Career | The Brainzooming Group - Part 49 – page 49
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While in South Florida, I had dinner with Dave Brown (no relation) who introduced me to my wife and was our boss on the student activities board at Fort Hays State University. We later went to Southern Illinois University as a result of Dave introducing us to his former student activities boss from grad school.

It’s embarrassing that it’s been twenty years since we’ve seen each other because Dave was the first strategic mentor in my career. I learned a number of very important lessons from Dave that have served me incredibly well since; they can probably benefit you also:
  • Whenever you’re bringing even a few people together, it’s an event and you should make it special. Under Dave’s tutelage, I produced small coffee house performances and a 5,000 person concert. No matter how many people were attending, he emphasized making the event something memorable. That perspective shaped me to view every meeting or presentation, no matter how small, as an event where there’s a duty to create a memorable experience.
  • You have to plan and manage the whole host of details for any event. Dave demonstrated the discipline of planning and producing large events. It became quickly clear I wouldn’t get into concert production (Kansas City’s most well-known promoter told me to forget it, because “you start at the bottom and work your way down”). Yet when another mentor entered my career later, and our company started producing large events, I was able to step into a production and on-stage role seamlessly even though I was a market research guy. That opportunity has profoundly shaped my career the last 10 years.
  • Create a huge vision and stick to it amid all odds against you accomplishing it. Dave created an incredible, nationally-recognized concert series at a small Western Kansas college, attracting an unbelievable string of #1 chart acts. He did it with an often hostile university administration that completely missed the significance of his accomplishments in gaining attention for the university. It was audacious, but it was the right thing for the school, and Dave was going to make it happen no matter what.

There’s a host of other things in my life that Dave shaped, but within this short post, he accounted for me meeting my spouse, making the introduction that ultimately led to me getting a nearly free graduate education, turning me into an “event person,” and paving the way to successfully seize one of the biggest opportunities of my career.

All I can say is “thank you,” and let’s stay in better touch Dave. And if you have a strategic mentor and haven’t done either of these two things lately, I’d suggest you locate them and do the same!

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Today is Leap Day, an extra day on the calendar. Use it well, because there are no guarantees on how long our important relationships will last, whether they’re in our business or personal lives. So take advantage of every opportunity daily to grow the people around you and to learn from them in turn.

Ask yourself several questions. Are you giving enough of yourself to these important people? Can you see your positive influence on them? Have you helped prepare them to pass on to others the lessons you’ve shared? Do these people know how much they mean to you? Are you ready to let them go?

To judge whether you are doing this successfully or not, try this. Imagine one of your most important relationships is drawing to a close, but you get one extra day with that person. Would you do anything differently on that special day? If the answer is yes, you have some more giving to do.

One of my most important business relationships isn’t ending today, but it is certainly entering a new phase as someone who is a wonderful friend and a tremendously talented and important member of the team takes the leap to the next exciting phase of her career.

And as sad as this type of transition can be, it’s among the most gratifying things in business to see some of the very special, talented researchers I’ve worked with go on to be so successful in their careers. As that group grows by one today, they all make me so proud to have learned from them and to have been a part of their professional growth.

P.S. To learn directly from one of them, check out next Friday’s blog with our first guest blogger, as Brad Barash at Decision Insight throws up some ideas on communicating research more effectively.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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One more tip for presentations (and for everyday business speak) is to avoid business cliches. An email last week from Dow Jones pointed to its recent review of the most overused phrases by continent. There are interesting similarities among the cliches used around the world, and it’s well worth checking out the pdf.

My thought? At the end of the day…go home, spend time with your family, say your prayers, and go to bed!

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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I’ve seen a variety of presenters at conferences lately – both good (a few) and bad (mostly). Based on what most bad presenters do, here are four pieces of (apparently) unconventional advice that can lead to dramatic improvements:

  1. Use fewer words on slides. Don’t show every word you plan to say; it’s not that effective of a crutch. Fewer words (or only images) help maintain audience attention & cover your flubs because the audience can’t compare what you’re saying to everything on the screen.
  2. Practice less – and listen more. Record your presentation and listen to it. Hear what isn’t working, and fix it before you present. Reading your presentation over and over without listening to it causes you to miss obvious gaffes that listeners will readily hear.
  3. Cut back on multimedia & animation. Using various sounds, moving images, and videos won’t fix a poor presenter. It just puts more pressure on you to hit cues – the last thing you should have to be thinking about while presenting.
  4. Have fun – but if you’re scared or not funny, don’t throw one joke in to lighten things up. One funny comment reminds the audience how unamusing the rest of it is. A better strategy: smile throughout and quit trying to be funny if you aren’t in real life. Audiences are more forgiving of an underdog who looks genuine and friendly than somebody who is trying to be slick but isn’t.

All of these should save prep time that you can use to ensure you know the content and can talk about it conversationally, even without PowerPoint. If you can do that, you’ll deliver a lot better presentation!

