The 15th century French mathematician and religious philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote, “Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.” This loosely translates to, “The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter.” A more literal translation is: “I was too lazy to pull together my thoughts in advance, so you will have to sort through the jumble of ideas I am about to share with you.”
As Pascal points out, it usually takes people (even a mathematical genius) longer to gather and organize their thoughts than it does to simply communicate them in a Joycian, stream-of-consciousness manner. Such lack of preparedness requires less effort, but it seldom results in effective communication.
High-tech marketing guru Richard St. John clearly understood this principle as well. However, unlike Pascal, Mr. St. John invested the necessary time to ensure that his 2006 talk at the TED Conference was succinct and highly impactful. Over a seven-year period, he interviewed over 500 very successful people in order to answer this question posed to him by a high school student: “What leads to success?”
Rather than investing the majority of his time creating a legion of dazzling PowerPoint slides, Richard first focused his efforts on distilling his thoughts. In doing so, he was able to answer the high school student’s very broad question via a handful of simple, graphically rich slides that he could comfortably present in approximately three minutes. As recommended in Presentation Tips From The World Of Comedy, Mr. St. John effectively integrated humor into his discussion, while not distracting from the ultimate punch line of his talk.
Mr. St. John’s pithy presentation is particularly compelling because he leaves the audience wanting to hear more, rather than anxiously shifting in their chairs, wondering when his presentation will end. Clearly a seasoned presenter, he avoids all of the mistakes outlined in How To Give A Horrendous Investor Pitch, including subjecting his audience to “death by PowerPoint.”
Mr. St. John’s eight things that lead to success are described below:
He later expounded upon his brief talk in the book, 8 To Be Great.
- Work – it is not really work if you “work” to make it fun
- Good – practice your art so that you are very, very good
- Push – work through challenges, including self-doubt
- Serve – identify what you can “serve” that others will value
- Persist – especially when faced with failure or CRAP (Criticism, Rejection, Assholes and Pressure)
It is not the presence of one, two or even a few of these traits which will lead to success. Rather, it is the combination of all these factors, consistently executed in concert over an extended period, which leads to personal and professional success.
I strongly encourage you to watch Mr. St. John’s presentation. Not only is it inspirational in its own right, it is also phenomenal proof that you really can say more when you take the time to say less. Mr. Pascal, take note.
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