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Loyalty Beyond Reason

 

Before this week’s National Championship game, the last time the Clemson football team beat Alabama was 1905. Before 2016, the Chicago Cubs last won a World Series in 1908. And, then there are the Cleveland Cavaliers? What the heck is going on? My Yankees haven’t won a World Series in almost 8 years. The world is on it’s head.

Of course, it’s not just sports. Did anyone really think Brexit and a Trump presidency were possible? Let’s add places we thought were safe, like schools, malls, and baggage claim areas. And, let’s talk hacking. Is cybersecurity a thing or is it becoming an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp.

The “impossible” is happening more often; we live in a world of more uncertainty, and for many, that means more anxiety.

So who do we turn to in times like these? Who do we trust to reassure us that even though change is happening, everything will be okay? CNN? FOX? MSNBC? NY Times? Wall Street Journal? Google? Wikileaks? Siri? How about your favorite aunt who promotes fake news on Facebook like she’s auditioning for a new career in journalism? So many people saying so many different things. Who do we believe?

“Alexa, who can I trust?”

We want to buy-in, but we don’t know what to buy or where to buy it anymore. And, this is why the concept of “brand” is so important.

Great brands don’t let us down. In a world that is changing on a dime, it’s nice to know my beer and coffee will taste the same no matter where I am in the world. It’s refreshing to know that the computer I’m using for business won’t fail me or the TV on my wall is going to last far longer than the extended warranty. It’s why I continue to book at the same hotels, fly on the same airline, shop at the same market, and use the same business partners year after year.

The phrase “loyalty beyond reason” comes from the book “Lovemarks,” by the former head of the advertising agency, Satchi & Satchi. Simply, customers actively search out a brand, without really understanding why. But, the reason is simple. When we find a brand that meets our needs in the way we want those needs met, we become emotionally attached and hang on for dear life. We become loyal because we don’t want to have to go out there and expend the energy to find another partner. The world is a scary, uncertain place. Why leave as long as the brand delivers on the value it promises to deliver?

The same is true for people. You are a brand. And, if people are loyal to you, then you are delivering on a promise to them. You are providing certainty in an uncertain world. You are one thing they don’t have to think about because you never let them down or expose them in a way that will be detrimental to their lives or business. However, the moment you let them down, you get put into the pile of previous partners they thought they could trust. Your failure to deliver on your brand means more anxiety for them. And, in an ever-changing, uncertain time where their outside world is upside-down, that is completely unacceptable.

However, there is a positive to all this uncertainty. If you are one of the few authentic, consistent and reliable people, teams or companies that continue to deliver on your promise of value to your customers, you will be greatly rewarded with their loyalty and their business, beyond reason.

Stand For Your Brand,
Dave

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Run-Through Your Stress

Happy New Year!

Resolutions have been made. Strategies have been set, but if you really want to have a great 2017, here is a tip that will guarantee your year of meetings and presentations is virtually stress free.

Commit to the Run-Through.

In over 25 years of auditions, interviews, sales pitches, meetings and presentations, the one thing I have found that will ensure the failure of presenting your best self to your audience is the failure to take the time for a run-through.

You have done 99 percent of the work up until this point. You’ve secured the meeting, created the outline, filled in the content and devoted all of your energy to this one moment that could change your life. Whether its the sale of a product, service, idea, or in many cases, just the sale of yourself, many people do a mental walk-through of their moment, but don’t take the opportunity to do a full run-through.

Every presentation I give has visual speaker support. Not only do I run-through my slides multiple times before I get onsite, but I make sure to have ample time to test my presentation in any new ballroom or breakout room at least an hour before I go on stage. If all is going well, I can be done in 5 minutes. But, for the times when the audio or visual support is not working correctly at first, I don’t stress about it. I know I will have the time to fix it or adapt to the situation. So, what do I do for the next 55 minutes if things go well in my run-through? Prepare mentally and physically to make an impact on my audience.

When we build time into preparing for the unexpected, we can react “on brand”. We can still be our best selves because we are not stressed about all of the other things that can go wrong.

My son is a senior in college, majoring in communications. In the fall he was offered a coveted internship at NBC in New York City. Given that his college was an hour and a half away by train, he would have to wake up very early, drive to the train station, get on a train to NYC and eventually walk from Grand Central Station to 30 Rockefeller Center. He was stressed, thinking that he would wake up late, not find parking at the station, get on the wrong train and eventually get to work late, leaving a bad impression on an audience he needed to wow from day one.

I suggested he do a full run-through. So, he planned out his schedule to get himself on the right train that would put him at work early, even if there were delays. Then, the week before the internship was to start, he woke up on Tuesday at 4:00am, drove to the station and saw there would be ample parking, paid the parking fee, paid for a train ticket, got on the right train, traveled an hour and a half to NYC, got off the train and walked half a mile to 30 Rock, entered the lobby of the building, checked the time, and saw that he was very capable of making it to work with time to spare. At that point, he turned around and went back to school. Run-through completed. The following week, all he had to think about was making a great first impression. It must have worked because he was invited back to do a second internship this spring.

