A Lesson From Arnold Schwarzenegger

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Watching Arnold Schwarzenegger on ABC's This Week, I was reminded of the New Yorker cartoon that's been on the wall of my office for the past fifteen years. It shows a bearded professor talking to a middle age couple at a garden party. The caption on the cartoon reads, "I can't put it into layman's language for you. I don't know any layman's language."

We may laugh at professors with their academic language, but I've seen the same kind of thing in my coaching of executives from business, government and the professions. People become so used to talking to their peers who understand their jargon and nomenclature that they use the same arcane language when they speak to a non-expert audience or are interviewed by a reporter.

A friend of mine who has been an accountant, auditor and controller on his way to becoming the Chief Financial Officer of an electric utility, describes the process. "When you go to work for a company," he says, "You take on their communication terms or you don't survive. The people around you talk 'geek' and you talk 'geek' right back at them." The problem comes when geek talkers attempt to communicate with the rest of us. They know the "geek" language of there profession, but not how to explain it to non-techies. That's where Arnold comes in.

On ABC's This Week, the California Governor might have gone into an involved philosophical argument about why he thinks Republicans should work with Democrats to solve the economic crisis, but instead, he used an analogy.

"I see that as kind of like, you go to a doctor. The doctor examines you and says 'you have cancer.' What you want to do at that point, you want to see this team of doctors around you have their act together and are very clear and say 'this is what we need to do,' rather than to see a bunch of doctors fighting in front of you, arguing about the treatment. That is the worst thing. It creates insecurity in the patient. The same is with the people in America. It creates insecurity when you have the two parties always arguing and attacking each other rather than coming together and saying to the American people, 'here?s the recipe. It's going to be tough, but here's what we need to do for the next two years and we both believe in it.' That will bring calmness to the market."

Whether or not you accept the Governor's analysis, I think you'll agree that his analogy helped him communicate it effectively. Whenever you're interviewed by a reporter or making a presentation to people outside of your area of expertise, you should do the same. If you take the time to come up with a simple analogy to explain your complicated subject, there's a much better chance that people will understand what your saying and accept your recommendations.  

A lesson from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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