The client was near the top of his organization, and he didn’t get there by being sentimental or affectionate. He was the kind who chewed his cigars rather than smoking them, and couldn’t understand why his secretary wouldn’t pick up his dry cleaning.
His sense of humor apparently was so dry, so offbeat, that his underlings agonized over what he meant. Was he kidding when he said such and such, or was he serious? They analyzed every word and gesture for hidden meaning.
I worked with him on a couple of speeches, and he asked me to just do a bit of research and provide talking points—facts and phrases to prompt his remarks. My minimal involvement was just as well, because he was known for ad libbing and going off on cryptic tangents that led to more rounds of head scratching and dissection.
When his boss announced he was retiring, the client asked for help with remarks for the farewell reception.
This time, he said, he wanted it all spelled out, in full sentences in paragraph form. And I should lay it on thick, with lots of buzzwords like synergistic leadership, game changing visionary, and value added integrity.
He might have even suggested that I add that this man was the first to observe that there is no “I” in team. If I got stuck, I could just buy up all the relevant cards at the Hallmark store and throw the words in there.
“You see,” the client said in a low voice, “I hate that son of a bitch.”
Later, I heard that he stuck faithfully to the script. If he thought everyone would understand that he was being sarcastic and bombastic, he was wrong. This time, his message was clear, and the audience was riveted.
The subject’s wife wasn’t the only one dabbing away tears by the time he finished.
The client’s hatred had focused his mind, and he gave the only brilliant speech of his career that I know of. And then he was promoted to the position of the man he despised.
--Ann Kellett, Ph.D.
Ann Kellett Editing