Communication | The Brainzooming Group - Part 92 – page 92
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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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6

Holidays often present our most memorable experiences because of the emotional range they touch – whether positive or negative. The strong emotional connections coupled with the high degree of personal interest in holidays fixes long ago memories in our minds as if they happened yesterday.

When we’re presenting ideas in business though, we usually don’t think about this relationship that creates holiday memories:

Memorability = Degree of Personal Interest x Intensity of Emotions
At best, business presentations assume some implied level of personal interest (since after all, it’s a business topic) and stop short of including any emotion (since after all, it’s a business topic). When you work through the formula above for most business presentations (Minimal personal interest x Zero emotion), you get NO memorability.

For your next business communication, use the formula to your advantage by thinking through and incorporating answers to the following questions when developing and delivering ideas.

To increase personal interest, for each person in the audience answer:

  • What about the business is important either as a motivator (opportunities, cost savings, satisfying customers, increasing stock price, etc.) or as a fear (competitors, losing customers, deteriorating EPS, etc.) for this person?
  • From what perspective does this person think about the business, and how does that shape their information processing and decision making?
  • What words do they use to talk about the business?
  • What are their most important personal motivators (advancement, looking good, being smart, etc.) and fears (losing a job, looking bad, being dumb, etc.)?

To increase the emotional connection of your presentation, think about how you could use:

  • Surprise – is there a different way to order or communicate the content to be more surprising?
  • Drama – would making it a suspenseful story or acting out part of it add a beneficial sense of drama?
  • Humor – if the information is challenging, can you use humor (maybe a funny cartoon or story) to help reduce defensiveness?
  • Excitement – is there an alternative format (movie clip, audience participation) that would be more exciting than Powerpoint?

One final consideration in seeking a more emotional connection – how receptive is your organization to incorporating an emotional angle and how will you signal what you’re doing? Both points are important so that you are bringing your audience along with you to get the maximum positive impact.

So back to holiday memorability. It’s late December – Christmas, Kwanza, and New Year’s are coming up; Hanukkah is over. I’ll stop focusing on creating business memories and get started on holiday memories if you’ll do the same! But let’s meet back here right after the first of the year. Have a blessed holiday season full of wonderful memories!

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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Dear Kids,

Just like your management team at work, Santa’s very busy this time of year, and while he’d love to spend time with each letter, there are only so many hours in the work day.

Want to make sure Santa gets the point of your request so that you’re not disappointed this holiday season? Take a tip from “Winning with the P&G 99: 99 Principles and Practices of Procter Gambles Success” by Charles Decker and send him a brief (one-page at most) recommendation making it clear very quickly to Santa how good you’ve been and what you’d like. Here’s the 4-section recommendation format to use:

  1. Brief Background – Provide a quick overview of the issue that your recommendation is addressing so that your boss (I mean Santa) knows what you’re covering.
  2. Recommendation – Clearly & succinctly state what you think should be done.
  3. Rationale – List the reasons that support why the thing that you think should happen should happen.
  4. Next Actions – If the recommendation’s accepted, list out the next things that have to take place.

Let’s apply the approach (sans the headers that you’d use in a business memo) to our holiday letter:

Dear Santa,

I just wanted to update you on what a good boy I’ve been this year and suggest a gift that would truly be appreciated.

This Christmas, I recommend that you bring me a new tablet computer.

This gift is warranted because I’ve really tried to help my wife more around the house this year, including yard work (which I really don’t like). The tablet computer would allow me the flexibility to work on this blog while away from home, to stay in contact with friends and loved ones, to get work done on airplanes more easily, and to draw cartoons for my presentations.

If you agree that a tablet computer makes sense as a gift, please deliver it on the evening of December 24 in Hays, KS, where we’ll be celebrating Christmas with my family. Thank you, and please let me know if you have any questions.

Sincerely,
Mike

So there you have it kids. In fewer than a dozen lines, we’ve made our recommendation and laid out the best case. Try it with Santa AND try it at the office. It really works in cutting through the clutter and getting to decisions faster.

Btw – if you’re still doing holiday shopping, Amazon lists copies of the “P&G 99” for $1.89. That’s less than 2 cents per principle or practice – you won’t find a cheaper gift that will so dramatically improve your staff’s performance this coming year! Order now!!!

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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6

Jay Conrad Levinson is the father of guerrilla marketing, the concept that businesses can reap greater rewards through the strategic use of low- and no-cost marketing tools. He says that there are at least 100 guerrilla marketing tools available to any business.

Beyond the standard tool list that Levinson uses, I’ve found it helpful to get marketing teams to work through a specific question-based exercise to identify marketing tools unique or at least specific to their own businesses.

Use the list below with your marketing team. One way is for a team member to identify as many answers to a specific question as possible within a 3 minute period, and then rotate the question to the next team member to build on the list:

  • What do we want to promote?
  • What are our features, benefits & competitive advantages? Which are most meaningful?
  • What communications vehicles are in place?
  • What ideas/words/phrases do we use?
  • Who are experts/partners? What’s notable about them?
  • Where do our audiences congregate (geographically or virtually) and/or receive our messages?
  • What motivates our audiences?
  • How can we get permission and the info to keep marketing to our audiences?
  • What business & personal relationships do we have that could be of assistance?
  • Who would like to be involved with us in growing our business?
  • Who could we help make more successful?
  • What interactions do we have with our audience?
  • What new interactions can we create?
  • What tools or ideas can we “steal”?

I’ve had a team of 8 to 10 people build a list of more than 200 tools (many of which they’d never thought of using) within a 25 minute period as everyone worked individually using the rotating question approach.

You can also check out a more focused set of areas to brainstorm and identify specific social media resources and tools your organization can use.

Give this exercise a try at your next staff meeting or planning session, and then go back through your marketing plan to make sure you’re using as many of the tools as possible that you’ve identified.  – 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 816-509-5320 to learn how we can develop an integrated, guerrilla marketing-oriented strategy for your brand.

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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Not having written a book of my own yet, I end up using great books that others have written as give-aways at my presentations. While I’m planning to correct the “I haven’t written a book” problem in 2008, the holiday season provides an opportunity to recommend some wonderful books that have dramatically shaped my thinking on careers, branding, innovation, and strategy.

“Radical Careering – 100 Truths to Jumpstart Your Job, Your Career, and Your Life” by Sally Hogshead, Gotham Books, ISBN: 1-592-40150-3.
100 brain jolts to change your behavior and drive dramatic change. I’ve spoken on the same program as Sally several times, and the audience conclusion is always that “SALLY ROCKS!” It’s true – her first book uses a unique format with 100 self-contained lessons to challenge you to invest your precious energy & time on creating a meaningful difference in life. Beyond the book check out Sally’s website and podcasts.

“The Marketer’s Visual Toolkit” by Terry Richey, AMACOM, ASIN: 0814402135.
I only worked directly with Terry one time many years ago, but his book has been an important part of shaping how we’ve tried to incorporate visual representations in strategic planning efforts. It’s tough to find, but well worth the effort for its help in translating complex ideas into tools that people can work with more successfully.

“75 Cage Rattling Questions” by Dick Whitney & Melissa Giovagnoli, McGraw-Hill, ISBN: 0070700192.
This is a great source of challenging questions to stimulate strategic thinking. On page after page, you’ll find questions to incorporate into creative and planning sessions. They’ll spur discussions on difficult topics. I mean really, what would your organization be like if your mother ran it?

Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter’s Guide” by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway, and Jon Warshawsky, Free Press, ISBN: 0-7432-6909-8.
I hate the word “leverage” as a substitute for “use.” I hate using “around” instead of “on” (i.e. “he’s doing some work around that topic.”) And I hate that I didn’t write this manifesto for eliminating business language that’s intended to obscure meaning. If you communicate in business (okay that’s probably everybody who’ll ever read this), get this book and share it with your co-workers.

“Made to Stick” by Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Random House, ISBN-10: 1400064287.
I’ve given away a number of copies of this book this year since it’s another one that I wish I’d written. In driving a major brand turnaround, we’ve incorporated many of its concepts on using simple messages, surprise, and emotion to help ideas live on and become part of a company’s cultural fabric. It packages all the concepts in one place with great insights on making your own ideas take off and thrive. This book has received a lot of well-deserved attention.

“The Art of Possibility – Transforming Professional and Personal Life” by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, Harvard Business School Press, ISBN: 0-87584-770-6.
It’s been a blessing to have seen Benjamin Zander present twice – at a retail conference in Dallas, followed 4 months later by his closing appearance at the Transformation Business & Logistics conference that I produced in 2001. He was wonderful in Dallas (as he forced my co-worker and me to come from the back of the room to live life in the front row). He was incredible at Transformation – we learned to love classical music in 7 minutes, 2000 people serenaded an audience member with “Happy Birthday” as if we really meant it, and at the end, we all sang Beethoven’s 9th in German while standing on our chairs. It still makes my eyes well up with joy. If you can’t see him in person, get this book by he and his partner Rosamund and at least read their wonderful stories. How Fascinating!

There’s the list. Make sure to order early for delivery before the holidays (and peruse them before heading back to work on January 2)!

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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The Importance of Strategic Mentors

A mentor can be invaluable for any business person as part of your informal business team, providing a different and more experienced perspective than you’d have on your own. Not all mentors are suited to fill every role, so it’s beneficial to have various mentors to satisfy specific experience gaps.

Do you have a strategic mentor – one who can help you identify the things that matter in your business situation and provide new insights & perspectives on how to approach things innovatively? When seeking one out, look for the following characteristics – beyond those that any great mentor possesses. The best strategic mentors are:

  • Smart
  • Experienced & diverse
  • Adept at asking productive, probing questions
  • Oriented toward innovation
  • Gifted with perceptive, accurate instincts
  • Able to identify “what matters” in a particular situation
  • Visionary
  • Open to challenging both you and the status quo
  • Comfortable holding a contradictory view
  • Able to make solid, insightful connections

I’ve been blessed to have several great strategic mentors. Some of the lessons they’ve taught me are shared below.

Dave Brown – College Years

Dave Brown (no relation) 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. 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.

Bill McDonald – Early Career

The first week Cyndi and I were in in Kansas City while unpacking boxes and listening to Mike Murphy’s radio show, I heard Bill McDonald talk about how his company, Kansas City Infobank, researched and identified market opportunities. While unsure about my career, I loved school, was good at it, and Infobank sounded like school. Thus began my “second MBA” – spending 2 ½ years at Infobank doing strategic projects for entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 companies, and everything in between.

Despite our financial challenges as a small business, Bill became an important strategic mentor. As mentioned before, the business instruction he gave me encompassed lessons too numerous to list. One in particular transformed my writing, helping create a personal business writing style.

Three months into the job, I was struggling with my first major report about the market for a laser printer add-on. Despite the report’s focus, I was writing pages on the personal computer market as an enabler for this technology.

Bill finally sat me down and said, “You need to understand you’re not in school anymore. You don’t need to write a long litany of facts to prove you’re qualified. You’re writing for business. The fact we have this assignment presumes we know what we’re doing. Get right to the point of our recommendations and the rationale behind them.

The discussion was a wake up call that business writing was different. Unlike school, where you’re required to demonstrate understanding to support getting a good grade, business writing needs to get right to the point. That’s even truer today. Bill’s direction has been a tremendously valuable career-long lesson that I’ve shared with many others to help improve their written communication.

Greg Reid – Career Job

No one’s success depends exclusively on individual efforts. We’re products of the ideas and interactions in which we’re immersed daily.

Greg Reid (far right), one of my strategic mentors, provided an important gift relative to this and the importance of talking about “we” instead of “me” in business.

Why use “we” when you communicate?

Being able to talk from a “we” perspective brings responsibilities, requiring you work with others in developing a recommendation, opening yourself to challenges and different perspectives. Considering different points of view creates stronger recommendations. While it may take more time or work to build broader agreement, the benefits are tremendous. It forces others with a stake in the recommendation to voice their support. Credibly talking from a first person plural perspective also removes a recommendation from standing on your point of view vs. someone else’s.

While there’s plenty of valid emphasis on personal responsibility and accountability in business, the “we” approach doesn’t fly in its face. Instead, it helps mitigate sometimes unwise behaviors attributable to seeking too much personal responsibility.

In making his point, Greg suggested listening to a co-worker’s language. When focusing intently, it was clear how often he used “I,” “me,” and portrayed sole responsibility for a recommendation he was advocating. Unfortunately, “his” audience didn’t support it, and having characterized it as his own, the decision came down to whose individual perspective was deemed more valid. Guess what? He lost. Not long after, his failure to build alliances was cited as a factor when pushed out of his position.

Pay attention to your communication. What’s your frequency of using “I” or “me” when you could have easily said “we”? Even without formally including others, simply dropping self-attribution for ideas creates some mystery regarding how big your support base is.

Summary

These are three of my incredible strategic mentors. Strategic mentors are out there – find one of your very own!


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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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