I’m sure that there are situations in your life, the mere thought of which are terrifying. For some folks it’s public speaking. For others it’s hosting a dinner party. For many business people I know it’s facing a blank page.
Many authors have delivered quotes about that challenge. Most of the good ones welcome the empty expanse of the blank canvas as an opportunity for personal growth. Not so much business people. They are making commerce, not art, and so there really are wrong answers. A faulty business plan. An unclear presentation that won’t deliver a sale. Maybe even a blog post that means to be thoughtful but never quite hits the mark. I face that vast wasteland every work day morning and here is what I’ve found with respect to navigating it.
First, try to get yourself into the recipient’s head. If it’s a presentation, your focus is on the reason they’re seeing you, whether it’s at a conference or a one on one meeting. If it’s a piece of writing such as this, what question are you answering or what enlightenment are you bringing? Next, don’t get too caught up in the words as you write them. You can’t edit what’s not on the page. I know you all believe these screeds come out of my head fully-formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus but there is a fair amount of editing involved. Embrace the help others can bring. Let them read drafts and ask them if anything is unclear. Be sure you don’t ask the person who would totally understand it even if it was all over the place. Maybe the receptionist?
Every blank page is a challenge, but the hard part isn’t in the creation. It’s in having something to say that others will find worth their time. Hopefully, this was worth yours!
This TunesDay, I’m not really going to focus on any one song but on a number of them that make a great business point. If I were to ask you about “The River” (Bruce), “Cats In The Cradle” (Harry Chapin), “The Edmund Fitzgerald” (Gordon Lightfoot) or “Tangled Up In Blue” (Dylan), assuming you were familiar with them, you’d answer with two points. First, don’t I know any music from this century (I do!) and second, each of those songs tells a great story. The list could go on and on and I’m sure you can add 5 or 6 of your favorite musical stories to the list.
The best of this genre actually give the listener a double benefit. First, great music. It may be an unexpected chord twist or an unusual arrangement but they’re out of the ordinary and immediately recognizable. Second, the story. Imagine if the obsessed fan in Eminem‘s “Stan” was the fan in the movie “Misery”. The latter took an hour and a half to say what Slim does in 6 minutes yet the story is just as compelling.
That’s what we need to do as business people. We need to tell stories that compel people to listen and do so in such a way that they leave us singing them again in their heads. Listen to Dylan:
I’ve taken the most stripped-down version of this I could find and yet the love song sung by a troubled man is clear. That’s how our messages need to stand out. Connecting with people on an emotional level is far more effective than a bunch of statistics. Take a good look at some Powerpoint you’re currently using. Does it tell a memorable, coherent story or does it lay out a bunch of statistics? Does it sing about solving problems or is it just more blah-blah-blah?
Figure out the story you want to tell then write a memorable tune to carry it forth. Got it?
I went to an event where I hoped to learn something. It concerned a topic about which I’m often asked by clients and is an area that concerns my practice because it concerns them. There were a lot of others attending the event and I knew quite a few of them. I also knew that they, like me, had a fair amount of expertise on the subject matter and were there to expand that knowledge.
The presentation started out well – the fellow giving the talk was really good on his feet. He kept the mood light which is always a good thing when the topic is kind of heavy and he engaged the group right from the start. Unfortunately. it was all downhill from there and let me explain why. Continue reading
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If you’ve been following along in this space you know that one of my favorite artists is The Boss. I’ve seen him many time over the last (gulp) forty years (honest – the first time was 1972) in venues ranging from a few thousand seats to very large stadia. I’ve seen him with the E-Street Band, as a solo artist with another band, and even all by himself doing a one-man show. The music is always great but there was something else that hit me about all of those shows that reminded me of a business point this morning. Continue reading
One of the first things you learn in sales is to believe in your own product. Some folks call it eating your own dog food but the basic idea is two-fold. First, if you’re going to foist something on a customer you should be willing to be that customer yourself. Second, it’s a great way to do usability testing and in sales, it helps you discover selling points that may not even have been designed into the product plan.
I’m a big fan of the process and was really impressed when I read about what I consider to be the ultimate instance of belief in a product: one that literally puts your life on the line. Continue reading
I’m sure many of you have been in a conference room and listened to a presentation. Or maybe you’ve been the one in front of the conference room giving the presentation. It’s a business ritual – participants both willing and unwilling arrive. Time is spent struggling with a projector and laptop. IT is called and apologies are made. And then it’s down to business. Keep reading – there’s more
Every Passover, someone at the table, generally the youngest, asks the Four Questions. For me, these questions do a good job of putting the entire evening into perspective and make everything which follows them relevant to the overall purpose of the holiday. They are meant to be asked from a child’s perspective (hence the youngest inquires), which is often a combination of innocence and ignorance – without preconception.
I thought of the role questions play while working with a client of mine. We were reviewing a presentation we’re constructing to raise a funding round and the pitch felt too cluttered and unfocused. So I asked my own version of the four questions:
- What is the problem we’re solving?
- Is this a big enough problem that it can support a business that solves it?
- Is our solution unique and has anyone ever tried to solve this problem before?
- Who the hell are we and why should we be entrusted with anyone’s money?
You’ll notice I didn’t interject any mention of the client’s company or executive team until the end. Like most things in business, I like to try and keep ego out of it. Business is, at its core, about problems and solutions. It’s not about you – it’s about your customers (or potential customers). Odds are if you can answer the four questions I’m asking above, and remain focused on them, your business will be on the right track.
Fortunately, we already had the answers although they were buried deep within the current version of the presentation. A little editing and a lot of attention to some simple questions, and we’re a lot closer to some funding (we hope!).