Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The No Card

When I was studying at the seminary to glean my calling to be a deacon we were advised to "prune, prune, prune."  In other words, drop out of everything and concentrate on this one thing.  Naturally that didn't apply to family and work, but to all things church.  That was hard for most of us - dropping out of the choir, out of committees, out of a whole lot of busy work to concentrate on the important stuff.  (More about the freedom of discipline and liberation of obedience another time)

After ordination we were encouraged to play our "NO card".  Lots of people are going to ask us for lots of things, and being charitable souls our inclination is to say yes.  With a NO card you don't have to give it a second thought or toss and turn over "whether to or should I?"  You just play the card and go back to the core mission.

What was true of my spiritual vocation has also been true in my professional vocation and maybe in yours.  We get asked to take on increasing roles of responsibility in our associations if we've shown the slightest hint of enthusiasm and success in our committee roles - and that's OK.  But how do we know when enough is too much?  When is it time to say no?

I am a member of an organization that has seen at least 3 volunteer presidents in the last five finish out their year with shattered marriages.  It may not have been the tremendous work load on top of a tremendous work load that caused the marriage to fail, who knows what underlying issues were already in play? - but it certainly didn't help.

This is not to say that many, many people haven't been very successful in extending their passion at work to their entire industry through their professional association - I've met them and seen it done.  I admire them.  Their industry is better for it.  The reason they do it so well is that they also have a NO card which they play in other places at strategic times.

Not sure how to say no?  Here's a helpful blog from Adrian Granzella Larson with some tips...  http://www.forbes.com/sites/dailymuse/2014/09/15/just-say-no-7-canned-responses-to-use-at-work/

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Baby, What a Surprisingly Great Presentation!

It has been said that "Baby, What a Big Surprise" by Chicago is perhaps the best pop song ever recorded.  (I said that, so take it with a grain of salt.)  But I have also heard that Utopia's "Set Me Free" might also lay claim and I'm going to have to add "Call Me Maybe" to the list - not because any of these are particularly artistically magnificent, but because they follow a simple, catchy formula.  Could we learn a thing or two about that formula in our next sales presentation?

Jason (no last name given) writes on Gearslutz.com that the elements of a good pop song include
  1. song structure
  2. melody
  3. harmonic underpinning
  4. lyrics
Let's concentrate on the first - structure.  Most presenters tend to focus on lyrics ahead of structure almost every time.  In other words, in preparing to present we worry about what we're saying at the expense of how we're saying it.   But what if we followed the pop-song structure?  

Verse --> Chorus --> Verse --> Chorus --> Bridge --> Chorus

Let's translate that for business presentation purposes:

Verse - answers the 5W's of the presentation.  The words may change as we tell the story, but the message is consistent
The Climb - leads up to the chorus, builds interest
Chorus - answers the question "why should I care?"
Bridge - keeps it interesting by providing the alternate point of view, the unasked question, the "what if?"
And back to the chorus - brings it all to a satisfying ending

(These steps also bring joy to other human interactions, but I digress)

All this with a few words, a relevant picture, very little animation, simple graphs and charts, and as few slides as possible.  And practice, practice, practice - the audience wants to hear their favourite pop song presented live exactly as recorded in studio - flawless.

Listen here:
Baby What a Big Suprise  http://youtu.be/w0xcr93xx3A

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Your Buddy's Rec Room

I was enjoying one of my favourite vinyl albums recently, featuring the most perfect pop song ever written.  "Baby What a Big Surprise" by Chicago (seriously - I wish more reports and presentations would follow this simple formula - 3 verses, a recurring chorus and a bridge between the 2nd and 3rd verses).

Maybe more on that later, but in preparing the album for play, I reflected on some simple social and business skills maybe missing from those who've never heard an album in their buddy's rec room.

Care and Attention  The vinyl album is very delicate, taking only a piece of dust or a percussive movement (like a heavy footstep near the turntable) to cause the needle to skip and potentially ruin the album.  We learned to take care, holding the album by the edges to avoid fingerprints on the play surface, making sure it was clean before playing, and treating the area around the turntable as a strict no-go zone during album play.

