar has been in it. His humor and his messages of encouragement are 100% relevant today and unlikely to go out of date over time. Many generations have been and will continue to be touched by his legacy. I thank God that Zig was with us and that now he’s “home” to stay.