I had just shaken the hand of a man built from The Right Stuff. Although he’d never know it, his life’s work helped shape my decision to pursue a degree in electrical engineering.
Wally Schirra was the first person to visit space three times. He flew solo in the Mercury capsule, shared a ride in the Gemini capsule, and finally commanded the crew of Apollo 7. And if you consider logging 295 hours of flight time in space impressive, consider his 90 Korean War combat missions, 265 carrier landings, and his Distinguished Flying Cross award. Heck, the guy even had an Emmy, earned through being the first person to broadcast live to an earthbound television audience from space.
He entertained the crowd with stories involving the realities of hours spent in a cramped capsule. One included what it feels like to become a “wetback,” astronaut vernacular for relieving a strained bladder into your space suit while strapped into a chair that’s facing the heavens.
Unfortunately, though, Mr. Schirra’s stories never reached beyond the ears of the employees who were lucky enough to attend the company’s national sales meeting.
The most common concern that I hear from customers is related to difficulty in finding stories to tell. I tell them that stories are everywhere, yet most companies overlook the deep story sources that are right under their noses.
Finding stories is every employee’s responsibility. Had the event planners for the national sales meeting been asked for story ideas, they may have discussed something with the keynote speaker. Unfortunately, event planners and marketing managers typically don’t frequent the same water cooler. Or there are the story-killers, odd assumptions of unverified legal impediments, such as assuming that the speaker’s contract precludes recording. The point is, if you don’t ask, you’ll never find out. Speakers are always hawking something, whether it be a book or a cause. In this particular event, Wally was rallying support for the International Space Station.
My favorite memory from that day came after Mr. Schirra’s stage talk. A small group had cornered him for photographs when someone asked him how he dealt with the loss of adrenaline rushes.
“You’ve been to space,” the young man said. “How do you deal with the fact that you’ll never experience a high like that again?”
Wally smiled. “Oh, I can’t think like that,” he said. “I get my thrills by pushing against all boundaries. They say that my sailboat can’t go over six knots. So, I’m always pushing it to seven.”
Does your company give you access to special guests? If so, ask for an interview. Seek permission to record a video. Ask if you can put together a highlight reel from the keynote. Take photographs. Write blog posts. In short, ask, or risk blowing another opportunity to tell a great story.