The Four Powerful Words

A simple phrase that gets attention. Even after all these years.

At my first agency job, I used to be amazed at this old pro account executive who seemed to be able to get appointments with any potential client, media executive, or even the busiest creative person whenever he needed to. After trying to figure out his secret for a few weeks, I finally asked how he did it.

"I have an idea," he said. 'Why don't we meet in the conference room at 4pm and I'll show you."

I changed my schedule and was there at four.

He walked in, stuck a Post-It note on the table, and walked out.

"That's it?" I asked.

"That's it," he said.

The note:

"I have an idea."

I followed him back to his office. "There's gotta be more to it than that."

"There is," he said. "But that's the foundation. The four most powerful words in the English language. But be careful how you use them."

"How so?"

"I got you to come to the conference room at a time I suggested because you believed I had something important for you. If I hadn't delivered on this promise, what would you think of me? You have to do your homework before you can honestly tell someone you have an idea that can help them."

"You did homework before you wrote a four-word note?"

"Actually, you did it for me. You asked me how I got appointments. I knew the problem you wanted to solve. And by telling you I had an idea solving it, I had your attention."

"So it starts with a problem?"

"If it makes you feel better to call it a challenge or opportunity, that's OK too. But you can get anyone to listen if you have a way for them to accomplish what they want to do."

He had me. But it still sounded hokey and too easy. We'd all read Dale Carnegie's book, and knew his "If I had a way to make your life easier, you'd want to know about it, wouldn't you," line. But I gave it a shot anyway.

"I have an idea" worked. It still works. It's worked in letters, headlines, casual conversations, websites, and virtually anywhere else that it's been tried.

However, "I have an idea" only works if:

1. You have done your homework and know what problem the audience has and needs to solve. This is the part that's not easy. It can take a lot of research and discussion before you're ready to use the four powerful words. If you have what you think is a good idea and try to force it into a solution, you'll go down in flames. It has to be truly relevant.

2. You can prove you have a possible solution.

3. You follow through with the product or service to make it actually happen.

My mentor had one more bit of advice for me:

"Good communications almost always is simple. But it's not necessarily easy."

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