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The first minute

What use is a 30 minute time slot if people tune out after the first minute?

I can’t count the number of complaints I’ve heard throughout my career about …

why audiences aren’t more patient … 
how the showmen steal attention …
how unfair that is …

But the truth is pretty simple:
Your audience owes you nothing.
Certainly not their attention.

If you think your story is worth hearing, then it’s your job to make it worth listening to.

Personally, I think there’s an ever better take: Why would I not want to make it as entertaining as possible? From the very first second! It really is in my best interest.

I think the confusion comes from mistaking interesting and entertaining for clickbait and nonsense. You definitely want to avoid the latter. But it’s a huuuuuge stretch between the two. There’s a lot of attention to gain without becoming sneaky.

In fact, audiences love intelligent takes, thoughtful questions, and surprisingly new perspectives. And they love them from the very first second.

They are more than happy to pay for it with their attention.

I’d even argue that we need to offer them an alternative to the sneaky attention seekers. And it’s not complaints! It’s truthful and interesting talks that are also entertaining and fun.

If your story really is worth hearing, I’d take any bet that you can achieve that.

It‘s not only in your best interest but also in your audience’s. You’ll end up with their attention. They’ll end up with your insights.

The attention is yours to grab.

Grab it!

Finding the right words matters so much

Great storytelling fuels influence.
Which is good, bad, and ugly … some thoughts on how to deal with bullshitters:

If you manage to tell a story that resonates well with many people, you can make a huge impact.

The good is that this power is available to everyone.

The bad is that “everyone” includes the bullshitters.

The ugly is that bullshitters often wield storytelling as a tool to manipulate or mislead, rather than to enlighten or entertain. They shamelessly ignore the truth. It’s just not a concept that matters to them.

The only question that matters to a bullshitter is:
Does the story work to their advantage?
When it works it’s just fine. True or not.

Now, this is important to understand: They are not exactly lying. In order to lie, they would need to care for the truth. Which they don’t. They are simply not interested in the truth. They are only interested in achieving their goals.

Here’s where people get it wrong: They assume that bullshitters would be similar to themselves. That deep inside even a bullshitter would care for the truth. That they just need to be convinced of the facts.

But that’s not how bullshitters roll.

They don’t care about the truth.
Therefore, they don’t care about facts.
Therefore, they can’t be convinced by facts, no matter how hard you try.

Bullshitters care about whether it works. Nothing else matters to them. Again: They couldn’t care less about whether they are right or wrong.

If a story resonates, they will tell it.
If a made-up story resonates better,
they will switch to that story.

You shouldn’t treat them as similar to you. They are not. Unlike yourself, they have no sympathy for the truth.

The only thing that can make make them stop what they’re doing is when their story stops working.

And that, essentially, means that you need to tell better stories.

You need to find a way to tell the truth in a way that resonates stronger than the bullshitter’s made-up story.

That, I think, is the only way.

And it’s why – in times like ours – finding the right words matters so much.

Telling stories is something that bullshitters really excel at. You need to become better at it.

For example … 

… when bullshitters are extraordinarily good at making their audience feel heard, you need to become even better at understanding people’s struggles and desires.

… when bullshitters promise the blue from the skies, you need to become even better at finding words that resonate strongly but that are grounded in the truth.

In other words, we need to shift our focus away from trying to convince the bullshitter (which is never going to work) and onto the people we want to resonate with.

The more empathy we have for them, the better our stories can become.

The better our stories become, the better they can spread.

The better they spread, the bigger their impact.

That flavor of impact starts with empathy, honesty, and the will to find the right words.

If you care for the truth and want it to have impact, you need to care for finding true stories that resonate strongly.

What’s your strategy of dealing with bullshit?

Repeating yourself

Say something often and people will start to believe it.

Repetition doesn’t make the thing you repeat any more true or false but people are more likely to believe a statement when they hear it more often (that’s true even for smart thinkers).

Bullshitters know and embrace that. For them, that’s easy because true or false doesn’t matter the least bit to a bullshitter. The only thing they care for is whether a narrative serves their goal. And so, they repeat whatever statement serves them best.

It’s party time for them when others chime in to the repetitions, preferably mass media, the press or the social media mob.

In light of that it breaks my heart every time I speak to brilliant people who say that they don’t want to repeat themselves, e.g. because they think it’s impolite.

I don’t think it’s impolite at all. If it’s true it deserves to be said repeatedly. Looking at how often bullshitters repeat their bullshit, it might even be necessary.

Don’t shy away from putting your best thoughts on hot rotation.

The beginning of the story

Congratulations! You made the deal happen!

Is it the end of the story? Or the beginning?

Some businesses are only ever interested in getting deals. Customers are mostly a problem that needs to be dealt with in order to get to their money. These businesses are often willing to use up trust just to get the deal. They make bold promises but don’t care as much to keep them.

For them, the deal is the end of the story.

Others look at it differently. They care about what they do and would love to spend their whole day doing the work. For some of them, sales and marketing feels like a problem that needs to be dealt with in order to get to work with customers. One of their biggest assets is that they build trust through the work they do. They make bold promises and work extra hard to keep them.

For them, the deal is the beginning of the story.

What is it for you? How does your answer influence the way you look at sales and marketing?

A Myth is a myth is a … truth?

“Only 7% of communication relies on the actual words that are spoken.”

This is the Mehrabian myth. It’s a widespread piece of “conventional wisdom” that gets repeated over and over again.

Which doesn’t make it true.

In fact, it’s wrong (at least in the common representation cited above).

Why then do so many people believe the myth?

Part of the reason is that it gets repeated. Over. And over. Again. Unfortunately, repetition increases the perceived truth of an information. It turns out that people are more likely to believe a statement when they hear it repeatedly. And that’s regardless of whether they’re dumb or super smart. Even smart and critical thinkers are more likely to believe a statement when they hear it repeatedly.

