Thursday, September 22, 2011

Getting to the Thesis

Early in my career with LDS Welfare Services, I was fortunate to have as my boss a firebrand named R. Quinn Gardner. While I had been kicking around in graduate school, the military, and elsewhere, Quinn had been making a name for himself. He'd been a product manager for Pepsico, and then a vice president. The Mormon Church lured him away from industry to make him head of their welfare program, the managing director. Quinn changed my way of seeing the world.

What's your point, Tiger?

I'd be making a presentation or participating in a management discussion and at about 30 seconds Quinn would interrupt me. "What's your point, Tiger?"

He'd tolerate no rambling. Every word had to count. Above all, he wanted to hear that all-important statement (thesis) that revealed the point, lesson, or idea underlying my presentation or comment.

I suppose I'm not the speediest learner in the solar system, but it didn't take me long to recognize this pattern. Like Pavlov's dog, about 30 seconds into my presentation I'd glance over at Quinn. If he was starting to squirm in his chair, I knew I had only a few seconds to get my thesis out before he interrupted me.

At first, I didn't know what to say, how to format a thesis that answered his question before he asked. I'd make my best effort. He'd shake his head. "Have to do better than that," he'd say. "What's your point?"

Determined to escape the jaws of death (Quinn was the real tiger), I worked at boiling my ideas down into  a single summary sentence that delivered the basic message. Gradually, as I got better at my trade, the interruptions grew less frequent. Once or twice, Quinn even nodded his approval.

You get thirty seconds to deliver.

Imagine how you'd feel if people actually walked out of the room instead of just drifting away mentally when their attention wanders. My bet is that they start drifting away after about 30 seconds, shaking their heads and muttering, "What your point, Tiger?"

Learning Activity

For your upcoming speech, trim your attention getter to take less than 30 seconds.

If you  have to come back to give final details of your attention getter, do it at the end of your speech as a wrap up. For example:

"After beating me up, Quinn went on to become president of U & I Sugar Corp., then a successful private business consultant. But for the rest of my career, I'd either get my thesis out quick, or I'd hear his voice in my mind. 'What's your point, Tiger?'

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