I can’t decide which ad from this year’s Super Bowl I like best: the Tide ad with the shirt stain that looks like Joe Montana or the one where the guy considers selling his soul to the Devil in exchange for a Mercedes-Benz.
But to my mind, neither comes close to what some consider the greatest Super Bowl ad of all time: the Coca-Cola ad starring Pittsburgh Steeler "Mean" Joe Greene that aired during the 1980 big game.
We can all learn about connecting with audiences from that ad, which still pulls on my heartstrings (If you haven’t seen it lately, it has 1.8 million hits on YouTube).
It’s all about the story
Perhaps the most important point is that stories grab our attention. That story of how a little boy offers a Coke to a big mean football player never seems to get old.
Last week, a senior executive of one of my clients told a wonderful story of how one of his employees came to him with a personal problem and together they worked it out. As he was telling the story, I looked around the room and saw that everyone was riveted.
All the best presentations have stories.
Short stories are better
I love the economy of the Mean Joe ad. It lasts one minute. It includes a few lines of dialogue. Yet it tells a wonderful tale of a child finding a way to connect with an intimidating football player.
Many stories in presentations last too long. Those stories usually have irrelevant details. One of my pet peeves is when people telling a story describe the physical act of making a phone call. "Then I called him up to ask him why he made that decision. When he picked up the telephone he told me … ."
No one cares about the physical act of using a telephone. Just tell us what you told the guy.
Cut your stories in half. They’ll usually be twice as good.
Make the story’s point clear
The point of the Mean Joe ad is that Coca-Cola makes you happy. To make sure you get the point, the final frame of the ad says in big letters, "Have a Coke and a Smile."
Unlike the ad, however, many presenters assume the audience will get the point of a story. That’s a mistake. If you tell a story about how your approach will save the client money, end with the point: "This approach will save you a lot of money."
The climax of the ad comes when "Mean" Joe gives the kid his jersey. The kid says, "Wow, thanks Mean Joe!" And Green flashes a big smile. For me, the smile is the moment where I get goose bumps.
One of the best ways to connect with an audience is to smile. This is something that I had to work on. When I first left law practice for the public speaking business, my coach told me, "Your biggest problem as a speaker is your face." She meant that I never smiled. So I practiced in front of a mirror.
I worked on smiling so much that my face hurt.
It takes practice if you want to connect like Mean Joe Greene.