One of the Biggest Reasons People
Lose Business …

The day was Tuesday, September 22, 1857.

Closing arguments were taking place in "The Rock Island Bridge Case."

At the time, this was viewed as the most important trial in the history of transportation.

Back then, business was booming for steamboat companies.

But the Rock Island Railroad Company wanted to build a bridge over the Mississippi connecting Rock Island, Illinois, to Davenport, Iowa.

Worried for their livelihoods, the steamboat owners tried to secure an injunction to stop the bridge from being built.

To argue the case, they hired the best-known lawyer in the United States for these kinds of cases. His name, appropriately enough, was Judge Wead.

The court was jammed to capacity for closing arguments.

Wead was the first to speak. He held everyone in attendance spellbound for two hours.

He went so far as to hint at the dissolution of the Union should the steamboat owners lose their case.

Loud applause broke out when he rested his case.

Next, the "poorly dressed, long, lanky obscure country lawyer" representing the Rock Island Railroad got up to speak.

The audience almost felt sorry for him.

But they didn't feel that way for long.

The Rock Island Railroad lawyer spoke for just 60 seconds.

Here is what he said …

"First, I want to congratulate my opponent upon his wonderful oration. I have never heard a finer speech. But, gentlemen of the jury, Judge Wead has obscured the main issue. After all, the demands of those who travel from east to west are no less important than those who navigate up and down the river. The only question for you to decide is whether man has more right to travel up and down the river, than he has to cross the river."

It didn't take the jury long to reach a decision in favor of the railroad.

The lawyer's name?

Abraham Lincoln.

Frank Bettger tells this story in his book How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling.

Bettger admired Lincoln because of his brevity. He admits that he himself throughout his life has been guilty of what he calls "one of the worst of all social faults, over-talking."

Bettger says what really made him realize he had a problem was when a busy executive told him to "come to the point."

It prompted him to reflect on all the sales he'd probably lost and the friends he'd bored because of his over-talking habit.

And that same lesson applies today to freelance writers, whose livelihood is directly tied to what their clients think of them.

To ensure you don't fall victim to over-talking, Bettger recommends writing out everything you want to talk about before you place a call to a client.

And then as you talk about them, check each item off one by one. When you've gone through the list, it's time to say "thank you" and end the conversation.

You can also "talk too much" in emails to your clients. It's important to keep your emails short, to the point, and easy to read. Don't send your clients monster emails that address issues or topics they're not interested in.

Have you ever caught yourself talking too much? Do you have any tips to share on how to avoid over-talking? If so, please post your comments below.

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Published: April 4, 2012

3 Responses to “One of the Biggest Reasons People Lose Business...”

  1. John,

    Really enjoyed this story of Abraham Lincoln which reminds us not only to "come to the point" but to also "think before you leap"

    I truly regret the times that I have not done the above and have suffered in life when I have not!

    Great post, Kim

    Guest (Kim)April 4, 2012 at 4:56 pm

  2. John, this piece is really terrific. Keep this great work coming!

    MaryCApril 4, 2012 at 5:01 pm

  3. For me, part of "over-talking" results from "over-nervousness". I find that a calming activity (in my case, a few minutes doing yoga) tends to release the tension and help me to relax. I can concentrate better and think more clearly when I'm not all tied up in knots. Now, I'm going to add Frank Bettger's idea of writing things out in advance to the routine. Great suggestion!

    Paul BlackApril 4, 2012 at 8:43 pm


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