Once upon a time long ago, I worked for the CEO (lets' call him Big Boss) of a very large corporation. One of my jobs was to develop presentations for him to deliver to employees, customers, investors and others interested in learning more about the company. One day, as he was reviewing a presentation, he turned to me, pointed to the screen and said, "What is that!!!?"
"What is what?" I asked.
"What is that word?" he replied.
Apparently, I had used a word he thought was a bit too sophisticated. Big Boss said, "You been spendin' too much time in New-York-City with them (translated: those) eggheads. Quit puttin' them fancy words in my presentations!"
You should know at this point, Big Boss was a very well educated, super-intelligent fellow. Although he was from a small southern town, he completed his graduate studies at a very prestigious university...well above the Mason-Dixon line. I suspect he was using the vernacular form of expression for effect to make a lasting impression on an uppity fancy-word-using subordinate.
He then advised me, "Son...when I'm talking to folks, I like to stay down where the goats eat the grass!"
In response, I began laughing hysterically! It would have been a real milk-through-the-nose moment for me...if I had just taken a drink of milk.
Anyhow, although I too am from a small southern town, I was neither familiar with that particular saying nor the eating habits of barnyard animals. Since Big Boss was very blunt speaking and detail-minded, he never hesitated to fully elaborate on his ideas...in great detail. In the interest of time, I'll summarize his main three observations.
"Now Chris...cows will eat the grass down to here." To illustrate, he held his hands vertically positioned about four inches apart and a few inches from my face.
"Sheep will eat the grass down to here." He moved his hands closer, perhaps two inches apart.
"But the goats...the goats eat the grass right down to the ground!" He then slapped his hands together inches from my face to emphasize his goat-eating point. For those of you familiar with the courtroom scene in the movie My Cousin Vinnie...think of the body language that accompanied the word "i-den-ti-cal."
Big Boss rarely left it up to you to grasp the full meaning of his teachable moments...so he continued his instructive feedback, "You need to get your head straight, keep your feet on the ground and keep your words on the ground when preparing my presentations. Do you understand?"
The worst part of being on the receiving end of his tirades was that he was almost always right. His ability to glean profound lessons from ordinary, garden-variety events never failed to amaze me.
Einstein said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well." One trick-of-the-trade is to use headlining to clarify and simplify your thoughts. When explaining a complex topic, begin with a headline just like those in magazines and newspapers. Try to articulate your message in ten words or less if possible, and then follow with details as necessary. And if you are on the other side of things and having difficulty understanding someone, simply say, "Would you headline that for me?"
So...after all these words to explain this idea, here is my headline: Communicate clearly using straightforward words. Or in Big Boss' terms: Get down where the goats eat the grass!