Clear Comm Consulting

You can’t saw sawdust; Lessons from a master communicator

Oct 1, 2004

Sit down with “Swim with the Sharks” author Harvey MacKay for 10 minutes and he’ll rattle off at least 10 stories. It seems he’s never forgotten one, and the more than 10 million books he’s sold around the world back that up. But there’s more. He’s a sought-after speaker who started his speech life even before the book writing. With that combined background (besides running a multi-million dollar envelope company) he seemed like the perfect person to talk to for the Monthly Memo.

Harvey’s current book, “We Got Fired! … And It’s the best Thing That Ever Happened to Us,” is a collection of stories from well-known people explaining how getting fired was a good thing, often a very good thing.

From Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus to New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, the stories pour forth. So what is Harvey’s ultimate advice for anyone who gets the ax?

1.) Be prepared. Graduates these days can expect three career changes, not just job changes, before they reach retirement age.

2.) Don’t take it personally … you can’t saw sawdust … it’s over, move on and learn from it.

3.) Get a “kitchen cabinet” together to tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear.

While career advice is the focus of this book, Harvey often talks about the importance of communication skills for anyone who wants to lead … no matter how big or small the scale of leadership may be. For the best pearl of wisdom on public communication I went back to Harvey’s first book, “Swim with the Sharks.”

“Most successful people are good on their feet. We’re an information society, so the ability to transmit that information in an intelligent, succinct, and persuasive manner is about as valuable a skill as anyone can possess. ‘Brilliant but inarticulate,’ may be a description that would apply to a nuclear physicist but not to any head honcho corporate types I know. They’re brilliant and articulate.”

And what is Harvey’s advice for getting a live audience to hear your message loud and clear? He provides 11 keys to winning an audience, including asking who spoke to the group recently and how they were received. Who was the most successful or memorable speaker to address this group? And how can I personalize my remarks to have the greatest impact with this audience?

Great point. How many times have you been asked to speak before a group and realized you know very little about them? Or how many times has a speaker breezed into the room moments before they took the podium, having made no connection with audience members ahead of time?

The number one commandment for any successful communicator?

“Know Thy Audience!”

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected]

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

Advice on How to Connect in Business