It’s hard to believe, but this week it’s been five years since the legendary Chicago Superjock Larry Lujack died. Broadcasters, bloggers and social media posters are revisiting their memories.

If Larry were still around, he’d say the headline for those pieces should be “Larry Lujack: Still Dead.” “Sardonic” was one of the words they always used to describe him.

If you’re not a Midwesterner, you may not be familiar with the Charming and Delightful Ol’ Uncle Lar. Larry Lujack was a huge presence in Chicago radio from the 60’s to the late 80’s, when there was still music on AM, and a handful of stations dominated the ratings.

I worked with Lujack at WLS in the ‘80s at the dawn of the ensemble morning show that quickly became the standard across the dial. (Story for another time: the day the program director called us in and said, “We want Larry to interface with the news people.” Interface, schminterface. Larry didn’t want to chitchat with anyone!)

All these years later, people still ask, “What was it like, working with Larry Lujack?” “How was Larry when the mic was off?” “Was Larry really as grumpy as he seemed?”

I often talk about how much Lujack influenced me. And I frequently use what I learned from him, now, in my work as a speaker and coach.

It’s worth another look at those lessons and how they can help you have more impact when you talk about your work.

The Story

You can attend workshops, read books, and hire coaches to become a better storyteller. Story is all the rage in marketing; there’s even an advertising agency that calls itself Story…because, they say, interruption marketing is over. The way to reach your people now is with your story.

If you offer a service or product you’re supposed to have a story to go with it. The assumption is that the rest of the world is dying to hear your story.

Here’s the thing. Most stories are boring. Because they’re badly told.

Larry was a master of the story. For one, he had good material to work with; he spent hours searching for the right people and events and, of course, animals to talk about. (With a little help from his friends in the newsroom…) But as importantly, he had a format to work with.

What makes a story boring? Lots of unnecessary detail – who said what when, and what came before that, what day it was when they said it, who else was in the room at the time, and what they were wearing…and all the other blahblah that bogs us down.

A good storyteller strips out all the crap, leaving just enough salient detail to make the story juicy.

On the radio, the relentless pressure of the clock offers encouragement to make it snappy. And most stories are better when they’re pithier. Try it out for yourself.

  • Think of a story you tell.
  • Look for the things you can leave out. (Hint: if you don’t find them, look again.)
  • Boil your story down to its essence.
  • Tell it in 30 seconds. Or less.

Humor figured into most of Lujack’s stories; he was an entertainer after all. As a business speaker, you may well include an amusing anecdote, a funny tidbit from the news, or a play on words that makes your audience giggle.

Humor that works almost always helps a speaker. Attempts at humor that fall flat can do more harm than good. So, it’s worth testing your material to make sure someone other than you thinks it’s funny.

The Pause

Used to be, nobody on the radio ever shut up. It was constant yapping—kind of like the last networking meeting you went to.

Larry Lujack came along and changed everything. He’d be talking about some dim-bulb Hollywood celebrity or that lame memo from management…and then he’d stop. He’d wait a beat before he went on. And that sliver of silence would make his meaning clear as a bell.

Broadcasters used to call a break in the blahblah “dead air.” Larry proved that the air was alive.

In business, most speakers miss the mark when they could create clarity and emphasis and interest with the occasional pause. Don’t be one of them. Whether you’re giving a formal presentation or having a casual conversation with a client, practice the power of the pause.

The End

The main thing about the end is that when Larry talked, there was one.

The guy was brilliant at going just long enough with a bit to be funny or poignant or fascinating. Then he did what most people never do.

He stopped talking.

On the radio, many a bit is ruined when the jock reaches for one more giggle or guffaw…the extra verbiage makes the whole thing fall flat.

Professionals talking about their business have a similar tendency to keep on yakking when they’ve already delivered the message. Then they trail off with something weak: “So….” Or “’kay…” or “that’s it…”

Or, you’ve run into this, right? They repeat everything they’ve already said, maybe in slightly different words or sometimes, mind-numbingly, in the exact same words.

When you hear yourself say “So, again…” or “In other words…” that’s a big red flag for redundancy.

My advice? Say it once. Say it well. And zip it. Let the end be the end. And just wait, quietly, for whatever happens next. You can pack a powerful punch…by putting a period on it.

So those are the Lujack Lessons you can use in your own conversations:

  • Ditch the details; tell a pithy story.
  • Let us take it all in and react to it.
  • Stop when the story’s over.

Post a comment below to give us your take on compelling communication. Or to share your story about Larry Lujack.