Would you invest the time, money and energy to a run-through like this to relieve your stress? I believe anything you can do to take the X factors out of the equation so you can show your true brand, and focus on making an impact for your audience is well worth your time. With so much energy devoted to getting you to this moment, what is the cost of building in some extra time for a run-through to ensure your best performance?

Stand for Your Brand,
Dave

The Power of “Unsubscribe”

There is no doubt that you are being bombarded these days with more emails than ever. In a post Black Friday and Cyber Monday world, everyone still wants to sell you something.

And, if they’re not trying to sell you something, they are sending you a survey to ask if you are satisfied with their products or services. It’s probably not uncommon that over 50% of your emails on any given day are unsolicited requests for you to give someone your money or your time.

When you think about the time it takes you to assess these “no value’ emails, it might not seem like a lot, but time is money and energy; energy that you shouldn’t have to expend when trying to make your own brand more valuable.

However, there is a solution. Down at the bottom of the email in very small print, almost unreadable, is the word “unsubscribe”. By law, the sender has to have it on the email.  By clicking that link, you have the power to make all of the communication from the sender go away forever. I have the same link on this email being sent to you today. I’m not afraid to point it out, because if when you read my newsletter, if you are not getting value from it, you absolutely should scroll to the bottom and unsubscribe.

Even easier, I just downloaded the new iOS system for my phone and there is a feature now that identifies the unsubscribe button for you, and puts it at the top of the email. No more looking for the unsubscribe button for emails of no value.

You can also use the “unsubscribe” philosophy in your own life and career. You are busy. We are all busy. Yet, some people are able to create more powerful personal brands than others, and the secret to that success is the ability to unsubscribe from the people and actions that do not help build or strengthen their brand.

It’s time to assess your life and career and ask yourself if there are people and actions that are holding you back from creating a better, more powerful brand. Do they take your time and energy, even for just a moment? If so, it’s time to unsubscribe. Office gossip? People that don’t believe in your vision? Self destructive actions? Yes, you can unsubscribe from all of it. Click.

As with the emails, you may have to repeat the process, since some of those “marketers” have a way of getting you back on their list, but in the end, they will eventually get the message and either stop communicating with you, or figure out that to be part of your life and your future, they will need to figure out what is most important to you.

Stand for Your Brand,
Dave

“No Problem” is a Problem

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It’s the holiday season and you will be engaging more than usual with people who represent their company brands. They will be serving you a meal, ringing you up on the checkout line, increasing your credit card limit, or helping you find just the right present for someone special. And, at the end of that interaction, when you say thank you for their service, more than likely they will say, “No problem.”

“No problem?”

No. Problem. No. Problem. Two very negative words, yet when put together, becomes an acceptable and common response to a request or a completion of service. Is a double negative the best we can do when trying to deliver outstanding customer service?

I went into Starbucks a few years ago and ordered a latte. When the barista handed me my cup, I said thank you. She said, “No problem.” Being that I just handed her $5 for a cup of coffee, and it’s her job, one would think that “problem” wouldn’t even be in her professional vocabulary. I sat down at the table and opened my laptop to do some work for an hour, but I couldn’t focus because all I heard from that point on, as she engaged with other customers, was “no problem.” 46 times in an hour. I counted.

I was baffled, given that Starbucks prides itself on customer service and employee training. So, I searched for the emails of the Starbucks corporate executives and sent a group email titled “No problem is a problem.” I shared my experience as well as my brand loyalty, and to my amazement, the head of global operations wrote me back within an hour, on a Sunday. He agreed that even with all of their training, “no problem” is a common response in customer service. And, not just a millennial issue, either. It’s a people issue. They are still working on it, like most companies who care about their brand, because they know words matter to customers.

It’s not just Starbucks. It’s everywhere. Airlines. Automotive. Healthcare. Retail. Restaurants. Everywhere.

In a world where the only differentiation of similar companies, services and products is the service itself, why don’t more companies invest in customer service; specifically, customer communication. Think about it. You’ve just ended a wonderful interaction with a customer where they say “thank you”. You could say “You’re welcome” or “happy to help,” or any other positive response to further cement the bond with the customer. But, you end the interaction with the words “no” and “problem.” You just brought double negativity into an otherwise positive experience.

You may not think it’s a big deal, but companies like the Ritz-Carlton and Chick-fil-A, invest time and money to teach their staff the value of the “My Pleasure” principle.

“Thank you very much.”

“My pleasure.”

“Can you help me?”

“My pleasure.”

Can I get some more water, please?”

“My pleasure.”

Is it really your pleasure to pour someone a glass of water? Well, if it’s really your job to create a complete experience for a customer, then yes, it should be your pleasure. It’s why my wife shops at Nordstrom and why we made sure Victoria was always working at our local Verizon store before we went in for the iPhone upgrades. Helping us was always her pleasure and we responded with our loyal business, as well as the referred business of our friends and family.

You should view every interaction with a customer as a chance to enhance both your brand and the company brand by creating a positive experience.

If everyone else is saying, “no problem,” imagine how much you will differentiate yourself and your business when you end all of your service interactions with a positive phrase that makes your customer feel good. “My pleasure” may not work for you, so come up with your own positive language. Make it your “signature sign-off” in your interactions, and even your emails. I tend to use “Happy to Help” most often.

By the way, the head of global operations at Starbucks sent me $50 worth of coffee as a thank you for bringing the “no problem” problem to his attention. Unfortunately, it’s years later, and my barista still tells me that getting a coffee for me is “no problem.” It’s a good thing I am brand loyal to the product because if the experience was the only differentiator, I’d probably be looking for another brand.

I’ve changed doctors because of the nasty receptionist. I’ve changed car brands because of the service representative. I want the total experience, and so do most customers. Companies and businesses gain or lose valuable customers every day because when the product is a commodity that you can get anywhere, the true differentiators are the people who represent the brand with every action, and every word.

Stand for Your Brand,
dave

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Driver of Positive Change

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If I believe something and want you to believe it, I am going to need a particular set of skills to make that happen. This is the definition of leadership; the ability to transfer belief.

You’ve heard that people don’t quit their jobs; they quit their managers or bosses. This is because many managers are not leaders. The terms are not interchangeable.

In 2007, my brother, Jon Gordon, published a book called “The Energy Bus.” It’s been a consistent Wall Street Journal Top-10 best-seller for the last 5 years and is a favorite book for managers, leaders, coaches and teachers to distribute to their employees, students and players, as it reinforces the belief, through a simple story of transformation, that optimism is a competitive advantage in business, sports, school and life.

With close to 3 million books sold worldwide, and over 100 speaking engagements each year, Jon has the opportunity to engage many organizational leaders in many different industries. When I ask Jon what the consensus is to driving growth and change throughout an organization, without fail, the answer from every CEO is front-line leadership. Specifically, the ability of the manager at the branch, store, local or divisional level to influence and inspire their people, instead of just the ability inform and instruct. Most employees never get the chance to interact with the CEO of an organization, so their direct boss is their leader. And, this is where the lack of consistency in the ability to transfer belief creates a gap in driving growth and change in people, and throughout the organization.

Jon and I collaborated 5 years ago to create “Driver of Positive Change – License to Lead.” It’s an interactive leadership development program that combines the principles of “The Energy Bus” with leadership and communication skills building; transforming transactional task-driven managers into growth-driven, empowering, positive people leaders. We are proud of the impact the program is having on productivity and employee engagement across multiple industries.

These days, I believe we could all use a big dose of optimism and positivity so I wanted to share 4 “driving” tips from the program that you can implement to be a better people leader in work and life:

1) Use more positive communication.  
While fear can be motivating, it can only last so long before people shut down or shut up. If you want to truly inspire your people to be more productive and collaborative for the long run, you must invest the time to replace your negative communication with more positive language.

2) Never complain to your people. 
Leaders don’t complain. Once you complain, you are creating a culture that says complaining is the norm, because the leader not only allows it, but practices it. Emotions are contagious and as a leader, you set the tone for your team. So, if you are having a bad day and let everyone know it, don’t be surprised if productivity falters. Leaders are not allowed to have bad days.

3) Remember your vision. 
As a leader, you must have a vision for yourself, your team and your customers and the conviction to see that vision realized. You must also be able to communicate that vision and what’s in it for your passengers. No one wants to get on a bus with a driver that doesn’t know where they’re going, or worse, doesn’t even know how to drive.

4) Reinforce your relationships. 
Strong relationships drive real motivation and change. You can have a great vision but your change initiative will fail if you don’t have strong relationships with the people you lead. Communicate to connect, and show your people you care about them before you need something from them. Do that, and your belief will transfer to your team in a more meaningful and powerful way.

Stand for Your Brand,
dave

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Modes of Persuasion

iphone_se_review_08Ethos. Pathos. Logos.

Credibility. Emotion. Logic.

These are the modes of persuasion and whether you are a leader, salesperson or a child trying to get an extra cookie, Aristotle said that to influence people and change behaviors, you need a balance of the emotional and the analytical while remaining credible.

In my 28 years in business, I have seen many leaders and salespeople with the power to persuade. These influencers know that the best arguments contain all three modes of persuasion. I have also sold with people who never learned this concept and still continue to unsuccessfully sell on the value of the company logo, or just the logic of facts and figures.

When you uncover what it is that means the most to your audience, and give them the path to achieve it, you get an emotional buy-in.

Never underestimate the power of “soft skills.”

When my daughter was 11 years old, she wanted an iPhone. At the time, some of her friends were getting smartphones and it was cool because they could text one another and stay connected via social media. We all know that a smartphone is an easy way to talk to the world. But, just because you have the technology and the power to do so, doesn’t mean you have the skills. With the threat of predators and cyberbullying and other opportunities where the risk outweighed the reward, my wife and I agreed that our daughter was too young to have that kind of power.

Being smart and persuasive, our daughter began an 18-month campaign. She would come home from school every few weeks and lay out her test and quiz scores on the kitchen table. Straight A’s to show us how credible and responsible she was…and “didn’t she deserve an iPhone?” We applauded her efforts, but were not moved to change our position.

As an athlete, she had many opportunities to win races, score goals and win games for her team, and would often come home to ask if her efforts on the field were deserving of the reward of an iPhone. Of course, we cheered her accomplishments, but no amount of goals would change our position or the perception of a device that would cause more harm than good. Performance in the classroom and on the field had nothing to do with getting an iPhone.

