Zadra Creative Blog

Some of the best speeches are also the shortest.

What I learned from addressing 300 hardcore convicts.

One day I was sitting in the Warden’s office at Marion Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Columbus, Ohio. I was there to advise the warden on a publishing project.

At 4:40 PM the warden suddenly turned to me and said, “There will be 300 inmates in the prison chapel at 5 o’clock, and I know they could use some inspiration. Can I count on you to give a little speech?”

“Yes, of course,” I answered—and then I gulped. What could I possibly say to raise the spirits of 300 sad, angry and discouraged men? Fortunately, most speakers have learned to keep a few treasured stories tucked away in a quiet part of the mind. Here is the one I finally retrieved to use as my speech that day. Short as it is, it got a standing ovation:

Good evening, men. I’ve come to share one of my favorite Native American legends with you. I know each of you will see yourselves on either one side or the other side of this story, so listen closely:

A boy found an Eagle’s egg and he put it in the nest of a prairie chicken. The Eagle hatched and thought he was a chicken. He grew up doing what prairie chickens do: Scratching at the dirt for food…grumbling and complaining…and flying short distances with a noisy fluttering of his wings. It was a miserable life.

One day, while exploring in the desert with his prairie chicken friend, the Eagle noticed a magnificent bird soaring on the air currents high above. “Oh, I wish I could fly like that,” said the Eagle.

“Don’t give it another thought,” said his prairie chicken friend. “That’s an Eagle, the king of all birds—you could NEVER fly like that.”  

And the Eagle didn’t give it another thought. He went on with his life unchanged. He died thinking he was a prairie chicken.  

Moral: My friend, you too were born an Eagle. Your Creator intended for you to be an Eagle. So, don’t listen to the prairie chickens!

1) Love your audience unconditionally, no matter what.
2) Always keep a few great stories in your mental archive for special occasions.
3) Your speech need not be long to be great. (The Gettysburg Address was only 278 words.)

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