You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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Simplify the Message

I have come to realize that anybody who is listening to somebody else really hears only 10 percent of what the other person is saying. The other 90 percent vanishes into thin air. So you've got to get your message out there as quickly as you can and in such a way that people understand what it is you're saying and then remember it. Find a phrase or a statement that emphasizes your point so that when they walk away, they'll say, 'Oh, I can remember that.'

That's what this book is filled with-simple phrases that I hope will trigger the message behind them. I think that if you break the message down into the simplest terms, anyone can understand it. If it's too complicated, it's no good. Simplify and let the meaning surface.

Throughout my playing career, I found myself in meeting room after meeting room where a coach would talk on and on and on. He never realized that half the guys in the room were asleep or thinking about something else. He must have liked the sound of his voice and the idea that he was in front of the group and had a platform. Or so he thought.

A lot of managers believe that the more they talk, the more they get across. I believe it's just the opposite. When I became a position coach in Kansas City, I never kept my players in a meeting room for more than 20 minutes without a break. It used to drive Marty Schottenheimer nuts. Every 15 or 20 minutes I'd say, 'Take a break, men.' Marty came to me one day and said, 'Why are you always giving these guys breaks?'

I said, 'Coach, are you kidding? You want me to keep the defensive backs in this room for an hour and a half? These guys? These guys are hyper-mental. You can't keep these guys sitting in a room that long.'

I was a player. I know how players think. Most of them, especially defensive backs, are on a sugar high their whole lives. Now, if you go out on the field with them, that's different. I'm throwing them the ball, we're running routes, and I'm showing them the same thing I was talking about in the classroom. Suddenly they're saying, 'Oh, I see what you mean, coach.'

But keep them in the classroom for an hour and a half and they won't learn a thing.

It's something I've carried over to the Jets, too. I won't let my assistants keep their guys in a meeting for more than 20 minutes. More often than not, they're out in 10. If you keep them too long, you lose them. Their minds start wandering. They start thinking about everything but whatever it is you're trying to get them to think about. If you spend too much time talking about whatever scheme they're going to face or employ, I guarantee that guys will start thinking about what they're going to have for dinner, whom they're going to see after practice, or what's going on with their kids. And once you've lost them, it's nearly impossible to get them back.

I find that if you keep your message focused, keep it concise, and keep it brief, then you have a much better chance of making it stick.

Your wife can give you 20 minutes on why she wants you to pick up the dry cleaning, and even though I believe in explaining the why to people, it's not something most husbands need to know in regard to actually picking up the dry cleaning. Usually, a quick, 'Please pick up the dry cleaning,' is enough. 'Please pick up the dry cleaning and I will make you a wonderful dinner' probably is even more effective.

Some of the best public service ads I've seen are the ones involving teenagers and drug use. A simple, 'Talk to your kids about drugs' has been a very successful campaign aimed at parents, who need to understand that the communication lines between them and their children need to be open. It's a phrase anybody can remember, and it's something that surfaces easily as your teenager is headed out the door to a party. Another one I remember is the picture of an egg. 'This is your brain,' the voice says. The shot cuts to an egg frying in a pan: 'This is your brain on drugs.' You get the idea right smack in the face. It's something I think kids can easily relate to because it's short and it involves a pretty powerful visual. When I really want my players to get something, I flash it on the overhead screen. The power of hearing a short message and seeing it at the same time makes this a valuable tool.

I understand that some people can't operate like that. They don't feel that they're making their point or delivering their message unless they expound on every single little detail that leads them to what it is. They spend too much time explaining things that aren't relevant and, more often than not, go in the other person's one ear and out the other.

A coworker is trying to tell you that she needs an extra day to finish her report. But instead of saying, 'I need an extra day to finish my report,' she launches into her troubles with her kids, her dog, her car, and the people who were supposed to deliver the supplies, and how she couldn't find the phone number of the research assistant who was supposed to phone her, and you're running for the door to get away before she is able to tell you what it is she needs. Sometimes you need an explanation, but I've found that explanations get lost amid all the words that go into them. Simple is much easier and far more effective.

I once heard about a guy who worked as a consultant. I was told that his theories and ideas were good, but his presentations were so long and laborious that people couldn't stand the man by the second day. They started at 8 a.m., and they got a few 10-minute breaks throughout the day and a half-hour for lunch-which was brought into the room where the seminar was being held. The guy kept saying he had so much material to cover and not enough time, so he felt he had to utilize every minute he had with the group. As a result, his teachings were largely wasted.

You can't tell me that a consultant who keeps people in a room for eight hours without major breaks because he doesn't want to waste time is getting his message across effectively. In fact, he's doing just the opposite: He's alienating the group he's been hired to reach. These were young, aggressive professionals who were ready to listen to what he said, but they couldn't get through the first day without tuning him out at various points. An effective communicator knows his audience; he also knows a way to communicate so that his audience comes away with some sort of understanding of what he is delivering.

I try to boil down everything I say so that a five-year-old can understand it. That's the surest way I know to get your message to stick.

You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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