Until one day, a year and a half later, she finally figured out that the way to get what you want is to give your audience what they want. So, she knocked on my office door and patiently waited until I could give her my full attention. She paused for effect, and then said, “Did you know, if a girl is abducted, she is more likely to be found if she has an iPhone because of the built-in GPS?” And, then she waited silently, like any great salesperson would. She waited for my brain to do all the work…and imagine her locked in a trunk, screaming for me to come rescue her. She allowed my emotions to kick in, until finally I told her to go get her coat, because we were going to get her an iPhone.

She changed the game on me. Here I was thinking that the phone was a way for her to get in trouble, but in a single moment, she changed my beliefs. A communication device suddenly became a safety device. And, the risk of the phone getting her in trouble paled in comparison to benefits of her safety.

She never told me where she got her information, and I’m not really sure if her startling statement was logically sound, but it didn’t matter. I already made the choice to get her the phone. I even knew I was being manipulated, because the night before her pitch, we just happened to end up watching the Liam Neeson movie, “Taken.” Coincidence? I think not.

She’ll be a freshman at Northwestern next year, studying political science…of course.

Stand for Your Brand,

dave

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How to Make Precision Decisions

Decision Fatigue.

You know it. You feel it.

It’s that moment when you walk in the door and your spouse asks what you want for dinner…and you freeze. With all of the choices in the world, you can pick anything and yet, you refuse to choose.

You’ve been making decisions all day long; from the time you got out of bed and decided what to wear, to decisions at work, to the route you decided to take home to avoid the traffic. Your brain is fried and there is just no way you are going to make another decision until you can recharge. So, you think you’re smart and you say, “whatever you want.” Of course, the non-decision is not a great strategy because your spouse has also had a day of heavy decision making and he or she says in a much louder and not as welcoming tone, “WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR DINNER?” So, you blurt out the first thing that comes to mind and say, chicken, but that was a bad move because you had chicken last night and how could you possibly forget that? So, after a 10 minute stand-off, you settle on pizza. But, of course, which pizza? Umbertos has fantastic grandma pizza, but Gino’s has the better crust and more garlic on their garlic knots. Of course if we go with Sicilian, it has to be Little Vincent’s. So, another 10 minutes to decide which kind of pizza. Of course, after you call and place the order for delivery you realize you gave up pizza because white flour plays havoc with your insides, but at this point, you don’t care because it’s done and you don’t have to decide anything else for the night. You’ll just deal with the consequences later.

Of course, there is a reason for this behavior. Decision fatigue is defined as the deteriorating quality of decisions after a long session of decision making. Making a decision when you are tired actually enhances your odds of making a wrong decision. So, how do we make more precise, consistent decisions that will have a greater chance for positive outcomes in the short and long term for ourselves, families, teams and companies?

You are a brand, and great brands limit their options by making commitments, not choices. Commitments are proactively planned choices that remove all other options. Decide. The root word in decide is “cide,” which originates from the Latin word caedere meaning “to kill or cut off.” So, when you decide, you kill or cut off all other options. One choice. A commitment.  

In your work and life, your personal brand will be defined by the quality of the decisions you make and the actions you take based on those choices. So, a few suggestions to help you make better, more precise decisions in your life to strengthen your brand and your reputation:

1) Make your most important personal and professional decisions in the morning while your brain is still open to all possibilities.
2) Approach your decisions, not as making the perfect choice, but more like “killing off” options until you have only one left. A good decision today is better than a perfect decision a month from now.
3) Make commitments instead of choices. Choices are influenced by emotions, and emotions aren’t always the best decision drivers. If they were, I’d be eating pizza every night.

Stand for Your Brand,
dave

Expression Compression

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“I only made this letter longer because I did not have the time to make it shorter.” 

This quote is attributed to Blaise Pascal; a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Christian philosopher who lived in the mid-1600’s.

Not a lot has changed in over 350 years of communicating. Those who make an impact and get what they need are usually the people able to convey their key messages in ways that can be received, understood and acted on immediately.

We now live in a world where the definition of “longer and shorter” has drastically changed. People now communicate in less than 140 characters, or an emoji. We scan more than we read because there is so much to process.

With email being more than 80% of business communication, and many leaders and employees in need of better writing skills, it is no wonder many teams are stuck. One of the most overlooked, yet in demand, business skills today is the ability to write well and write for impact. This would explain why many companies are recruiting more English majors straight out of college. 

In a typical day you may find yourself writing reports, proposals, letters, emails and even texts to a boss, co-worker or customer. The way you write in all of your communications is a direct reflection of you, your team and your organization. Great communicators and great brands have the ability to engage clearly, efficiently and with purpose. Unfortunately, if you take a look at your inbox of 200 unread emails, chances are you will be sifting through a lot of “long letters” that no one took the time to make shorter. 

Expression Compression. It’s a critical skill I teach my audiences in all of my brand communication sessions. Can you get my attention and keep it for just long enough for me to understand your message, your call to action, and my role in helping you get what you need? If not, then I am going to delete or ignore you because you have not taken the time to only send me what I really need to know, or really need to do.  

