Who said?

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

I always associated that line with someone in the entertainment business—P.T. Barnum or one of the old Hollywood studio heads. But before I threw it into my recent post about the questions Brian Grazer asks, I thought I’d better Google it. And the answer just knocked me off my feet.

The original source seems to be John Lydgate, a 15th century English monk whose day job involved writing poetry for Kings Henry IV through VI. Working at court, he undoubtedly led a cushier life than he would have in his Benedictine monastery. But it’s a tough gig when you think about it: What rhymes with “Henry”?

So Brother Lydgate coined the phrase but it have resonated most for Americans when someone who knew a thing or two about displeasing people put his own spin on it. No, not P.T. Barnum (well, maybe) or Mark Twain (also maybe, per the internet):

Abraham Lincoln:

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Sadly, he did not say this in a State of the Union address—or anything else we could consider a primary source. According to the interwebs, it appeared in a book called Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories: A Complete Collection of the Funny and Witty Anecdotes That Made Abraham Lincoln Famous as America’s Greatest Story Teller, written by his biographer, Alexander McClure.

I don’t usually trust those quotation compilations—especially if they’re intended to burnish a legend. But I would definitely use the Lincoln quotation for one of my clients, with the proper caveats.


“The simplest questions are the best”

How does movie producer Brian Grazer—he’s “in the feelings business,” remember—get to the heart of an idea?

In his book, A Curious Mind, he offers three questions. As you might have guessed from the title of this post, they’re simple questions. And I agree with Grazer: the simpler the question, the better.

“What kind of movie is Grinch?”

Obviously we’re adapting this question. Most companies are not in the business of making movies—especially not movies about the beloved children’s book How the Grinch Stole Christmas. But every time you stand in front of an audience to speak, every time you sit down at your keyboard to write, you’ve got to be clear about what kind of message you want to deliver. Is it celebratory? Somber? Informative? Inspirational? Your answer to the “what kind of” question will shape your theme.

“What story are we telling?”

Make no mistake about it: Everything is a story. Stories are the basic units of how we make sense of the world.

If you don’t present your thoughts as a story, your listeners will shape them into one. And their story may be very different than yours. I suspect that’s not what you want.

“What feeling are we trying to convey, especially when the audience is going to arrive with their own set of feelings about the story?”

I almost truncated that last question to “What feeling are we trying to convey?” After all, people aren’t going to enter your business meeting with an attachment to your story that stretches back to when they were a sleepy tot in footie PJs. (Probably.) But don’t assume they’re completely blank slates, either. No one is.

Say you’re rebranding and as part of that you’re going to change your logo. You’ll have people who hate the existing logo, so they’ll be happy. You have people who love the existing logo so much they’ve had it tattooed on their arms. Happy? Not so much. And people will have the same reactions to the new logo—some will love it, some will hate it, some may see it as eating up a good chunk of earnings that could have gone into their bonus check. Even people who just joined your organization that very day will walk in with their own feelings—maybe the old logo was what drew their attention to your company in the first place.

The point is, no one is a blank slate—about anything. But if you go in knowing that, your speech is not just going to be a celebratory “Ta-da! here’s our new logo!” Instead you’ll make it a persuasive “Who we are today is [insert adjectives of your choice]. This new logo is the visual representation of that.”

Three simple questions to help you shape a powerful message.

And if you’re interested in learning more about storytelling, I’d be happy to send you my free e-book, What’s the Story?

“The feelings business”

Ask Brian Grazer what he does for a living and he won’t tell you he’s a movie producer. He certainly won’t mention his Academy Award. He’ll say, “I’m in the feelings business.”

That’s what he told me last week—well, not in person. On the phone. Well, no, Grazer didn’t call me. I was using my phone to listen to James Altucher’s podcast interview of him.

Still, Grazer might have called me. Because he’s famous for talking to people, and not just celebrities—anyone he hears about and finds fascinating. I’m fascinating; just ask my dog Fenway. So it’s only a matter of time.

Meanwhile, Grazer shares insights from many of his conversations in his book A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, which is a serious contender to be the next thing I read. Nope; it just won.

Yes, I’m writing about the book even before I read it because Grazer said something in his interview with Altucher that I couldn’t wait to write about—that thing about being in the “feelings business.” Grazer distilled his career down to its very essence in just a few words—and you know I’m a sucker for that kind of communication skill.

What does Grazer see as the most important aspect of his work? Not that he oversees billion-dollar budgets and thousands of people. Not that he works with A-list stars and genius actors. Not that he creates memorable, award-winning movies and TV shows.

No, the most important thing is what those movies and TV shows create: feelings. Arrested Development stays with us because it made us laugh—and think; A Beautiful Mind stays with us because it made us cry—and think.

By that measure, I’m in the feelings business too. (So we’re already colleagues. Call me, Bri; let’s do lunch.) And so are my clients, at least for the duration of the speeches they deliver or the bylined articles we write.

I know I’ve said this before, and you can bet I’ll say it again:

Feelings connect us with people.

They’re the secret password that lets you into the private club in your audience’s hearts and minds. If you want to be remembered, you have to be real. You have to make them feel something.

It’s not always easy to convince a Type A executive to do that. But if people have given up their time to sit in an audience and listen to you speak, or to watch a video of your speech, or to read what you (and your trusty writer) have taken the time to write—then you have an obligation to give them something real in return.

The “feelings business”—we should all be in it.