I am sitting in the audience of a breakout session at the NSA (National Speakers Association – the ones who talk, not the ones who listen). An online expert is putting on a fascinating presentation about how to generate web traffic. Right now he’s demonstrating his theory on how to build a powerful podcast. His outline is simple:
1. Identify the customer’s challenge.
2. Personalize it.
3. Offer three ways to solve the problem.
But that’s just the basics. Besides the simple structure, he also showed us how to make the pitch personal and compelling. He even demonstrated some brilliant examples of how to do just that.
The speaker asked the audience to take five minutes to create their own presentation following his specific instructions. At the end of the allotted time, he asked for three volunteers to get up and make their pitch.
The first volunteer got up and spent his valuable few minutes in front of the crowd explaining why he didn’t do it the way the expert suggested, but instead wanted to check if his way of building his presentation was correct.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the woman the speaker called on next stood up and did an eight-minute soliloquy on why certain professionals aren’t successful in business and how annoying it is to work with them – a screed that had nothing to do with what the speaker was teaching us. I didn’t even hear the third volunteer because I couldn’t stand it anymore and slipped out of the session.
In the hallway, I ran into a guy who asked me if I’d take a look at his marketing materials and let him know my thoughts. He pulled out a notebook and started flipping through the pages, showing me what he’d done and explaining to me why each specific item was included on each page.
My suggestions were simple. As I’ve tried to explain so many times in this blog, all he needed to do was change his focus from company-centric to customer-centric. In other words, reframe his messaging from an intellectual sell to an emotional one, away from himself and towards his potential clients. But no matter how many times and how many different ways I tried to explain he wouldn’t listen – all he cared about was having me validate what he’d already done.
So here’s my question: What good is good advice if you’re not going to take it?
If this sounds like a rant, I’m sorry. I am peeved and banging the keys on my laptop a little harder than usual. But the reason might surprise you. Believe it or not, I’m not that annoyed about the people I just wrote about. Instead, all of this makes me wonder how often I’ve been exposed to great ideas and didn’t listen or pay heed because I was too busy defending what I’d already done? How often did I miss the opportunity of learning from an accomplished expert because my focus was elsewhere? And most important, how can I make doubly sure it doesn’t happen again?
I texted my wife and told her my dilemma and her simple response was, “Deep breath. ILY.” After thinking about it for a while, I think she’s right. The simple way to make sure that we’re open to opportunities is simply to breathe. Don’t be so quick to respond, don’t be so quick to defend, and don’t be so quick to disagree. Instead, I’m going to try to simply be open to the information I’m lucky enough to receive and save both the evaluation and the retaliation for later.
Needless to say, the information I get may or may not be accurate or helpful but how can I know the difference if I’m too busy explaining why I did what I did? There will be plenty of time for evaluation later. For now all I’m going to do is breathe and pay attention. How about you?