Let me repeat this: Even smart and critical thinkers are more likely to believe a statement when they hear it repeatedly.

Of course … advertisers love this. Propagandists, too. That’s why they keep repeating their statements over and over again (and over and over and over and over …). They intuitively understand that drip by drip it’ll increase the likelihood that people believe it (within certain limits, of course).

Which doesn’t make their statements any more true.

It’s important to keep that in mind when reading a message repeated frequently: No, a repetition doesn’t make it any more true.

The Mehrabian myth is still a myth.

Are you afraid of simple words?

People who care for the truth tend to shy away from simple statements. Manipulators don’t.

Which leads into a vicious circle.

Because the manipulators’ shameless use of simplistic statements lead the truth-seekers to get even more skeptical of simple statements. Which, of course, leads the manipulators to use even more of them as now that the counterpart is all complex messages, their simple statements can have an even greater effect.

The solution is not to elaborate in ever more detail why the manipulators are wrong. This would only feed the vicious circle.

The solution is to put in extra effort to find simple statements that are a true representation of the facts.

Let’s say that simpler: Find simple statements that are true.

Manipulators invent simple statements to craft their truth. Truth-seekers uncover simple statements that represent the truth.

Here’s the thing: If you care not only for the truth but also for spreading the truth, looking for this kind of simple statements is one of the most valuable investments you can make.

The misuse of stories

Stories are powerful.

Which is why they are often misused. The more emotional, the greater the potential for misuse.

A couple of years back, at a conference, I listened to a speech about water problems in mega cities. The speaker started with a story about a poor family who suffered some severe diseases due to contaminated water. It was a touching experience. She really made us feel the pain.

Which earned her harsh criticism during the coffee break.

Because it turned out that she had been misleading us. The problem: The story wasn’t representative of the situation. Not at all.

It was a story that was meant to evoke emotions (which it did). But it was a dishonest story in the sense that the speaker had picked a very specific, very special situation that painted an unusually dark picture. One that wasn’t representative of the situation at all. It was purely there to evoke emotions while not making the proper point.

That’s a crucial difference: The best stories are such that they are representative of the whole picture despite highlighting only a specific part of the picture.

Skilled communicators pick stories that paint a vivid picture.

Great communicators pick representative stories that paint a vivd picture. A story that is powerful because it evokes emotions and captures the essence of the complete picture.

The Bullshitter’s Playbook: Name frames

Bullshitters are going to bullshit. There’s nothing you can do about that. But what you can do is to show up prepared so you spot the moves they make to bullshit you.

For example, when they use “name frames”.

Like, say, the “China flu”.

The “China flu” was Donald Trump’s awful name for COVID-19. Looking from his perspective it was a brilliant name as it framed the problem in easy to understand terms that already had a meaning.

How?

Back then, people didn’t know what COVID was. Therefore, the disease remained kind of abstract and thus, rather scary. Calling it “a flu” made it concrete and way less scary. Everyone knew what a flu was, so actually not that big of a deal, right?

Also, by associating it to China, the name frame waived responsibility and instead cast blame on someone else. Calling it the China flu, Trump basically said: Not my fault. Don’t look at me, look at them! It’s their flu.

Essentially, by choosing that name, Trump managed to frame a complete story in two words – on his terms.

Which made it way easier to spread the story.

The opposite, i.e. the lack of a compelling name that frames the concept, is among the reasons why many good ideas fail. When a project is defined by a “20-page project proposal”, or when an idea requires going through a “30-slide PowerPoint deck”, and when there’s no easy way to summarize these 30 slides, that idea won’t spread easily.

More importantly, when others replace the 30 pages with a simple name frame, one that’s totally not in your favor, let’s say “The Lame Duck”, it might already be game over for your idea.

So, what exactly is a name frame? It’s a name that you invent in order to talk about a (potentially complex) topic in a simple way by attaching it to the frame’s meaning.

Bullshitters love that. They use it to make it easier to speak about their idea and color the discussion in their favor.

What name frames have you come across?

How to outcompete bullshitters

Whatever industry you’re in, you will be competing with bullshitters: people who promise big but don’t bother whether they can actually deliver big (if at all).

I see two theoretical ways to outcompete bullshitters out of which only one is practical:

First, patience. The one problem that bullshitters can’t solve is trust. Sooner or later, people will start to discover that the bullshitters just, well, bullshit.

However, that doesn’t really solve your problem. For two reasons: First, the Lucy approach – which basically means that they will try ever harder to bullshit even better. Second, the next bullshitter is waiting around the next corner.

Therefore, I think it’s best to just face this: There’s always going to be bullshitters around trying to catch your customer.

Which leaves the second approach as maybe the only way to outcompete bullshitters: Become so good at telling true stories that they resonate better than their bullshit stories.

What was the boldest promise you ever made to a customer?

Why didn’t you make it bolder?

Bold promises are a competitive advantage. Too often, though, we leave that advantage to the bullshitters.

Bullshitters don’t care for keeping their promises. They care for getting the deal. And so, they will make whatever promise their customers need to hear to close the deal, the bolder the better. These marketers are super creative at coming up with excuses why they couldn’t keep the promise. For them, it’s about the deal, not the promise.

And yet, it’s who you have to compete with. The good news is this: When you make bold promises, you care to actually keep them. Instead of being creative with excuses, you get creative with keeping them.

Honest marketers often struggle with making bolder promises because they are not 100% sure to be able to keep them. The problem is when you keep this 100% in your comfort zone.

So, here’s a challenge: Which promise can you make outside of your comfort zone? What would need to be true so that you can be sure to keep it?

Spread the Word

Picture of Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz