What do the last mile and the last minute have in common?

Being close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and slow dancing

In logistics — be it FedEx, UPS or online juggernauts like Amazon — success or failure depends on the package reaching its designated target, which can be the most costly and complicated element of the logistics equation. If the delivery address is missed by as little as a few blocks, it’s effectively the same as missing by 1,000 miles.

In communications, the last 60 seconds of a discussion or presentation are when those present either understand the message and what is suppose to happen next or leave wondering, “What was up with that?”

The commonality between the mile and the minute is that what occurs at the end is what counts.
There is a simple formula to ensure that almost everybody in a gathering gets the key elements of the message and how it affects them going forward.

It’s a concept called primacy-recency, which I’ve written about in this space in the past, but it’s probably time for a refresher. The fact is, most people, even if they’re not giving their full attention, will remember the last thing said.

Ever notice that when President Donald Trump wants to underscore a point he will, immediately after making a comment, repeat the keyword or words with a modifier, such as “sad,” and then say, “very sad”? Whether or not you like his style and politics, the technique he uses can be an effective method when used sparingly, helping to ensure the point is made.

People are multitaskers and keeping them tuned in is always a challenge. In meetings and speeches, most attendees’ minds wander periodically as they think about their next meeting or meal.

The solution to circumventing this deficit is for the speaker or chair to meticulously prepare, effectively deliver — in most cases with some degree of drama to keep people interested — and tactically structure that last minute of the talk to maximize the likelihood that the intended message is remembered.

We can take a lesson from effective journalism where the writer summarizes the key points in the opening paragraph by using an inverted pyramid technique that includes the five Ws: who, what, when, where and why. This technique is employed by journalists because even if the reader doesn’t read any further, he or she at least should have a general grasp of what’s being reported.

A presentation should conclude with an easy-to-comprehend summary using the journalists’ inverted pyramid. And, to underscore the point, try repeating a key phrase or a few words in immediate succession, such as “Sad, very sad.” Or, even more preferably, something positive, like “Good, very good.”

Remember: Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and slow dancing. In the last mile, if that package misses its target, the costly previous steps to get it there will have been for naught. After a meeting ends, if everyone leaves scratching their heads, you’ll have troubles down the road. Success requires clarity, impactfulness and understanding so all know the destination — including FedEx and UPS drivers.

Michael Feuer, co-founded OfficeMax and in 16-years, as CEO, grew the retailer to sales of
$5 billion in 1,000 stores worldwide.