Last week, I stopped at a gas station and was surprised to see that the station had installed Sonic meal ordering stations beside every gas pump. At first, it felt very strange and out of place. I had never seen these two different services aligned, and it felt funny. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed logical and even brilliant.
The “new normal” is in full swing and causing us to question everything we do — and how we do everything. While painful, questioning how and what we do is incredibly healthy. The simple fact is that we resist change until we have exhausted all options for clinging to the status quo and conclude that change is inevitable.
All too often, we resist asking the hard questions that should be asked routinely if we are serious about creating high-performance organizations. One blessing of the “new normal” is that it has created financial pressures which leave us with no alternative but to ask hard questions about what we do and how we do it.
Ask and discover that some services should be abandoned. Ask and conclude that some services should pay their own way. Ask and reveal that some services can be delivered more efficiently and effectively.
Ask and rethink. Rethink how we configure services; rethink whether we partner with the private sector to deliver services more efficiently; and rethink whether there are alternative ways to generate revenue to maintain the quality and variety of services.
Our citizens are increasingly unwilling to eliminate services, yet simultaneously less willing to pay for providing them. The old ways of doing business simply will not work anymore.
“Eat here while getting gas” may not sound like it has much to do with your organization; but rethinking how you configure services, rethinking how you create partnerships with other providers, and rethinking how you generate alternative revenues has everything to do with whether your organization will be a pacesetter or an also-ran.
Start questioning how you do everything and everything you do. It worked for Sonic and Chevron — and it will work for you too.
The reports keep coming in. There are a lot of mediocre to bad speakers out there. And every poor presentation adds to the frustration – the sense that “this is a waste of time.”
There really are some simple fixes. If each speaker would simply remember (and follow) some simple rules, the audience would be less frustrated and more engaged.
In this post, I will focus on the structure, the organization of the presentation. And the structure is this:
Beginning, Middle, and End.
I think I heard it put in this simple formula first by Frank Luntz, but it is in every speech textbook since the beginning of time, using the more old-fashioned wording. Speeches should have an:
In other words, a
Start with an inviting, engaging Beginning
Have a substantive Middle
And, have a call-to-action End
This menu/template/formula calls for the following:
- You need a “Hook” to grab the attention of the audience. As you look your audience in the eye, tell some story, use some quote, to engage, to grab, to “demand!” their attention. Make it powerful, as you pull your audience into your presentation.This part of your speech should include your compelling Hook, then your thesis statement — the speech in one clear, compelling sentence — then a preview of what’s coming next.
- The body of your speech should be substantive and very, very easy to follow. Simple, but not simplistic. Probably with main points — more than two, but not too many.
- Review what you have said, then end with a clear call to action. A “This is what you should do with what you have learned here” call. Make sure your audience knows what they can do with this material.
One teacher put it this way. Every speech or presentation should have a clear “what” and then a “so what?”
Here’s my observation. The better speakers have pretty good “Middles”. But the very best speakers have superb “Hooks”, and really clear “Calls to Action”. So, here’s my suggestion — start working a lot more diligently on these two aspects.
SGR is excited to offer a new workshop on presentation skills taught by Randy Mayeux entitled Loud and Clear. It is an intensive two-day workshop where each candidate does multiple presentations which are video recorded and critiqued to help the candidates improve in terms of preparation, organization and delivery of the message. Enrollment is limited to six participants per session, and the workshop has been specifically designed for individuals who present to governing bodies. This can be particularly beneficial to key executives as you go into budget workshop season. Contact Krisa Delacruz at Krisa@GovernmentResource.com for more information.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
I’m not very good at giving clear directions. People I teach in SGR classes sometimes mark this as a 3 out of 5—average. I often suspect that they are just being generous. I know it’s an area that I need to improve. However, the other day I was teaching a class, and my “average” (or less than average) ability to give directions ended up teaching a fantastic lesson about the power of coaching.
We were discussing the difficulty that humans have in walking in a straight line when they are blindfolded (with or without too much wine!) Starting as far back as the 1920s, researchers have conducted numerous studies which illustrate that basically, we cannot do it. We cannot walk in a straight line for any significant distance (30 feet or more). We wander off track and start to go in circles.
So in our class, the curriculum called for us to go somewhere and experience it for ourselves. The students weren’t blindfolded. They were just told to close their eyes and walk in a straight line to a point that we agreed upon—about 30 feet away. But here’s where my challenge in giving directions reared its ugly head.
I told everyone, “Choose a partner and make sure you take care of your partner.” I intended the partner just to be there as a safety net. The students interpreted it as, “Don’t let your partner wander to the left or to the right.” As a result, the partner walked along next to the person and gave “course correction” guidance every few steps. “Go back to your right.” “You are headed too much to the left.” “That’s it. Keep going.”
That really wasn’t the role that I had planned for the partner to play, but once it started, I couldn’t really stop them. (Note to self: “Mike, you have to get better at giving clear directions.”)
But, that’s when I started seeing it. With the help of the partner, now turned coach, people were able to stay on track much, much better than what usually happens. Some wandered a little bit, but not nearly as much as they would have; and several were able to walk in a straight line. AHA Moment: The Power of Coaching!
If you are a supervisor, I know you don’t have time to hold people’s hands and walk by them every step of the way. However, here’s my question: If it’s the difference between people wandering around in circles and making steady progress toward the goal, wouldn’t it be worth it to invest a little more time in coaching them “real time” rather than waiting until the annual evaluation to criticize them for going in circles?
Organizations spend hours talking about excellent customer service. Many spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually training employees to put the customer first. The vast majority of local governments don’t have that luxury. So, what can we do on a shoestring budget to make sure we are providing the best customer service possible?
Here are a handful of suggestions:
- Start from within. Managers and supervisors cannot expect direct reports to exercise outstanding customer service if they are treating those same direct reports poorly. If you expect direct reports to greet customers enthusiastically, you must model enthusiasm when interacting with your own team. Pick your customer service outcome. If you expect it externally, you must model it internally.
- Remember the “why”. Malcolm Knowles, one of the pioneers of adult learning theory, suggests that adults must know why they are learning something in order for them to truly learn. As employers, we need to remind our employees of “why” positive customer service actions are relevant to desired customer service outcomes.
- Be a coach, not a curmudgeon. A curmudgeon is defined as, “A bad tempered or surly person.” Sounds like someone you want to work for – right? I think it is safe to say most of us would prefer to work for a coach— a leader who helps us reach our full potential. Managers and supervisors will have bad days like everyone else. When that happens, don’t take it out on your direct reports. Remember point one? It applies on bad days too.
- Diagnose first; act second. Before looking at an employee’s inability to provide excellent customer service ask, “Is a flawed system contributing to poor performance or is the employee continually returning to poor customer service habits even after coaching?” If the former is true, don’t make the employee a scapegoat when the issue is systemic. If the latter is true, then disciplinary action may be in order.
These small actions are by no means an exhaustive list. They do provide a starting point. As a service organization, consider choosing small actions that over time have the potential to yield big results.
April 16 was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I recently re-read the letter and was once again taken by King’s ability to speak with poetic persuasiveness under the most difficult and brutal of circumstances. In this profoundly significant letter, King makes the case for the nonviolent civil rights movement and challenges his “fellow clergymen” for their failure of moral leadership.
I was still percolating on King’s letter last week when I spoke at a local government association conference in Kansas on “The Future of Local Government”. So I took the opportunity to visit Monroe Elementary School in Topeka — the focus of the 1954 Supreme Court ruling Brown v Board of Education, in which “separate but equal” facilities were ruled unconstitutional. The essence of the ruling was that by its very nature, separate is NOT equal, and therefore is unconstitutional.
And of course, as we all know the educational facilities in Topeka and across America were not just separate, but blazingly unequal. “Separate but equal” was little more than a leadership masquerade in which far too many civic, religious, and political leaders made believe that an alternate reality existed which bore no resemblance to the appallingly real world these children were actually living in every morning when they attended school.
