Why Being FIRST Sometimes Makes You Best

copyHollywood seems to be in full-bore reboot and sequel mode.  Where Summer and Thanksgiving used to be the launch of the big blockbusters, now they seem to be nothing more than a couple of new ideas but many more sequels and more recently, the reboot – a remake of a remake…of sometimes another remake.

Up until just about 10 years ago, there was the Batman movies which built on the original TV series from the 1960s with Adam West (with several different actors) and the Superman movies (with Christopher Reeve).  Then came The Hulk and Spiderman.  Then nothing.  Then of course came the multiple other superhero movies and then the phenomena of multiple Hulk movies (reboots) and to date, two more Spiderman reboots, another Batman reboot, and then of course Batman vs. Superman.

It’s not just superheroes.  Since the original Jaws movie in 1975, there have been four sequels and several other killer (really insane killer) sharks in movies.  Just when you think it’s safe to go back into the water…

What does this all have to do with you?  Well, how original are you?  How groundbreaking are your ideas?

There is a risk with being first and with being original.  You could of course be wildly successful.  That’s what happened with the original Jaws movie.  Even though the shark looked fake, the terror kept people in real life off the beach.  Sequels tried to recapture that same magic but aside from more realistic sharks and bloodier human feedings, they just didn’t have the same effect.  There was always a comparison to the original.

On the other hand, you might fail.  It’s possible.  But here’s the thing.  Even if it failed, you were the first to try.  Even if someone builds and perfects your idea, they still keep YOU in the conversation.  Someone else is trying to improve what YOU started.  YOU started.  You’re still memorable.

Hollywood seems to have lost its creativity.  And the more it happens, the more we think about and miss Adam West, Christopher Reeve, and the robotic fake shark Bruce.  The more you copy the original, the more the original shines.

What new idea have you been thinking about proposing?  What new direction have you been contemplating in your current career path?  Instead of waiting for affirmation from what’s already been tried, why not be the pioneer that will be remembered for no other reason maybe than it was simply the first…

 

 

Stop Taking “NO” for an Answer

Businessman holding paperMany years ago, while in the Navy stationed overseas, I remember what it was like any time you needed paperwork approved by our personnel support detachment (PSD), the equivalent of the HR department.  PSD was managed by a guy named John Clark.  No matter what you asked for, the answer was always a resounding “NO” without any explanation.  It might be because he outranked most of us, or maybe he was just a crotchety old-timer, but dealing with him and PSD was the nearest equivalent to going to the DMV.  I never forgot that.

Fast forward to today.  I do some work with a local company that complains incessantly they can’t seem to get into a nearby large organization in order to market to them.  It seems was an incident a few years ago and this company was banned from entering the premises to do business.  Unfortunate since the employees of this large organization are the perfect target audience for my client.  Nobody can tell me exactly what happened or where this ban notice is written, but they are all paralyzed by it.

Last week I attended a networking meeting and lo and behold I ran into the person from this large organization and I flat-out asked her what the deal was.  She told me it was a federal regulation that stated one part of my client’s services were not able to be promoted, but there was no official ban and they even looked forward to having this client get involved.  The regulation made sense to me and of course this is good news for the client.  If only they had simply asked after being told “NO” they could have been active and successful with this organization.

Our inability to move past “NO” is probably grounded in childhood.  We are all born naturally curious.  We ask lots of questions.  Finally, our exasperated parents tell us to quit asking questions.  Most of us stopped being curious then, but those who persisted began to encounter “NO” on a regular basis.  This culled the curious herd even more.  Now, just a few of us are left as adults to keep pushing when they hear “NO”.

It can be problematic to push past “NO” and it got me into a lot of trouble in the Navy and even in my first two jobs when I got out.  Today though, it’s the secret to getting business that others won’t ever get close to.  What’s the secret to pushing past “NO” without getting into trouble?

  1. Don’t push it when the “NO” is a safety issue. (i.e. “No Swimming in the Lagoon after Dusk Due to Alligators”)
  2. Don’t push it when addressing company policy that has a purpose.  (i.e. “Who are you to tell me I can’t wear jeans on Friday?” when working for a bank or financial institution)
  3. Don’t push it just to be a pain in the A**. (i.e. “This policy makes no sense.  I don’t care about it but I just feel like being an A**H*** today” – this was my first LPO in the Navy)

BUT, when the “NO” you consistently hear is preventing you from career or business success and you can’t get a clear answer as to why, then feel free to push back a little.

None of us wants to hear that we’re being held back by something that has no business doing it to us.  Pick your battles carefully and work diligently in the pursuit of “NO”.

Are Your Incentives Actually Incentivizing?

Still want to chew gum during the test?

Still want to chew gum during the test?

In my job working with organizations and business I often hear about new initiatives designed to build employee engagement.  Engaged employees, as the rationale goes, are more productive and loyal.  That’s a good thing.  The key of course is to figure out how to engage them.

Some companies try to be competitive with pay and benefits.  Others design educational and professional development incentives.  Some attempt to be Google, implementing organizational redesign with open workspaces, game rooms, and elaborate cafeterias.

And then there are those who use privileges to win over employees.  That’s also effective.  When done in the right spirit.

A colleague of mine shared the note that you can read in this blog.  It was given to all the kids in his daughter’s class in preparation for the standardized tests that are given each Spring.  The school was going to allow students to chew gum or Lifesavers during the test as a privilege, but first each student AND their parents had to sign a contract.  The gum chewing right came with a laundry list of requirements and rules.  What was designed to incentivize students was really no different than the standard set of rules they had to follow each day.  When the privilege has caveats, it ceases to be a privilege.

The idea of motivating people hinges around the concept that people are satisfied when they get WHAT they need, WHEN they need it.  Pay is only a part of it although to be fair, should be enough.  Privileges, like casual dress and bring-your-dog-to-work day should be those little surprises that dazzle and provide a spike in productivity.  But those privileges lose their luster when accompanies by a bunch of rules.  Granted, standards are important.  Provocative or offensive clothing can be a liability and nobody wants to step in dog crap when walking to the copier.  The rules are fine if the spirit of the privilege is not lost.

Which brings us to the gum-chewing contract.  With the fear of punishment high, combined with the added stress of standardized testing, I’m thinking students enter the test with lower morale than if gum was just outlawed.  The incentives just won’t incentivize.

So if your organization want to use incentives, keep the following in mind:

  1. Make the incentives special and limited in time.  Getting people accustomed to the incentive leads to it being seen as a right.  Now you’re stuck leaving it in place for good.
  2. Make the incentive something that the employee would want, not necessarily what you would want.  While I would love a new firearm as a gift, I’m pretty sure my wife wouldn’t see it as an appropriate anniversary gift.
  3. Make the incentive as rule-free as possible.  When privileges come with a host of regulations and rules, they just aren’t as special.
  4. Make the incentive as condition-free as possible.  My ex’s father paid to have the kitchen in her condo refurbished.  His condition was that she had to get rid of her pets and her son couldn’t fry doughnuts in the kitchen.  I’m not sure a gift should have that many conditions.

All of us love to give and get privileges.  Before giving them, take a moment to run through the checklist.  You don’t want your well-intentioned gift to have a negative impact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worst Things First

fish headsHave you ever had one of those days where you knew you had an unpleasant task to take care of but didn’t want to do it?  It may have been a call to return with an unhappy client.  Maybe an uncomfortable conversation with an employee.  Perhaps it was a sales call that you were terrified of.

If you’re like me (or most people for that matter) you probably lost sleep the night before and once at work, began to barricade your time with busywork that would occupy every corner of the day and prevent you from the task.  If you did this correctly, you could honestly say that you would have made that call or had that conversation but were slammed with crisis after crisis.  That bought you some peace, until you came home and realized that unpleasant item would now be waiting for you the next morning…only now the situation would be even more difficult to deal with.

Pain avoidance is normal.  Most of us hate pain and our nature is to do anything to never have it.  Sadly, avoiding just won’t work in most cases.  I’ve learned over time that the best way to deal with it is to use a variation of one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for guidance.

