Put yourself in one of those bad metal folding chairs at the Pottstown school board meeting last week. At about two hours into the thing, you spot the next discussion item: school uniforms. You roll your eyes — another heated debate on self expression versus safety. As the lights dim, you fully expect to suffer through your umpteenth PowerPoint presentation with endless bullet points picking through the merits of each side.
Instead, a video clip flickers up on the screen. It features an ordinary-looking young man, about 17 years old. He is standing in a school classroom facing the camera in front of a row of desks. He is dressed in typical high-school garb — baggy jeans and an oversized shirt hanging over his belt. Without fanfare he begins to demonstrate the danger of his seemingly harmless non-uniformed school attire. Like a polished magician, he reaches under his shirt and pulls out weapons hidden in his waste band. First, a small silver handgun is pulled from the front of his shirt and placed on the desk with a loud clunk. Then, two heavy black semi-automatic weapons are produced from behind his back. By the time the 41 second video clip is over, the student pulls out the equivalent fire power of a small army: twelve weapons of increasing size including a full-sized shot gun. The debate on uniforms ends right there.
Talk about your compelling bullet points.
The clip was part of a larger safety training video posted on the site of Safe Havens International, a nonprofit school safety center based in Georgia. Its executive director Michael Dorn, a police veteran, created the video using his son as the weapon-hiding student. It went global when it was used by Michael Moore in his 2002 movie, Bowling for Columbine, apparently without permission. I ask you: what kind of sicko would use a clip without permission?
The lesson here is not about uniforms. It’s about the power of simple and compelling demonstrations. We call that concept obvious surprise. It’s unexpected, but makes immediate sense. Great leaders know that actions always speak louder than words, but they rarely apply that knowledge to their corporate communications. The next time you have an important presentation, think about what you can pull out of your waste band to make a big impact. Hint: it’s not a list of bullet points.