February 18, 2008

Be Clear About What You Don’t Do

Filed under: Selling, Customer Service Strategy, Speaking and Communication — Mark Sanborn @ 9:12 am

Lately I’ve had some email correspondence with Impact Innovation, a small firm in the U.K. As I was surfing around their website to learn more about them and their services, I ran across a list of things they don’t do.

Comparison and contrast are effective communication tools. A list of what you don’t do can be very successful in focusing your audience more clearly on your service or product offering. It can save time and spotlight your differences and distinctives.

Not all the clients I work with are necessarily clear about their core strengths, what they do best. A starting point exercise would be to eliminate those things you either don’t do, don’t do well or don’t want to do. From there, search for the sweet spot of what you do best (and, ideally, enjoy doing).
Too often we succumb to the temptation to take money from clients we shouldn’t. We know we won’t be able to make them happy, or that it will be painful trying.

Be clear about what you do and do well, but be even clearer about what you don’t do.

February 1, 2008

Authenticity Under Attack

Filed under: Observations, Speaking and Communication — Mark Sanborn @ 11:49 am

A recent article in USAToday about fake accents said, “…faking an accent can be considered cool, not unauthentic…”

How can anything fake be considered “not unauthentic”?

Our culture considers to butcher words and concepts for convenience. Katie Couric said moving outside one’s comfort zone “almost always makes you uncomfortable.” Another butchered concept, only it got airtime on national television. Moving outside your comfort zone, by definition, means you’ll be uncomfortable.

Granting that Ms. Couric was just sloppy in her choice of words, let’s return to “fake” becoming a form of “authentic.”

In a world where Second Life is a popular online virtual reality–you can be anyone you choose to be–why wouldn’t we start rearranging the meaning of words and concepts?
And if we do, what’s the harm?

To have value, words must have fixed and shared meaning. While the definition of words can and do change over time, we’ve never accepted individual capriciousness as a valid reason for change.

Bill Clinton was the first public example of redefinition I can recall. Suddenly “oral sex” stopped being “sex.”

Underneath authenticity under attack is the problem of relativism. Why use an external and absolute standard when you can create your own? It isn’t just that people can’t agree on an absolute external standard, it’s that they don’t want to. It is inconvenient to answer to a higher purpose, principle or power.

The result: authentic fakes, or fake authenticity. Sometimes comfortable discomfort. Things that no longer belong to the category they came from.

And an overall demise of the ability to communicate and live with clarity.

January 28, 2008


Filed under: Observations, Speaking and Communication — Mark Sanborn @ 11:43 am

We choose our words and then our words create our lives. Whether we wound or heal, help or hurt, create or destroy, words are the tools we use.

A careless choice of words, no matter how well intentioned, can be one’s undoing. The right words delivered with the wrong tone of voice create a decidedly different result. Marriages have been saved or lost by the consistent and careful choice of words. Deals have been done or undone with a few small but significant words. Emotions are elevated or inflamed by the choice of words.

Language is the software of the mind. It is also the primary tool for interactions. Musician Larry Norman correctly observed that a limitation of language results in a limitation of thought. It also limits our ability to create.

We often become careless with out words. How often we forget to attend to our tongues. Theologians and philosophers have repeatedly warned us about the danger of using words poorly, but we seem to consistently ignore them.

Are your words creating the life you desire?

January 21, 2008

The Attack of the Angry

Filed under: Observations, Relationships, Speaking and Communication — Mark Sanborn @ 10:06 am

A speaker friend is dealing with a blistering attack from an audience member. Amazon reviews call authors name and make slanderous suggestions about their motives. Political candidates attack each other rather than each others’ ideas.

It seems there is an increase in personal attacks made by angry people. I find it very disconcerting.

I learned a long time ago that there is little to be gained from attacking the person rather than the problem. While it offers a short-term and immature gratification, it kills much chance for dialogue. It is normal for someone to become defensive when he or she feels attacked, and it is difficult to respond sanely and rationally to defend one’s position when one’s person is the thing being attacked.

It is helpful, but hard, to remember that people who attack inappropriately are often coming from their own woundedness. As a person of faith, I try to recall that Jesus answered anger with love. On a good day I do. On a not so good day I tend to forget.

Once we become adults, we owe it to ourselves and others to deal with our anger issues if we have any. Working them out on others increases the misery in the world and there is already more than enough of that.

January 10, 2008

Where Do My Stories Come From?

Filed under: Success, Speaking and Communication — Mark Sanborn @ 11:43 am

Today I spoke for Oce Business Services. They were a great group. One of the audience members asked me where my stories and illustrations come from. Do I get them from reading? From personal experience?

My stories come from my life. When I started speaking, I retold alot of stories I’d read elsewhere. As I learned my craft, I learned about developing my own stories and illustrations from my experiences. If I tell someone else’s story, I’m repeating, not creating. Yes, there are some “old lines” that are humorous I sometimes throw in, but the main stories I use in my work I either experienced or observed first-hand.

His response was insightful: “Wow, you must go around each day thinking about what happens to you as potential speech material.” Sometimes I do. And it makes my family, friends and clients a little nervous.

The reality is I don’t typically have something happen and think “speech material!” If a story is truly remarkable, or I’ve gained an important insight, I do reflect on how I might use it. But that comes later.

Here’s the challenge: it is easier to find stories that illustrate what is wrong than stories that illustrate what is right. Last night I was in a restaurant in Baltimore that was a classic example of bad: bad service and bad food. The problem is that everyone has those kinds of stories. We all need encouragement and examples of how we can be, not just stories of how not to be.

My friend John Maxwell references the Law of the Lens: who you are determines what you see in others. That is an important people skills issue. At a higher level, it is also about the ability to recognize the good in what happens every day, despite the fact that we all experience plenty of bad.

And in telling stories, we either reinforce the positive or the negative.

We don’t get to choose what happens to us. We do get to choose what we learn and what we tell others.

January 8, 2008

A Slip of the Tongue

Filed under: Influence, Leadership, Speaking and Communication — Mark Sanborn @ 9:45 am

Fred Thompson was being interviewed this morning and was asked what he would do to get the economy back on track. His response was telling: “They need to…”

The question wasn’t what “they” needed to do; the question was what about what Fred would do. He dodged answering.

Was it a slip of the tongue? Maybe. But little slips can derail leaders. (And maybe it is just me, but why doesn’t it seem like Fred is really running for president? I can’t recall a more half-hearted attempt at something so significant.)

When a leader is asked what he or she will do, they should answer specifically. If there’s nothing they can or are willing or want to do, they should say so. Just never begin with a statement that looks like you’re placing blame or passing the buck.

Here’s a critical and overlooked step: a  leader can use what he or she would do to build a bridge. Acknowledge that big results require the cooperation of others. One thing any leader could choose to do is solicit the input and cooperation of others. Or the leader could explain their agenda and link it to coalition building and the importance of earning support.

Fred missed both the obvious point and the nuance. Leaders don’t just take responsibility for what they did; they also take responsibility for explaining what they plan to do. That’s what followers and votes want to know.

November 27, 2007


Filed under: Observations, Speaking and Communication — Mark Sanborn @ 8:19 pm

A representative from the Obama Barack camp was debating a representative from the Hillary Clinton camp this morning on CNN. The CNN commentator asked Obama’s operative, “Given the animosity between these two candidates, would Senator Barack rule out a vice-president spot?”

Barack’s guy was clever: “I don’t think Senator Barack would necessarily eliminate Senator Clinton as his vice-president but that’s a decision he’ll have to make later.”

Wit, well-done, is a powerful tool.

November 16, 2007


Filed under: Observations, Leadership, Speaking and Communication — Mark Sanborn @ 10:03 am

Language is the software of the mind. Words can have great power, and leaders use them wisely.