In 1989, Stephen Covey authored one of the most popular business books of all time,

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  In this book, he detailed principles for personal and professional success.  One of them, First Things First, was clear guidance for priority and time management.   I modified that one into:

Worst Things First

Like ripping off a Band-Aid, eating your Brussels sprouts first, or doing things like making the scary call or having that dreaded conversation, getting stuff out of the way is the best way to power through.  The longer an uncomfortable task is avoided, the harder it will be to recover from it.

Years ago, when stationed overseas at NAVCOMMSTA Harold E. Holt in Western Australia I befriended a group of SEABEES, the Navy construction folks that ran the public works department on base.  Their division officer was universally hated by the group and after enduring him for two years, they came up with a fitting farewell gift.  The night before his car was crated to be sent on the two-month journey back to the States, they stuffed a bag of fish heads under the front seat.  Imagine what that would have smelled like when he retrieved it?

That’s what happens the longer one of your uncomfortable goes unaddressed.  Fish heads are nasty, but it’s better to handle them on Day 1 then on Day 60.

This week, think about those “fish head” tasks you’ve been avoiding.  Why not get busy doing the Worst Things First and free up your time, energy, and emotional health?

 

 

 

Enough with the Quotes Already!

As a big user of LinkedIn, I am seeing certain trends that concern me.

  1. Putting stuff on it that really belongs on Facebook (political opinions, “can this WWII veteran get 1,000 likes?” and religious stuff).
  1. Self-congratulatory aggrandizing (“Honored to be the keynote speaker at the Colonoscopy Coalition Annual Meeting”)
  1. 3 photos of self or a book cover asking strangers to pick which one looks best by selecting A, B, or C.
  1. The Boss/Leader graphic depicting bosses driving slaves while the leader is pulling them forward on a rope (and other boss/leader comparisons).
  1. People straying from their lane of expertise while positioning themselves as experts (Tony Robbins now becoming a financial and investing expert or Dave Ramsey pitching pre-packaged meal plans – this being different than a regular endorsement)

Yes, you probably think I’m arrogant and opinionated and maybe I am.  Or maybe I’m just someone who expects quality content from my network.

Which brings us to my latest pet peeve:

The cliché quotes with incorrect or assumed attributions.

Take a look at the following:

lincoln quote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jesus quote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) on 5 Pounds 1968 Banknote from Israel. German born theoretical physicist regarded as the father of modern physics.

Which one is legit?

Actually, if you picked Einstein you might be correct but even this attribution is not 100% confirmed.  What’s more worrisome is the fact that people look at these, nodding as if there is some pearl of great wisdom here and spreading it throughout their network.

If you ask me (and you are since you’ve read down this far), I’ll tell you my recommendations for establishing credibility and sharing wisdom via the quote.

  1. Make sure the quote is accurate.
  1. Make sure the quote is attributed to the right person.
  1. Make sure the context of the quote is correct.
  1. Don’t quote anyone. Develop your own wisdom and expertise and blog and write on it.

Sending out clichés is the lazy person’s way of attempting to inspire an audience.  You have an amazing brain in your head.  Develop and share your own wisdom.  There is always room for more in this world.

How to (Credibly) Sell Something

That being the case, I’ve found that people who aren’t trained sales or marketing professionals prefer to do everything BUT address pain points.  None clearer than the billboard I saw in Clarksville, TN this week.

Now if you look at it, you’ll probably have several questions:

  • Who is Mr. Murples?
  • If he’s the baboon with the big glasses, what does he know about buying a car?
  • If he does know about buying cars, how do we know that their prices are the lowest?
  • Why is Mr. Murples so huge when the car that has the low price on it is dwarfed?

Does this billboard do anything to convince anyone they should buy at this dealership?

Now I have nothing against this dealership or Nissans for that matter. I even like baboons (but I’m not a fan of bow ties, on humans or baboons). I do have something against spending hard-earned cash on crappy advertising.

And because I do, I’d like to offer up some suggestions for the next time you’re trying to sell something (or yourself) to someone.

