Seven Seconds to Make Your Point

Have you ever been thrown off your rhythm in a conversation with someone else? Perhaps you’re in a meeting and trying to make a point, someone interrupts with a comedic quip, others laugh, and you have a tough time recovering. You come across stumped or stiff.

Okay, so if if hasn’t happened to you, maybe you’ve seen it happen to “a friend of yours.”

In a recent interview with Alan Alda, Neil deGrasse Tyson shared how he prepped for his first interview with Jon Steward. His approach was smart and helpful for dealing with similar situations in the workplace.

On my very first invitation to Jon Stewart when he was on The Daily Show, he’s a comedian, he’s smart. He’s very current events literate. Famous for having people, deer in the headlights, the politician would want to come and want to give their boilerplate, and he would ask them questions through the backdoor, around the side, and they would just be stumped. I said, I am not going to be stumped. And he’d be throwing comedic quips in the middle, and people would be stumbling over the comedic quips. I said, that is not going to happen to me. I watch a series of his shows. I timed how many seconds he would give you to talk before he would interrupt with a comedic quip.

It was about seven seconds. Yeah. One, two, three, four, five, six, about seven. That was the average. Of course, there was variation.

I said, I’ve got to put out a soundbite that fits in seven seconds, then he interrupts it with the quip, and then we have the funny quip and a complete thought that are on the table. I’m not going back trying to fill it in, I’m not flustered that I didn’t get my point across. The rhythm of the host is everything. Otherwise, you’re going to go there and just give your boilerplate. You don’t fit in with the moment.

Brilliant preparation! Know your audience. Prepare and plan. Adjust your style accordingly. Fit in with the moment.