“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” —Thomas Jefferson

In football, the two-minute drill is synonymous with the high-pressure, fast-paced offense teams implement in the final moments of a game in hopes of closing a gap in scoring. During the two-minute drill, clock management and precision are critical. Wasted time is lost time; missed opportunities are never regained. When the clock finally stops, the final score is all that matters. The two-minute drill.

Breaking down the two-minute drill

The concept of the two-minute drill is nothing new. Successful marketers have practiced this art as long as there have been wares to sell. Every year during the Super Bowl, consumers gleefully absorb hours of marketing pitches carefully packaged into quick bursts of entertainment; spend even a few minutes on social media during the “big game” and you’ll find lengthy discourses on the efficacy of each and every commercial aired.

Former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a piece of simple advice he was fond of sharing with others: “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.” Those six simple words took many forms over the years and foreshadowed one of the core elements of my own leadership philosophy: “Be brief, be brilliant, be gone.” The “3 Bs” were fundamental to my two-minute drill: how I approached most engagements, making every effort to respect others’ time while being as concise, clear, and direct as possible. They also allowed me to make the most of a drive-by, a (sometimes) chance encounter that opened a potential door to sell an idea or initiative to someone with the ability to influence the outcome.

Some people call this an elevator pitch – a convincing speech timed for delivery during an average elevator ride. For me, it was always a two-minute drill – finely tuned, focused, and executed with precision when it matters most. When the clock finally stops, the final score is all that matters.

Crafting the Two-Minute Drill

Opportunity rarely knocks twice. A good two-minute drill needs to be planned and prepared well in advance of execution. People spend hours and even days crafting a formal briefing; you should expect to commit just as much time and effort on a two-minute drill. The keys to success are the “3 Bs” – you want to be succinct, compelling, and memorable.

1. Who you are.

This sets the context for the two-minute drill. Succinctly introduce yourself, explain what you do and who you work for. Confidence and enthusiasm are important but won’t substitute for actual substance. It’s essential to establish a common connection with the other person, some familiar ground on which to build. Maybe you went to the same school, come from the same hometown, or share a mutual acquaintance. If you can draw that common connection, you’ll have their attention.

2. What you want.

At this point, clarity and succinctness are everything. You’ve got their attention, now make their time count. Be compelling. They know you want something – this is your ask. You need something from them. If you want to get that something, then you have to convince them that it’s mutually beneficial. The most common factor in a failed two-minute drill is that the ask is a one-way street: you need something from them and don’t really offer anything in return. Conversely, success derives from convincing them that your ask is something they need.

3. Why it matters.

Finishing with a call to action closes out a good two-minute drill. You want your close to be memorable; it can’t just be a business card or a challenge coin. It needs to leave them wanting more, anticipating the next time they’ll hear from you. That might be a meeting, a phone call, or an email, but the art of the close is as much about being worth remembering as it is creating a sense of anticipation. They walk away looking forward to seeing you again.

On the gridiron, delivering under pressure is the mantra of the masters of the two-minute drill. When the game is on the line and the clock is running short, the best quarterbacks are those who calmly execute with absolute precision. In the game of life, the two-minute drill is far more than a simple elevator pitch. It’s executing with the clock ticking, delivering a compelling ask under pressure, and bringing home the win with a memorable close. Wasted time is lost time; missed opportunities are never regained. When the clock finally stops, the final score is all that matters.

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Steve Leonard is a former senior military strategist and the creative force behind the defense microblog, Doctrine Man!!. A career writer and speaker with a passion for developing and mentoring the next generation of thought leaders, he is a senior fellow at the Modern War Institute; the co-founder of the national security blog, Divergent Options, and the podcast, The Smell of Victory; co-founder and former board member of the Military Writers Guild; and a member of the editorial review board of the Arthur D. Simons Center’s Interagency Journal. He is the author of five books, numerous professional articles, countless blog posts, and is a prolific military cartoonist.