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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At the start of a recent conference call for an upcoming strategy planning project, it was clear I was expected to facilitate the discussion. That was my suspicion coming in, but with other responsibilities, there wasn’t a chance to prepare as much as I typically would. So after a brief introduction, all eyes and ears turned to me to start talking – gulp.

Here’s Your ChallengeWhat do you do when you’re not ready to speak or don’t know what to say?

Mark Twain said, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” How about a middle ground? Next time you’re in a similar situation, think for a moment, open your mouth, and ASK a great question.

Doing this provides three clear, immediate strategic benefits:

  • You shift the focus from your lack of preparation and give the floor back to the other participants.
  • The other people feel better because they’re able to provide input.
  • By actively listening, you can pick out cues from their comments that can shape your next move – to talk, to change course, or to ask another question.

The strategic key is asking the right type of question.

Be ready by developing a quick list of 8 to 10 questions that you can rely upon with ease. Here are a few to get you started (along with when to use them):

  • Can you elaborate? (If someone has provided information, but you’re not clear what it means.)
  • How have you approached this before? (If people have previous experience they could share.)
  • What are your initial thoughts for how to approach it? (When participants have pre-conceived notions about what to do.)
  • Can you tell me more? (When someone has a wealth of information that hasn’t been shared yet.)
  • What’s most important for you to accomplish? (To understand the other parties’ motivations – and what matters in this situation.)

In this example, I chose the last question, allowing participants an opportunity to share their individual and collective objectives for the upcoming planning session. Their initial comments set up a follow-up question (What percent of the plan should be devoted to each of the 3 sections you’ve mentioned?), creating the opportunity to start capturing topic areas. A productive meeting was thus snatched from the jaws of unpreparedness with two great, simple questions.

So what questions will you be better prepared to ask next time this happens to you? – Mike Brown

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at brainzooming@gmail.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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“If there is nothing very special about your work, no matter how hard you apply yourself, you won’t get noticed and that increasingly means you won’t get paid much, either.”
Michael Goldhaber, Wired

Here’s Your Challenge -This quote from Michael Goldhaber in Wired magazine is several years old, but it remains absolutely true. So what is special about your work? If you don’t have an immediate answer to the question, figure out which of the statements below best describes your situation and take action right away:

“There is something very special about my work, but I just haven’t found the words to describe it in a concise way.” Remedy – Craft, edit, rewrite, re-edit, and memorize the elevator speech for your “very special” work aspects immediately.

“There are very special things about my work, but nobody notices it.” OR “My work used to be very special, but it doesn’t feel that way anymore.” In both cases, there’s some mismatch between your work and the audience. Here are some possibilities behind one or both statements:

  • Possibility #1 – You’re kidding yourself; there’s really nothing very special about your work. Remedy – Change your work right away. Figure out a new audience, a new objective, a new approach, a new project, a new level of performance, or something (anything) to inject specialness into your work.
  • Possibility #2 – There is something special about your work, but your most important audiences, don’t get it because they lack either the sophistication, appreciation, or need for what you’re doing. Remedy – Decide if it’s worth trying to develop the audience you have, radically changing what you’re doing, or simply trying to find a new audience.
  • Possibility #3 – Maybe the work is (was) special, but it’s passed you by (you’ve failed to keep up) or you’ve passed it by (it just isn’t as motivating for you to excel as it used to be). Remedy – In either case, it’s time to transform your current situation (if that’s a possibility) or quit and transform elsewhere. (For more on this remedy, read this review of Seth Godin’s “The Dip” – the review is even shorter than the book and pretty much covers it.)

“There never has been anything very special about my work.” Remedy – Sorry – there’s no quick answer here. You’re not alive career-wise and probably never have been. But take heart, if you’re willing to put up with this situation, it’s highly unlikely you’d ever find your way to this blog.

“Let me briefly tell you (show you) what’s very special about my work!” Congratulations! That’s the right answer. Proceed immediately to starting your own blog on what’s special about your work and tell the world – or at least the 10 loyal friends who will read your blog! (P.S. For a great Seth Godin post about being passionate about your work – as opposed to being a workaholic – check this out. And no, despite the two references today, P.S. doesn’t stand for Pointing to Seth.)

Be more special this year (don’t just pretend) and deservedly earn some more of your audience’s attention.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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  • Become more passionate and determined about your vision.
  • You’ll never know what you can do until you try.
  • Doing what you like is freedom. Liking what you do is happiness.
  • Surround yourself with good friends and laughter.
  • Honing your ability to find the silly in the serious will take you far.
  • Make sure others feel blessed for having you as a friend.
  • One learns most from teaching others.
  • Your co-workers take pleasure in your great sense of creativity.
  • Face any problem with dignity.
  • To climb the ladder of success, work hard and you’ll reach it.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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