7 Tips to Sell Your Ideas Like a Motivational Speaker

April 30, 2012

“You don’t listen!”

All of us have likely heard these words spat at us in frustration at some point in our lives. And guess what, it’s true! The fact is that no one listens.

In a previous OPEN Forum article, I wrote on how to more effectively hear what others are really trying to say. By recognizing how you listen (or more accurately, don’t), you can then better understand the way others listen. This in turn arms you with the ability to speak in a way that will have you be heard.

Effective innovators and business leaders need to “sell” their ideas to others. But too often we fall into unproductive behaviors that prevent our message from coming across.

What are these barriers and how can you conquer them? Having given hundreds of speeches in 43 countries, I have learned a few tricks on how to be heard more effectively, whether you’re speaking to a big audience or just one client or employee.

1. To be heard, first hear. While speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., I became painfully aware that everyone was more interested in being heard than hearing the perspectives of others. How can you be heard in this environment? Listen. Appreciate their point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. People can sense when you are not open to what they are saying and will thus be less inclined to hear you. Acknowledge differences in opinion and appreciate others’ perspectives.

2. Build an emotional connection. When starting a speech, you want to connect with the audience emotionally. Why should the audience care about what I am going to say? What’s in it for them? What benefit will come from listening? Buy-in is rarely done on an intellectual level. People are more likely to listen if they can relate to you and your message on an emotion level. Does what you offer—your product, service or idea—solve a problem? Can you speak to a pain they have?

3. Know your audience’s style. I’ve found that although American audiences typically like my speaking style, people in other countries are sometimes put off by it. For example, if I use my high-energy style in England, I can be viewed as overly enthusiastic and not taken as seriously. I find that a more professorial approach works there. Equally, when speaking to scientists, I use a different style than when speaking to advertising agencies. In order to be heard, match your style to that of the audience.

4. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. Everyone makes decisions in different ways. Even though I may be interested in the novelty/coolness factor, others want to know the scientific evidence and facts. Some are more interested in the practicality of your solution while others are more concerned with the impact on others and are driven by emotions. When speaking to larger groups, you need to address all of these styles. But when talking to someone one-on-one, speak to the style of the individual.

5. Don’t preach. Coach. It is fine to be passionate about your topic, but being dogmatic and closed-minded prevents others from being interested in your point of view…

Read the rest of this article (and comment) on the American Express OPEN FORUM site

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Innovating Water Treatment

April 25, 2012

In my latest American Express OPEN Forum article, I talked about how designing to handle the exception, not for the exception can improve efficiency and reduce costs, while increasing overall performance. [If you didn't read that article, please do so before proceeding]

When I first wrote that article, I included a potential use of this concept as a way of solving our clean water challenge.  But during editing it was cut, so I decided to include it here…

Our aging water infrastructure provides potable water to a large percentage of the houses in this country.  340 billion gallons of water are used every day in the United States; an average of 1,000 gallons per household per day.  Although less than 1% is actually used for human consumption, nearly all of the 340 billion gallons are treated for drinkability.  The other 99% is for industrial use, showers, toilets, swimming pools, lawns, and other functions where potable water is not needed.  Therefore, applying this principle, one solution would be to stop worrying about the aging water infrastructure, and instead provide bottled water for drinking.  Or maybe every house is retrofitted with a simple filtration system to handle only the water that requires treatment. 

I write this, not as the best solution, but just a different way of looking at the problem.  A one-size-fits-all approach to problem solving can work against us.  If we look at what is really needed, we will find some new solutions.

What other uses of this concept can you find?

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Design to Handle the Exception, Not for the Exception

April 24, 2012

While going through security at the airport the other day, I was reminded of an important design and innovation concept.

Things were going smoothly until a bag was flagged during the X-ray procedure. The luggage was held on the conveyor until an authority could conduct a manual inspection. At the same time, a similar problem arose on another line. Everything ground to a complete halt. Although it took only 5 minutes to get the lines moving again, during rush hour that was all it took for the queues to grow out of control.

Many years back, a supervisor shared with me a design principle I still use 25 years later: design to handle the exception, not for the exception. That is, don’t design your business model around the most complicated case. Instead, design it so that the exceptions can be addressed, even if their efficiency is impacted.

When designers try to make one process cover every situation, no matter how rare or unusual, the result is usually greatly increased complexity and diminishing returns for everyone.

Using my supervisor’s mantra, this airport dilemma differently would be solved by pulling off the bags that need manual inspections (the exceptions) into a separate area. Even if those bags would have to wait longer to be processed, they wouldn’t impact the bulk of the customers and would significantly speed up average wait times. Those travelers with the exception bags may be more inconvenienced than they are today, but perhaps knowing that you will be significantly slowed may encourage people to be more careful with what they put in their luggage.

How can this be applied elsewhere?

A major life insurance company found that its claims handling was slow and expensive. What they discovered was that every claim was being processed using the same rigorous procedures.

But all claims did not need to be treated equally.

To improve efficiency, they scaled down the process and segmented claims according to their level of complexity. A simple version was used for straightforward cases. More robust versions were used for more complicated cases, while the full process was reserved only for the most difficult and time-consuming cases.  The most skilled and expensive specialists would resolve these complex claims while generalists handled the easiest ones.

What they found was that 60 percent of their cases could be handled using the simplest process with the least expensive resources. Thirty percent received the mid-level procedure, while only 10 percent needed the original full treatment. The result? Processing costs were reduced by 40 percent while average processing time was greatly reduced. Service levels also increased.

So how does this apply to your business?

Look at your customers. Which customers account for the bulk of your business? Which customers account for the bulk of your profits? Design your business to meet their needs. If you have other, less frequent needs, find a way of handling them outside of your standard processes, even if the cost is greater (to you or the customer) and the convenience is lower.

If you run a restaurant and 80 percent of your customers order the same five menu items, make sure you can inexpensively and efficiently cook those meals. For patrons who want items less frequently ordered, maybe they can pay a premium or wait a bit longer. Additionally, instead of keeping perishable ingredients in house for those rarely ordered meals, maybe you can find a nearby store where you can buy them just-in-time when needed.

If you run a call center…

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

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Selling Your Ideas

April 18, 2012

Innovators know that great ideas that don’t get implemented are worthless.

So how do you convince people that your solution is a good one?

Consider the case for “business casual” in the workplace.

What are the traditional selling points? People will be more creative. Employees will be happier.  A more casual environment improves communication. 

All of these are interesting, but debatable.

One company that reputedly fought the move towards business casual was Procter & Gamble.

What sold them on making the shift? A more well thought out proposition.

Someone reapplied that suits are dry cleaned and casual clothes are washed.

P&G makes Tide.  When an extra 140,000 people start washing their clothes on a daily basis, sales of laundry detergent will likely increase.

Selling your ideas means understanding the pains and opportunities of those who will implement your solution.

P.S. I have not yet confirmed if this story is true; it was told to me the other day by a client.  Regardless, the thought process is interesting.

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What It Means to Really Listen

April 13, 2012

…and guess what, you don’t really listen.  In fact, while reading this article, you are not really reading what I intended it to mean…

Last month, I was on a flight from Orlando to Boston that had a bit of a problem.

An hour before our scheduled landing in Boston, the pilot announced the main braking system was not functioning properly. Although the backup system would most likely work fine, the pilot and flight attendants were preparing us for the worst.

They carefully described the emergency procedures. They were very similar to the ones frequent travelers have heard many times before. But this time, you could hear a pin drop as they walked us through what would happen.  Everyone was paying attention.

Although I am on nearly 100 flights a year, I was listening in a way I never had before. The truth is, I rarely pay attention to the emergency procedures when we are not in an emergency situation.

This got me thinking: Do I ever really listen?

The answer is no. And regrettably, I am not alone.

Unfortunately even when you are trying to listen, you are still likely not really hearing properly.

Psychologists call this “confirmation bias.” We are naturally wired to filter and interpret information to conform to our underlying belief structures. And very simply put, these beliefs cloud how we hear. We only take in those pieces of information that align with our beliefs, and we disregard anything that contradicts them.

Understanding confirmation bias can have a significant impact on your ability to have effective relationships. And as a small business owner, it can have a profound impact on your success if you’re not hearing the true meaning of what your customers and colleagues are saying.

In the corporate environment, I’ve seen brilliant ideas proposed by recent college graduates that were completely dismissed by more senior people. But when those senior people said the exact same things, others thought they were geniuses.

A friend of mine recently attended a weeklong training class. When asked about the class, he responded that he was less than impressed with the instructor. When I asked why, he said, “It’s hard to listen to him. He’s dressed like a slob. His hair was a mess and his shirt was never properly tucked in.” The instructor’s appearance impacted how he was heard. Amusingly, on the last day of the class, his perspective changed. When pressed to understand why, I discovered the instructor had gotten a haircut and was wearing a stylish suit and tie. The change in appearance impacted how my friend heard the instructor. He claimed the instructor now “sounded more intelligent.”

As you read this article, I can assure you that your judgments are impacting how you receive what you are reading. If you want to actually absorb the value of what someone is saying, you need to know your natural biases.  This will impact your ability to innovate.

Listen better

The first step to listening better is to recognize the fact that you don’t. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you really hearing what others are saying?  Or are you only passively listening?
  • Are you focused on their words?  Or are you thinking about what you will say next?
  • Are you putting yourself in the shoes of the other person?  Or are you only interested in meeting your own objectives?
  • Do you ask a lot of questions?  Or are you doing all of the talking?
  • Are you hearing what they are really saying?  Or are you too colored by your own perceptions, judgments and filters?

This last question is critical. If you are honest, you will most likely begin to see that your filters are getting in the way of communication. By recognizing that you even possess these filters, you can become more aware when they begin to color your interpretations. This allows you the choice to set them aside so you can create an effective opening to listen.

Think about what your customers try to tell you…

Read the rest of this article (and comment) on the American Express OPEN Forum

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My Travel Tips

April 10, 2012

Over the years, I have traveled over 1 million miles to nearly 50 countries.  Given that I fly so frequently, I am often asked for my suggestions for traveling more comfortably, efficiently, and cheaply.  Here is a VERY short list:

  • Subscribe to TripIt Pro - TripIt is an awesome website/app that makes life easier for all travelers.  When you book a flight, hotel or car, you simply forward your confirmation email to TripIt and it populates your travel plans in one place.  The pro version monitors flights and tells you of delays (typically before you hear from the airline).  And it notifies you when prices drop.  I have saved hundreds of dollars just on this one feature. In fact, I just saved another $150 today.
  • Travel with an iPad – Although this is a minor tip, if you bring your iPad instead of a computer, you save time in the security line.  You don’t need to remove iPads from your briefcase (except in some countries outside of the United States).  I use Carbonite to back up all of my files from my computer in the cloud, so I can access them on my iPad anywhere/any time.
  • Use SeatGuru.com – If you fly often and have not used SeatGuru, you are missing out.  This website has the configuration of every aircraft on every airline.  It tells you which are the best seats and which ones to avoid.  If you augment this with my strategy for always getting a good seat on a plane, you will be more comfortable.
  • Buy Premium Seating – First class seats are typically overpriced, especially for shorter trips when you  can suck it up and be uncomfortable for a couple of hours.  But getting extra legroom AND getting priority access through security lines and boarding is worth the money for any flight.  Several airlines offer this.  United has Economy Plus with Premier Access.  JetBlue has Even More Space seating which also gets you through a special line at security and early boarding.
  • Use Hotwire and Priceline – I have been using these sites for ages and can get incredible deals on hotels.  A few years back (2006) I wrote an article on how to use these sites most effectively to get the best rate.  Things have not changed much since then, although there are sites where people share their deals with others helping you find the best rates.
  • Take Advantage of Credit Card Offerings – Most people are not aware of the deals you can get with your credit card.  Some offer car rental insurance (I pay extra to use AMEX’s $25 flat fee for complete coverage).  Other offer freebies like Global Entry (speed through US Customs), airline companion tickets, or airline lounge access (e.g., Priority Pass).  And don’t forget to use your AAA card for discounts (Hilton offers great rates with the card).

There are SO many more ways to travel comfortably, efficiently, and cheaply.  What other suggestions do you have?

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Work with People You Don’t Like

April 9, 2012

When asked by a Fortune 20 company to boil down Personality Poker into a 350 word article for their intranet, this is what I created…

We all have heard the expression, “opposites attract.” But in fact there is irrefutable scientific evidence that in relationships, opposites repel. We prefer to be around people who are similar to us. In business, this means that we tend to surround ourselves with people who think like we do. They have similar personality styles.

Although working with people who are like us improves efficiency, and makes relationships easier, this “commonality” destroys innovation. Innovation is based on different and divergent points of view coming together to create something new of value.

If you want innovation to flourish in your organization, you need to find those individuals who complement your style and address your innovation blindspots.

Look at the list of words below. Which set of words resonates with you the most and best describes you?

A: Intellectual, Knowledgeable, Philosophical, Logical, Realistic, Rational, Skeptical

B: Adventurous, Spontaneous, Flexible, Creative, Open Minded, Insightful, Curious

C: Goal-Oriented, Driven, Decisive, Competitive, Disciplined, Organized, Systematic

D: Diplomatic, Sociable, Gregarious, Popular, Nurturing, Empathetic, Compassionate

The list that best describes you is your primary personality style (and yes, people have more than one style). A’s tend to be a bit more data-driven and analytical, B’s like new ideas and experiences, C’s like to plan the work and work the plan, and D’s are into people and relationships.

However, who you are NOT is more important than who you are. Look at the lists of words again. Which words do NOT describe you? Which ones would be opposite of your style? What you may find is that those who are not like you, you may not like. Their differences can be annoying. Yet these differences are the very thing that can help innovation thrive.

The next time you are working on a complex problem or developing a new solution, seek out someone who is different. Appreciate their contribution. Recognize that the person you like the least, may be the person you need the most.  Their differences can be the key to unlocking your success.

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High Tech Presentations

April 7, 2012

When I give speeches, there is always an interactive component, regardless of whether the audience is 10 or 10,000 people.

I like being able to draw, but flip charts do not work well for large groups.

Therefore, I use a pretty cool technological set-up to run my presentations:

  1. I run my Keynote presentation off of my iPad2.  I also use Penultimate app as the drawing application.  This combination allows me to show slides but also use my iPad as an electronic whiteboard. I like the elago Stylus for writing. You need either the VGA or HDMI dongle from the Apple store.   (NOTE: this set-up will not work properly with the iPad1 because it lacks VGA mirroring)
  2. Using a bluetooth connection, I control the slides from my iPhone using the “Keynote Remote” app.  In addition to letting me walk around the stage, it also let’s me see the next slide on my iPhone before I advance.  This allows me to mentally queue up what I will say next.
  3. If there is a WiFi network, I can use Apple TV (3rd generation) to connect my iPad wirelessly to an HDMI projector. This not only allows me to be cable-free.  It allows me to walk into the audience with my iPad and draw while off the stage.
  4. For smaller venues that don’t have an HDMI connection, I have an HDMI to VGA converter that allows me to hook wirelessly to old school projectors.

I find that with this set-up, I can create an engaging and interactive experience instead of a boring speech.

What other technologies do you use to make your speeches more engaging?

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Different Questions = Different Solutions

April 6, 2012

I recently had a conversation with a colleague who is a professional speaker.  She and her husband are debating if they want to have a child in the near future.

She said, “Right now my life is easy and I know if I have a child, it will be a lot more difficult.”

The implied question: “Do I want a life that is easy or one that is challenging?”  Based on that question alone, many might go for the easy solution.

But maybe this is the wrong question.  I asked her, “How fulfilling is your life right now?”

Her answer: “Although life is easy, it is not fulfilling.”  She felt that having a child would make life more fulfilling.

A different question gives a different perspective which yields different solutions.

Because she eventually wants children, she wants to travel less.  As a professional speaker, she currently only makes money when she is on the road.  Therefore, to create passive income, she has been developing a number of “products” (books, CDs, DVD, cards, etc) that she can sell.

What she is doing again implies a particular question: “How do I create products that will generate passive income?”  As it turns out, the creation of these products has required a lot of time and money on her part.  And there is very little leverage since the margins are so low and the distribution channels are limited.

But what if she asked a different question: “How do I generate passive income that can scale with minimal effort and minimal investment?”

Now she has many more options including licensing, partnerships, sponsorships, technological platforms, etc.  The work can be done by others rather than her.  And given that others are selling to their networks, she can gain much greater leverage.  The opportunity now is much larger.

If you ask a different question, you will get a different solution.  And from my experience, most individuals and organizations are asking the wrong questions.  And this will always lead to the wrong solution.  A simple shift in mindset can fundamental shape your success.

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Two Recent Interviews

April 4, 2012

If you want to hear my voice talk about innovation, here are two recent interviews for podcasts:

I had a blast with Karen Keller when we addressed how women (and men) can be more innovative.  This was a no holds barred conversation where I said what was really on my mind: Power Influencer Series

SchoolBriefing.com is a subscrition-based website targeted at school administrators.  In this interview, I discuss how teachers, educators, and administrators can be more effective in the way they teach their students.  This link will allow you to listen to the recording and read the transcript without a subscription: Re-Thinking Innovation, Creativity and Collaboration

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