What do you make? Money or a difference?

I love this clip of Taylor Mali (thanks Seth Godin!). He’s a native of New York City and classes himself as a poet, teacher and voice over artist. I’m working a lot on the theme of personal branding right now, and I’ve listed a few points that resonated with me, having watched this video:

  • He’s making teaching fun, engaging and passionate.
  • He’s taking the focus away from the curriculum and assessment, and more towards HOW things are delivered in the classroom.
  • His message is about making a difference, rather than making money.
  • He’s found a niche and has sought to dominate it.
  • He’s using social media and appearing on stage as a way of promoting his message – and his brand.
  • You know what he stands for.
  • He’s on a mission – and it drives him.
  • When the message is simple and delivered in an innovative and entertaining manner – it hits home!

Some lessons for us all I think.

Shopping – it’s more than just the product

Yesterday, at the recommendation of a trusted associate, I bought my first portable camcorder – the Kodak Zi8. It’s a handy device for anyone in the coaching arena, something that produces simple, quick, high quality clips for YouTube sharing and can be used to record impromptu interviews if you’re running events.

I heard about the device on Friday, and by the next day I HAD to have one! Yes, I could buy one on-line and have it delivered but the thought of waiting a few days (and me not being in when it arrived) didn’t appeal so I set about trying various stores in my area. John Lewis had a Flip but I wanted the Kodak. PC World didn’t have it and Curry’s said because it was new on the market they didn’t have it yet.

I tried a gadget-store just outside Bolton, a place I don’t like but which seems to stock everything. I drove there with some trepidation. I’m not a tecchie and when I’ve been before I always feel I’m not qualified to go there. It overwhelms me and I feel under pressure. Sure enough, it was the same again. Being a Saturday there was a long queue. I spotted a computer terminal designed (I presumed) to help you find the relevant product code. I searched but couldn’t find the mouse click to select an option – no, I’m not THAT technically challenged! There was just no return button that worked. I gave up, walked out and breathed a sigh of relief.

I began to despair and as a last resort tried the specialist camera store Wildings. Again, the response was the same – “we don’t stock it.” But then, just as I was leaving, the assistant said, “have you tried Argos?” I hadn’t thought of that. He continued, “If you like I could look on-line and see if they have it in stock.” He went to the Argos web-site, found a local store that had it in stock and reserved it for me!

I was delighted and more than a little surprised. This guy didn’t work for Argos but still managed to find a way to help me. In the end I did get it from Argos – the guy there tried a little ‘too’ hard with his customer service manner, but hey ho, at least he tried! But my loyalty now leans toward the local camera shop for a piece of outstanding customer service. They made me feel comfortable and went beyond the normal call of duty. From now on, my first option will always be Wildings.

It’s not what you know, but who you (slightly) know

People PicIn August last year I wrote a post about Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point (How little things can make a big difference).  In it he talks about how trends get started and gain momentum, and how at some point they reach a critical mass – a ‘tipping point’.  Word of mouth is a big factor, and Gladwell identifies a particular type of person – a Connector – who plays a crucial role in the WOM process. Connectors seem to know everyone.  They’re social animals and build rapport very quickly with people, thus accumulating large numbers of acquaintances.

The author also refers to a sociological test (I’ve called it the Connectedness Test) which crudely measures how good you are at making casual acquaintances.  I’ve attached it again here (see below) together with some instructions for completing the test.

But why are casual acquaintances (these so-called ‘weak ties’) so valuable?  Reading Tipping Point again, I came across an insight I’d missed, hence the re-blog!

Gladwell refers to a classic study from the 70’s (Getting a Job) by sociologist Mark Granovetter, where the academic analysed the employment history of several hundred professional and technical workers from a suburb of Boston, Mass.  Unsurprisingly, 56% of those interviewed said they’d found their job through a personal connection – the old adage, “it’s not what you know, but who you know”.  But more oddly, Granovetter discovered that the majority of those personal contacts were only casual acquaintances – those weak ties again.  As Gladwell summarises, “People weren’t getting their jobs through their friends. They were getting them through their acquaintances.”

When you think about this, it makes sense.  It’s likely that the people you know well mix in the same circles as you do, and know the same people and stuff that you already know.  But those weak ties occupy a different world to you and are therefore more likely to know of people and opportunities that wouldn’t normally appear on your radar.

This has important implications for anyone seeking new opportunities in business or employment.  It’s the reason networking can (and does) work so well – and of course in the modern era of on-line social media, nurturing weak ties is easier than ever.  But it also underlines the importance of physically getting out there, of talking to strangers (especially those ‘connectors’), of improving your communication/interpersonal skills and just being curious about the world around you.

I do hope you take the test.  I’m not going to reveal the results that Gladwell found (although you can, and should, read the book!).  Instead, take the test and do it honestly!  Contact me and we’ll chat about the results and the implications for your networking strategy.


  • Download the list of names by following the link below.
  • These names are taken at random from the South Manchester telephone directory.
  • Give yourself a point for each surname you ‘know’.
  • In other words, if you know 6 Smiths, that’s 6 points.
  • The definition of ‘know’ is that if you passed them in the street, you’d at least know each other by name.
  • DON’T CHEAT! Resist the temptation to go through your old diaries and count a person who was in your class at school. If you don’t have a relationship of some kind with them NOW, ignore those. You want an accurate rating.


Discounting – what’s your strategy?

It’s tempting in a recession to cut prices, especially when your competitors are doing the same.  But it’s a slippery slope and Foyle’s bookshop appears to be thriving while adopting a full-price policy. Its Chief Executive Sam Husain (see The Guardian Sat 13 March 2010) believes discounting invariably compromises quality. Instead, he’s focused on improving the customer experience and creating the optimum shopping environment. This includes:

  • a piranha tank in the kids section
  • 2nd hand vinyl records in the music section
  • live jazz in the shop’s cafe

At the height of the downturn, Husain refused to lay off staff or slash the marketing budget, claiming that, “the value of a book is not in the price.  Price is one element but it’s about the service, information, the bookseller’s passion for books.”

Last year Foyles turned a pre-tax operating loss of £115k the previous year into a profit of £80k.

Coincidentally, Seth Godin’s blog today covers the same theme, how to make a bookstore different.  He cites the Montague Bookmill in Massachusetts, and applauds its strategy of simply being, “a place, an attitude, an approach to an afternoon.”

I’m writing this in the branch of a well-known coffee shop chain, one that’s lost a lot of market share in my home town to Caffe Nero.  Once again today, the girls here served me quickly and the product was fine, but they do it with no soul, no passion, no love for what they do.  They never chat to you, never let their personalities feed their ‘performance’.

Some businesses really get the fact that it’s the experience that counts.  Protect your prices if you possibly can and add value wherever possible.  It just takes courage and a little imagination.

Is your congregation awake?

I’m indebted to Riazat Butt, Religious Affairs correspondent of the Guardian, for identifying a potential new market for our Speakeasy Programme – the clergy (see The Guardian newspaper Sat 13th March 2010)!  It seems that church congregations are no different from the buying public in having short attention spans, and the Vatican is concerned.

Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops has advised priests and deacons to limit homilies to 8 minutes or less, “the average amount of time for a listener to concentrate.”  His advice in the book entitled Word of God mirrors the tips given to business people by presentation skills coaches – keep it short, relevant and engage your audience.  The Archbishop highlights the problems of reading from a script, reducing eye contact with the congregation and breaking the connection between speaker and audience.

However, in their defence I would say that some of the best speakers I’ve seen have an evangelical style – after all, you’d find it hard to top this performance from Dr King.

Reflections on my TEDx talk

TEDx_logo1Ever since discovering the wonderful TED web-site 2 years ago, it’s been my ambition to be a speaker at a TED conference.  It’s a tough target, considering the roll-call of speakers includes Al Gore, James Cameron and Bill Gates! Launched in 1984, TED is a non-profit concept based on the principle of ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’.  TED conferences originally brought together people from three sectors: Technology, Entertainment and Design, but the scope of TED is now somewhat broader.

TEDx is an independently organised version of what I call Big-TED and I was thrilled to have the chance to speak at TEDx yesterday at Warwick University.  When I saw the stature of the fellow speakers I knew what Obama meant at the Nobel Awards when he talked about his accomplishments being slight!  But I felt I had a good story to tell and, following my own advice’ gave it some ‘welly’.

The main thrust of my talk was a plea for us to focus on the human element of business, hence ‘From Capitalism to People-ism’. I drew upon some personal experiences of relationship-building in business, and how some of the great business thinkers had influenced me. I asked the 300-strong audience, many of whom were business students, to remember that all those spreadsheet figures are really the result of human interactions. And to understand business, you really need to understand something about human nature and behaviour.

The tricky thing is keeping to time. TED gives you just 18 minutes and the very presence of that timer counting down can throw you.  Part way through I glanced at the timer and saw I had 8 minutes left.  I picked up my pace, drew to a conclusion and saw I still had 4 minutes left!  I was able to fill them but I did mis-manage the timing.

I absolutely love doing this stuff, but I still get dry mouth through nerves.  Liberal applications of water helps, but when you’re miked up and conscious of time, you don’t want to interrupt the flow with too much glug, glug, glug.

All the talks were recorded and I’ll do an analysis when it comes out, but as usual I’ve been thinking of all the things I’d have done differently.  I know I can do it better, but it was well received and I had a queue of people waiting to quiz me further, both in the Q&A and the break-out afterwards.

I also caught 7 of the other talks, all fascinating in their own way.  I loved the passion of Herve This, a French physical chemist whose main theme is molecular gastronomy.  He can say ‘green beans’ like no other human I’ve heard.