  1. Identify Your Potential Audience. Who are they? What do they like? How do they think? In the case of a car buyer, think about what demographic might be interested in a Nissan. Everyone loves buying at the lowest price. Do Nissan buyers like baboons with bow ties and glasses?
  2. Identify their “Pain.” In the case of car buyers, low price is certainly important but what about a buyer-friendly experience where there is no haggling over the price? We want to attract the right people to the lot. Not sure what you’d attract with a bow tie-wearing baboon.
  3. Figure Out the Best Way to Reach Them. Billboards might be great when marketing to people on the road. That may be where your buyers are. Possibly having a baboon on the billboard gets attention in a sea of other car dealer, law firms, and insurance agencies who seem to dominate the billboard methodology. But does this really work? Which leads to…
  4. Measure Your Results. I’m not sure how one would track who comes in based on seeing Mr. Murples. If the dealership actually polls potential buyers, they’d be wise to count just how many were drawn in by the ad. If Mr. Murples is driving up sales, keep him around. If not, move on and maybe try NOT using animals.

These lessons work in sales and in interviewing for jobs. Take some time this week to reexamine your sales and marketing strategy. Mr. Munro thinks it’s a great idea. You’ll have to ask Mr. Murples his opinion.

The Secret to Getting Great Critiques on Your Presentation

Lavatory sinks

This is where your presentation gets REAL critiques. Prepare for this audience and the rest is a breeze!

When I’m in town, I like to attend my local Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) chapter meetings.  These are a great place to network and you can certainly learn from the topics that are presented.

At the end of each session, there is a little card on the table that you fill out with feedback for the speaker and the event.  Most people scribble a few notes and check the boxes and then head out the door.  I’m sure the cards are useful, but what really matters is what people say about your presentation in the bathroom shortly after.

I’m always amazed at the critiques speakers get when audience members are in the safety of the bathroom.  I hear criticism of the topic, the slides, the speakers themselves, etc.  People feel a bit more candid I guess when in this unique, sacred place.

Now you can fear this phenomenon if you’re a speaker or you can simply use it as a tool to better prepare for your next presentation.  Here are some of my suggestions:

Your Topic:  If you’re going to present, be sure to present on a topic that’s timely and relevant.  Of course you need to know your audience for this one.  Find out their experience level.  Inquire about some of the “pain” they experience.  Then deliver solutions with a “how to” theme.  Make sure they leave with tangible takeaways.  Avoid subjects that are dated (Generations in the Workplace), stereotypical and divisive (Generations in the Workplace), fads (Generations in the Workplace), or that have been beat-to-death in numerous other presentations (Generations in the Workplace) – You see a theme here don’t you?

Your Command of the Subject:  Make sure you present on a topic where you are either a recognized authority or at least a strong, proven subject matter expert.  If you can’t intelligently answer hard questions at the end of the presentation (and this is common criticism in post-presentation bathroom critiques) then find another topic to present on.

Your Visuals:  Be different and ditch PowerPoint® or minimize the amount of slides you need.  Use relevant videos and debrief them clearly.  If possible, use a flip chart and talk while writing down your points.  Even consider tools like Prezi for a different visual approach.  AND, have a backup plan if you can’t get Internet, sound for videos, or a correct connection from your laptop to the data projector.  Just so you know, I’ve never had a person complain that I didn’t have a PowerPoint® presentation.

Your Style:  Have someone evaluate your style before you present.  Pay attention to the amount of times you use fillers such as “um” and “ok.”  Don’t start off every statement with “So” (“So today we’re going to talk about how to deal with generations in the workplace.” “So you know all those Millennials want a trophy for just showing up.”  “So you know you should always tell Gen Z how their job relates to a clean environment and workplace harmony”).  Unless of course you’re pitching a product on Shark Tank.  Then you look weird if you don’t start off every statement with “so”.

