The Ripple Effect - You Really Do Make a Difference

Stephen Hopson

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Have you ever thrown a flat rock across a body of water and watched it transform into a bunch of ripples? That's the impact my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Jordan, had on my life when she uttered three words so many years ago. (see article “The Power of Three Words - THAT'S RIGHT STEPHEN!").

One of the most requested speeches I do nowadays contains the story of the day she said those words. She never knew the impact of those three words until many years later when I surprised her on a national talk show to thank her. (see article “Remembering 5th Grade Teacher on a National Talk Show").

Is it possible that you are making an extraordinary difference in the lives of others without even knowing it? Today I am encouraging you to be more aware of your inner power, which has the potential of becoming a ripple effect, touching far more people than those in your immediate surroundings.

Many years ago I did a speech in the early nineties when I was just getting my feet wet in public speaking. A Kiwanis club in Brooklyn had invited me to speak to their members. Since I didn't know what to talk about, I decided that I would use one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul stories. The topic was “Making a Difference. ”

This club held their meetings in an Italian restaurant somewhere in the middle of eastern Brooklyn. Many a fledging speaker got their start by speaking to these clubs in exchange for food. I got to enjoy some of the greatest meals in exchange for a twenty to thirty minute speech. It gave me an opportunity to try out a new topic for size and test its impact.

I took the subway to Brooklyn, arriving at the restaurant thirty minutes early. The purpose was to give me an opportunity to check out the room, get acquainted with the person who would introduce me, get a feel for the layout of the room and perform a sound check (with the help of a hearing person, of course).

Dinner was served while regular business was conducted. Throughout the meal, I had an opportunity to get to know the club president who sat next to me.

“I’m really looking forward to your speech tonight, ” he had said.

They say that public speaking and death are the two biggest fears people have. It isn’t easy getting up in front of a room full of people whose eyes are feasted upon you, watching every move you make. There’s also the possibility that someone may not like your speech. They’re easy to spot. Either they’re snoring, fidgeting, looking down on the floor or staring at you vacantly. They are the ones who sit in stoney silence while everyone else is cracking up. It’s tempting for an inexperienced speaker to try and win them over at the expense of 98 percent of the people who seem to be enjoying themselves. I was thinking of that when the club president gently nudged me.

He leaned over as if to whisper in my ear. I automatically backed away so that I could read his lips. His face crumbled into an embarrassed laugh mouthing, “Oops, I’m sorry, I forgot! I’m going to introduce you now. ”

After a brief introduction, I started my speech by sharing the “Blue Ribbon Story” from one of the earlier Chicken Soup books. This story always made me cry every time I read and re-read it, so I felt it would make for a great topic.

The story was about a young school teacher who had an idea for a class project. She wanted to see the impact of the project not only on her students, but also on those in the community. You can read the story at:


When I was done, I could see how my speech impacted almost everyone in the restaurant that night, especially the club president. There was not one dry eye in the room. I wrapped up by reminding everyone that they could be making a difference in someone else’s life without even knowing it.

Then I sat down. The club president picked up the wooden hammer and banged against the gong, signaling the end of the meeting.

I looked out the window and saw to my dismay that it was pouring outside. Heavy rain was cascading down the windows. The raindrops were illuminated by the street lights outside. Suddenly I realized I didn’t bring an umbrella and murmured to myself, “Darn, it’s raining; I’m going to get wet. Oh well!”

As soon as I said that, someone tugged at my sleeve. I turned around to find the club president standing there. He was asking if I wanted a ride to the subway station. I gratefully accepted. His umbrella was big enough to cover both of us while we walked to his car.

As we pulled away, he drove slowly, as if he didn’t want to drop me off so quickly. I could tell there was something on his mind. He was in deep thought, as if he was trying to figure out what he was going to say.

Switching on the night light (it was totally dark by that point), he said, “Your speech about making a difference really hit me hard tonight. I want to thank you for coming out to Brooklyn and sharing that story with us. ”

He continued, “It made me realize that I’ve never told my sons that I loved them. I’m going to sit them down and tell them exactly that. Thanks for reminding me. ”

I sat there in stunned silence. I couldn’t believe how much of a difference I had made in this person’s life simply by choosing that story. There I was, a spanking new speaker, already making a difference on a set of boys I would never get to meet.

We finally arrived at the subway station. I turned to him and firmly shook his hand, saying, “Thank you for letting me know how much of a difference my talk had on you. I know your boys will forever remember what you're about to tell them tonight. They will never forget it. ” Tears were rolling down the man's face. I gave him a bear hug, squeezed his hands one final time, and got out of the car.

Standing on the curb, I watched the taillights fade into the night. When he turned the corner and was out of sight, I realized I was shivering. I was completely soaked!

As is true with so many things in life, I never found out what happened after that. I can only surmise those boys were forever changed. That's the ripple effect you could be causing without knowing about it!

Food for thought: Never underestimate the power of making a difference in the life of another person. You just never know what your words or your smile will do. It might even save someone's life. Think about it.

Profoundly deaf since birth, Stephen Hopson is a former award-winning stockbroker turned motivational speaker, author and pilot. He works with organizations that are ready to explore and overcome adversity because no one is immune from it - adversity does not discriminate. His professional speaking services, Obstacle Illusions, include fun and passionate presentations, especially the story of how his fifth grade teacher forever changed his young life with THAT'S RIGHT STEPHEN! You can view his website at Stephen also maintains a blog called “Adversity University" at


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