Results Every Time You Talk

Presence

December 10th, 2009

Clients often ask me, “What is the most important attribute of a great ‘public speaker?’”

I usually say, “Why would you want to be a great public speaker? Why not just talk to people and make things happen?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” they say. “I know, I know, but really, what is the key to having impact in scary presentations?”

The answer is one of those slightly spiritual, riddle-secret-enigma deals because the answer is simply this: being 100% who you are. What’s so tough about that? You just stand up and let it rip…right? Well, not quite. At least not for most of us. There may be an ashram somewhere where everyone is completely authentic and completely present all the time, but I haven’t seen many managed organizations that have that kind of batting average. In fact, most of us mortals are constantly adjusting our own sense of who we are, which is one reason why very few of us are ever really completely comfortable in our own skin.

I mean, I know I’m supposed to be a businessman. My clients are deans of business schools, principals of international architectural firms, managing partners in venture capital and private equity firms, etc., but I love surfing and playing in my band almost as much as I like helping people win in important meetings. Heck, I used to have a “ soul patch” on my lower lip. So, who am I? Soul-surfer/musician, or thought leader/consultant/coach? Of course, the answer is “all of the above.” What that means is that how I am with people had better be informed by all of those parts of me, or folks aren’t getting all of me. And, all of me is what my clients are paying for. All of you is what your clients are paying for, too. It’s also what your employees want to follow, your investors believe in, and your family relies on. Giving less than 100% of who you are is shortchanging all of your relationships, and, maybe more importantly, it’s shortchanging yourself.

By the way, bringing all of yourself to any of these relationships is what being present means. Often, being present as a communicator means listening more than talking. It always means that you are radically aware of the impact you are having on those around you. It kind of puts the “Co” back in “Co-mmunication.” Being present means you’re not simply trying to “remember what comes next.” It means that you are so “in-the-moment” that your ideas are coming from your heart as well as your head. It means that everything about you is working hard to make a connection and make something important happen for the people you are talking to. It is hard work. It won’t come easily to many of us. It takes practice, but it can be learned—and it really matters.

The good news is that being 100% you and present is the only real differentiation you have. In the days of complete access to information, we have lots of choices for just about every decision we will ever make. Even the most rarefied professional services compete. This means that the products and services we offer have all pretty much become commoditized. So, marketing budgets not withstanding, the only real differentiation any of us have is who we really are. Which is great news to me because I also happen to think it’s why we are here on the planet.

Choosing to bring the very best of you to every communication means being fully present. Being present means being fully alive. Fully alive is where the fun is and busts down all the walls. It’s worth the fight.

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Getting Comfortable With the “Real” You

December 7th, 2009

There is a dangerous myth in the business world that says it’s our products, services, expertise, and capability that differentiate us and our companies from our competitors. But, here’s the rub: we all believe our “stuff” is great. With the exception of the clearly-branded leaders in any business category, how does one law firm, for instance, declare that it’s better than another? Win/loss record? Depends on the type of case and client. How does one design firm objectively declare its designs are superior to their competition’s? Awards won, time-lines met, budgets honored, number of clients satisfied? Every major firm makes those claims. How does one venture capital/private equity investor demonstrate its superiority to investors when the return numbers are all in the same ballpark? As far as I know, Avis is the only major brand that ever described itself as “#2.” And even then, they didn’t say “second best.” They said, “We’re # 2, we try harder!”

I’m not talking about advertising slogans here. I’m interested in how people talk to other people. When you are in a room with another living, breathing, thinking, feeling human being, how do you leverage that moment as an opportunity to move the relationship forward? There, I said it. “Relationship.” Well, it may come as a big surprise to some of you, but the answer is that building a relationship probably has very little to do with what you say. Yes, you can blow it with bad idea selection and an overuse of data-heavy PowerPoint slides, but for most of the meetings you have, it really boils down to who connects the best. So, differentiation–in the moment, at the chalk-face–comes from being completely who you are. The only real differentiation we can truly lay claim to is our incredible individual diversity. Not to mention, sophisticated purchasers of your service, product, etc. have incredibly sensitive “BS” meters.

I’m not suggesting that you be lazy or unprepared. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Being who you are when you are unprepared, nervous, or feeling out of your depth isn’t the “real you” that helps you get the job. In fact, I often have to physically manipulate some people to get them to show the sides of themselves that “look real” even to themselves on videotape. But, if you can change a golf slice into a draw (and even if you can’t), you can get used to using yourself in a way that allows you to express “the best of who you are.” And, if you’re not willing or able to do that in every important business communication, you are leaving money on the table. And, you don’t want to leave money on the table. You want the money in your bank account.

Who you are differentiates you. The best of who you are helps build your brand. And, what you are comfortable with now may do neither. So, what is “real,” what is “natural,” and what works? Comfort is a product of repetition. Period. We are hardwired to respond to people who seem comfortable in their own skin, who seem genuinely engaged in what they are talking about, and who are making a genuine effort to be available for real connection. There are a handful of choices you can make with your body and voice that help you express those qualities on a regular basis. But, you may have to work from the outside in for a while. Once you uncover what choices help you to express your own real power, your own real energy, and your real willingness to connect, you have to get enough reps under your belt to make them feel natural and real to you.

One way or the other, you are what differentiates (or fails to differentiate) your organization, cause, etc., from competing interests. Not your offering. So, make sure you put the best “you” out there every time you talk.

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The “Delta” Model

December 2nd, 2009

Interview with Dan Sapp by Brad Collins, Brand Strategist from Group C in New Haven, CT

Brad: You’ve told me that the “Delta” model is about deepening relationships and that communication can’t simply be about conveying information, because that in and of itself doesn’t deepen a relationship. Can you say more about that?

Dan: The fundamental premise behind the “Delta” communication model is that the only reason we share ideas in business at all is because there are other people we need to engage in some process. That’s why I keep talking about this idea of “the other.” As leaders, we have to remember that we are talking to and for somebody else. We’re not talking to or for ourselves, or at least we shouldn’t be. If we’re going to have impact, and we have to if we’re leading, then we have to get “others” to be different in a useful way when we are through. I love the word “leadership.” It really means getting people to follow you. Leading isn’t telling others what to do. It’s connecting with others in a way that encourages them to follow. I have this image of real leaders as people who walk down a road and trust that when they look back, folks will still be right behind them.

We get others to follow by creating connections that feel valuable to them. You can have a one-person business where the only person you have to convince is yourself, but these tend to be pretty short conversations. But, when there are other people who have to take action, and take the right action, then those people have to act in a way that reflects the values of the organization, the company, the brand, etc. I mean, it’s not OK for folks to go out and just take random action. They have to take action that creates value for the company if leadership is doing its job. So, as soon as you’re in a relationship where you have to influence other people’s behavior and values, then you’re “doing” leadership. And, that’s all about communicating with those other people and connecting on purpose.

I’m more and more convinced that people follow those they feel connected to. We crave these connections. For many, using this framework for evaluating business communication is a big paradigm shift. I’m trying to get people to recognize and own that, as leaders, we’re trying to influence other people when we talk to them. It’s never enough to simply exchange information. As leaders, who we are, and what we say, has to have impact and make something happen. From a strategic perspective, we don’t gather people together to simply exchange data. And to me, that’s why it is such a crime against good business to bring people together and create these opportunities to connect, and then turn out the lights and read notes that narrate a “presentation.”

Look, there are times when it’s completely valid for a human being to simply want to talk and have other people tend to their needs and listen. Sometimes we crave that so badly we pay for it. But that’s not what we’re talking about in a business situation. So, the “Delta” model is a way of thinking about the result you want, the action you want taken, and the change you’re after through other people and teams, and throughout organizations. Part of the power of the “Delta” model is in recognizing just how significant it is to start your planning process with identifying the change you’re after in other people. Then, you choose ideas that connect with them. Like in mathematics, the triangular delta symbol reflects the result of some chemical, physical, or mathematical process. And, this is not unlike what’s happening in business, where we make intellectual and physical connections to make things change in useful ways.

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Habits

November 24th, 2009

So much of the way we are in the world is the result of sheer repetition that it is just plain scary. That’s where habits come from. You do something often enough—the same way—and it becomes a habit. You know why you slice a golf ball so consistently? 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 left to get the ball to land anywhere near the fairway. The real bummer is that even after lessons, when 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 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, “umhing” and “ahhing” our way through a massive data dump.

Hey, it’s a habit. We’re comfortable with it, and our clients don’t really expect anything else. Right?

Well, it may be true that, especially now, the bar is pretty low for what is acceptable in how we talk to each other in business. No one will give you demerits for following the standard company script. And, if you ask someone how you did after giving a “presentation,” they will probably say, “you did great, Boss. You didn’t leave anything out, and you stayed perfectly in synch with the PowerPoint!” So, you got a good grade on your “presentation.” Atta boy!

