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Zig Ziglar still making a difference
Ronnie Baker / Staff Photo - Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar continues to make his mark on the lives of others well into his 80s.
By Jon Vanderlaan, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’ve ever seen an unhealthy doctor or an attorney in legal trouble, you know not everyone practices what they preach.
This is not the case with one of the nation’s master motivators, Zig Ziglar, who still is persistent with his encouraging messages, both onstage and in his own life, after a fall three years ago left him with short-term memory problems.
Julie Ziglar Norman, Zig’s daughter, began traveling with him after his fall to assist during his appearances, which have taken on a different format.
Tom Ziglar, Zig’s son and president and CEO of Ziglar Inc., said Zig was ready to go to his next speaking engagement while he was still in a hospital bed in March 2007 after his fall.
“I said, ‘You’re not going anywhere,’” Tom said. “And he said, ‘Well, we need to figure it out, because I still got something to say.’”
And they figured out a way, somewhat deviating from the format that has helped him be recognized as the pioneer of public speaking since the beginning of his career in the 1970s.
Although he no longer stands in front of the crowd and goes about his performances solo, he maintains the encouraging words that have made him famous.
Julie said she explains to the crowd he had a fall and she will assist him in his program, in which the two team up for a Q-and-A and show a video of Zig’s most famous stories and clips.
“It touches people in a different place, because they see he has not let the circumstances in his life dictate how he responds to [life],” she said.
Because of his short-term memory loss, Julie makes sure he stays on track and doesn’t repeat the same stories multiple times in one sitting.
However, she said the crowds still respond to the stories that have become popular during his career.
His schedule also has changed. Tom said it was not odd for him to travel to three cities per week before his accident, and now he performs in about 30 programs per year.
The change in schedule has led to some good, though, including traveling with his daughter and his wife, Jean, whom he also affectionately calls “Sugar Baby” and, while onstage, “the redhead.”
Tom said when Zig was able to perform by himself, he created a style that reflected his 20 years in sales prior to his speaking career.
Zig was able to read the body language of the crowd, Tom said, and even knew when to tell a joke to bring the crowd back into the program – which was once about every seven minutes.
Tom said the crowds’ attention spans are much shorter now, and speakers must lighten that mood about once every one to two minutes.
Despite the changes in his program, Zig said his life has not changed on a day-to-day basis.
He keeps busy eating three meals a day, courting his wife every day and reading something to use for helping others, he said.
The path to success
Born Nov. 7, 1926, in Coffee County, Ala., Zig’s childhood consisted of some difficult circumstances.
His father died when he was only 5 years old, and his mother did not even have a high school education, although he said she was very wise.
Zig began selling peanuts for 6 cents a bag on the streets of Yazoo City, Miss., when he was in the first grade. While not the easiest of childhoods, he said it was then he began connecting with people.
“I learned a lot about people who had so much less than I had,” he said. “And I resonated with them, and they resonated with me.”
Zig started speaking in the ’50s as part of his sales job – a job in which his boss told him he had so much potential but was wasting it – and it wasn’t until the 1970s that he began speaking professionally.
Julie said no motivational speakers were around at the time for him to mold his style after, so he created his own.
“Dad’s gift is taking great ideas and putting them in simple terms with a great analogy,” she said.
It wasn’t until early in his career that he would encounter a person who would change his life forever.
In 1972, Zig invited two women into his home to spend the weekend: Sister Jessie and Ann Anderson. Sister Jessie told Zig that God had been waiting on him for a long time, he said.
Zig said he put his faith in Jesus Christ and has never shied away from speaking about his faith.
Because of the transformation in his personal life in his mid-40s, Julie said it was like being raised by two fathers. But Zig always incorporated his faith in his speaking.
“Some of his peers in the speaking industry said, ‘If you talk about your faith from the platform, you’ll destroy your career,’” she said.
Tom said the message remains the same, no matter whom a speaker from Ziglar Inc. is speaking with – and despite some clients opting for the Christian background information such as Bible verses and others asking to remove it.
Most of the clients of Ziglar Inc. are not faith-based, Tom said, but the principles still apply and even filter into the audiences’ personal lives.
After a while of doing programs, Julie said people started to approach Zig about their personal issues, and he realized he needed to help them.
Zig said he didn’t imagine at first that his speaking would trickle down from company principles to personal lives. But when he realized it, he also knew it was sellable – and he doesn’t sell anything he does not believe.
Zig’s impact on Plano
It was about 25 years ago that JR Gibbens was introduced to Zig and his family.
Gibbens, a 31-year-old member of the Air Force, said Zig took a special interest in his father and was a big part in the family’s regularly attending church.
When he was in kindergarten, Gibbens said, his family moved to Plano. Because his family lived so close to the Ziglars, Gibbens said he was able to see how Zig lived his life.
It did not quite register back then, he said, but when Gibbens looked back at Zig later in life, he realized how much it meant that Zig kept true to his teachings.
“The impact wasn’t initially apparent,” he said. “It was just seeing his lifestyle.
“If it was just something I heard on a tape or on the stage, I definitely wouldn’t have let it make a difference.”
Gibbens said what makes Zig different from others is that he is “100 percent authentic” and applies his own teachings to his life. Despite his background in sales, he is not solely out to sell something.
Although the encounters were many years ago, Gibbens said he still remembers the Ziglars’ house and their one-eyed cat that always scared him.
Julie said because Zig is on the road so much, he hasn’t had the chance to be fully involved with Plano.
But the individual attention paid to the Gibbens family is consistent with how Zig has ingrained himself in the community.
“My favorite thing is when I can do something for somebody else that really needs help,” he said. “I always feel that encouragement is the missing ingredient in so many lives.”
It can be said, in fact, that giving his time and efforts to worthy agencies and people is how he has left his legacy. Zig said if he is going to give money to an individual, he must be positive it will go to a good cause. For example, he said giving money to a drunk would not be wise.
Zig has been an active and avid supporter of the Boy Scouts of America, an organization that gave him the Silver Buffalo Award in 2001 – an honor given to those who have given noteworthy and extraordinary service to youth.
According to the Boy Scouts of America website, it is the highest commendation for contributions that an American makes to youth.
He also taught a Bible study class at Prestonwood Baptist Church for 15 years, a church he and his family still regularly attend.
Mike Buster, executive pastor at the church, said in an e-mail interview that the family always sits at the front during the church service and has been a great encourager for the pastor.
“His effect on our church and our school, Prestonwood Christian Academy, is immeasurable,” he said. “We have always appreciated their steadfast commitment to God’s vision for Prestonwood and their passion for reaching lost souls.”
Mike Ingram, a Phoenix-based developer, and Loren Gresham, president of Southern Nazarene University, have seen to it that Zig’s name is noted in the world of academia.
Because of the impact Zig had on their lives, the two brainstormed and decided to create the Zig Ziglar Center for Ethical Leadership at Southern Nazarene University.
Tony Griffin, executive director of the center, said his faith is one of the reasons why hosting the center at the university has been such a good fit.
He said Zig’s incredible positive outlook on life and ability to motivate people are inspirations to the center.
“Through the center we get to honor his life and carry on his legacy,” Griffin said, “and hopefully share it with another generation.”
He said it also is a good way to give back to someone who has influenced many people.
“He really has shaped that whole industry of what it is to be a teacher and a motivator,” Griffin said. “Most people in that day look back at his gift and how it’s formed them and shaped them.”
Many people, including the Ziglar family, had hoped there was a way Zig could be remembered permanently, he said.
The seed gift given by Ingram started that process, and Griffin said he hopes to retain Zig’s spirit in the center.
“I think that ultimately this is always done one person at a time,” he said, “and being able to look beyond oneself at the value of another person and helping them see the value they have.”
Julie said an entire program geared toward teaching future business leaders to be honest and trustworthy is important to Zig.
“Dad feels that it is the most significant thing to come from all of his years of trying to encourage others,” she said. “Because integrity is essential to everything working well.”
The center solidifies Zig’s name in the world of academia, Julie said, but he always will be better known as one of the leading motivators.
She said she believes people several generations removed from her will still be listening to Zig’s message.
“People today, coming up wanting to do what he has done, think of him as one of the grandfathers of the whole movement – the encouragement and motivation movement,” Julie said.
Zig enjoys receiving letters from people who thank him for help in their lives, Julie said.
Despite his reduced work schedule, Zig said he has no problem booking programs, and that because of his reputation, the companies contact him.
Ziglar Inc. also will figure into Zig’s legacy.
Tom has been president and CEO of the company for the past five to 10 years, and the group still keeps it a family affair.
Besides Tom and Julie working for the company, the siblings’ niece Katherine Lemmons works as the operations manager and their other sister, Cindy Ziglar, has been named the “customer whisperer” for her ability to connect with the hearts of customers.
Because of the many generations who have heard Zig speak, Tom said some people have asked what his legacy will be.
“Dad’s legacy is the sum total of the impact he’s had on peoples’ lives and the impact they’ve had on other’s lives,” he said.
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