Your communication, and the way you respect your audience’s time and attention, is most definitely your brand. If all you do is clog their inbox with long letters, don’t be surprised if people don’t respond to your request. The truth is, they didn’t even read it. And, if they didn’t read it, don’t blame them. Because if you didn’t have time to write a short letter, why should anyone spend their time to read a long one. 

Here’s a few Expression Compression tips that will help you write for greater impact:

1) Make your subject header compelling. Unless it’s from a direct boss, it’s competing with 200 other emails for a reader’s attention. Be creative and relevant.

2) Don’t bury the lead. The first paragraph should state your main idea, or what you want or need. Keep the pleasantries and thought process to a minimum. Remember…200 other emails and a short attention span. 

3) State a Call to Action and Deadline. If you need something, give the date and time you need it. Otherwise, it’s getting filed for later. 

4) Make your communication about one thing. One idea. One action. 

Communication does not guarantee attention. So, remember Expression Compression the next time you get ready to send. Your words are your brand, and more of them don’t necessarily make the brand stronger. It’s actually quite the opposite. 

Stand for Your Brand,
Dave

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Don’t Blame The Name

“Death & Murder.”

“Peter Parker & Clark Kent.”

Believe it or not, these are the names of real children. Two sets of twins.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to 250 organizational leaders and over 150 front-line nurse leaders at one of the most inspiring places in the world; Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. If you’ve ever had the chance to work with the staff that power a children’s hospital, you know the definition of “dedication.” These professionals see the best and worst life has to offer. They help families and patients who are at their most emotional and vulnerable, and yet, at the end of the day, still go home and take care of their own families.

The concept we created for their Leadership Conference was “The Power of Story,” and for a full day we worked on the importance of creating and communicating personal and professional narratives that inspire patients, parents, colleagues and collaborators to be the best version of themselves in work and life.

The night before the conference I had dinner with the leadership planning committee to go over last minute details. Since we were discussing the concept of storytelling as a leadership skill, I asked each member of the committee how they got into the healthcare industry. One knew she wanted to be a nurse from the time she was a child herself. Another was looking for a career that would not be obsolete before he got the chance to retire. They all had a story, but the one that I most remember was the woman who gave birth to a child prematurely, only to have it die in the hospital. That mother was so inspired by the way the nurses took care of her and her family during her darkest hours, that she changed her life, went back to school, became a nurse and eventually a leader at Cook Children’s.

We discussed what it takes to watch children enter and leave our world, all in the same day. We even talked about unique baby names, and they told me about the twins, “Death & Murder.” We wondered what life will be like for those two boys. Will they succumb to the brand imposed on them by parents with a less than optimistic outlook on life? Or will they rise above the definitions of their given names?

“Peter Parker and Clark Kent.” Superheroes. That’s a lot to live up to. Will they see themselves as unstoppable because of their names, or will they be paralyzed under the pressure of expectations. With great power comes great responsibility.

What does your name stand for?

You may not have a unique or wild name. You may not be branded with the name of a “Game of Thrones” character. But, your name should stand for something. And, if it doesn’t or you don’t like what it stands for, now is the time to change the story behind the name. Companies rebrand all the time. People can do the same.

My wife was born a Catherine and called Cathy much of her young life. But, we met in our 20’s and I’ve always known her as a “Kate.” When we get together for extended family functions, some still call her “Cathy,” which she doesn’t appreciate. I once asked what the issue was and she said, “Cathy had a tough life. Kate cleaned up the mess. Cathy made poor decisions. Kate makes smart choices based on values and beliefs.” She changed her name and her story.

It’s easy to blame the name. It’s easy to say from the moment we came into the world, we never got a fair shot. But, you are a brand, and if you don’t like your name or your story, you have the power to change. Don’t blame your past self for future failures. 

You don’t have to change your actual name, but if you want people to see the value you bring to their world, you may have to rebrand, reposition and promote yourself differently so your name has value to your audience. Great brands are always evolving. But, it takes time and attention to identify and communicate a different story that represents the new true you. And, if you think that sounds like a lot of work, it is. But, nothing compared to the effort it’s going to take to rebrand “Death & Murder.”

Stand For Your Brand,
Dave

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Your Microphone is Always On

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Testing…1-2-3. Is this on?

Given the hot topic of “hot” microphones and leaked recordings over the past week, today is a good time to remind anyone trying to build and maintain a strong personal brand about the importance of consistent and authentic brand communication.

In 1998, during my career as an actor and voiceover artist, I had the pleasure of doing the live voice announce for the opening ceremony of the Goodwill Games when they were held in New York. The Goodwill Games were an international sports competition created by media mogul, Ted Turner, in reaction to the political troubles surrounding the Olympic Games of the 1980s.

The opening ceremonies were situated in downtown NYC. I remember showing up for the day and seeing a long line of trailers that housed the command center for the global broadcast of the ceremony. I was escorted around the corner to what looked like an abandoned railroad car. Inside was a folding chair, table, microphone, headset and the script for the show. In addition, there was one other important item; an electronic box with one very big button that sat on the table in front of the chair. My instructions were as follows: When the director in my headset said “announce, go”, I was to hit the button to make my microphone live, and read my lines. When I finished my lines, I was directed to hit the button again to turn the microphone off.

