What Do Churchill and Teenagers Have In Common?

This blog was originally published on Forbes as What Do Churchill And Teenagers Have In Common? on Monday, June 19, 2017.

Sir Winston Churchill, one of the world’s greatest orators but also one of world’s cleverest wordsmiths, is said to have snapped at waiter in a restaurant, “Take this pudding away; it has no theme!”

One of the most common phrases teenagers use is “…and your point is?” (Usually addressed to their parents.)

The commonality in both statements is snarky dissatisfaction: Sir Winston found the pudding tasteless and the teenager found the person speaking (likely the parent again) to be unclear.

If you’ve attended only one speech or presentation in your life, you’ll agree that Sir Winston and teenagers are not alone. You’ve probably even muttered one of the common grievances, “What’s your point?” or “Get to the damned point!”

These dissatisfactions occur because the speakers have violated the Cardinal Rule set forth by Vinod Khosla, one of Silicon Valley’s most influential venture capitalists. Khosla’s succinct wisdom, as I discussed in an earlier Forbes post is, “Message sent is not the same as message received.”

So why would anyone—trying to persuade today’s impatient audiences, pressured for time and distracted by multiple competing inputs (mobile devices, anyone?)—perpetrate this universal pointlessness? The reasons are equally universal, but so are the remedies:

• The corporate deck. Determined to maintain uniformity of messaging, corporations require their employees to pitch with a standard set of slides. But no two people can tell the same story the same way, so each presenter shuffles the deck like a Las Vegas dealer and ends up losing the thread of the story.

• The solution. Stay on message, by all means, but be sure you stack your deck logically.

• Time pressures. The same impulses that constrict audiences’ attention spans drive workloads and presenters often sacrifice preparation time for other business priorities.

• The solutionParaphrasing Andy Warhol, you have 15 minutes of fame in front of your audience—make every minute count. Carve out the time to prepare and practice. Then practice even more.

• The Big Misconception. Presenters think, “My audiences aren’t stupid. They know why they are there and might feel insulted or offended if I spell it all out for them!”

• The solution. Observe the Cardinal Rule of Sales: ABC, Always Be Closing. Ask for the order. Ask for it early and ask for it often. Faint heart never won fair lady.

You may not be able to find a theme in your pudding, but you can define the shortest distance between two points—the beginning and the end—and travel that distance succinctly. Get to your damned point!

This blog was originally published on Forbes as What Do Churchill And Teenagers Have In Common? on Monday, June 19, 2017.

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