Unfortunately, finishing your presentation on time, and having said everything you planned to say in a business meeting, doesn’t help you any more than a predictable slice does in golf. In fact, both put you into a very large, socially acceptable fraternity. But, neither helps you get the results you want when the stakes are high.

The good news is that choosing to connect when you talk is actually physically 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 differentiator you have: who you are. Will connection always get you the deal? Of course not. But, if data are what your clients really need for the relationship to go forward, and you are comfortable with them drawing their own conclusions, then just e-mail them the spreadsheet or presentation. But, 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. After all, it sure beats pulling expensive golf balls out of patches of poison oak.

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Connection

November 18th, 2009

We are unhappy when we are disconnected, and we go crazy when we can’t connect.

Connection.

The things we care about most are the things that make us feel the most connected: family, love, business, politics, music, sports, social networking….

On the other hand, one of the few facts I remember from my graduate studies in clinical psychology is that if you want to ruin a human being, leave it unattended (disconnected) as a baby. Abuse is better than inattention to a developing human. That’s one reason so many people stay in abusive relationships—because the pull of connection is stronger than the rational fear for one’s life.

So, what does all of this have to do with getting “results every time you talk” in business? Well, we’ve all been told a thousand times that businesses run on relationships. What does that mean? It means that our ability to connect may be the most critical skill required to be an effective leader. Think about it. If you could do everything yourself, you probably already would have. But, as soon as there is a division of labor, then other people have to do things for the business to grow. How do you get other people to do things? Well, whether you do it with empathy (good!) or coercion (bad!), you have to connect with them.

I’m blogging because I need to be more connected to the people I work with and the people I would like to work with. So, I look forward to hearing from you. And, of course, if you like what you see, tell your friends!

Peace,

Dan

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Power of the Pause

November 10th, 2009

Ever notice how the most powerful person in a meeting often seems the most comfortable with silence? Well, I’ve got news for you: comfort with silence is as much a contributor to that power as it is a reflection of it. I am more and more convinced that “change” comes in moments of peace, during pauses—when we get to integrate ideas, concepts, practices, etc.—and not in the heat of the moment when ideas are being firehosed at us.

I took a long pause this summer…three weeks away from helping clients with messaging, strategy, physical presence, and the like, to focus on why I do all of this. While my pause wasn’t always quiet (my band played a very loud gig on the 4th of July at Stinson Beach, CA, and at one point we had 18 family members for dinner at our house in Maine!), it was an important “caesura” from the pressures of helping business people connect “on purpose.” It was important because without time to connect with my family, my sons, my wife, and with myself, it would be hypocritical to challenge others to connect. And, I believe connection is why we are here.

Silences, pauses, time for reflection—these are doorways to connection with others and ourselves. Meaning, learning, relationships. Value happens in the gaps more than in the words and the activities. But, just like I had to choose to take three weeks off, we have to choose to create silences, or gaps, for the people with whom we work to connect.

So, what does all of this have to do with connecting “on purpose”? You have choices to make when you interact with people. How you use your body and voice and the ideas you share are all choices you can make that will have a profound impact on your ability to both connect and to achieve your “purpose” (get it? connecting on purpose…). One of the most powerful choices of all is the “purposeful” use of silence.

Pausing gives you time to collect your thoughts. When you pause regularly, your ideas seem better organized and more succinct. This is especially important for tough “Q&A” situations. It also gives others time to digest your ideas. Yes, we can hear more quickly than we can talk, but hearing, understanding, and impact are different phenomena. Silence creates impact. In fact, a bit of silence before any idea makes it seem more important because it sounds as if you have given the idea some thought. That’s one reason why a quickly-read speech will never have the impact of someone really talking with passion.

There are also physiological reasons for pausing. Every time you pause, you give your body the chance to exhale and release tension, so you feel more relaxed. When you inhale again, it fuels you with a well-projected voice. The faster you go, the less you breathe. The less you breathe, the faster you go…and the harder it is for your audience to track you. A communicator who is comfortable with silence looks and sounds confident and in control. It’s as if the willingness to pause, breathe, and think says to others, “I’m OK. I’m not in a hurry, and what I’m saying is so important that I want you to think about it.”

Try it. Next time you have important ideas to share—at work, at home, on the golf course—bracket those ideas with silence. Share a thought…and pause. The people you are sharing with will get to digest and integrate each idea, and you and your ideas will begin to connect with them. In the meantime, as your ideas begin to take on more importance, you’ll be breathing and relaxing more, which magically eliminates use of “verbal fillers” (umm, ahh, like, so, etc.). You’ll seem better-organized, more confident, and more in control.

Let me know how it works.

Peace,

Dan

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