You can learn a lot from a 12-year-old

A few weeks ago I was trapped in off-site hell: a two-day series of meetings consisting mostly of PowerPoint presentations.

You can learn a lot from a 12-year-old

A few weeks ago I was trapped in off-site hell: a two-day series of meetings consisting mostly of PowerPoint presentations.

I'm continually shocked at how bad most of these are. The notion that a series of slides depicting texted bullet points presented in a dimly lit, oxygen-deprived conference room can enhance delivery of a complex message is truly ludicrous. And yet the tradition plods on.

One of the most cogent communicators I ever met was a shirtless 12-year-old boy from Alabama. He taught me that effective communications does not depend on eloquence or detailed content. Instead, he reinforced that it is vital to hone a core message and, once you do, reinforce it at every opportunity. And finally, he made it clear how effective it can be to incorporate drama, entertainment, and compelling visuals.

We were at a family reunion in Gulf Shores, AL, with two dozen or so cousins, siblings, nephews, and nieces. After a few days of mini golf, go-karts, schlocky souvenir shops, and family drama, we went fishing off one of the big stone piers that jutted into the Atlantic.

We rented rods, reels, and foul-smelling bait, and sauntered out to the edge of the pier where the fish were biting. All was going well until my niece hooked a scary-looking stingray, about 12 inches long, and asked me to take it off the hook. I, of course, had neither the desire, the capacity, nor the inclination to touch the slimy thing, partly because of the creepiness factor, but mostly because I was worried about the dreaded stinger.

That's when Cody appeared. Skinny, barefoot, and wearing overalls, he had clearly spent many hours plying the ocean piers and seemed keenly adept in all the attendant arts, including hook removal.

"Hey mister," Cody said with a deep Southern twang, "y'all need some help with that ray?"

I immediately handed him the rod, squirming stingray still attached. He quickly got down to business. I quickly noted his remarkable presentation skills.

Cody immediately engaged his audience by addressing our urgent concerns and fears.

"If you're worried about gettin' stung, the first thing you gotta do is stun-slap the fish," he said immediately before swinging the poor ray face down on the concrete pier with a big splat.

"Then," he paused for dramatic effect, "you gotta step on it and cut the tail off." He motioned to his administrative assistant (his little brother) to step on the stunned ray and immobilize it. With dramatic flair, Cody pulled a knife from his back pocket and gruesomely began to saw off the ray's tail.

I was horrified, but enthralled as he detached the tail from the ray while a small crowd gathered to admire his work. He then held up the bloody tail and pointed to a large barb sticking out of its slimy underside.

"You see that stinger?" Cody inquired. We nodded in awe.

"You know what happens when you touch that thing," he went on. "Automatic hospital."

With two words, Cody captured his core message and created a catch phrase my family has used ever since.

I think about the concept of Automatic Hospital in corporate life all the time.

If you're thinking about cheating a little bit on your expense report: Automatic Hospital.

If you're tempted to interrupt the CEO in the middle of a rant: Automatic Hospital.

If you're inclined to ignore the repeated paperwork requests from corporate accounting: Automatic Hospital.

Perhaps Cody is available for our next off-site gathering.

Don Spetner is EVP, corporate affairs at executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International.

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