I often work with organizations that have few if any shared definitions. The same word means many different things to different people. A shared vocabulary is important for building a strong culture where people truly understand each other.

The following are definitions I use. Some are definitions I’ve created and I attribute, when known, the others to the original author.

Leadership: 1. an invitation to greatness we extend to others, 2. the ability to help individuals and organizations surpass themselves.

Learning: remembering what’s important. (Saul Wurman)

Selling: helping people make a decision that is good for them. (original source unknown)

Confidence: 1. knowing that you can do something because you already have done it, 2. knowing that you can do something because you’ve prepared thoroughly to assure success.

Profit: the reward for providing service and value (original source unknown)

Loyalty: the lack of a better alternative.

Professional: someone who worries more about the customer’s problem than the customer.

Professional: someone who does his or her best even when they don’t feel like it (originally used by the late Dick Seaman)

Have any good definitions you’d like to contribute?

September 25, 2007

He Would Have Been Good…

Filed under: Success, Speaking and Communication — Mark Sanborn @ 10:58 am

…if he wasn’t so bad.

I recently heard a speaker who had the potential to be great. He was a relatively young guy, knew his stuff and had a quick sense of humor. He had enough stage presence and charisma to easily win the day with his presentation, but he blew it with many little mistakes.

He had been given 30 minutes by the meeting planner. He was well past the 10 minute mark and still telling us what he was going to tell us. Nobody is good enough to spend 1/3 of his or her time doing that.

His PowerPoint slides were pretty good and very numerous. There was no way he could cover them all. So instead of removing them from the presentation, he told us he was going to flip through them quickly for a cursory look. Don’t be lazy. If you don’t have time for a slide, get rid of it. The audience feels like they’re being cheated by a brief glimpse at a slide not explained.

The technology failed, and he spent too much time focusing on that…and waiting for it to get fixed. Be prepared to move forward without your visual support if necessary.

The guy was dressed casually. Too casually. It is always safer to dress a little better than the audience, not to show off but to demonstrate that you take them and the time you’ve been given seriously. If you want to be sharp, look sharp.

We heard the same ideas over and over. Repeating the same ideas too much demonstrated one thing: lack of precise preparation. This is a sign the speaker is winging it. You can be very prepared and still be natural in your presentation. The shorter the time for your presentation, the more important careful preparation becomes.

Finally, the presenter took 10 extra minutes. Maybe he thought he’d make up for the time he wasted telling us what he was going to tell us, his lack of preparation and his technology meltdown, so he took the time. Of course he took it from other people: the next presenter, the audience and the meeting planner. Nobody ever gets criticized for ending on time. Not to do so is disrespectful.

You and I can learn from everybody, both the good and the bad. This fellow would have been great…


Filed under: Speaking and Communication — Mark Sanborn @ 10:47 am

One of the toughest things for a speaker to execute well is “questions and answers.” I rarely do them after a speech because I want to end in a planned and memorable manner. Q&A, if not done well, can be like throwing a wet blanket on an otherwise excellent presentation.

(If a meeting planner asks me to do Q&A, I’ll tell him or her that from my experience the time is better allotted to my presentation, and that I’ll be glad to answer any questions one-on-one or via email.)

If you decide to do Q&A, here are some steps for effectiveness:

1. Have audience members come prepared with questions in advance, or encourage them to write down questions while you’re speaking.

2. Have those questions written on note cards that can be collected. You can pick and choose the best questions.

3. “Plant” some questions in the audience. Ask several audience members if they would be willing to be prepared with a good question to ask at the end of your presentation.

4. If you don’t get any questions–the kiss of death–recover by answering questions you’ve come prepared to answer. Here’s what to say: “I’m frequently asked…” or “Many of you may be wondering about something I said earlier…” Then you can frame the question you answer and provide good value for listeners.

5. Stop while people still have questions, otherwise you’ll lose momentum. I’ve seen moderators and speakers beg the audience for questions, or wait inordinately long for a final question or two.

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