I was always curious why they couldn’t turn my mic on from the main control room without my help, but I guess that was technology back in the 90’s. As I sat there during a brief rehearsal, I realized that if I hit the button at any time, I could talk to the world and say anything I wanted. What an amazing amount of power I had at that moment. What an amazing amount of responsibly. Hit a button, talk to the world, and have my words recorded forever.  I could have gone off script and said anything I wanted. Granted, I would have been pulled off the air never to work again, but I had that power and that choice.

This was way before twitter, and social media. Yet, in a mere 17 years, now every person with a smartphone has the chance to talk to the world with the push of a button. In addition, every person with a smartphone can now act as a reporter, camera operator, and network producer and decide to put what you say or do on the network, and not always with your approval.

I’ve seen college athletes lose scholarships for inappropriate tweets. I’ve seen employees of companies lose jobs due to off-brand actions captured on an iPhone. I’ve even witnessed salespeople immediately fired because of disparaging comments about clients during recorded conference calls, when the salespeople thought the phone was on mute.

We’ve seen powerful people over the last few years taken down because their words and actions captured in text, on video and in audio recordings were not consistent with the personal and professional brands they claimed to represent. So, in a world where you can be recorded and uploaded at any moment, it’s more important than ever to remember that you are a brand. Any comment, no matter how funny or off the cuff you think it may be, could affect your life, career and future ambitions. It will also affect the lives of those close to you such as family, friends, colleagues and even the organization you represent.

Once your words or actions are recorded, as we all know, they can be replayed forever. It may not affect you today, but it certainly will tomorrow. Your brand is your shadow and follows you wherever you go. So, before you communicate, ask yourself if your choice represents the best version of yourself. Is this comment, declaration or action consistent with the “true you” and the beliefs and values of the brand you want to communicate to the world? You have one brand – 24/7, because there is no separation between the private and the public anymore. And, whether you push the button or not, whether you like it or not, you are always on.

Stand for Your Brand,
Dave

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PS – You may already know how to consistently communicate as a 24/7 brand, but if you have a child or grandchild in school or college, please feel free to share this message with them. Sometimes an outside voice is a good reminder to reinforce the lessons you are already teaching.

 

 

“Picture Book” Presenting

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Research shows that when people listen to your speech or presentation, they are likely to remember only 10% of that information three days later. However, if a relevant or memorable image is paired with your words, people will retain approximately 65% of that same information three days later. 

Your powerpoint slide is not an image if it has more text than the Gettysburg Address. Reading text is a visual task, and needs to be processed by the brain. Each letter represents a symbol and the brain has to decode the symbol in order to make sense of the information. Letters become words. Words become sentences. Sentences become paragraphs. That’s a lot of decoding to comprehend from the back of a breakout room, ballroom or auditorium. 

In this context, it’s better to give a presentation without the slides at all, if they are just going to be your speaker notes on the screen. No one likes to read along with the presenter. They want to be inspired, surprised and taken on a journey. 

When my kids were young and not yet able to read well, they loved story time. Actually, my wife and I, while recently purging our basement, discovered where we spent most of our money in our early years as parents; children’s books. As I opened up the boxes and boxes of picture books and flipped through the pages, I remembered sitting with the kids on their beds at night, reading them the words, while they visually followed the story. Nostalgia for me, and a flood of tears for my wife. 

As I paged through the books, I wondered if all those years of “presenting” to my kids didn’t have an effect on my presentation style. My keynote and workshop presentations can run from 120 to 180  slides. I usually get a nervous laugh, and a look of panic, after I announce at the start of the session  that I will be sharing 180 slides with the audience. But, when my presentation starts to flow like an Instagram or Facebook feed, they relax and realize their brains don’t have to work so hard. All they have to do is look, listen, sometimes laugh, and learn. 

Do you have any children’s picture books lying around the house or in the basement? If not, the next time you are in a book store go into the children’s section and pick up one the classics like Goodnight Moon, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Stellaluna or Love You Forever. As you flip through, imagine the book without visuals. Not so fun or engaging. 

The next time you have to give a presentation to your team, boss, prospect, client, or industry, remember that you are not the only presenter to your audience that day. And, chances are, the presenter before you just exhausted your audience by making them try to read and listen at the same time. As you step into the room or hit the stage, your audience is looking for you to not make them work so hard.

So, for your next presentation or meeting that requires presentation speaker support, imagine that your audience can’t read very well. Imagine they can only be communicated to in visuals such as pictures, graphics and colorful charts and need you to provide the words verbally. How will that change the way you create your next presentation? How will that change the way you prepare? And, how will that change the energy in the room for you, and for them?

At the end of any of my sessions, I always send my presentation to the audience as a PDF. And, if I’ve done my job correctly, they will be able to look at my “Picture Book” and repeatedly connect the valuable learnings to the visuals, even without the words.

To present in this way, you must know your content backwards and forwards. But, that should be a given for anyone who wants to stand out from the crowd.

Stand For Your Brand,
Dave

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Born to Run

636004875600969072-782077745_concertYou know the song, but did you know Bruce Springsteen just launched a book with the same title on September 27th? It’s his memoir, and from a branding perspective, it’s a brilliant title because he is the song, and the song is him.

