This morning is a lovely morning. Ok, rubbish in a weather sense – howling wind, and that misty rain that makes everything damp. But great because I realise how my batteries have recharged after spending time with my family (which I did last night) and meeting brilliant #standout people (which I did yesterday afternoon). My mind has been busily dissecting and analysing the afternoon’s example; thinking about why they were so memorable, particularly given we’ve only met once. Why have they stayed firmly in my mind, as great people and professionals? It’s really simple, and let me explain.
It’s often said that “first impressions last”, so you need to manage those first few minutes when you meet someone. Actually, given how judgemental many people can be, they have probably made their decision about you in the first few SECONDS – if you doubt that, then Google “The 7/11 Rule” by Michael Solomon. But to really #standout, you need to manage your next impression and your last impression as well. And that’s what the daughter/mother team I met yesterday managed to do – subconsciously and instinctively. It was obvious that their:
- first impression was of smiling positivity, as they welcomed me into their home and business (which created connection)
- next impression was their sparky interest in my work, and how it could be applied to theirs (which created energy)
- last impression was of firm commitment to moving things forward, and making things happen (which created trust)
This all meant that our planned ninety-minute meeting lasted over four hours, and I was absolutely buzzing. What advice would I give? Practice your first impression. But be mindful that it’s your next and last impressions that create the lasting impact. The author Sonya Parker once said that:
Almost everyone will make a good first impression. But only a few will make a good lasting impression.
So focus on those three elements. Be mindful of them, when you meet new people or encounter new situations. Control them when you can. Manage them from FIRST to LAST. Because people who do that are so impressive. And in a crowd of people, and a world of many things, impressive makes you so #standout.
For my speaking engagement on Friday, I’m carefully reading the information about the guests (looking for clues and cues about theming the talk, and how much risk to take with the visuals and script). One of the guests starts their profile with “dropped out of high school at 16 to set up his first business”. Is that really the right headline for a professional profile? You won’t be surprised to hear that this person has an entrepreneurial background, and having dropped out of school is almost a badge of honour for those who have started their own business. After all, dropping out of Harvard never did Bill Gates any harm!
But what if you don’t personally have an entrepreneurial background? Will you automatically make the link that dropping out of school made this person a better entrepreneur? That having to fight to grow a business (without the extra knowledge and elevated status a higher education would bring) taught him toughness, resilience and made him what he is today? Or are we less empathetic to entrepreneurs, and see him as a drop out who had to find something else to do, which is a brutal but possible way to look at his profile?
My father was an entrepreneur. He didn’t flunk school, but he left at sixteen and went to work. And worked hard; including buying a beaten-up car (and £50 of stock) and hitting the road to make a living. So I think I have some appreciation of the mindset of an entrepreneur, and I’m thinking positively about this guest. But if I didn’t have that life story, might I just think he was a dropout?
My message is this – be careful with how you project yourself and write your profile. If something helps to better tell your story, then make the point – but link it to the #value the experience (or fact or feature) brings to the reader. In this case, what’s implicit is that my guest can help other entrepreneurial businesses grow, because he’s been through the pain and excitement of that journey. And if you do make the link to #value, then wear that badge with pride. But be explicit – don’t keep the reader guessing how a perceived negative leads to a positive outcome.
We’re in the world of weasel words and wasted waffle. Yet behind the blarney and bluster, people often make interesting points, or have something important to say. But it’s often lost in a spurge and flurry of letters, syllables, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and essays. And yes, that was intentionally a load of waffle, and I’m sure you get the idea!
Sometimes I wonder whether it’s accidental or deliberate. Do people fail to hear how empty they sound, or have they really chosen these words in the hope of demonstrating what’s good about their business (or their perspective on life)?
I am fascinated by the notion of #value, and my perception that:
- some great people don’t realise their worth,
- many of the best ideas are spoiled by nervous babble, and
- most of the weak propositions are explained in far too many words.
As Malcolm S. Forbes, publisher of Forbes magazine, once said “too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are”.
My advice is to work hard on understanding your #value, and get clear in your own mind what makes you #distinctive and different. Then you need to practice how to explain that value, in a punchy and compelling way. Otherwise you end up in a situation where you have a good idea, a brilliant service or powerful solution but can’t explain it properly. Or worse still, you’re seen as someone who doesn’t get to the point.
Here’s an example – this week I spoke at length to someone with an impressive international background, a decent track record and a novel way of delivering learning. Unfortunately they (in my opinion very indulgently) spent 45 minutes taking me through a quirky framework of loosely-connected concepts. We never really recovered from a short exercise that wasn’t explained very well. Believe me, I tried to see the sense (what a waste of time otherwise) but the discussion went nowhere. In the end, I had to politely ask them to move on to something more concrete. And their reaction seemed to be a mixture of “surprised’ and “insulted`’, because I had interrupted their flow.
So the next time you witness someone struggling to articulate their value, please be patient, calming and encouraging. Sometimes it’s lack of experience that makes people hesitate and stutter, and often you’ll find brilliance there. But if an experienced and worldly person starts to waffle, just politely shut them up. Come on, I don’t have all day. Just get to the point.