The Right Words

“Tell me a fact and I'll learn.  Tell me a truth and I'll believe.  But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”

– Indian Proverb

I found this lovely proverb in the Foreword to “The Right Words at the Right Time” – a marvelous compilation of stories by Marlo Thomas and over 100 of her friends and associates.  This wonderful book was published in 2002 by Atria (Simon & Schuster, Inc.) and I frequently offer it as a gift – especially to friends who are grieving or at a difficult point in their lives or careers.

It is always difficult to offer advice to someone – they do not welcome it, do not think that they need it or they ignore it!

I find that it is even more difficult to try to comfort someone when they are grieving – how can I possibly know how they are feeling (they must think???)

But … to tell a story – the right story at the right time – now that is a golden gift that almost everyone will receive – and remember!

This morning, I picked up my copy of “The Right Words at the Right Time” because I was still thinking about the wonderful memorial service yesterday honoring the late President Gerald R. Ford.  I thought that Tom Brokow's eulogy was magnificent – just the right touch – and filled with stories – which helped to make it memorable.  I wanted to read his story in Marlo Thomas' compilation (along with stories from Betty Ford and many others.) 

The other eulogies at yesterday's service were fair (in my opinion) but far from memorable.  Giving a eulogy is one of the most difficult speeches that anyone will ever have to make.  Keeping your own emotions in check while trying to pay tribute and offer comfort to the family and friends of the deceased will challenge the skills of even the most gifted orator.  That is why the most successful speakers are the best story tellers.  In telling a story (like singing a song or playing a musical instrument) you gain several advantages:

1) The story (or song) has a built-in emotional factor – it sets a mood or a tone.

2) In telling it (or singing or playing it) you concentrate on the story (or song) and not on your own emotions.  The audience does not distract you.

3) The story (or song) has a built-in beginning, middle and end – so you remain focused and you make a point that your audience will likely remember.

So, if you want to be an effective speaker (like Tom Brokow) collect and cultivate stores.  Then practice telling them – to make them your own.  This is the single, best piece of advice that I can offer anyone who wants to improve the communications skills – or to deliver a eulogy.  Learn to tell stories.  Pick the story with the right words and tell it (well) at the right time.

Music has the same power – the right piece played (well) at the right time.  Denyce Graves' powerful performance of “The Lord's Prayer” at President Ford's memorial service is the perfect example of the power of music to lift our spirits and transport us to another place.  To offer comfort and solace and to give us hope and strength to move forward.

If you would like a copy of all of the musical selections, performers, verses and officials at President Ford's service, click here on this link.

Now, I am going to go back and read a few more stories.  Finding the right words at the right time will help me to better focus on what I want to accomplish this year.

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