Moment of Truth

There is a magical moment before the curtain rises, or a speaker steps to the microphone. Before a word is uttered, the audience willingly suspends their disbelief and opens up. Tony Award winner Frank Galati believes it lasts less than thirty seconds. Once the show unfolds, the audience decides. They either enroll or resist.

Yesterday in Chicago, the CEO from a global company stepped up to give a keynote. Everyone sat transfixed, waiting to hear his perspective. He runs one of the largest, most successful operations in the world. He manages a brand known in the farthest reaches of civilization. In the audience were elected officials from around the world, people who can affect his destiny in local markets. It is a golden moment. What does he do? He presents a forty minute commercial for his company. No insights on trends, no market analysis, no pithy remarks. Punctuating his comments were actual TV ads from the company. Five 30 second spots in total. The buzz that evening was downright hostile toward him and his company.

We often underestimate these opportunities to make a human connection. It can be tough to remember that business isn’t life–it’s part of life. The business community is like any other tribe–it has its own customs and oral history that give it meaning. I had the pleasure of working with Jack Welch last year, and he used his status as a business legend to convey powerful, intimate lessons about the struggles he faced growing GE. People were changed by the experience.

In those moments when people gather to hear speakers, we in the business world have an obligation to our audiences to make meaning. As Seth Godin aptly blogged, “Big groups are perfect places for the efficient communication of emotion.” That pendulum of emotion can swing either way.