I met James C. Humes 20 years ago today - February 5th, 1993.
He was a guest of Dr. James Dobson, speaking in the character of Winston Churchill at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. I was in attendance representing the interests of an organization I had helped found, called The Idaho Family Forum.
At first blush I remember thinking that he was a very gifted actor.
And then I heard his resume.
He was not an actor, he was a history-maker himself.
An author and a presidential speech writer for five US presidents.
Two things from that time with him stand out.
First, he spoke of how, when he was an adolescent in the early 50's, he was hitchhiking his way across the US. A gentleman gave him a ride. During the course of that conversation, as they drove, it turned out that the man at the wheel was the very last person to have seen Abraham Lincoln's face. You see, after Lincoln's burial there were a number of attempts to steal the body, eventually leading the remaining family (as well as federal agents) to bury him under a massive pouring of cement in about 1905. The gentleman-driver's father was the cement mason who superintended the pour.
Obviously a dad with a keen eye for history, the cement mason sent for his then-young son at school. The boy was retrieved and then ran to where these activities were taking place. He was lifted up to see the face of Abraham Lincoln right before they shut the casket and poured the cement. 40 years after his death the face remained as it had in life, due to the preservation done at the time of the assassination in 1865.
And James C. Humes shook hands with this now-grown man & wrote about it in one of his books, The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln.
The second point that stands out is how Humes taught me to speak at a podium. I was 37 years old at the time and felt fairly competent about my speaking ability - disorganized, but competent.
Up to that point I'd always penciled out a speech according to what I felt at the moment. Some were small, some were long (way too long, if I was honest with myself) and none had commonality of structure.
Then, 20 years ago today, while in attendance at his "Churchill speech", I pulled out one of my business cards and took notes on the back of it of the needful, yet few, steps that James C. Humes suggested be used. From that day to today, the card rests in my wallet and is extracted every time I speak from a podium. It is my Speech 401 diploma, of sorts from the James C. Humes simple school of public presentation.
So, that hand that "shook the hand" AND the hand that penned the plaque was the hand that crafted my life's outline of public speaking. And it all began two decades ago, today Feb 5th 1993.
1. Strong beginning.
2. One theme.
3. Simple words.
4. Sharp word pictures.
5. End it with emotion.