I've dropped my mp3 music device so many times I've lost count.  I've thrown a CD into a box without it's cover.  Yeah, you can damage it but not usually on the first try.  Albums were a lot less forgiving.  It was someone else's life's work.  Someone else's album.  Someone's favourite song.  We respected that.

Good Manners and Hospitality  Someone had to host the album-playing get-together.  Someone had to get up and flip the album to the b-side, and then take it off and put it away.  And the guy standing next to the turntable inevitably turned to his guests and asked, "any requests?"   Yeah, it was his (parent's) rec-room, his stereo, and his collection.   Sure, we brought a few albums of our own, but the host set the tone.  In asking for requests he showed respect and good manners.

Man, I'd love the next board meeting, or committee meeting, or department meeting to work like that.  "I'm done with my personal agenda, thanks for indulging me.  Anyone else have a thought to share?"

New Music  We didn't all listen to the same music.  I heard some great albums I would never have purchased myself, and frankly never did.  It was enough to know a friend who had that album and would bring it along if asked.  Decades later I've finally bought artists' music that friends introduced to me.

Respect  Only the owner of the album could take the plastic off a new album.  Some people left the plastic on to protect the cover.  Bad idea.  Common wisdom was that the contracting plastic might eventually damage the vinyl inside.  Even if your friend was foolish enough to leave the plastic on, it was the full extent of your responsibility to point it out, and then shut the hell up.  People don't always see the obvious, and that's not our problem.

Great Conversation  There were no phone interruptions.  Sometimes someone would join the rec-room session in progress, but mostly it was just two or three of us, maybe with a bit of whisky in hand, listening to rock (it wasn't called "Classic Rock" yet, and we didn't always listen to rock) and solving all the problems of the world.  And sometimes just sitting there silently and appreciating the artistry.  Passing the album cover around to stare at the artwork, to read the credits, and sometimes to clarify the lyrics.

People at work should be treated with such respect for their time, their work, their opinions and their company.

"These are the best of times"  sang Styx way back when.  There's no reason they can't be now.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Sales and the Golf Course

Hey - this isn't what you think.  This is not a post touting the value of a good golf game towards building relationships in sales.  That's a no brainer - a sales person should be able to golf believably, if not necessarily well.

Not long ago I golfed in a best-ball golf tournament (in which each move forward advances on the strength of the best shot of the foursome) with a co-worker and few customers.

"I don't understand!" my co-worker said in frustration, as her ball once again worm-burned down the fairway a few yards. "I put all my strength into it and I still can't move it very far!"   "Welcome to sales," I answered.

It's the ongoing frustration of the best sales people and with me, too.  We do our very best, give it 100% with enthusiasm and still sometimes we get caught in a slump.  It's hard to stay positive.

But our golfing partner with a the fabulous swing summed it up a little later.  "You know," he told my friend, "with a few lessons you could send that ball a mile."  Translation - she's got what she needs to be successful except she keeps doing the same things that are keeping her from success.  She doesn't know what she doesn't know.

That wasn't lost on me.

Being open to continuous improvement is the key to a good game, whether in sales or on the golf course, and if it's a particularly good day, both at the same time.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Call Your Association

I'm an active member of four associations professionally, and several others personally.  I'm actually considering membership in another, and recently contacted them on a business matter.  The service, to say the least, was lacklustre and had been on the few occasions we had interacted in the past.  I don't blame the individual with whom I was dealing, although I don't condone bad manners.  I blame the management who haven't engendered an institutional philosophy of service - be it the volunteer board or their only employee - the Executive Director through whom all other employees are hired, and keep their jobs.

These are the people who speak for us as a group.  They lobby politicians and influence votes on laws that affect our industry - your industry, whatever it is, if you are a member of a professional association.  When the press needs a comment on something that affects your industry, the executive director of your association will likely be first person approached.

If the hired professionals, be they many or be they few, can't provide a level of courtesy that reflects that of your organization, maybe it's time to rethink membership.

Or get on the board and change things.