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/]

The presenter’s job

This is usually easy: to make sure that the information in a presentation is correct. That there are no mistakes in the data. That it’s complete. That we didn’t miss anything.

This is usually much harder: to make sure that our audience gets it. What does the data mean? How does this work? Why does it matter?

This is the least we should strive for.

Too many presenters stop at being correct. They consider their job to be to deliver the info.

It’s not.

Their job is to create understanding. The purpose of a presentation isn’t to be delivered but to be understood – if not to change minds.

When someone grants us 30 minutes of their time, the least we should do is to speak with clarity so they get what we mean.

Try something new

This week (like any other week) seems like a great week to try and do some things differently. How about one of these?

  • Smile more
  • Ask more
  • Judge less
  • Question yourself more
  • Question yourself less
  • Say “yes” more often
  • Say “no” more often
  • Take yourself less seriously
  • Focus your attention exclusively on the second item on your priority list
  • Trash your priority list
  • Start your day with important work (as opposed to urgent work)
  • Spend more time with a loved one
  • Spend time with a stranger
  • Learn something on a subject you have ignored, yet
  • Tell a story you’ve never told before
  • Be ok with who you are and how you do things

Feel free to add to this list …

So, what are you going to do differently this week?

Strange reality

People meet, incidents occur, without anyone ever having done anything intentionally for this to happen. Reality just happens.

Still, as humans we can’t help but look for motives and reasons. When someone tells us a story, we intuitively ask: “Why did he do this?” or “What is she up to?” – even when there is no meaningful answer to that at all.

What someone tells us must make sense. Even if reality doesn’t.

The challenge with speaking is this: to make a meaningful story out of a strange reality. Speeches are about reality but they are themselves narratives. Even if the source material is strange, the presentation about it must make sense.

What’s worse: Each listener has her own idea of what makes sense and each member of your audience looks for reasons and motives that fit his or her worldview.

Therefore, as a speaker we have to tell not only a story that makes sense and is truthful but one that makes sense from our audience’s perspective.

The kind of presentation I would want to listen to

A lot of presentations feel like the kind of thing that the speaker didn’t want to prepare but had to.

A much better approach would be to prepare a presentation so that it becomes the presentation your audience would want to listen to even if they didn’t have to.

The WTF moment

Marketers strive for a WOW moment. But the WTF moment is even stronger.

WTF is short for “I can’t believe that this is possible!” It occurs when you’ve given your audience exactly what they need and much more than they expected. It’s a solution to a problem that matters a lot to them.

Therefore, it’s also the trigger for “Tell me more!” It opens the flood gates.

Of course, this will get much easier if your product is a WTF product in the first place.

Louder?

The world of marketing gets louder. Essentially every day.

As every business and many employees turn into publishers, we not only get ever more, but ever louder messages.

One way to deal with this: Get louder as well. Publish more. Publish crazy stuff. Use bolder colors. Be even more provocative than the others. Or more fun.

Another way to deal with this: Focus on your audience and resonate stronger.

The difference is this: While communicating louder is concerned mainly with yourself and your desire to be heard, resonating stronger is concerned with the audience and their desire to be heard.

Rather than loudness, resonance requires consistency. Much more than this it requires a deep understanding of what matters to your audience. When you deliver both, people will listen even if you whisper.

The key to your audience’s attention…

… is everyday life and it’s quite often overlooked.

Most of us don’t spend the majority of our time in the extraordinary. It’s the ordinary that dominates our lives.

The same is true for our audiences. It’s everyday life where they have most of their problems. And it’s everyday life where they most urgently need solutions for – no matter whether it’s in their private lives (“improve fitness”) or their professional lives (“improve production quality”).

Now, if our big idea is exactly the solution for our audience’s everyday problems, resonating with their ordinary life is what gets us their attention.

It’s a huge misunderstanding that we would need an extraordinary show for this. What we need is extraordinary empathy: What exactly does everyday life look like for my audience? What exactly is their problem? How exactly does my solution help?

The more concrete we paint this picture, the more people will stick to your lips – and feel: “Exactly! That’s me! This is what I need.”

The feeling of “that’s me” is the key to their attention – and it’s grounded in everyday life.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz