Should you judge a book by its cover?

Of course. That’s what covers are for.

A good cover sets the expectations for reading the book. It tells us what it is about and what it will be like reading it. It makes us curious. It makes us pick the book up and read the back. It’s one of the first touch points in our process to choose the book.

But what about all the extraordinary books with terrible covers? Well, what about them? I’ve enjoyed a lot of those. But that misses the point. I’ve picked them up despite their cover. Or maybe just because of their cover as it had been spot on to trigger something in me that I didn’t even notice. Or maybe I was referred to the book by someone who enjoyed it.

The point is that a cover is a shortcut to what we think about the book before we read it. It is a decision making tool. Decisions are almost always made based on incomplete information. Books are no exceptions. (And neither are people). Covers prime this decision making process. Just like the way you show up primes the decision making process of the people in your audience.

What’s a great book cover you love?

The most important person in the room

Great salespeople give us the feeling that nothing is more important to them than us right now. Great educators do the same. Great friends as well.

These people let us forget that they are just as busy as we are, that they juggle just as many balls as we do, that their day sucked big time and their lunch break is already one hour late.

They don’t necessarily leave everything aside for us. Just because they focus their attention fully on us, doesn’t mean that we’re the center of their focus all the time. But they hide from us the fact that their job is difficult, that they have needs and desires that are in stark contrast to spending their time with us or investing it for us.

Because they take us seriously as a person. They are 100% with us.

I’m well aware that these people have many other clients and that their world does not revolve just around me. But they give me the feeling that it does – and hide from me the fact that it doesn’t most of the time.

But.

Right in this moment it does. Because at every point in time, these people focus their attention on exactly one person and in that moment, this person is the most important person in the world. The only one that’s important. In fact, the only one.

How focussed are you on the person you are talking to?

Good enough

Good enough, but for what?

Actually, there are two kinds of good enough:

  1. The “I don’t care” kind.
  2. The “I care deeply” kind.

The former comes out of disrespect, the latter out or respect for the customer.

The former kind of “good enough” may be another way of saying: “They won’t notice, anyway.” Or “You get what you pay for.” Or maybe “I’ve got other business to do.”

The latter however is another way of saying “I care even if they won’t notice.”

Because when you do, in fact they will feel the difference. They will feel the love that went into building this.

You define your standards. What’s your standard for “good enough”?

The Evolution of a Speaker

These are the four phases, most speakers go through on their way to becoming a great speaker:

At first, it’s all about the content. It’s about making sure that every tiny detail is in the presentation. They tell us everything they know so that we acknowledge how competent they are.

Of course, as a speaker matures, she discovers that all of this will only make sense if we, the audience, get it. So, she starts to structure her presentation in a way that is not only logically meaningful, but that makes sense didactically. How can she help us make sense of it? Where are we coming from? What do we already know? Instead of transmitting knowledge, the speaker now aims to create understanding.

But at some point, she stops to ask herself: Why should my audience even care for this? So, she looks for and highlights customer benefits. She paints vivid pictures of what’s in it for us so that we recognize the presenter as the hero she is – the hero who serves us these benefits on a silver plate.

But finally, she realises that it’s not even about her at all. It’s entirely about us. So, she puts us at the center of her attention and starts her work at who we are and what matters to us.

Good speakers make us see the things they care about. They serve us their cause as something we should care about.

Great speakers however change our lives because they make us see the things we care about but hadn’t figured out ourselves.

Rather than to speak so that we get them they get us and speak about it.

Book reading list – Autumn 2020

Here’s a list of books that I recently enjoyed.

Everything is figureoutable – In a time where all of us need to figure out tons of things, Maria Forleo’s book couldn’t be more timely. If you find yourself mumbling excuses or caught in doubts then this book helps you discover how to figure it out.

Essentialism – For many of us, the world has shifted quite significantly in recent months and we’ve discovered that many of the things that we considered important are, in fact, not that important. Greg McKeown’s brilliant book helps us appreciate the utter unimportance of almost everything and focus on what’s truly essential for us to thrive (German version).

Building a Story Brand – If you’re looking for a hands-on primer on how to build websites that sell, Donald Miller’s Story Brand approach might get you there. It’s well thought out and based on the one thing that matters most today: empathy for our customers (German version).

Linchpin – A classic by Seth Godin that’s very well worth a re-read. Even if you’re not in a position of power you can still be a leader. Even if you’re not the decision maker you can still affect change. We definitely need more linchpins who dare to lead.

Foundation trilogy – Also worth a re-read. A fascinating exploration into the predictiveness of masses. Asimov’s brilliant idea of the theory of psychohistory might still be a far stretch of what maths can actually do but it’s also (still) surprisingly spot on in so many aspects (German version).

