What is it that I absolutely need to remember from your pitch?

Ok, got it.

Now, how likely do you think it is that I will actually remember all of these things?

But wait, here’s a deal: You tell me exactly one thing and I promise that I’ll remember it.

Would you take it?

What would that one thing be?

How can you craft your whole communication around that most important thing?

What you say vs. how you say it

I keep reading this but it’s still as wrong as the first time:

“It doesn’t matter what you say but how you say it!”

What this is probably meant to say is that how you say things has a strong influence on whether what you say actually makes an impact. And because of that it might happen that inferior ideas beat superior ones simply because they were communicated better.

Yet, if you care then you’ll always start with what you say. It’s why you show up in the first place. It’s what makes the difference. It’s what separates the bullshitters and the hot air producers from those who actually want to change things for the better.

For them, things might not always appear to be fair. Sometimes, it feels that these slick and sneaky marketers are just naturally talented to sell things. But, if you look closely, it’s often not that they are actually more charismatic or more eloquent. It’s just that they understand better what resonates with their audiences.

When you care enough for your cause, it’s part of the game to do the hard work of empathy so that you understand what resonates with your audience, too. And if you do, magic happens. Because when you say the things that you believe in in a way that deeply resonates with your audience, change happens and trust is built.

This is where we go

How many of your team members are able to say in a few simple words why they do what they do?

While most companies have a mission statement, few companies are actually on that mission – simply because most team members can’t even repeat that mission without reading it from the posters.

Most mission statements are made to sound good, to cover all grounds, or to contain something for everyone. But by being vague, abstract and everything to everyone, they turn out to be easily forgotten and not at all useful for actually making decisions.

What’s much more useful – and thus, much more powerful – is a navigation system. One that makes everyday decisions easier. One that makes everyone pull into the direction.

The other day, I saw a clever slogan that just did this. It said “Quick logistics”. It’s short. It doesn’t sound fancy. Some might even argue, it’s boring.

But it does one thing that all those elaborate 10 bullet point, fancy sounding mission statements don’t achieve. It provides focus and direction, and it makes everyday decisions easy. Whenever a team member is faced with a decision, she can simply ask: Does this help to make delivery quicker? If yes, do it. If not, don’t.

So, where are you headed?

Do they care?

Often, they don’t. We have gone to great length to elaborate on any possible argument. We have shown all the facts. Proven all the cases. Yet, still they don’t care.

Because caring is emotional while our presentation was 100% rational. When you need to people to care, you need to make them care. Most of the time, that’s not by giving them the facts but by resonating with what matters to them on a deeper level.

So, what matters? Why would they care about the numbers going down? What does it mean? How does it affect what they showed up for? How does it change things for them? How will they feel about that change?

They might very well see your point, but to bring them to action, they also need to feel it.

Coping with bullshitters

There’s the truth. There are lies. And there’s bullshit.

To the bullshitter, the appeal of bullshit is that it doesn’t care about true and false. It makes things so much easier. If you don’t care what’s true and what’s not, you’re be totally free to build the world just like you want it to be. You just write your own story.

Fake news don’t mean anything to the bullshitter because it’s not about the truth at all. It’s about goals and reaching those goals, no matter what.

So the bullshitter paints a picture that has the biggest possible appeal to his target group. And he paints it as gloriously as possible. Whether it’s correct or not doesn’t matter as long as it helps to achieve the goal.

That’s also why you can’t argue with a bullshitter about facts. He just doesn’t care. And he doesn’t need to as long as his people are attracted by his painting more than by the facts. It’s all about attraction. It’s fine as long as it attracts.

This isn’t much of a problem as long as enough people care for the truth and will insist on digging deeper. But it will be a huge problem if a majority stops caring for the truth. If they resonate best with what makes them feel better and don’t question, anymore, whether that’s actually good for them. If they stop seeking out differing views and alternative interpretations.

The biggest problem of all is that you can’t fight bullshit with bullshit because it would make you no better. Yet, facts won’t work, either, if the appeal of the bullshit is just so much stronger than that of the truth.

This is why empathy is such an important skill nowadays. We need to become better and better at understanding what matters to people. Not to paint more fake pictures that appeal to them. But to understand how to attach to what matters to them. To discover common ground. And to resonate with what’s important to them in a way that’s true to the facts. To be able to compete with the bullshit while still doing the right thing. So that people feel what’s right and then see what’s right and then do what’s right.

Digging deeper

Yeah, sure, inspire me!

But please don’t stop there.

At every virtual corner, people want to inspire us to reach our true potential, the next level, or you name it.

We have short talk formats that provide a glimpse into exciting topics. TED has spearheaded that movement. Great videos that let us skim the surface.

We have stickers, images, and inspirational quotes on Instagram and other networks.

But you know what I actually prefer: to dig deeper. To understand things. To connect the dots. To commit.

Inspiration might be an initial flame that gets one started. But what good is it if we ever only get started. If all of us are inspired, but none of us actually travels to the finish line to understand the deeper meanings, complexities, and relationships of things? If we never reach anywhere meaningful.

The willingness to dig deeper and the ability to communicate what you’ve discovered is a skill that becomes more important as the addiction of surface skimming is multiplied by the social networks.

This niche is broadening quickly. So, what’s a topic where you dig deep?

Mastering complexity

If you are passionate about what you do, there will always be more interesting things to say than time to say them.

But what to leave out?

The common approach is to collect all the things you could say and then shuffle things around, deleting a bit here and a bit there … only to discover that, well, it’s still a lot.

The thing is: deleting is hard. Because when you care you care for the details, too. And when you care for something, it’s hurts to delete that thing.

But what if you didn‘t have to delete things in the first place? What if instead of leaving things out it was all about including things?

As it turns out time and again in my workshops and in my coachings, this is the most satisfying way to master complexity, both for a speaker and even more so for their audiences.

To achieve this, you don’t start by collecting all the things that you could say. Instead, you start at the endpoint. What is it that your audience absolutely needs to understand? Not the ten most important things, nor the 3 most important things? But the most important thing.

This is only one thing.

And then you’ll continue just the same way. What is now the most important thing that you need to tell your audience in order to understand this?

And then you repeat this process. What’s the most important thing to relate to this? What’s one story to visualise that?

And again. And again. And again. At each step, you’ll include exactly one thing … until you’ve reached the point of no return. The point where your audience sees clearly. The point where they want you to give them all the details. Where complexity is what they seek.

This way, you don‘t have to delete any of the details that are so near and dear to you because you have only included those details that actually matter to your audience.

Speaking to audiences means talking to people

The old way of presenting was the lecture. The monologue. The speaker preparing a speech and delivering it to the audience. The audience’s role was – in essence – to accept the delivery. (And if it didn’t get it, it was more the audience’s fault than the speaker’s).

Today, we know that a much more satisfying approach is to consider presentations and speeches as conversations. When you think of a conversation, it’s not about speaking to masses but about talking to people. To the humans in your audience.

For the best speakers, this conversation starts long before the moment they step onto the stage and doesn’t stop when they leave the stage. Great speakers – as well as great leaders – talk to people all the time. They talk to people so that they themselves can listen. Because only when you listen will you be able to attach to what’s important to the people.

Speaking really means talking to people, before, during and after the speech.

Don’t sell bad news as great news

A question I get asked a lot is how to offer bad news.

The thing with bad news is that they won’t magically turn into better news if you put a sugarcoating on top.

So, if you ask me, then just tell the bad news. Make it short and stick to the point. It’s going to hurt, but it’s going to hurt, anyway.

One thing that this attitude does for you is that it increases your credibility. If you earn a reputation for meaning what you say then people will trust you not only when you offer bad news but also when you offer great news, especially then.

However, if you hide bad news behind a curtain of dust and smoke, or worse, if you sell bad news behind a façade of great news, sooner or later people will notice because sooner or later it is going to hurt. And so, whenever you have news, they will be unsure about what to make of it.

Don’t sell bad news as great news.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz