When’s the Best Time to Stop Talking?


This is the 49th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.

Probably now.
A story is told about FDR when he was a young lawyer.
He heard his opponent summarize a case before the jury in an eloquent, emotional, but lengthy appeal.
Sensing the jury was restless, FDR is reported to have said, “You have heard the evidence. You have also listened to a brilliant orator. If you believe him, and disbelieve the evidence, you will decide in his favor.
That’s all I have to say.”
He won.
Overstate and bore.
Understate and score.
When a baseball umpire says, “Strike three!”
he doesn’t have to add, “Yer out.”
That’s what strike three means.

I’m a big believer in only saying as much as is necessary, and no more.

If I finish a class 10 minutes early, I feel no need to keep talking just to fill the time. Class is over, and everybody’s happy.

I also tell my students when they are answering a short essay question on a test to keep it brief. However, I’ve found that’s hard for many students to do.  I often find that students will answer a question correctly, but then they feel a need to keep writing (to fill the space), and as a result the odds start growing that they are going to write something that is incorrect. If only they had stopped a few sentences ago.

And I think the ad above is guilty of going just a bit too far. Gray should have ended his ad before he brings up the baseball umpire.

It seems as if today simply calling strike three is often not enough for some umpires; many of them seem to like to add some dramatic body language as well. Such a move seems to almost ridicule the player who has just struck out, as if he doesn’t already feel bad enough.

And think of all the excessive celebration that often takes place after a touchdown. Has everyone forgotten Coach Vince Lombardi’s quote?

Next time you make a touchdown, act like you’ve been there before.

After you score a touchdown, that’s the best time to stop talking. You’ve made your point.

And it’s just not the world of sports has such examples.

I think another good time to stop talking is when the bell goes off at a Presidential debate; but as we’ve all seen, no one adheres to that rule.

If our potential leaders don’t know when to stop talking, what hope do the rest of us have, particularly when there’s no bell telling us to stop?

But I think most of us intuitively know when it’s time to stop, hence I’ll end this post here.


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