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Mine That Bird, Calvin Borel and What the Kentucky Derby Can Teach Us about Public Speaking

I’m a horse racing fan and especially love the Kentucky Derby. During most racing events I don’t usually pay much attention to the jockeys. Being a horse lover, I keep my eyes glued to the elegant, glorious high performing thoroughbreds who never fail to take my breath away. But at last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby I found myself fixated on jockey, Calvin Borel.


When the horses took off on that muddy field I was rooting for the Northern California favorite Chocolate Candy (who finished a respectable 5th). But as the horses swept around the final bend and headed down the home stretch, all eyes, including mine, had shifted to Calvin Borel and his tiny horse, Mine That Bird. Calvin glanced to his left and saw “the highway to horse heaven” free and clear. No other horse was on the rail so Borel found a hole in the pack, yanked Mine That Bird to the left and secured a spot along the empty rail. He crossed the finish line 6 ¾ lengths ahead of the field. It was truly exhilarating to watch.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Jamie Squire/Getty Images


Equally as exciting was watching Borel celebrate his success as he exploded with emotion and delight. No game face. No holding back. Just big whoops and hollers of pure and unadulterated jockey joy.

How did he do it? Calvin Borel won that race by following a simple strategy called “riding the rail.” This is his signature approach and has led him to success many times in the past. As a young jockey he learned to ride the rail from his mentor and he has followed this strategy throughout his career. That’s why he’s been given the nickname “Bo-Rail.” So, during the biggest moment of his life, he knew exactly what to do to win.

AP Photo/Al Behrman

AP Photo/Al Behrman


But he didn’t stop there. He also celebrated his victory.


What is the message for the public speaker? First, develop your strategy. Learn an approach that works for you and then refine and perfect it every day. Having a known strategy is your greatest weapon against the many inherent challenges of public speaking. Use your strategy and you will gain the confidence to perform at your very best in any situation, whether at a casual staff meeting or a high stakes main stage event – your equivalent to the Kentucky Derby.


Once you have your strategy, stick with it. Don’t make changes when the pressure is on. Trust that your strategy will work and that you too will find that hole and ride the rail right across the finish line.


And then celebrate your success. Go ahead – whoop it up. And while you’re at it, give yourself a nickname. You deserve it!

May 7th, 2009 | Permalink | Trackback | Bookmark and Share

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