In my basement archives, ran across a snarling little piece this wiseguy wrote 17 years ago for a communication trade newsletter, now long defunct.
Fun to read again—and still relevant enough. —DM
At the IABC International Conference in late June , several communication consultants found the height of their art form. They purported to teach audiences how to become more strategic. Along the way, they gave us a step-by-step guide to reducing capable adults who generally can solve their own problems to children who need grown-ups to do their thinking for them. Grown-ups who happen, of course, to be communication consultants.
Step One. At the outset, tell the audience this is not a “how-to” session, adding that if they came here for practical tips, they’re in the wrong room. Use your body language—turning on a heel and looking at your PowerPoint is good—to suggest that the right room for them is probably a high school woodshop.
Step Two. Ask lots of Socratic questions that have any number of right answers, but only one that’s in your head. Hand out children’s toys for correct answers and withhold children’s toys for incorrect answers, or answers that aren’t “what I’m looking for.” (At IABC, one consultant spent five minutes quizzing the group on the meaning of his own murky session title, “Pat Your Head, Rub Your Tummy and Whistle Through the Leadership Graveyard.” To those who came up with good interpretations of the title, he gave out blue and red kazoos.)
Step Three. As soon as you sense the audience is tired of guessing at the answers to your dumb questions, demonstrate that you feel sorry for them by pandering to their usual complaints. Talk like a commoner: “We’re in a war with the operating people, and we ain’t winnin’.”
Step Four. Lest the audience members begin to think your empathy with their plight means you and they are equals, work in the Japanese term for wasted effort: muda. This will remind them that you are far more learned and sophisticated than they.
Step Five. Now that you’ve got them in the proper position—they know you know their troubles, but that you are far above them—you may give them a choice. Graciously inform them that they don’t have to embrace the visionary view that you are about to impart. Furthermore, tell them: “It’s probably not for everyone.” Suggest with all your body language that the types of people who may not want to embrace your vision are the simple-minded and the lazy.
Step Six. Now it’s time to share your vision. Just kidding! If you shared your vision, these drudges would understand the durn thing, and then would have no reason to hire you. No. Now is the time to name-drop your clients—or, better still, refer to them as “a major Fortune 500 manufacturing firm.” Then, talk about what incredible things you have done for them, rattling off dozens of huge numbers of millions you have saved them, ROI you have generated for them and some of the nice things top management there has said about you and your ability to remove the muda from their lives. (But be falsely humble: It’s never “I” saved the client money, it’s always “we,” even if you’re a sole practitioner—nay, especially if are a sole practitioner. And actually, it’s never “we” saved the company money, it’s “we worked with the communication staff to save the company money.”)
Step Seven. You’re doing great. At this point, you have humiliated the audience, you have stroked them on the cheek, you have amazed them, you have divided them and you have numbed them. But you’re not done yet! What are you forgetting? (If you said, “fear,” you get a kazoo!) Now talk about all the change that’s happening in the world and suggest that, by embracing your vision, they won’t wind up on skid row. Say, “I don’t want any of us to be victims.”
Step Eight. By now, you have made your audience very dumb and emotionally paralyzed. You must remind them once more that they have a choice: They can do a strategic, “surgical” work that helps move the organization forward, or they can keep on with their current activities, which you should characterize glamorously as “cranking out Internet stuff,” “doing videos” or “getting out brochures.”
Step Nine. You must take questions. As Henry Kissinger once told reporters at a press conference, “I hope your questions match my answers.” In case a communicator’s question doesn’t match one of your answers, say that you do not have all the answers (and, with a shrug, imply that you have no idea where they would have gotten such a notion). Now, state that this vision stuff requires thinking on the part of the communicator. The communicator will quickly come to understand that his or her weak mind is to blame for not having the foggiest idea what it is that you propose communicators should do differently based on your talk. Remind them what you told them in the beginning: This is not a woodshop.
Follow all these steps, and you’ll leave most members of the audience ashamed to be alive, and sure of but one thing: Only the one who made them feel this bad can make them feel good again.