Noam Chomsky, the famous linguist, philosopher and political activist was eloquent on the topic of the global financial meltdown and the political responses to it.

But Sir Roger Penrose was the highlight for me.  One of the world’s leading mathematical physicists, he’s worked with Stephen Hawking on the development of general relativity theory and the origins of the universe.  Having just O-level maths myself, most of it went over my head but I tried to soak up his brain-power and feel the vibes!

It was fascinating to gain an insight into the workings of a superior mind, and I loved the way he used two OHP’s and hand-drawn acetates to explain such weighty matters as the big bang, black holes and the Higgs Boson particle. It was like a private viewing of his working notes, and all the more compelling for it.  Pacing up and down between the 2 projectors , Sir Roger came out with the memorable line, “And I’ll just move the universe over here for a minute.” Wonderful stuff.

I don’t know if they’ll read this but I must congratulate the Exec Team at Warwick for pulling this event together.  It was really well organised by the students, delightful people all and something I’ll remember for a long time.  Thank you so much for inviting me to speak.

For me, it’s a step in the direction of my TED dream – Bill Gates watch out!

Interested vs Interesting

There’s a nice story in Mike Heppell’s book Flip It.  A young psychology student conducted an experiment whilst travelling back and forth between Los Angeles and New York.  He sat in the middle seat and engaged in conversation with whoever happened to be sat next to him.  He asked lots of questions, listened intently and invariably swapped contact details with his fellow passenger.

A week or so later a researcher contacted the people the man had spoken with. They all remembered him and many of them claimed he was the most interesting person they’d ever met. But bizarrely, they couldn’t remember much about him – what he did for a living, his hobbies, where he lived, why he was travelling.  It goes to show that when you take an interest in OTHER PEOPLE, they feel valued and warm to you. Heppell’s story underlines the point that it’s more important to be interested than to TRY to be interesting.

Adding spark to your presenting skills

Hand GesturesI’ve been tremendously impressed with the contributions made so far by our guest experts at Speakeasy. We regularly invite special guests to our sessions who can add something extra to the concept of speaking/presenting in business.

Neil Firth (voice coach)

Neil has a strong musical/choral background and led the barbershop group at Pecha Kucha Manchester back in December. He now applies some of the principles he’s learned in music to the world of business, helping presenters to breathe properly and use good posture to deliver a great performance. All too often we hear dreary presentations from people with monotone voices, and Neil helps people up their game by varying the pitch and tone of their delivery.

Steve Carter (Noosa Training – NLP Practitioner)

Steve provided some great tips on getting into a good mental state to address an audience. It was fascinating to hear how closely our mental state and physiology are inter-connected. Standing tall and breathing properly can work wonders, when combined with some clever mental preparation.

Darren Gordon (acting coach)

Darren runs a wonderful acting school in Manchester and added something special to our last session. He reminded us that a presentation is a form of theatre, and explained about the relationship between performer and audience. There was some great stuff on audience engagement, vocal delivery, stage positioning and body language.

Martin Robert Hall (speaker/performance coach)

Martin has been doing great work for some years now, taking clients to higher levels by re-framing their beliefs and boosting their self-confidence. Martin is joining us on the next Speakeasy on 9th March and will be covering body language and its impact on an audience.

Ashley Boroda (entertainment agent and stand-up comedy coach)

Ashley’s been a great supporter of Speakeasy since its launch and will ‘guest’ for us on 16th March in Macclesfield. Humour and storytelling form a crucial part of a presenter’s armoury and I’m looking forward to hearing Ashley’s take on this.

Does it all matter?

I would say ‘yes’ wouldn’t I? But the fact remains that those who can persuade and motivate through great communication skills are highly prized assets.

For more information on Speakeasy sessions in NW England, click here.

Moving beyond service – be an experience

I’m grateful to Mark Attwood, Cheshire based internet guru for sharing his experiences of the Cromleach Lodge Hotel in County Sligo, Ireland. Mark stayed there recently and provides details of a standard of service that moves it beyond mere service – and into the ‘experience’ realm! Owners Moira and Christy Tighe had no formal training in the hotel trade, yet they understand how to treat clients with respect and value their custom. I was also impressed that they have a video clip of Moira cooking a delicious meal, Delia-style – a wonderfully personal insight into the care and passion these two have for their trade. I’d strongly recommend you look at using video/audio in this way.

To my mind, it’s a wonderful example of what Seth Godin describes as a Purple Cow business, something beyond the norm. Moria and Christy do remarkable things – and remember, the definition of remarkable is ‘worthy of being remarked upon’. People will talk about you if you’re poor OR incredibly good – but anywhere in the middle just isn’t worthy of comment. And that’s where most businesses reside – indeed, ASPIRE to reside!

Make your product or service into an experience, and you’ll get people talking. Use interactive web-sites like Cromleach Lodge to reach out to your customers, and bind them to you like glue! It just needs a little imagination to realise what’s possible.

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