As I walked the halls of Monroe Elementary and compared it with photos of black children attending the dilapidated “separate but equal” school at the time, I began to ponder some core questions about the essence of civic leadership.
What causes otherwise well-intended and ethical leaders to lose their moral compass and abandon the good of the entire community in exchange for mean-spirited and destructive behavior?
It is easy for us to simply assign blame to the leaders in Birmingham and other communities at the time by calling them racists while we tell ourselves that we would never be that kind of leader. But that may be letting all of us off too lightly.
The simple fact is that as leaders, we are constantly tempted to sacrifice what we know is right for approval (or more often, avoidance of criticism) of the group. Indeed, King wrote that:
“Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture, but as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals”.
In other words, even when we know in our hearts the right thing to do, the need for approval or fear of criticism tempts us to do the wrong thing. And in today’s morally bankrupt political culture, that criticism can be vicious, which tempts us even more intensely to sin by silence. As Poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote, “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”
We are in an age in which ignorance is celebrated, in which criticism of public servants is brutal and unyielding, and in which leadership courage is in short supply. Take the time to read Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail again right now. Read it through the lens of today’s issues, of today’s political conflict, of today’s leadership crisis in your own community.
The specific context is 1963, but the lessons in courageous leadership are still crisp and compelling in 2013.
“This is a simple game.
ya throw the ball, ya hit the ball,
ya catch the ball.”
(from the film Bull Durham)
Every day, every box score is the same: “runs, hits, errors.” It is amazing how many errors professional baseball players make. It is amazing how many of the best gymnasts fail to “stick the landing.” Getting the fundamentals right is one tough assignment.
To be honest, I have always been just a little obsessed with the ideas of “the basics.” There are a few synonyms: the “fundamentals,” the “core issues”… but you get the idea. You always have to go back to the basics. You know, “this is a simple game: you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.”
And if you want to know what will really do you in, it’s those unforced errors. In business, these are the “forgetting what matters” errors.
Or, if you want to describe it another way, try this: “build a solid foundation.” Get the foundation firm, and then everything you build on top of it will stand the business storms. And, by the way, maybe the reason I have always been just a little obsessed with “the basics” is that I have such trouble. I forget the “fundamentals”.
I regularly like to quote Drucker’s three question to my audiences. These are great “fundamentals” questions:
- What is my business?
- Who is my customer?
- What does my customer consider value?
Everything flows from such “basic” questions? If I know my business, if I know my product and my service, if I know what my customer needs and why he/she needs it, and what he/she does with what I provide, then I have a shot at staying in business.
And at the moment, I think this is what the customer is after:
- Good quality (really good quality)
- Something better than what he/she was using before
- Faster delivery than ever
- No headaches or hassles at all
Now, to succeed at this challenge, of course you need to make the right hires. Then, provide the right training and encouragement and challenge. You’ll need the right feedback and “supervision” providing the right amount of freedom and empowerment and reward. And then, get rid of your current bottleneck, and the next one, and the one after that… the list does grow long in a hurry.
But it all starts from the right starting point — that solid foundation, the true basics.
So – how about you and your department? Are your fundamentals solid?
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
There’s a cosmic conspiracy against good leadership that causes leaders to lose confidence in their mandate to share their vision repeatedly. Something happens that makes him or her say, “I don’t need to share it again.” “They’ve already heard me say it so many times.” “They aren’t that interested in hearing it right now.”
Unless I miss my guess, you’ve probably had those nagging doubts yourself, right? In actuality, your team is desperate to hear your vision. They depend on you to remind them that it is still relevant. Some studies indicate that your organization needs to hear the vision repeated every 28 days or else it loses its power to inspire.
Here’s what happens when you share the vision with your team:
- It Keeps the Vision Alive. Visions are by nature a bit idealistic; but let’s face it, a lot of our daily jobs are rather mundane. Without being reminded of the lofty dreams of that vision, our routines become ruts that overwhelm our aspirations. Hearing the vision again from the leader keeps it alive in our hearts.
- It Burns off the Fog of Uncertainty. Just like fog slows down traffic on the freeway, uncertainty about the direction of the organization slows down progress. When it’s foggy, you don’t push the pedal to the metal because you’re just not sure what’s up ahead. When they aren’t sure about the vision, people just don’t go all out. It’s natural. So when the leader shares the vision, it’s like the sun burning off the fog of uncertainty and confusion. Do it regularly and you will be surprised at the speed of progress.
- It Breathes life into the Soul of the Team. People tend to be apathetic to a top-down vision process. But on the other hand, when it comes to a shared vision, even though the team participated in developing it, there is nothing that breathes new life, energy, and passion into the team than hearing the leader articulate it.
- It Empowers Good Decisions. Visions not only inspire, they prioritize. When the vision is clear, it says to the team, “These are the priorities, and these other things are not.” They may be important, but they are not AS important as the vision. When a team has a clear vision, it enables them to distinguish between both conflicting priorities and competing priorities.
If you want your team to perform at a high level, you have to make sure they have a good grasp on the vision. And in spite of the cosmic conspiracy to convince you otherwise, if you don’t regularly repeat it—they will lose their grip on that vision, and that vision will lose its grip on them.
“The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” – Mark Twain
Meditate on that quote for a little while. How many times have you written something that didn’t jump out at you?
Well, if it doesn’t excite you, it surely won’t arouse the recipient(s) either; and if your audience isn’t enthused, the message won’t be memorable. (And what’s the point of saying anything if no one will remember it?)
A sure way of making your message stick is by evoking your audience’s emotions. As Hollywood legend Warren Beatty said, “People will forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
In your organization’s mission, slogan, tagline, messages, etc., you have to make your public feel a certain way and sense a certain something. Don’t settle for mediocrity and clichés. Think outside the box.
Still don’t get it? You will after viewing this video. (You may want to have the tissues handy for this one.)
In that situation, writing, “I’m blind, please help” wasn’t connecting with anyone. They probably see people who need help frequently, and they just couldn’t relate to it.
But there was an obvious change in response when the sign was rewritten to pull on the audience’s emotions: “It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it.” Suddenly, bystanders could connect to the message and think, “Wow… it is a beautiful day and I’m fortunate enough to see it, while this man cannot.”
That’s the impact of using the correct words. It’s not aimlessly playing with semantics to change “happy” to “excited” or “building” to “structure”, it’s about changing your message from mere words on a page to making the reader experience what you’re saying.
One of the first rules I have learned during my years as a live class facilitator is: arrive early and stay late.
I always try to arrive one hour before the class begins. Doing so gives me plenty of time to survey the room, double-check technology tools, and contact IT or the A/V department if there is an issue I can’t resolve.
It also puts me in position to turn my attention to attendees as they make their way in. I do not have to worry about focusing on a projector that will not work with my computer. Instead, I can focus my energies on attendees—building rapport, learning names, and making general inquiries about what brought them to the class.
This time of rapport building is critical to successful engagement. Additionally, an icebreaker during the course may not be necessary. If I build rapport while participants are entering the room, I can quickly move into content because trust has already been established.
If possible, I always want to be the last person to leave the room. I close every session by stating, “I am going to hang around for a bit if anyone has any additional questions they would like to process.” In addition, I always ask the person responsible for set up and take down if there is anything I can do to help.
I help gather left over materials, straighten tables and chairs, power down equipment (unless a posted sign tells me otherwise), and make sure the host agency has copies of sign-in sheets and evaluations.
My goal is to teach before the class begins and continue teaching even after the class has concluded. I don’t just want to talk about great customer service or the importance of ethics or why core values are important. I want to model those attributes and send a loud and clear message, “This training opportunity is for YOUR organization. I am here to serve – not be served.”
Arrive early and stay late. You’ll be glad you did!