I wasn’t always a Springsteen fan, but when I met my wife and we began dating, one of her deal breakers was that I had to take her to a Springsteen concert. And, if after that, I couldn’t consider myself a fan, we would have to part ways.

If you’ve ever had the chance to see him perform in person, you know it’s not just a concert. It’s a show where performer and audience have mutual appreciation and admiration for one another in ways that create energy from the moment you enter the stadium till the time you reluctantly leave, four hours later. And, at every show, no matter what new material or new album there is, he always plays his signature song, “Born to Run.”

Fortunately for me, and my eventual marriage, I became a fan. I even talk about “The Boss” and his iconic song as part of my leadership development session, “Rock Your Role.” I ask each person to to name one song that defines his or her life’s work. One song title. They can choose from any title of any song by any artist ever written. Their choice can be based on the title itself, or the lyrics that make up the story of the song, but they only get one song.

Over the years, the song titles my audiences have chosen run from the profound to the hilarious, but always revealing. Here are a few of my favorites:

– Stairway to Heaven
– Highway to Hell
– Don’t Worry, Be Happy
– Beautiful Day
– I’ve Had the Time of My Life
– On the Road Again
– Survivor
– I Need A Lover That Won’t Drive Me Crazy
– Crazy Train
– Stronger

We have wedding songs and special moment songs. We have fight songs. We have workout songs. Songs are emotional anchors to the different times in our lives worth remembering. They remind us who we are and what we are still capable of being. But, can you choose one? Springsteen has published over 300 different songs and I’m sure he loves them all. But, “Born to Run” is obviously his defining song.

At your next team meeting or client dinner, you can break the ice and ask your attendees the same question. What song title defines your life’s work? I guarantee the song they choose is just the beginning of a meaningful and spirited conversation.

My song? “Lose Yourself” by Eminem.

Stand For Your Brand,
Dave

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Say Something Worth Saying

Last week, Edward Albee passed away at the age of 88. He was, as many have said, one of the greatest American playwrights of our generation; penning Pulitzer and Tony award winning plays such as “A Delicate Balance”, ”Three Tall Women”, “The Goat or Who is Sylvia?” and “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?”

You may not have had the chance to read or see any of his plays, but I had the privilege to study under Mr. Albee for two years when he was a guest professor of the Writing Seminars Program at The Johns Hopkins University. I took “Writing with Albee” and “Acting with Albee”. The classes were held during the winter intersession and you had to submit an original work for acceptance into the class.

Over the six-week course, the objective was for the student-writers to create the best version of their play so the student-actors could then perform that play for a real audience, all under the guidance of Mr. Albee. He was eccentric, demanding and even testy at times. He once fell asleep during one of the rehearsals of a student play (not mine, thank goodness). For all of his eccentricities, he was a brilliant man, and I learned something that I took with me beyond my years as a student and an actor, into the business world. It can be summed up in this quote by Mr. Albee:

“I survive almost any onslaught with a shrug, which must appear as arrogance, but really isn’t because I’m not an arrogant person. When you write a play, you make a set of assumptions — that you have something to say, that you know how to say it, that its worth saying, and that maybe someone will come along for the ride.”

If you know who you are and what you stand for, you will have a distinct point of view. And, it is your responsibility to express that point of view in a way others find valuable. You may not connect with every single person in your audience, but that is not why you’re there. You are not there to be adored. Your job is to express your idea, provoke meaningful conversation, and quite possibly change existing beliefs. 

If you try to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one. Mr. Albee didn’t write for the critics. He didn’t give audiences what he thought they wanted to hear. He gave them what he thought they needed to hear.

So, the one thing I learned from Mr. Albee, as he helped me make my writing and my performances more meaningful, is this; the next time you have the chance to communicate to an audience of one, or one million, remember to say something worth saying, and say it well. If you do, they will remember you long after you leave the room.

Stand for Your Brand,
Dave

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Back to School

It’s the middle of September, which means everyone should be back to school.

In a recent talk to the Hankamer Business School’s Center for Professional Selling at Baylor University, I had the chance to kick off the school year with a talk to over 300 students about building their personal brands. While I mostly speak to businesses and professional associations, I also enjoy getting a chance to help future business professionals get a head start positioning themselves for future success.

Presenting to all those students made me think of my own children. I have three kids; two in college and one who just started her senior year in high school. They all went back to school this year with the same spirit my wife and I have seen in them for the past 17 years. There is a sense of newness in everything. It might be the same school, but it’s different classes and different teachers. For the college kids, there’s new housing, new friends and probably new beer pong tables I’m not supposed to know about. They also get the chance to meet new classmates and challenge themselves by learning new topics and acquiring new skills. New year, new everything. And, a new opportunity to strengthen their brand.

So, here’s my question. As adults, why does the excitement of September have to stop? Why do most people dread the end of the summer vacation season and feel like they are just going back to work, instead of going back to learning? Why do many people need an escape, even after they’ve taken a vacation? Why don’t we recommit to strengthening our brand and focus on the communication and actions it takes to build a reputation that stands out amongst our colleagues and competitors.

Everyone has a chance to “go back to school”. Every day is an opportunity to learn and grow. Many people think that January is a time of renewal or commitment, but I actually think September is the month we should be focusing on a recommitment to ourselves, our careers and our future. Once the summer is over we have the chance to focus on the routines that keep us on track or the transformation that gets us where we are meant to be. No excuses.

Great brands consistently learn, grow and evolve. Just like a student a great brand is curious. If you’re not learning, you’re already behind the person who is. And, just because no one is putting a grade on your paper anymore, that doesn’t mean you aren’t being judged.

 

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Stand for Your Brand

As a keynote speaker, educator and global CMO, I have the opportunity to speak to, partner with, and learn from, some of the most successful people in all areas of business, education and sports. It is my goal to pass on this knowledge and inspire you to proactively increase the value of your personal & team brands in your own life.

You don’t have to be a famous athlete, singer or celebrity to be a brand. All you need to do is identify, communicate and act in a way that provides unique value to people who need and want your talents.

In business, and in life, your brand is your reputation and your promise of a repeatable, unique value experience. Therefore, those who identify and communicate stand-out qualities that make them interesting, relevant, stronger and more valuable than their colleagues and competitors will be more likely to find and maintain brand loyal “customers.”

If you don’t think you have a brand, you are wrong. Everyone is known for something. You may be the smart one, the creative one, or the responsible one. Those are labels. And your brand is your label, your identity and your image. So rather than let others decide who you are and what you stand for, make it your mission to proactively build a brand that stands out in the hearts and minds of your most important stakeholders in work and life.

It is with this mission in mind that I share tips and insights that help you identify, communicate and deliver the unique value you bring to your life, your career and your business.

 

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How to Conquer Your Toughest Audience

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 9.35.33 AMI have been speaking on the topic of personal branding and brand alignment for many years. My keynote audiences are predominantly corporate, ranging from front line employees to managers to the C-suite. As an actor, sales leader and CMO, I have been “on-stage” much of my life. I do not get stage fright. Yet, just recently I had the opportunity to face my toughest audience ever; over 300 7th and 8th grade middle schoolers. Needless to say, I was slightly terrified.

A good friend of mine is a principal for a New York City public middle school. While we were discussing the importance of promoting a personal brand and managing one’s reputation, he asked if I might be able to translate that message in a presentation to his students, who are just discovering the power of social media. The school was promoting a different topic each month. January was about Responsibility. February was all about Respect. Of course, I said yes. “Great,” he said, “you have 45 minutes.”

My challenge: In today’s day and age of the 7-second attention span, how do you keep middle schoolers engaged on one topic for 45 minutes, and hope they leave with a commitment to action?

I am known for interactivity in my presentations, yet I knew the examples of brand reputation I use for my corporate audiences would not resonate with 12 and 13-year-olds. I had to find what was relevant to them. Playstation replaced Mercedes. Taylor Swift replaced Warren Buffett. Social media topics included Snapchat and Instagram instead of Facebook. (No one is on Facebook anymore!) Being in NY, we got very passionate about Yankees vs. Mets and Jets vs. Giants. The room was split pretty much down the middle. Lebron James did not fare so well in the heart of Queens, NY. I also showed a video about personal brand destruction that was sure to gross out the entire school. Mission accomplished. 40 minutes went by incredibly fast and then I issued the audience a challenge, a small homework assignment; describe their personal brand in one word. If Volvo is known for “safety,” what is it they want to be known for. What is their aspirational brand? The principal would take all 300 words and create a mural in the main hallway showing the “school” brand. I left 5 minutes for questions, as I always do, not expecting any takers. I was wrong.

“What is the worst thing you ever did on the internet?” “What does your brand stand for?” “How do you change your brand if you don’t like who you are?” Questions kept coming. It was the best part of the day. And, of course, there is always one, “Do we have to really do the homework?” Big laugh from the group. “His brand is lazy,” someone shouted. I said, yes, you have to do the homework.

Upon reflection, this presentation was no different than my other presentations. I followed the same rules, keeping the mindset of the audience front and center as I prepared. Yet, I was reminded of some very basic principles that are often overlooked by presenters of all kinds.

1) Create energy through interactivity. Include your audience in your presentation. Don’t be afraid of a little improv. I had the audience call out the names of companies and products by showing recognizable brand logos. This immediately created a connection between us, and signaled a presentation where their participation would be expected.

2) Gain credibility in the present. No one cares what you did 10 years ago, or where you worked last week. Kids, and adults, don’t really care how smart you are until they realize you have something valuable to share with them. Those kids never asked where I went to college and I didn’t tell them. It didn’t matter.

3) Be relevant. You may have to change your presentation to fit the needs of your audience (age, location, job function, industry) but relevance is the key to engagement. It also makes you think differently about your message and you may find a better way to connect for future presentations.

4) Be a guide for your audience. You have an obligation to take your audience on a journey from awareness to understanding to buy-in to commitment. If you want people to follow you, you have to make the journey worth taking.

5) Teach, don’t preach. We all remember our favorite teachers from school. They educated and entertained. Presenting in front of students and teachers reminded me that our job, when we are fortunate to be at the front of any room, no matter how big, is to teach. Educate someone in an entertaining way, and they will always remember you.

Great group of kids. Some even came up at the end and shook my hand to say thank you. Hopefully, it was an experience that makes them think differently about how they present themselves to the world. It certainly had an effect on me.