Many of you wrote to me with kind words and appreciation after my recent post on the advice I received from my mentor, General William Odom. The feedback reminded me of another lesson I thought I’d pass along. In his Tennessee accent and kind but husky voice, he gave me an invaluable tip on how to tell an effective story, write a paper, frame a business presentation, or give a speech. In short, he told me how to communicate anything and make it memorable. Now, I’m going to share his advice with you.
I remember sitting in General Odom’s office one cold and rainy afternoon during professor’s office hours. I had come to him for guidance on how to structure a paper I was researching. After hearing me out, he looked me in the eye, and with his cigar hanging off to the side of his mouth, he shared what may be the simplest but most valuable lesson of writing I’ve ever received.
With a big grin, he said: “Josh, it’s simple. Just think about the Baptist minister.” I looked at him in utter confusion but knew to wait for the explanation. A moment later, he asked me to think about the great orators of Southern churches and the cadence and structure of their sermons. He mentioned Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Graham, and other great preachers of celebrity who happened to be Baptist ministers. Now that I had the image in mind, he made it all so simple:
“First, you tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then, you tell them. Finally, you tell them what you told them.”
You can use this advice and the image of a minister when you tell a story, write a paper, or give a speech (try it on a wedding toast!). You can share it with your employees and even your kids when they need help structuring their words.
There, I just told you what I was going to tell you about General Odom’s advice for communicating. Then, I told you the advice. Finally, I’m telling you what I told you.
Next time you write something, “Think about the Baptist minister.” This simple image might help you structure your communications to be more powerful, clear, and memorable.
Artwork: Georgia W. Dick