Your Appearance:  In my experience, women don’t have issues here but men do.  Guys, spend some money and get a suit that actually fits you.  Shine up your shoes.  Brush the dandruff off your shoulders if you wear a dark jacket.  Take a long look in the mirror before leaving the house.  If you look there and see Andy Rooney staring back, take a beard trimmer and shear those eyebrows.  Start with the highest setting and work your way down.  Don’t ask me how I know this.  Look up your nose and trim out all of those nose hairs.  Then look at your ears.  Same thing here.  You want people to talk about your amazing presentation, not your lack of style and personal grooming.

I know this is a lot to think about but it’s the little details that make your presentation a success.  Plan out the presentation and prepare for those inevitable bathroom critiques.  They happen whether you like it or not but preparation before will certainly give them something positive to talk about, while they’re hopefully washing their hands.

Don’t Make Your Solution More Complicated Than the Problem

Complicated or simple.I recently spoke to a group of learning and development professionals on the topic of performance management.  I always start the talk off with my Top 10 list of the Biggest Mistakes Made by Companies in Performance Management Programs.  I start with #10 (a la David Letterman) and then get down to #1.  With this group I let the suspense build by making the #1 mistake a multiple choice quiz question.  Can you figure out the biggest mistake?

  1. Confusing the ROI of training with the value-add of performance management.
  2. Juxtaposing the syntax of Kirkpatrick’s Model with the Reuterbaga Model of Performance Excellence® Model for peak performance enhancement.
  3. Combining mindfulness with strategic learning and thinking.
  4. Looping change management complexities with the principles of learning management and knowledge transfer.
  5. I don’t know.

The answer is actually “I don’t know” (which leads to the real #1 problem which is making performance management a once-a-year event).  In fact, the other four choices are just a bunch of training mumbo jumbo I threw together.  Everyone fell for the bait though and thought since it was the BIGGEST mistake, you would need the BIGGEST and MOST COMPLICATED solution.

In my experience, sometimes a complicated solution makes a complicated problem even bigger.  How can we tackle a complex problem more effectively and efficiently?  Try the following steps:

  1. Clearly define the problem.  A problem is simply a condition where current reality doesn’t meet our expectation.
  2. Narrow the problem down to its root issue.  Think actual condition, not symptoms.
  3. Identify if it’s a people problem or a process problem.  Don’t get these two mixed up.  If you blame a problem on people but they can’t be successful because of a broken process, fix the process.
  4. For people problems, use my 3-Legged Stool of Great Performance® model to figure out if it’s a Skill (needs training), Will (needs motivation, or Focus (needs guiding or coaching).
  5. For process problems, start by mapping out the process the way it currently exists using a flowchart.  Be honest here.  Show it exactly like it is.  Then draw out the ideal.  Where the discrepencies are, begin your intervention…
  6. …Which should always be done in small steps that should be tested.  Don’t tweak everything at once.  Small step, test, next step, test etc.

Don’t be afraid to admit the problem is simple and needs a simple fix.  Big problems are simply a whole bunch of little problems joined together in a tangled mess, much like that big ball of Christmas lights you have to untangle every November.

Problem-solvers are respected, compensated well, and sought after.  Why not work this week to improve your problem-solving skills.  Think simple, not simplistic and you’ll be on your way to solving those big, complicated problems.

5 Ways to Implement a Change Without Screwing Everything Up in the Process

change aheadOne of the most common calls we get at our company sounds something like this:

We are looking for some training on how to deal with change. Right now our company is undergoing some massive changes and we can’t seem to get the employees onboard with them. Do you provide any workshops that will teach our people to embrace this change?

Now since training only fixes issues with skills, the client assumes it’s a skill problem. It’s not though. Dealing with change as a skill is a reactive approach that can’t be taught once the emotions of the change have set in. Trust me on this. I have done WAY too many of these workshops when I worked with a large training vendor years ago. The best change adaptation tools won’t help if everyone’s attitude sucks. Most of these sessions turned into “bitch sessions” and attendees left worse off for the experience. The key to having a positive reaction to change is to implement it the right way in the first place.

Why is this so?

Any time you introduce a change to your organization, you shift the status quo. It doesn’t matter if the change is an improvement. Rocking the boat freaks people out.

