Communication

Trouble With Numbers

I once made myself a little unpopular with my statistics teacher with the Mark Twain quote: “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Numbers don’t lie, but people sometimes lie about what the numbers are telling us.

Consider the possibility that the trouble with numbers often isn’t intentional dishonesty, but misrepresentation committed in good faith or through ignorance or misinterpretation.

The other day I was listening to a podcast where the speaker mistakenly used two statements interchangeably:

  1. Nearly 80% of people between 25 and 40 years old have tattoos.
  2. Nearly 80% of people with tattoos are between 25 and 40 years old.

If a person isn’t paying attention, these sound the same and it’s easy to see how a person could mistake them for the same thing, yet the statements are radically different.

Another example of this same type of error would be saying:

  1. 70% of all men make $300,000 a year.
  2. 70% of those who make $300,000 a year are men.

I made up those numbers to help highlight how two very similar sounding statements can be very, very different.

Or consider the difference between:

  1. 90% of new hires at this company are unhappy.
  2. 90% of the unhappy people at this company are new hires.

Statement #2 doesn’t mean almost all new hires are unhappy, just that of the unhappy people most are new hires. If you have 100 new hires the first statement suggests 90 are unhappy. But if statement #2 is the true one and you only have 10 people in the company who are unhappy, well then 9 of them are new hires. Those are very different situations, requiring different responses.

Be careful out there.

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Better Communication with Dirty Rhetoric

Do you write? Present? Communicate with other humans? Need to persuade or share a compelling idea? (hint: the answer is “yes”). Read on.

It’s been said, “When Cicero spoke, people marveled. When Caesar spoke, people marched.” That’s how I want to write and present. I don’t want people to like my ideas, I want my ideas to inspire people.

If only… writing and speaking, communicating and persuading, are not easy. The difference between good and great, between marveling at a speech and marching because of it, is often subtle. Learning those nuances has been a bludgeoning task of trial and error for me. Hard knocks and underwhelming responses and I still have a long way to go.

So, I was stupidly, geekily excited to receive a set of Dirty Rhetoric cards in the mail. Yep, that’s actually the name and, no, it doesn’t come from an “adult” themed store. Rather, Peter Watts Paskale (@speak2all), a communications coach and analyst, and Gavin McMahon (@powerfulpoint), a communication and presentation consultant, created a card deck to quickly and easily teach the fundamentals of persuasive communication.

The cards are color coded into four categories – persuasion, scaling, description, and memory – and  each card describes one technique (53 in all). Along with the technique’s name in English and Latin, there are icons showing whether the technique connects to Ethos (belief/ideals/credibility), Logos (consistency/logic), or Pathos (emotions/imagination). Plus, each card has a rating system indicating the difficulty of the technique, a simple description, and two examples. Woof, that’s a lot of info on a card only slightly bigger than an average smart phone.

The instructions include six “games” to help incorporate the techniques into your messaging. For example, Aristotle’s Dilemma has you draw four cards from the color category matching the purpose of your speech (persuasion, description, etc.) and then find ways to incorporate those techniques into your draft. Writer’s Block focuses on learning the techniques and asks you to write a sentence or two, shuffle the cards, draw one from the deck, and apply that card’s technique to your writing. There are also games for four to six plus players.

Today is the first chance I’ve had to really open and look at the deck and I can hardly wait to really dig in. I love the premise of Dirty Rhetoric – a simple, practical way of learning and applying effective persuasive techniques to my writing and speaking.

Peter and Gavin were kind enough to send me a pre-production set for review. If you want to learn more or get your own set, check out the Dirty Rhetoric webpage, follow the #dirtyrhetoric hashtag on social media, or participate in the kickstarter campaign at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/99144298/dirty-rhetoric .

presenting like a rock star

Rock and roll2Does anyone else go to concerts and try to figure out how to do your job better? No? A side effect of being a presenter and facilitator is that I cannot attend any training, speech, or event without noticing what is done well, what could be better, and what I can learn from it.

Eighteen months ago I wrote a post called “Rock and Roll Presentation Skills” after seeing one of my favorite European bands perform. As a presenter, this band inspires me more than any other with their stage presence, energy, and connection to the crowd. By sheer coincidence the same band was performing in Dallas the same weekend I was there to attend HRevolution and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them again.

Reflecting on what I took from this performance, the presentation lessons hold true with what I learned from their last performance.