Low hanging fruits

Several months into the pandemic, remote formats still have a firm grip on businesses and events. From online meetings to online conferences, we will be seeing each other mostly on screen for quite some time to come. The good news is that there are still a lot of low hanging fruits in that new world of speaking.

Although many speakers and businesses have levelled up their technical skills and adapted their talks to online formats, many still struggle to fully embrace the possibilities that online brings along. We still see a lot of talks transferred onto the video format rather unchanged.

It feels a lot like back in the days when television still largely looked like filmed theatre. Now is the time to change that. After all, Netflix and YouTube is always just a click away. So that’s the new competition.

And that’s why now is the time to look for creative ways to make your talks even more instructive and entertaining. To make use of technology that just isn’t feasible in an on-stage setting. Rather than to try to mimic a stage setting, the right thing to do is to embrace the fact that you’re not in the same room, anyway.

Give me a call to analyse what’s possible for you.

The double meaning of status updates

Monday is status update day in many teams.

Sadly, the name has grown to carry a double meaning. Because too often it’s not only about the status of the project anymore but also about the status among the people in the team.

Too often, status updates are about “look how much I did last week”, or “look what I’m up to”, or “look, I’ve got everything under control”. In too many teams, the purpose of the status update meetings is rather to ensure that the boss sees how well people do than it is to actually discuss the actual project status.

How about a shift this week? What if rather than about status you made it about enabling? Instead of “What have you done to support the team?” you asked “What can the team do to support you?”

That way, the purpose of the meeting itself becomes to raise the status of each member as much as possible. It’s about making each member the best member they can be. A team member that creates better because we – as a team – enable her to do so.

Monday could be team enabling update once a while.

Second impressions

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

You don’t. But more often than not you still get a chance to make a second impression.

I mean, shit happens. As much as we try to avoid it, things go wrong. We’ve all been there.

But contrary to what the catchy wisdom suggests, it’s not over when you haven’t made a stellar first impression. Just deal with it. Continue giving it your all.

Some of my longest running relationships have grown out of first impressions gone wrong.

Are you unavoidable or irresistible?

A lot of marketing advice these days focuses around becoming unavoidable. Being so present in the market that people can’t avoid you because your messages are present everywhere.

But, of course, being seen in a noisy world like ours is quite the challenge. Unsurprisingly, common marketing advice is that in order to be seen, you need to publish a lot. On as many channels as you can. So, in essence, to stay on top of the noise. If others publish a lot, you publish even more.

I think it’s much better to become irresistible instead. To make each of your messages so strong that people will be drawn to it regardless of their volume.

The most important shift that happens is that it’s not about the medium anymore but about people. While you can dominate a medium on sheer volume (though it’s unlikely because the next guy who is willing to turn up the volume even more, is right around the corner), the same is not true for people. Quite the opposite. Sooner or later people will just tune out if they feel overwhelmed by volume.

Instead of more, focus on intense! At least if it’s people you care about.

Eruptions (In memory of Eddie van Halen)

When Eddie Van Halen erupted onto the music world, he revolutionised playing the guitar forever. The world of Hard Rock and the musical styles that followed would most certainly look totally different today than they do now. We will miss Eddie. Yesterday, he died of cancer.

What sets musicians like Eddie Van Halen apart is their willingness to change things. Their boldness to walk on uncharted territory. He might not have invented two hand tapping – a technique where both hands tap on the strings which enables insanely fast melodic lines – but he certainly popularised it and turned it into a revolution. Here’s his “Eruption” solo (starting at 5:05):

People like Eddie Van Halen don’t ask what people would like to hear. They find new ways to express themselves and discover new things to offer that people like.

They don’t try to guess what their audience would probably enjoy, they don’t try to please their audience because it leads nowhere useful. It’s the wrong approach. Audiences only ever know what they already like. They never know what they don’t know. And they can’t imagine what that would be like.

If you strive to please your audience, you will be shooting too low. You will be too careful. You won’t enter new paths boldly. Because, after all, what if they won’t like it?

Only if you let go of the judgement of others, only if you trust your own judgement, will you enter new paths boldly.

If Eddie van Halen had asked what his audience liked, he would never have played his “Eruption” solo – because how could he have known whether they would actually like it? Nobody knew what two-hand-tapped solos sound like. Had he asked what audiences liked to hear, he would probably just have practiced harder to play a bit faster with a traditional technique. He would never have changed the world of the electric guitar.

But he did:

All I know is that rock & roll guitar, like blues guitar, should be melody, speed, and taste, but more important, it should have emotion. I just want my guitar playing to make people feel something: happy, sad, even horny.”

[Photo: Carl Lender, CC-BY, flickr.com/photos/clender/7239011350/]

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz