Shut up and say something intelligent.

Written by

Andrew Millar


March 8, 2007

Somebody once paid me a great compliment at the end of a very long and difficult meeting. He said, “I like you. You sit like one of those Easter Island statues for the whole meeting and every now and then come out with something that’s spot on”.

He’s right – I don’t say much in meetings. I like to make full and total use of the most effective communication tool I have – my ears.

Over the years though, I’ve found in most meeting situations Advertising Agencies try and twist a client into fitting into their way of thinking. They try and lead a conversation down a particular path. Their path. Often the wrong path.

Let me explain….

Journalism these days, particularly air media journalists, are not interested in finding the truth of a situation. They engineer questions to generate a sound grab – that 10-second twist that is simply meant to ignite, not clarify a situation. So, to politicians for example, they ask the same question over and over again. ‘Have you considered Nuclear Power?’ ‘Is Nuclear Power part of your strategy for the future?’ ‘Are you investigating Nuclear Power as an option?’ ‘How viable is Nuclear Power?’ ‘If you were to consider Nuclear Power, in which state would you put the reactor?’
And so on until the politician storms out in frustration. Which, by the way provides tomorrow’s headline… ‘Minister storms out of Nuclear Power press conference.’ The fact he originally wanted to talk about education is not mentioned.

Then look at Andrew Denton, whom I greatly admire. He has no set agenda of questions. He starts with rough categories of thought he wishes to follow, knowing full well they will lead directly to the truth. He is well prepared. His researchers have briefed him on every aspect, but he is prepared to listen to the answers given before his brain engages his mouth.

By being interested and involved in what a client is saying, we can often draw out quite remarkable and intimate facts. But this can only take place if your goal is to understand, not prove a point about yourself.

What can you learn from a client if you are too busy thinking about what you are going to tell them next?

Are you a brusque interrogator or an exploring conversationalist?

So simple.

So obvious.

So often ignored.

Thank you Michael Parkinson. I’ve learned a lot.