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What happened to your sales skills?

We’re all natural born sellers.

We sold our parents on staying up late,
getting that ice cream,
and buying these shoes.

We sold our friends on joining us for the concert,
listening to this great new song,
and hanging out in the park.

That wasn’t hard.

Not exactly easy, either.
We had to fight for some of those.
Find better words.
Try empathy.
and more …

But in the grand scheme of things,
we pretty much knew what to do
and we just did it.

In our jobs, however, many of us tell ourselves that we’re not good at selling – although we obviously are, see above.

But why? What changed?

I think a major factor is how badly we want the thing we’re selling someone on.

That ice cream? We wanted it badly.
That concert? It was our favorite band and their only concert this year.

But the new project?

It’s nice and all.
It’s kind of fun, too.
But do we burn for it?
Do we want it badly?
Maybe not.

It think that’s the leverage.

What would need to change so that you want it badly?
(so badly that you know what to do and just do it)

Try to articulate it!
Try to find the words for it!

And then pay attention to how you react!

Could it be that you’re “not good” at selling because you’re working on something that you don’t fully believe in?

That’s the power of finding the right words.
You can articulate that.
You can figure out what’s off.

But it gets even better.
You can also articulate what it would need to look like so that you fully believe in it.

And then work towards it, inspire your team, …

That’s the power of finding the right words.
Everything gets easier, once you find them.

The first minute

What use is a 30 minute time slot if people tune out after the first minute?

I can’t count the number of complaints I’ve heard throughout my career about …

why audiences aren’t more patient … 
how the showmen steal attention …
how unfair that is …

But the truth is pretty simple:
Your audience owes you nothing.
Certainly not their attention.

If you think your story is worth hearing, then it’s your job to make it worth listening to.

Personally, I think there’s an ever better take: Why would I not want to make it as entertaining as possible? From the very first second! It really is in my best interest.

I think the confusion comes from mistaking interesting and entertaining for clickbait and nonsense. You definitely want to avoid the latter. But it’s a huuuuuge stretch between the two. There’s a lot of attention to gain without becoming sneaky.

In fact, audiences love intelligent takes, thoughtful questions, and surprisingly new perspectives. And they love them from the very first second.

They are more than happy to pay for it with their attention.

I’d even argue that we need to offer them an alternative to the sneaky attention seekers. And it’s not complaints! It’s truthful and interesting talks that are also entertaining and fun.

If your story really is worth hearing, I’d take any bet that you can achieve that.

It‘s not only in your best interest but also in your audience’s. You’ll end up with their attention. They’ll end up with your insights.

The attention is yours to grab.

Grab it!

The fear of practice

The single most avoidable mistake in speaking:
Skipping practice out of fear of making mistakes.

It breaks my heart every time I see someone avoid practice because they feel they aren’t perfect yet. They want to get perfect before practice (perhaps due to a nagging fear of embarrassment from making a mistake, even when the public isn’t watching.)

… and then they run out of time.

What a mistake!

Practice is that safe space where you can make an error without the consequence.

In a way, it’s the whole point of practice:
to learn about the errors so you can fix or avoid them.

The way to do this is not to play it safe in practice.
(Really, no one cares whether you’re flawless in practice.)

Instead, expose yourself to as many different scenarios as possible.

Those you prepared for.
But also those you didn’t prepare for.
Especially those.

Almost inevitably, you’re going to make a mistake or two.

How awesome is that?
Now you know and can prepare for it.

The beauty of practice is that you can take risks, but without the risk.

Make that error.
Learn from it.
Improve.
Repeat.

Playing it safe in practice is great way to fail when it counts.

How do you approach practice?

The Taxi Incident

So you’re the CEO.
You’ve just landed from a business trip and need to get back to the office.
You jump into a taxi.

But instead of providing a destination, you give turn-by-turn directions.

Like every … single … turn …

You bark orders to wait at traffic lights.

Tell the driver to go faster, and then to slow down.

By the time you arrive, you’re thoroughly frustrated about the driver’s incompetence.

You even feel proud of how you’ve fixed the situation and led the taxi driver to arrive safely at your office.

Also, that whole situation is kinda hilarious, isn’t it? Hard to imagine that anyone would act like that in real life.

And yet, micromanaging is still the norm in so many businesses. Worse, managers pride themselves on their firefighting.

The alternative is to replace 100 orders with one. Simply tell the driver the destination and let him handle the route.

Freed from the things others can do better than you, you can use the ride to close deals, brainstorm ideas, or plan the next strategic move.

You’ll step out of the taxi not only at your destination but miles ahead in your work.

