The long valley of hard work and despair

“The Dip” is what Seth Godin calls that long valley of hard work and despair that you have to get through before being able to achieve anything of significance and remark-ability.

When faced with the dip, Godin says that

“The most common response to the Dip is to play it safe. To do ordinary work, blameless work, work that’s beyond reproach. When faced with the Dip, most people suck it up and try to average their way to success.”

When was the last time you aimed high with your speech? When was the last time that you tried to come up with something that’s actually amazing? And with amazing I don’t mean “looks good” but to take your audience to places they haven’t been before.

It requires us to do work that feels scary. To say words that people might not like. To step up even when we feel like others might repel us. To be vulnerable to speak about the things we truly care about. To be courageous to come up with new ways of looking at things.

It might feel scary. It might be hard work. But it’s also worth it.

A diamond needs to be polished, not decorated

Purity is what makes diamonds beautiful.

You polish it and shape it to take it’s purest form.

What you specifically don’t do with diamonds is to decorate it with fluff and stuff.

Why then do you decorate the diamond that is your product with all sorts of gimmicks and fluff and stuff when speaking about it?

When polished what is it that makes your product shine by itself?

About authenticity

When people work on appearing more authentic what they often actually do is become less authentic. Because what they do is to treat the symptoms rather than the cause. For example, they try to work on their body language, their voice, their words to appear more authentic rather than to become more authentic.

What I often observe is that people adapt behaviours that are not theirs. Behaviours that someone told them to use. However, instead of feeling more comfortable on stage, this leads them to feel more stressed because now, there’s so much more to concentrate on: what to do with their hands, how to look at the audience, how to walk the stage, how to pause in between sentences and so much more. Thus, they appear even less authentic.

When you work on becoming authentic rather than appearing authentic, the cause is often quite different. It’s not the body language or the wording you use, but the posture. For example, people become inauthentic when they speak about things they don’t really believe in or use words they don’t really believe in. Unless you’re a professional actor, your body will show signs of uncertainty when you don’t believe in the things you say. That’s what audiences perceive as inauthentic.

The most effective way to become more authentic is to work on what you say. Speak about things you actually care about. Use the words you actually believe in. Work hard to empathise with your audience so that you are confident that what you have to say actually does change things for the better. And, most importantly, care for your audience.

And then, when you say the things you believe in, using words you believe in, observe closely what your body wants to do – and reinforce that. Get rid of what others tell you to do with your body, voice, and words but find the words that are true to yourself and your cause.

Thank you for confirming my opinion

The other day I stumbled upon an article that someone shared on social media with these words:

Thank you for this article which confirms my thinking so much.

It’s a great reminder of how people are looking for statements that reinforce their point of view. She didn’t thank the author for a balanced view on the topic, let alone for challenging her point of view. She specifically thanked the author for confirming it. She appreciated being right.

This is yet another hint at how hard it actually is to convince people of something they don’t believe, yet. It’s so much easier to resonate with what they already believe.

Marketers and politicians understand this better and better and it is one reason why worldviews seem to drift more and more apart. As more and more people become good at resonating with what people already believe, worldviews are more and more reinforced, ever less likely to find common ground.

But!

It’s also an important reminder of how essential empathy is for communicators. If you don’t see what they see, if you can’t understand why what they believe is true from their perspective, if you are not willing to acknowledge their point of view, it’s going to be a tough sale to make them see what you see.

Yet, given the deep separations of today, it’s more important than ever that, as communicators, we succeed in resonating with those who disagree. To find the common ground. To find ways to make them see what we see. However, this is not going to work by insisting that we are right and they are wrong but by resonating with what’s important to them and making them see it from their perspective. If you can’t do this then how is your audience supposed to be able to do it?

Know it all, know it quick?

It’s the default mode in Q&A: Know it all and know it quick. The common intuition is that as an expert you just have to have a good answer quick. Because if you don’t, your status may be challenged. Because – so the reasoning goes – how would you be an expert if you didn’t know that right away, right?

I think the opposite is true.

If you take your time to come up with a well thought out answer rather than give me the first answer that pops to your mind. If you admit that you need to fill in a gap and then let me observe how you come up with connecting dots while thinking out loud. And if your response then will make so much more sense than the quick answer, then that will actually rise your status.

Because it shows that you treat your audience with respect. It proves that you’re not in it for the show but for the cause. It’s evidence for that you’re looking for the right answer rather than the quick answer.

Audiences appreciate it being served well a great deal.

Being right vs. getting it right

Being right feels good, doesn’t it? Being wrong not so much.

In fact, for many being wrong feels so bad that they will go to great lengths to certify why it wasn’t their fault, why it’s because of this and that, and if only they had known this and that then – of course – they would have been right.

Yet, what if it’s not about being right but about getting it right? What if it wasn’t about knowing all the answers but about being able to ask valuable questions? What if the point is not about knowing but about learning? Improving? Seeing with different eyes? From different perspectives?

What if there is no right? If only because we’re on uncharted ground.

Being right is what school taught us to strive for. Often, though, getting it right is much more useful.

What kind of “yes”?

What kind of “yes” are you seeking with your presentation?

Are you looking to just close that deal? Or are you looking for deep commitment?

Are you looking to make a quick buck? Or do you want to build a long lasting relationship?

Are you satisfied when you made the sale? Or do you want to go all the way until you solved the problem?

If it’s the former, then craft a presentation that doesn’t make me think. Make it an easy choice. Make me say “yes” quick. Give me an offer I cannot resist because it’s “too good to be true”.

However, if you’re looking for commitment, if you want to build a relationship, the opposite might be better suited for you. Make it a hard choice. Make me consciously decide that yours is the right solution for me. Make me struggle with the decision so that once I choose you, then I’m totally convinced and I’m all in.

Easy choices appear tempting. But trust isn’t built on easy choices. It’s built on honesty, empathy, and commitment. It’s built on thinking things through and sweating the details.

What kind of “yes” are you seeking?

3 percent

What if you improved your next speech just a little bit? Let’s say (just to put a number on it) by 3%?

It’s not much. Your audience probably won’t notice the difference. But let’s just assume you did. And then you did it again for the next speech. And then the next.

It’s not that big of an effort, either. Just 3% more effort. You probably won’t even notice the difference. But let’s just assume you committed to it. And then you did it again for the next speech. And then the next.

So, what if, each time, with a tiny bit more of an effort, you delighted your audience just that tiny bit more? What if you consistently did it each and every time?

Eventually, your audience will notice.

If you consistently overdeliver on what your audience expects, even just a tiny bit, it will pay in the long term. How many people do you know who would be willing to do the same? It catapults you in your own ballpark.

Just 3%. Every time.

(Of course, the fascinating part is that – if you really do this consistently, if you really do make improving a habit, the impact on the result will add up, but the effort won’t because as you get used to overdelivering, your baseline will adapt. So, in the long run, you will be able to deliver much better results with similar amounts of effort.)

It’s the hero we look at but it’s us who we see

Take a moment to think of a hero of yours. What is it that you admire about her? What did she do that you would love to do yourself? How would you have reacted in that same situation?

Whether it’s a movie hero or a real life hero, heroes inspire us because they provide us with a canvas to project ourselves upon. It’s the hero we look at, but it’s us who we see.

Heroes endure, overcome, and achieve things in a way we don’t. Yet, by listening to stories about our heroes, we are able to live a life that’s unlike our own. To get a sneak peek into what it would be like if we acted differently. Or sometimes even to consciously choose a life that’s different from the hero’s life.

This is what great storytellers understand. That it’s not about the hero but about the listener. It doesn’t matter so much who the hero of your story is, whether it’s fictional or real, or whether it’s a customer’s story or your own. But it matters a lot that it is themselves who our audiences see when listening to our stories.

So what?

A presentation can be brilliantly argued, beautifully designed, masterfully delivered …

… and still fail because it lacks a compelling answer to one simple question: “So what?”

Audiences look for an answer to this simple question every time and if they don’t find one, they will sooner or later tune out. Without a compelling answer to the question of relevance, any effort you put into other aspects might be a waste of time.

So, why should they care? Why them? Why now?

The more compelling the answers to these questions are, and the earlier you provide them, the more likely it is that you can make change happen.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz