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26 January 2014

Pen and Practice: The keys to being Extraordinary

My clients and colleagues through the years groan and moan when I bring up “Role Playing” as practice to deliver their important messages. While I understand their push back—

It takes more time. What if I do or say something embarrassing in front of peers? What if I mess up and people think I can’t do my job well? What if I sound stupid? What if I freeze . . .

To which I kindly make the point,

If you’re afraid of the fallout and consequences of failing within the safety of colleagues, why aren’t you worried about the consequences of under performing in front of clients or bosses?

We are delusional in thinking that “winging it” and “shooting from the hip” are good enough to move our careers and agendas forward in this day and age where competition is so stiff.

“Winging It” is a gamble. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but the odds are always against your performance being Spectacular—if you don’t prepare.

A speech, a presentation, a meeting, a phone call, an interview – these are all opportunities to shine and build your reputation among clients, peers and bosses.

If you can perform well in stressful circumstances, your credibility, character and expertise are boosted greatly in the estimation of your audience; perform less well and you’re either viewed as average or worse yet, your esteem falls in the eyes of the audience and the consequences are no surprise—you can miss out on the job/promotion/raise/sale/opportunity.

You’re only as good as your last performance.

Sadly, many people only put the minimal effort required into what is expected of them—personally or professionally. In my personal career I go the extra mile to be thorough, complete, polished and WAY above average. This might go back to my “Middle Child Syndrome” and the need for recognition, but more truthfully, being Excellent has served to elevate me and promote me amongst my peers. My achievements and recognition for going beyond the average have helped me meet my objectives, exceed my goals, and light fire to my dreams. It’s not by accident, it’s by design that I want to stand out.  Here’s the good news for you: You have only 2 very simple things to do so that you can stand out from the crowd and be “better” than average.

 

Learn and live the power of Pen & Practice.

You have opportunity at every turn to be Excellent and the vehicle that drives that opportunity is communication. Better communication. Being clear, articulate, relevant, concise, confident and more interesting will elevate your greatness from those that experience your personal level of excellence and higher standards—which outshines the competition.

Start with the Pen: Write it down.

The act of writing down your thoughts does so much to advance your communication. You have the opportunity to be researched, thoughtful, thorough, concise, persuasive, powerful, and polished.

Your presentations have a start, middle and conclusion when you think them through and write out your points in an order that makes sense for your audience to follow.

Your Talk Track when networking doesn’t sounds like it’s your first day on the job when you know it forwards and backwards.

And when you are prepared with answers to tough questions, you’re not caught off guard during that interview.

Being prepared makes you more confident, more flexible, more capable of successfully “winging it” when the unexpected happens.

And after you’ve taken Pen to Paper and written out your thoughts, then you need to PRACTICE the delivery.

That means {gasp} saying the words Out Loud. Where they can be heard by live humans. This is more hated and more detested by most people than the first part of writing down your thoughts.

Writing, the act of researching, choosing and assembling your words, cements the ideas into your voice. Good for you. But to be really, super Awesome, when you say the words, you need to be able to deliver them confidently, clearly, and look people in the eye. If you’re reading text, you’re simply less credible. It suggests you didn’t write it, you don’t know it and {eek} possibly don’t believe it or understand it. Which would make you inauthentic. Being inauthentic is stinky cologne. Your audiences can always sniff out an imposter, or a fraud.

Reading from a paper or shooting from the hip, you’re not fully prepared to engage the other person in communicating your thoughts or ideas. That’s bold – showing up to someone who has graced you with his/her time and attention and hoping and assuming everything will work out.

Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Case in point, poor Michael Bay. The hugely talented and successful Transformers movie director got extremely flustered and walked off stage after the teleprompter failed during a presentation of Samsung’s new 150-inch TV at the Consumer Electronics Show.

If he had been confident, comfortable and practiced and completely understood the points he needed to make to the audience, he would probably have been fine going off script and could work without the teleprompter—especially with the help and prompts he was being given on stage. This poor guy got so flustered about not reading the text he was given that he froze and fled.

How well do you expect to communicate your most important messages if it’s the first time you’ve said those words out loud?

Here are the most critical places for Pen & Practice

Presentations—It’s suggested that you don’t truly understand a topic until you’ve read it {delivered it} 6 times. Write it well. Know it. Practice it. Out Loud. Practice it in front of the mirror. Practice standing up. Practice your movements and gestures. Practice in front of an audience. Get their feedback. Keep practicing until you know the points you want to deliver and can deliver your talk without visual aids. Speak the story. Limit the visual props.

Few of the great inspiring or moving speeches of the world would have been improved by an awesome Power Point.

Proposals/Negotiations—Go the extra mile. Do the research—on the competition, the status quo, the culture, the economic influencers, who makes the decisions, who’s going to be in the room. Factor that into writing the Proposal. Practice with your colleagues, your boss, your spouse, your kids, your guinea pig. The stakes are too high to “Wing it” here. Know the material. Know the objections, problems, potential questions. If you know all of the possible negative or skeptical things a person might say about your idea, you’ll have a prepared response if they do.

Talk Tracks—You’re not selling anyone here; this opportunity is about building relationships. Have multiple versions of how you introduce you or your company. Be compelling. Ask a question that relates to problems you solve. Speak in terms of results, not capabilities. Give examples. Know your audience so you’re prepared with several talk tracks that are relevant and relatable. Practice them out loud. Give them some air before you try them out on potential new relationships.

Phone Calls {Scripts}—Any phone call that is to request a meeting, or to ask for someone’s time—whether it’s prospect/client related, a request to meet regarding a problem or a ask for an interview—deserves some forethought. Write out what you’re asking, why you’re asking and what you’d like to accomplish through meeting. This is where “winging it” gets really hairy if you’re not clear about what you’re trying to accomplish. Writing down your objectives and clearly and confidently articulating why you’re calling and why you deserve an audience goes much more smoothly when you have written reminders in front of you. Note: DON’T read this word for word; PRACTICE this out loud so you sound like you’ve been here before.

Meetings/Agendas—The audience you’re meeting with not only deserves to be clear about why you’re meeting, but about what the objectives are and how long it’s going to take. Here’s where going above and beyond can do great things for your esteem before you meet with anyone and it’s extremely simple. Confirm the appointment with an agenda or PTI (Purpose, Time and Intent). You can do a quick email that recaps the time and date, expected length of meeting time and overview of the purpose and intent. That takes only a few minutes but can be a great sign to your meeting audience that you’re serious, prepared and respectful of their time. Then when you meet in person, reiterate the PTI and ask if that meets their expectations and what will make the meeting a success for them. Then, you follow up with your killer presentation/proposal chops {because you put it in ink and practiced it, right!}.

Objections—If you could pick one of the top 3 things to practice answering, this is one to put some effort into. Objections come in many forms. Objections are about uncovering more information, clarifying the details, negotiation, or just saying no. How ya gonna handle it? If you don’t face the meaning and resolution of potential objections then they become “rejections” and your time is up. Think through the objections and how you would respond. What facts, data, persuasion can you respond with that’s relevant and compelling? Write these down, read them out loud. Try them out. Talk through the ideas you’re sharing—look for weaknesses and holes in your case so you can be prepared.

Interviews {Interviewee or Interviewer}—Here is a time to be Extraordinary and do everything you can to differentiate yourself from all the other candidates vying for a job you want {or for employers, you’re vying for potentially awesome and talented employees—this goes for you too}. Go above. Go WAY beyond. Be Impressive. What does that take? It takes research, time, preparation, writing, practicing, and delivery. Researching the company, the industry, the competition, the stock performance, the press releases, the global initiatives and the corporate culture of your prospective new employer is great. Really great. But what are you going to do with that information? Blurt it out? Spew the details out all at once? Organizing those details into relevant topic points and adding your own input takes thought and serious attention to the company. You’re putting yourself in the role already. Creating your own commentary or conclusions elevates your status as someone who will be a contributor to the company. Whether you’re right on the money or get them to disagree with you, you’re willing to add original thought and be a leader in the organization. That speaks volumes—but only if you do. Which means, everybody together now, PRACTICE OUT LOUD. Speak these words out loud. Mock interview with friends or family. Stand in front of the mirror and work on facial, hand and body language for expression. Bring examples of work, build a portfolio about your results, create something for their company.

Whatever you do, there are bound to be multiple times really, really important conversations or meetings are on the line. Give yourself the best chance to close those deals. Advancing your career, being a terrific leader, business owner or sales executive just requires more effort than the average person is willing give. Put in the time and effort to be confident and extraordinary.

Use Pen and Practice to Go Promote Yourself!

Until next time, keep kickin’ butt!
—sks