1. There is a huge, gaping chasm between “pretty good” and “great”. Three local bands opened up and they were pretty good. But there was a big contrast between the opening and main performances and, oddly, it had little to do with musical skills. Some of the local bands had outstanding musicians, but it wasn’t enough to close the gap. They did a “good” job, but not one that made me want to hear more from them.

That has me wondering what I need to do to leap to the next level. Obviously, a presentation has to be well written and delivered with reasonable skill. But, content and technical skills only get you to good. What are the components that move it to great?

2. ALL presentations matter.Although largely unknown in the States, the main band headlines festivals in Europe, playing to tens of thousands of people. In stark contrast, the show in Dallas was in a bar that held maybe a couple hundred people. They could have viewed Dallas an unimportant show and just gone through the motions.

Instead, they played as though it were the most important show on the tour. Full out, completely committed, pouring sweat, not an ounce of energy held back. Even with their relentless schedule of touring around the world they showed no signs of boredom, exhaustion, or the sense that it was just one more gig. Instead, they radiated joy and enthusiasm.

For me the big question is: How do I structure my life and mindset so I have the energy and focus to be at 100% for every presentation? How do I ensure I’m always treating every presentation as though it will define my career?

3. Engage the crowd. Rather than being the untouchable rockstars up on a pedestal, they interacted with the audience at every opportunity. The headlining singer continually and sincerely referred to the crowd as “friends”, showed off signs held by audience members, offered choices of what songs they’d play next, celebrated the energy of the crowd, and thanked the audience for coming out to see them. Sounds obvious, but the local bands did little of this.

What are the obvious things to connect with my audiences and classes that I’m not doing enough or at all? How can I better create a feeling where I’m speaking with the audience rather than at them? How can I connect with as many people as possible on as individual of level as possible.

4. Make it about the audience, not the presenter.The local bands kept mentioning the CDs they had for sale in the back, reasons they weren’t at their best, where they were playing next, blah, blah, blah. Any words between songs were few and focused on the band. In contrast, it would have been easy – almost expected – for the headliners to show up with rock and roll egos completely unchecked and gripe about the venue or small crowd. They could have bragged about the shows they normally do or made it clear a bar gig was beneath them. Yet, everything the headliners said – every single word– was focused on audience and how fun and great they were. It was clear the band was thrilled and grateful that everyone had showed up to see them.

Our words reveal our focus – as a speaker, is the concern for the audience and participants or for ourselves? This is a subtle, but really powerful difference. The audience knows and responds accordingly.

5. Keep it simple. One would think that less experience performers would keep it simple and focus on walking before they run, but it was the opposite. The local bands had five and six string basses and seven and eight (!) string guitars, using sophisticated techniques to play complex lines. The headlining musicians used a traditional instruments, straightforward techniques, and played comparatively simple songs.

As a presenter it’s tempting to show off with technology, complicated materials, fancy language, credentials, etc. But that’s all about the presenter. Complex is the lazy route. Simple is difficult, it takes more time to do, and it often feels unprofessional to the novice. What beginning presenters often miss is simple requires expert level judgment, effort, and refinement. Simple keeps it about the message connecting with the audience.

6. Have fun. It’s hard to travel day after day, connect with the audience, be grateful for any opportunity to get your message out there, and have a blast while doing it. Despite near continual touring schedule and the small venue the headliners were smiling, playing, joking around, and giving full effort like there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing. The headliners seemed to be doing their dream job, the local bands seemed to be showing up for work.

The differences between good and great are small, but significant.

It’s funny how the things that set us apart are often not all that big on the surface. Notice how none of this is about their musical ability. The gap between the opening bands and the headliner was much more about approach, attitude, and connection. Could the local bands have done all this? Yes. Did they? Not really. They were more than skilled enough, but in the end were no more memorable than the background music the club played over the PA between the sets.

It’s a nice reminder to continually step up my intention, focus, and connection. I need to make sure I’m creating a great user experience and not getting between my message and my audience.

For you, what’s the difference between a great presentation and one that’s merely good?

the three guaranteed new secrets of ancient best practices

Some days it’s all about the headlines isn’t it? A catchy, grabby declaration meant to attract eyeballs and wallets. There is so much content – so much content competing for your time and attention – that the headlines have become formulaic in their attempt to stand out.

“The”. We humans like to know there is definitive certainty. No wishy-washy possibilities or discussion here. This article is all about chiseled in stone absoluteness.

“Three”.  We also like definitive numbers. It tells us right up front that there is only a certain amount of info being discussed. Interestingly, the number is either single digit or a fairly high double-digit. Seven is fine, sixty-three is fine, fourteen just doesn’t work.

“Guaranteed”. Who doesn’t love a good guarantee. This is proof it works right? Um, sure. The most relevant legal definition from Law.com is: a promise to make a product good if it has some defect. Most often, if something you purchase doesn’t work, the guarantee would be for money-back, repair, or replacement. How much did you pay for the blog post? If it doesn’t work, how much recourse do you have? Yep, zilch. I guarantee it. A great, sounds good, but meaningless word.

“New”. Yep, none of those old ideas for me, thank you very much.  What? You mean I shouldn’t be a complete jackass as a manager if I want people to care about their jobs, I shouldn’t eat more than I burn off if I want to lose weight, and I shouldn’t drive like a teenage boy late for a first date if I want to save fuel? I know that already (even if I don’t do it, like, ever). No, tell me something new. And make it a…

“Secrets”. This goes right along with “new”. There will never be a blog post, article, or book titled, “Common Sense Stuff That Everyone Already Knows”. And the secrets must be either so hot off the press that the ink smears, or they better be…

“Ancient”. Yep, old. Been around for years and recently recovered from the mists of time. But not twenty years old, more like 200+. Bonus points if you connect it to a revered, yet mysterious people from: a) a long time ago; and/or b) far, far away. Tibetan monks, Peruvian priests, Spartan warriors. Tailored to the topic of course. “Leadership Secrets of the Viking Berserkers” would sell like water in the Sahara, but “Human Resource Secrets of the Druids” might not work so well.

“Best Practices”. This is the greatest term ever invented for selling ideas, because it looks buzzwordy, businessy, and authoritative, yet is essentially meaningless. It sounds like it means cutting edge, but it really means status quo. “Best practices” is more eye-catching than “currently fashionable ideas” or “the stuff we’re doing today that seems to work OK, but we’ll look back upon in fifteen years and face palm ourselves in sheer embarrassment.” Interestingly, these best practices can contradict other best practices in the same site or magazine and no one seems to notice or care.

The best part is the topic at hand doesn’t matter. Not a bit. It’s common across every professional, enthusiast, and tabloid subject I’ve seen. Unfortunately, using or not using these secret (ha!) headline best practices (ha!) is no guarantee (ha!) of quality. Some great articles use them and some don’t. Some horrendously vapid and vacant articles use them and some don’t.  But the trite articles trending through the interwebs? Definitely.

 

networking for introverts?

The other day, Tim Mushey of Sell, Lead, Succeed fame raised a question about networking. It was a great question because it made me stop and think and I realized that even though my connections with others are really important to me, I spend almost zero time thinking about “networking” or “my network.”

I should be the world’s worst networker: I’m terrible at small talk, I can’t “work a room” to save my life, and if I’m at a party I’ll spend most of my time in the kitchen talking to one other person about books or bicycles. Life of the party I’m not.

Yet, somewhere along the way, something happened and and I find myself in the middle of a great network of really terrific people. Enough so that my wife insists I should write a book about networking for introverts. I don’t think I have that much to say about it, but I do have a few tips I could share – just observations from my own life. Your mileage may vary.

1. Forget all about “networking”. I’m not a big fan of the word because it makes it sound like a separate activity. Just live your life. You already have a network of people and relationships, now just start thinking how you can broaden and deepen it.

2. Focus on meeting interesting people. This is my biggest piece of advice. Don’t worry about meeting everyone, just seek and find people in your field who are up to interesting things and build the relationship from there. The really, really cool thing is that interesting people by their very nature know lots of other interesting people.

How do you meet them? Ask around. Seriously, just ask, “Who else is doing cool things that you’d suggest I meet?” You’ll get some great answers. The second is social media – it’s an amazing shortcut to fascinating people around the planet. Follow someone you admire in your field on Twitter (or whatever social media you prefer) and start looking at what blogs they read, who they’re connected to, etc. and begin following and connecting with those folks.

3. Think long term. It’s not a race. Let connections and relationships build naturally over time.

4. Social media is a great starting point, but it’s just a starting point. Build relationships in real life. This past year I made a point of reaching out and asking people I only knew through the internet to chat via Skype of phone. I got sidetracked and really need to focus on this again because I’ve been able to meet and learn from some truly phenomenal people.

5. Networking numbers are stupid. I’m baffled by the ads that claim to provide 10,000 Twitter followers for $29.95 (or whatever) because, who cares? Just because someone is following you or you are following them doesn’t mean there is any connection. Oh, you handed out 100 business cards at the last conference. So what? Numbers are irrelevant. It’s better to have a true connection with 20 people than to be largely ignored by thousands.

6. People and relationships matter. You don’t have to care about everyone on the planet (though it’s nice if you do), but it shows pretty quick if you’re not investing time and energy in the people in your life.

7. Realize people are willing to connect with and help you. Several years ago my job was eliminated. With a family to feed and an immediate need for work, I started calling up key members of my professional association and asking if I could meet with them to get their advice on job hunting in the city I was living in – who’s hiring, which companies have a great/terrible reputation, who else should I speak with, etc. No one turned me down. No one hesitated. People I’d never met before went out of their way to meet, talk, and help. On a smaller scale, people I’ve met only through social me have been surprisingly quick to respond to questions.

8. Focus on what you can do to help others. If it’s all about you or your approach is very transactional, you will have a weak, sucky network. If there is actual dialog and it’s clear that you authentically want to help others, you’ll have a strong, robust network.

To sum up, here’s everything I know about networking in two short sentences: Forget “networking”. Find interesting people and build great relationships.

 

rock and roll presentation skills, pt 2

I see many, many parallels between musicians and presenters. Both groups are faced with the challenges of building connection with large groups, of creating interaction, of sharing messages, of standing apart from their competition and creating their own unique identity. Both are in the spotlight and build and create energy from the crowd, and both can be very uncomfortable if the crowd isn’t on their side. So, as I try to sharpen my presentation skills I look to live music performances for inspiration and ideas. A few months back I wrote Rock and Roll Presentation Skills after attending a live show. Today I want to learn from two specific video clips that really resonate for me as a presenter.

The first is from AC/DC playing on a British music show in about 1977. This is before they were global stars and they are on a musical variety show so it’s unlikely that more than a few in the audience had heard of them or were excited to see them play. This is very clear in the expressions of the crowd. Some look horrified, some bored, some confused, and only a few look interested, let alone enthused.

So, it’s a semi-interested crowd at best. You’ve got a sound (message) that won’t connect or resonate with many in the audience. In fact, you’ve got a sound (message) that’s different than everything else that’s popular at the time. You have a small time slot and then you’re done. What do you do?

The “safe” way would be to play it safe, tone down the sound (message), do a song that most would be familiar with, and try not to turn anyone off. OR… you can turn the amps up to 11 and play like you’re trying to blow the roof off of the place. Unapologetic full force rock and roll. Do the unexpected. Send the strong message that this is who you are, take it or leave it. Don’t let the crowd bring you down, just play bigger than ever and leave everything on the stage. Don’t even acknowledge the doubters and haters, just build love with those who are interested. This has been Seth Godin’s message for years – ignore the masses, build your tribe.

 

The second video is Arch Enemy playing at the Download Festival a few years back. A warning: they are not for everyone. The vocalist has a style practically all her own and is one of the very few women to bring that sound. And, no apologies, she doesn’t care if you don’t like it. The band has a style full of paradox that brings out the haters, even among those who like heavy metal, but they aren’t trying to please everyone. Again, this is playing to the tribe, not to the masses. But what really stands out for me as a presenter is her stage presence. Turn the sound off and watch her body language. Her presence is huge and she owns the stage like few others. Yet, she also clearly has a connection with the audience which is tens of thousands of people strong. That is a deep certainty about who she is and what she’s doing. There is no hesitation, no “I hope you like me”, just full ownership of the message and performance.

(Second warning: there is one brief bit of swearing at the end, but if you make it that far, I doubt it’s an issue for you.)

What’s my lesson as a presenter? Learn from the best but be myself. Play to my strengths. Trying to please everyone is counterproductive and actually pleases no one. Bring myself 100% and don’t hold back – never finish a presentation thinking I could have done more. No matter the size or interest of the audience, present like it’s the most important presentation of my career. Push myself and the presentation to 11. Preparation matters. It’s impossible to give my full self without knowing the presentation at the sub-conscious level because thinking about it builds barriers between me and the audience. Oh, and go where the moment takes you.

What have I missed? What other lessons are there for us presenters?

 

inconceivable

pedalsHow many things completely inconceivable just 10 years ago, very expensive or difficult even five years back, are ho-hum (yawn) commonplace today?

