Either you care or you don’t

Either you care or you don’t, there’s no in-between. And if you care, then go all of the way. – Stanley Kubrick

Almost compelling is another way of saying “not compelling”. Almost sold means not sold. Almost inspired is not inspired.

If we aren’t willing to go all of the way, then we don’t actually care, according to Stanley Kubrick: either we want people to get it or not. Either we want to inspire or not. Either we want to sell or not.

Keep in mind, though, that the crucial word here is “not”. By saying “not important” to most destinations it becomes feasible to say “important” to the right ones and mean it. Dismissing the paths you’re not willing to go ’til the end allows us to follow the right path to its end and invest the effort that is necessary to reach our goal.

(Interestingly, your audience will often sense it when you are not willing to go all of the way.)

A world without fear

For many, the preferred solution to deal with fear is to get rid of the fear. That’s why we hide from showing up, run away from stepping up, or delegate the task when we ourselves should be speaking up.

And we find good reasons for it. Because the meeting isn’t all that important. We’ve got urgent business to do that calls for our attention. Next time, we’ll be showing up. Promised!

As if next time would be less scary …

It isn’t. And that’s the point. Courageous can only be she who has fear. What would courage even mean in a world without fear?

The point is in finding the courage to do the things that not everyone will want to face. To seek out the situations where we do things differently. That’s what leaders do.

Instead of hiding, they turn on the light. They provide us with a sense of purpose, with a sense of being in there together – as a team. They are leaders because they light the path so others don’t need to be as frightened.

Your team needs your leadership to find the courage to follow.

(PS: On Thursday, I’ll launch a free five-part series on leadership communication and how to light the path. Please subscribe.)

The show is part of the substance

When you believe in better, it’s your obligation to speak with the clarity that’s required for your audience to resonate with your message.

Change requires being heard. It’s a huge misunderstanding – and a source of big frustration – for quite a lot of difference makers who make better things and then stop at making them. The resonance that their competition gets for their arguably inferior products by putting on a show feels like an unfair advantage to them. You’ll often hear them complain that “show” seems to be more important than “substance” to their audience.

It’s not, of course. Because the show is part of the substance.

Your audience doesn’t care for the things they don’t see or understand and it doesn’t have to. It’s not their obligation to see why your thing matters. It’s yours. Resonance is actually required to get results.

The good news is this: If your product really does change things for the better, then you’re in a much better position to make your message resonate. Because what resonates most is relevance. So, the actual unfair advantage is to make better things. Because better things create relevance. Then, turn relevance into resonance!

“I’m sorry!”

“I’m sorry” is a powerful phrase, not only in personal relationships but also in business.

Many businesses struggle with saying “sorry”. When a customer complains, the customer support will often rather defend their actions, finding reasons for why it wasn’t the business’ fault. When a deal doesn’t work out as planned, the manager will rather put the blame on circumstances, finding reasons for why it wasn’t her fault.

And I get that. It’s probably not their fault. Quite likely, it’s nobody’s fault (or even mine?). But that’s not what “sorry” is about.

“Sorry” is about empathy. “I hear you. And I feel your pain.” That’s what customers and partners are longing for.

They know just as well as you do that it wasn’t your fault. But it’s them who have to deal with the unfortunate outcome. Their product is broken. The deal hasn’t worked out. The delivery has arrived after the event. The investment is wasted.

“I’m sorry for that.” … “I hear you.”

It can’t change the past. Sure. But it changes the conversation you’re having right in that moment … sometimes dramatically so.

Challenging the way we approach keynotes

In-person events aren’t going to happen for a while. With their recent keynotes, Apple embraced this by not even trying to pretend that they were on-stage. Their keynotes now feel more like long infomercials than presentations – recorded in different locations around their signature Apple Park building and produced in a way that resembles a TV show much more than a presentation.

We’ll see this happening a lot. More and more companies will skip the live on-stage presentation and pre-produce videos instead. As they do, we will see more and more companies embracing the freedom that the video format provides.

We will see tighter storytelling, quicker video cuts, breathtaking animations, and – of course – fewer hiccups. Here are a few challenges to think about if you want to stand out:

  • Find a unique tone! One that’s grounded in who you are rather than trying to imitate what Apple and others are pioneering.
  • Don’t be afraid to make it fun!
  • Consider making it interactive! Now, that you have all your viewers online in front of a screen, think of ways to make them an active part of your show and re-consider running the whole thing live.
  • Learn the laws of tension and suspense! People are even more likely to consider your show just another competitor for their attention along the likes of Netflix, YouTube etc.
  • Skip the boring parts and quickly dive into the relevant parts! For example, just as almost no movie opens with the credits anymore, you shouldn’t, either.

(PS: Don’t miss your chance to make a difference!)

Would they come back?

Remember serial TV? We had to wait a full week to watch the next episode of our favorite show (which was yours?). Back then, great TV shows excelled at creating cliffhangers.

For many of us, it’s a love-hate-relationship with cliffhangers. In a way, it’s why we watched the show in the first place. That feeling of tension. That urge to want to know so badly what happens next. But then, when at the moment of greatest tension, they just said: “To be continued … Please come back next week!” … we were all like “Gosh. Really?!”

But of course we came back.

Is there a moment in your presentation when you could do the same? When you could stop and the audience would riot because they want to know what happens next so badly? A moment to guarantee that your entire audience would come back? (and bring their friends along because they couldn’t help but tell them…)

“Would they come back?” is a much more ambitious goal than “Will they stay on their chairs until the end?”.

Once people sit down, there’s a good chance that they will stick through to the end. You’ll have to torment them quite a bit before they will actually stand up and leave.

But having them come back is something else entirely. Was it really that good?

So, was it? Would your audience come back? What would you need to change so that they would?

Communicating to your team

The reason we all gather in a room (no matter if it’s online or offline) is because you are adding something that can’t be put on a slide. That’s especially true when you communicate to your team.

A presentation is not about the transfer of information but about the transfer of perspectives.

Information is much more efficiently – and usually also much more effectively – transferred asynchronously. Send me a document, point me to a link or book and I’ll take the info from there. I can read faster than you can talk. I can skip back or ahead. I can compare with knowledge I already have. I can take notes. All at my own speed.

The value of a presentation is in providing your perspective on the subject. Why does this matter? How are we affected? Why is this good news? How can we make best use of the info? Where do we go from here? As a team? How do you – as a person – handle the tough situation that follows from the info?

Communicating as a leader means more than providing info. It means showing up as a person who cares. It means lighting the path. It means making your team feel seen and heard.

And when they do feel seen and heard. And when they get your perspective. And when they align with your perspective because they get why it matters. Then they become more than the sum of their brains. They become a team.

PS: Next week, I’m launching a free five-part series on leadership communication.

When everyone zigs …

… zag! Sure.

But keep in mind that going straight when everyone else keeps on zig-zagging, takes you a long way. Not every trend is worth chasing. Not every turn is worth taking.

Zig-zagging is exhausting. It makes it hard for our audience to keep track with who we are and what we stand for.

The alternative is consistency. Focus on the change you’re trying to make. Evolving slowly, but constantly. Absorbing what works and leaving alone the trends that don’t.

Don’t underestimate the branding value that consistency brings along.

Where are your customers coming from?

To take an audience where you want to go requires understanding where they are coming from.

Because what gets us there is often not what gets others there, too. We’ve gone our ways, made our experiences, and learnt our lessons. Specifically, we’ve learnt our lessons. Not theirs. What brings us there, might or might not work for them – for whatever reason.

When we say “easy”, it means different things for us than it does for them. When we say “fair”, we see different stories than they do. When we say “$10,000”, it might be a lot more for them than it is for us.

As much as we like to think that things are obvious, often they are not.

Where are your customers coming from?

The clarity to focus your team

Good leaders hire great people.

Great leaders make them a team.

After all, a team of brilliant members might not accomplish much when everyone follows their own agenda. Five brilliant people pushing in five different directions can provide much worse results than five average people pushing in the same direction.

Focus and dedication towards a common goal are often underrated but they are among the most important tasks of a great team leader. The ability to communicate that vision and to lead by example, thereby lighting the path, is even more important today in this remote world.

In two weeks from now, I will publish a free 5 part deep dive to help you find the clarity to focus your team. Actionable tips to focus your team on a common vision. It will be published exclusively via email and you can subscribe here (no obligation, your info will be immediately deleted after the course).

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz