Communication | The Brainzooming Group - Part 93 – page 93
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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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7

I’ve seen a variety of presenters and presentations at conferences – both good (a few) and bad (mostly). While it’s great to see a presenter who has creative presentation ideas, I think there may be more to be learned from bad presenters and avoiding their presentation mistakes. Based on what most bad presenters do with Powerpoint at conferences, here are a variety of (apparently) unconventional presentation tips that can lead to dramatically more effective presentation delivery:

  • Use fewer words on slides. Don’t show every word you plan to say in your presentation; it’s not that effective of a crutch. Fewer words (or only images) help maintain audience attention & cover your speaking flubs because the audience can’t compare what you’re saying to everything on the screen.

Ideally, you’ve never had to say during a Powerpoint presentation – “I know this is tough to read, but I think you’ll get the point” because if you have, that means even you realize your SLIDE SUCKS!!! You need to fix the Powerpoint slide or get rid of it and not subject the audience to your LAZINESS!!! Sorry about the outburst, but if you choose to fix your Powerpoint slide, here are three possible approaches to make it more effective:

* Prioritize the material on the Powerpoint slide – use the forced choice technique approach from a previous post to narrow the content.

* Help the audience focus– if it’s an overly detailed chart or spreadsheet on the Powerpoint slide, consider using custom animation in Powerpoint to circle the area you’re addressing or a picture insert to enlarge what you’re referencing. Other presentation design possibilities include breaking the single Powerpoint slide up into multiple slides which are legible or developing a graphic with only the point(s) you’re making.

* Do something completely different – think hard about whether there’s a story, anecdote, or image you could use to make your point in a more effective way and (I realize this is radical) completely eliminate the detailed slide.

I know this may not make sense to a bad presenter, because you think the audience REALLY needs to see everything on the Powerpoint slide to get the point. But on behalf of all audience members, we can’t SEE what’s on the slide anyway; it might as well be blank. So pick a course of action (and reach out to somebody who is a presentation design specialist to help if you’re struggling with points 2 or 3), and get back to us when you’ve fixed your Powerpoint slides!

* Practice less – and listen more. Record your presentation and listen to it. Hear what isn’t working, and fix it before you present to deliver a more effective presentation and improve your presentation skills. Reading your presentation over and over without listening to it causes you to miss obvious gaffes that listeners at a conference will readily hear.

* Cut back on multimedia & animation. Using various sounds, moving images, and videos won’t fix a presenter with poor presentation skills. It just puts more pressure on you to hit cues – the last thing you should have to be thinking about while presenting at a conference.

* Have fun – but if you’re scared or not funny, don’t throw one joke into a presentation to lighten things up.One funny comment reminds the audience how unamusing the rest of your presentation is. A better public speaking strategy? Smile throughout your presentation and quit trying to be funny if you aren’t in real life. Audiences are more forgiving of an underdog presenter who looks genuine and friendly than a public speaker who is trying to be slick but isn’t.

And if you’re still struggling with whether you have too much content on your Powerpoint slides, here are two quick presentation design checks to ensure you are more effective on the detail level and clarity of your presentation slides:

Check #1– Print out your “finished” PowerPoint presentation with 16 (or at least 9) slides on the page (you can usually do this in the Printer Setup dialog – not directly in PowerPoint). At that resolution, see if you can read what’s on EVERY Powerpoint slide without squinting. If you can, your conference audience will be able to read it as well. If you can’t, neither will your audience, so go back and revisit your presentation design again.

Check #2– Cover the headline on each Powerpoint slide and ask, “Can the audience get my point from the slide’s content?” Next, cover up the content and ask, “Can the audience get my point from the headline?” Then determine, “Is the point consistent for both the headline and the content?” The right answer to all these questions is “Yes,” if you’re slide is a good one. If not, you’ve got some more work to do.

An additional presentation tip for effective public speaking (and for everyday business speak) is to avoid business cliches. A report from Dow Jones points to its 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!

Simply using the principles outlined above will demonstrate to your audience that you’re thinking about them and are making strides to deliver value to them with your content. Many of the tips will help 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

Mike Brown is a frequent and highly rated keynote speaker on business strategy, innovation, and creativity. Learn more about his presentation topics and availability by contacting The Brainzooming Group  at brainzooming@gmail.com or call us at 816-509-5320.

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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Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

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