Very easy to see with a taxi ride.

But how many areas exist in a business where it’s not as easy to see? The irony, of course, is that the driver not only knows the map better than the CEO—they have a navigation system and know how to use it.

Now, what about your business? Are there places where you might give too specific guidance rather than simply telling the team where you’re headed?

Do you trust your team to know how to drive the taxi and make choices along the way?

PS: If you want help in finding the right words to articulate where you’re headed, reach out.

Something to be excited about

I’m pretty excited.
I’ve just hit send for my new book.

It’ll be released early October and I’ll share much more about it in the coming weeks.

For now, I’m just going to lean back, enjoy some time off my desk together with my family, perhaps pick up my guitar, and allow myself to feel a little proud.

A huge “Thank you” to all the people who’ve helped make it possible. A book really is a team effort and it’s become so much better thanks to the input of your brilliant minds.

Wishing all of you a great start into the week!

PS: If you want to get notified about the book’s release, you can sign up on its site.

You don’t need permission

You need courage.

True for communication just as much as for everything else.

Just use those simpler words. They really do make a difference.

Don’t confuse your vision with your marketing

A lesson for entrepreneurs from one of tech’s biggest failures in recent years.

It’s well known that tech brands like to paint sweeping narratives of transformation, promising us devices that will reshape our lives and disrupt industries.

They love larger-than-life stories and lofty promises to captivate our imaginations with visions of groundbreaking innovation.

Such as Humane’s ai pin which was marketed as the product to finally free us all from the slavery of our phones, a personal assistant that looks like it’s coming directly out of a Star Trek movie with features that definitely sound SciFi.

But reviews were brutal.
Their product didn’t deliver.
Worse, it failed at basic tasks.

Apparently, Humane wanted too much.
They certainly promised too much.

Perhaps, they had confused their vision with their marketing.

Vision is crucial, but it needs to align with current capabilities.

The vision might be what motivates the team.
It informs the choices you make.

But it’s not the reality.
At least, not yet.

You shouldn’t make promises that sound as if it were.

I think it’s a safe bet that reviewers were merciless at least in part due to their oversized promises.

Had they marketed it more grounded in reality, for example as a first step towards that vision, perhaps even with more limited functionality (but which actually works as expected), reviewers might have reacted very differently.

They might have rooted for the newcomer.
Followed along their journey.
Cheered for the little successes along the way.

But Humane chose the grandiose, larger-than-life story.

I think they confused vision with marketing.

The moment my career started

My career started after a heartbreaking moment.

I had just witnessed an idea die.

An idea that could have changed the world but didn’t because no-one cared to communicate it properly.

No-one cared for finding better words.
Words that would get people’s attention.
Explain it in plain and simple terms.
Relate to people’s problems.
And get to the point.

Without the right words people didn’t pay attention.

And so no-one cared for the idea itself.

It couldn’t make an impact.

It was forgotten.

Simply forgotten.

But forgotten ideas die.

We’ll never know whether that idea would really have changed the world. But we do know that the only ideas that get a chance to change the world are the ones that people pay attention to.

The chances will greatly increase if you care for the words you use to explain the idea.

Some 16 years ago I started to write my blog from this observation. Today, leaders from around the globe who care for the words they use access it daily to help their ideas make a bigger impact.

No words

Sometimes, the right words are no words.

Just be there.
Listen.

Give them the space to express their thoughts, in full.
The time to say it out loud, uninterrupted.
The opportunity to voice concerns, without fearing judgment.
The canvas to connect the dots, as they emerge.
The chance to find the right words, even if they couldn’t find them right away.

Probably none of this would have happened if you had interrupted and shared your advice early or offered your solution before they could find their own – possibly a better solution.

Sometimes, no words from you is exactly what your team needs to make a difference.

Give it a try!

The Zig-zag trap

When everyone zigs, should you zag?

Perhaps.
But don’t forget to consider staying straight.

When everyone else chases the trends,
zigs and then zags,
zags and then zigs,

that’s when staying straight might be what actually sets you apart.

First of all:
Not every trend is worth chasing.
Not every turn is worth taking.

But also:
Zig-zagging is exhausting.
For you.
And your audience.

It’s potentially confusing.

Because it’s hard to keep track of who you are (right now) and what you stand for (right now).

The worst outcome might be when you end up being confused yourself.

The alternative is consistency.
(Not to be confused with stagnation.)

Evolve, but because it makes sense,
not because of trends.

Amplify what works and ignore the trends that don’t.

And so, going straight can be what leaps you massively ahead.

How do you approach trends?

Picture of Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz