My band, Closeenough, does a passable version of John Hiatt’s moody, funky blues tune, “Old Habits,” from the album, Perfectly Good Guitar. The song is about a woman (I assume) who stays with the wrong men for the wrong reason: “That ain’t the facts of life, it’s just bad fiction, and honey that sure ain’t love, naw it’s just an addiction.” Funny thing is he doesn’t talk about “bad habits.” He just talks about “old habits.” Old habits are hard to break. Try tying your shoes left over right instead of right over left. Hard, uncomfortable, takes longer, inefficient, etc.
So much of the way we are in the world is the result of sheer repetition that it’s a bit scary. That’s where habits come from. You do something often enough and the same way each time, and it becomes a habit. You know why you slice the ball so consistently in golf? Because somehow or another, you taught yourself a swing that makes the ball spin from the inside out. Then, you did it so often it started feeling “natural.” Now you have to aim 45 degrees to the left to get the ball to land anywhere near the fairway. The real bummer is that even after lessons and hours on the practice tee, hitting long high-draw after long high-draw, under pressure in the club championship, you push it off into the trees. Because, under pressure, we all retreat to what is comfortable. As children, when threatened, we run screaming for our mothers. On the golf course, under pressure, we revert to an over-the-top swing with an open club face and say good-bye to another Pro V 1. And, in critical, $100 million dollar meetings, we resort to text-heavy PowerPoint presentations, in dark rooms, “Ummhing”, and “Ahhing” our way through a massive core dump of data.
Hey, it’s a habit. We’re comfortable with it, and our clients don’t really expect us to be great “presenters.” Right?
Well, it may be true that the bar is pretty low for what is acceptable in business communications. No one will give you demerits for following the standard company script. And, if you ask someone, “How did I do?” they will probably say, “You did great, boss. You didn’t leave anything out, and you stayed perfectly in sync with your PowerPoint!” So, you got a good grade on your pitch! Atta boy!
Unfortunately, finishing your presentation on time, and having said everything you planned to say in a business communication, doesn’t help you any more than a predictable slice helps you in golf. In fact, both put you into very large, socially acceptable fraternity. But, neither helps you get the results you are after when the stakes are high.
The good news is that choosing to connect as a communicator is much easier than consistently hitting a draw. All it takes is turning off the projector, turning up the lights, and choosing to really talk to the other people in the room. It might be scary at first and it may feel “unnatural” for a while, but that is a small price to pay for the only real differentiation you have: who you are. Will connection always get you the deal? Of course not. But, if data is what your clients ask for, e-mail it to them. However, if they invite you to fly across the country to talk to them, then take the risk, get out of your comfort zone, and convince them that what you have and who you are is what they need. Because “data dumps” are as helpful as staying in bad relationships and pulling expensive golf balls out patches of poison oak.