I bought a new set of pedals for my mountain bike from the UK. A great set of pedals – a brand that’s hard to find in the US – at a competitive price, $10 shipping, eight business days later and they’re waiting for me in the mail.

A quick photo from my phone and I’ve shared my excitement with friends. An hour or two later and I’m interacting and discussing the pedals with people across timezones, countries, and continents. And I’m doing it essentially for free.

Count the inconceivable impossibilities in the two previous paragraphs. Not only is it hard to grasp all the advances that had to come together to make all of that possible, but it’s even more startling how quickly such an impossibilities became just another Thursday night.

 

Pedals? Who cares? What about work?

This kind of cross-continent coordination, collaboration, and communication is mundane in our private lives, but how much has work kept up?

  • How many policies do we have that are so out of date they might as well be written on papyrus scrolls?
  • How much energy is spent blocking technology and ensuring work gets done in a certain way vs embracing how work might be different?
  • If your job were invented today, would it look the way it does now? How different would your office/workspace be? What technology would you use if you could select it (what technology do you use to get things done in your personal life that you can’t use at work)? Who would you communicate with that you don’t now?
  • How different would recruiting, hiring, and onboarding employees be if we started from scratch today? How would HR workflow be different?
  • What policies would immediately be nuked and what would they be replaced with (if at all) if we were told reinvent the business?
  • How much of an advantage does the lack of legacy give a new business over an established one right now in terms of creating more efficient work?

What are the inconceivable things at work that are completely possible right now? What are we not doing because it was impossible five years ago, but would be cheap and easy to do today?

What thinks you?

 

time to talk

I am a big believer in leadership development classes, workshops, and seminars. I’ve witnessed (and experienced) so many of those “light bulb moments” where there is suddenly a huge shift in thinking that changes a leader’s approach, and results.

BUT. I wonder how much of it is the content of the class and how much of it is something else. Good content is important, yet the magic happens in the spaces between the tools and concepts. The class provides crucial time to think, reflect, and discuss. It gives time away from phones, email, customers, and employees and becomes a catalyst for dialog and insight that doesn’t happen on its own.

The class gets people together and gives them space and time to talk. The information, theories, tools, and approaches gives context and content for reflection, dialog, and sharing. The conversation lets people know that they are not alone in their challenges, and leading is sometimes difficult and lonely and sometimes a bit scary for everyone, and there are solutions.

It’s amazing what happens when leaders drop the charade of invulnerable infallibility and get human. Suddenly, there’s so much to teach and so much to learn. Building trust, exploring ideas, sharing and learning from each other’s joy and heartache doesn’t happen quickly. It takes time before the conversation gets deep enough and rich enough to matter.

Time that no one thinks they have – until they take it.

What thinks you?

 

Guest Post: Corsets come off in Downton Abbey. Time they come off for us as well

A special event today – my first guest blogger! Today’s post is from Peter Watts and it originally appeared on The Presenters’ BlogPeter is also a fan of Downton Abbey and his post coincides nicely with the one I did a little while ago on leadership lessons from Downton Abbey. Enjoy!

 

Poor Lord Grantham. He has no idea what’s coming. Corsets are about to start coming off all over the place.

World War 1 has changed the Downton landscape of Season Three socially, morally, and economically. Old certainties no longer count. When individuals both upstairs and downstairs within the Abbey try to use those old certainties to exert control over others, the consequences are seldom what they intend.

As presenters we too live in a changed world; one changed by mobile technology.

When audiences can simply film or photo their way through a presentation, it is no longer realistic to pull up an intellectual drawbridge and attempt to hide behind a © copyright symbol. While we may have been born into a world of Intellectual Property fiefdom, the walls that held that fiefdom together crumble a little more each time somebody lifts a smartphone.

Of course one way to handle this might be to ban the use of mobile phones within the audience. If you have ever tried this then you will already know how unsuccessful the approach is.

The corset of “please turn off your mobile phones” no longer works. It’s time for collaboration, not corsets.

When we ring-fence our IP it is because scarcity mentality tells us that if we release this precious idea, we’ll never get another one. Better to lock it away.

Abundance mentality however would tell us that where that idea came from, there are plenty more waiting to be born. Your idea might trigger thoughts in somebody else, and yet another person’s ideas might trigger thoughts in you.

This only happens though, if we let go of © for corset and for copyright, and instead embrace © for collaboration.

Will Lord Grantham learn his lesson by the end of Season Three, because even the Dowager is loosening up her laces.