Knowing this will happen regardless (and it’s doesn’t matter if the change is driven from the top either) means you’ll have to spend a huge amount of time planning and anticipating all reactions before you settle on your change initiative.

Based on my experiences with companies that have done it the right and wrong ways, I’d like to offer up five strategies to help your next change effort go over a whole lot better.

Here we go!

1. Communicate Well

In any change effort, communication is key. By being open and up front with people, you’ll be able to fill in gaps of knowledge with real, legitimate information. Here are some suggestions:

Good Marketing

Be sure any communication puts information in a positive light. Be very clear about the upcoming changes. Don’t hold back on any small details. Acknowledge the pain, but work to reframe it in a favorable light. (“doing these burpees is going to hurt like hell but imagine how good you’ll look in that Speedo this summer!”)

Allow People an Opportunity to Vent (productively)

We often expect people to handle difficult news professionally, but human nature dictates otherwise. Allow people an opportunity to vent their questions and frustrations.  This should be a facilitated event, with professionals keeping the discussion on track. “Bitch sessions” don’t work and often exacerbate the problem. Use good active listening skills and help manage yours, and the emotions of the people around you.

Discuss Rumors

The Grapevine is a tricky issue. 75% of what’s carried on it is usually true, which makes it credible enough to be believed as fact. When you hear rumors, be sure to address them with facts whenever possible. Ignoring rumors gives them credibility.

Be Sensitive

Empathy (as opposed to sympathy) is a helpful behavior for managers and supervisors. Don’t blow off your employees’ fears. Look at the situation through their eyes. Empathy means you listen intently and offer suggestions and help.

Be Optimistic

Optimism is an attitude. We have to choose our attitudes. You can’t expect employees to handle change well if you’re giving off negative vibes. Fix your own attitude before you try to fix those of your employees.

Don’t Ignore Your Employees’ Fears and Questions

Again, be willing to dialog with employees. Ask probing questions. Get their feedback. Establish an environment where they feel comfortable coming to you with their uncertainties.

2. Use Good Policies and Procedures

In any large change effort, you’ll need to lock in some really good policies and procedures to leave your supervisors and employees equipped for success.

Clearly Communicate the Program

This builds on Point #1. Let people know as much information as you have to give them. Don’t allow the Grapevine to do your job for you. Refer them to websites and information sessions as much as you can.

Set Up a Support System

If you’re implementing a new program or system, have the program representative take an active role in giving out communication. Set up a portal on your website to link employees to information,  training, and send out regular email containing program updates. Equip your managers and supervisors. They have to carry the torch for this program.

Encourage Managers to Have Open Conversations

MACK Worldwide’s Interactive Supervisory Skills courses teach the techniques to have these productive conversations using the principles of active listening and negotiation. Contact us if you are interested in providing this course for your managers and supervisors.

3. Effective Performance Management

Performance management is a critical element of a change effort.  Employees are required to show value-added in meeting the company’s goals and mission. Performance management is a constant process that requires a hands-on approach.

Set Clear Expectations

You can’t expect a marksman to hit a target he can’t see. The same applies to employee performance. Your job is to set clear goals and objectives for your employees at the beginning of the cycle and continue to check with them throughout the year. Don’t be vague – your employees need clear communication on your expectations for them.

Link People to the Mission

Do your employees know what your agency or company exists for? If not, educate them! Show them what you’re all about and how their job ties directly into the company’s success. All employees should be evaluated based on their contribution to the mission. Be sure they know what the contribution looks like!

Clearly Communicate Throughout the Year

Traditional performance management gives the goal at the beginning of the cycle and then rewards/punishes a year later. There’s no way to do a course correction in performance if the employee doesn’t know they’ve gone off course. Set regular intervals to check in with your employees and talk about their performance.

Dialog in Person

Don’t give important feedback (good or bad) through email. Let people know up front, in real time. Recognizing good performance verbally encourages more good performance. Addressing poor performance verbally (and professionally) when it happens is much better than waiting until the employee forgets about it.

4. Good and Effective Training

Training is often seen as a panacea for changes, but good training helps facilitate a process through difficult stages. Here are two approaches we recommend change efforts:

Relational/Communication

These courses should come first. They equip managers and supervisors to have productive conversations with employees and give them initial help in addressing performance issues.

Technical

These courses include anything that builds the skills needed in the new change. Be sure to equip employees before expecting them to successfully implement your change.

5. Management Skill Building

Well-prepared and equipped managers and supervisors will ensure your efforts will succeed. Part of this is training and the other part is attitudinal. Here are some suggestions:

Measure Success as What You Do Through and For Your People

This is the leadership component to management. Management in a large part refers to processes and functions but the key element is developing people. Do what you can to build and grow the most important resource you have, your people.

Keep Learning!

You’ll never learn all there is to know when it comes to dealing with people. People skills are hard to come by and even harder to master. Commit to studying one hour per day on managing and leading people. You spend this much time on technical skills, why not devote it to your people skills?

Conclusion

Managing change is difficult. It’s more difficult when it deals with people and in the way people are paid and evaluated. Keep these five principles as you implement these and other changes in your organization.

If you’d like us to sit down with you and help you think through your upcoming change initiative, just give us a call at (931) 221-2988 and let’s set up some time to chat!

How to Deliver a Winning Pitch

Interpreter ServicesYour syntax was convoluted.

It was November, 1980 and our new high school Bible III teacher, Dr. Bahnsen had just finished delivering a scathing analysis of the first essays we had written in his class, ending with the above critique.  What promised to be a fun Junior year at Newport Christian High School went quickly south as our former teacher, an affable guy named Mr. Smyth was fired and replaced by this taskmaster with a PhD in ethics from USC.  Bahnsen was brought in to up the ante in academic rigor and he delivered.  I had him for two classes and barely passed.

And yet I still had no idea what a syntax was nor what it meant to be convoluted.  Bahnsen had lots of knowledge but just couldn’t express it in a way that this 17-year-old could understand.  The message was lost in translation.

I recently watched an episode of Shark Tank where these two crazy smart scientists invented a really neat technology that they pitched to the investors.  The valuation of the company was at $40 million which extraordinarily high for the show.  The inventors tried unsuccessfully to communicate in their language (science) to the Sharks (who speak money) about why this product would change the world and would be worth the valuation (the language of regular people like me.)   They did not get an investment.  Even after multiple prompts from the Sharks, they couldn’t explain the product in any other language than science.

All of us have a mother tongue.  Mine is English.  We also have a conversational preference.  Some speak science.  Others data.  I speak story, simple story.  If we want to convince others of something, we need to use their language.  Since much of our success in business depends on others “buying in,” it’s important to follow some important steps to getting our point across.

  1. Figure out what you want to communicate.  This is key.  What are you pitching?  Is it a new idea, product, service, or concept?  Is it tangible or theoretical?  Is it brand new or a variation of the old?
  2. Figure out who you need to communicate the idea to.  Who is the decision-maker?  Who are they influenced by?
  3. Figure out what you want from that audience.  Support?  Buy-in?  Money?  Resources?
  4. Figure out the language of that audience.  Do they speak science or emotion?  Money or relationship?  Pragmatism or enthusiasm?
  5. Develop your pitch to encompass all the above information using the medium they prefer.

In a perfect world, everyone would speak and understand as we do.  They don’t.  Dr. Bahnsen probably realized this as our graduating class commenced in 1982 nearly half the size it was at the beginning of our Junior year, with none of us, as far as I could tell, any better at resolving ethical dilemmas or biblical truth than we were before he taught us.  The entrepreneurs on that episode of Shark Tank are probably working extra hard now to really quantify their idea in greater scientific detail to convince other investors.  It’s not going to work.  Unless they find some really rich, PhD-carrying investors.

Our ability to speak the language of others is the only way we can influence.  This week, take some time to re-think who you need to influence and look at better ways to communicate.  It’s the only way you’ll get your important points across, even if you do manage to unconvolute your syntax…