Why a Sales Meeting is Exactly Like a Kid’s Party – Part 1

A Day in the Life

You have a two hour drizzly drive through bad traffic. Then you have to go in and present to your clients. First impressions count for everything so you have to look and sound good.

Then you have to make sure you have attuned to your client, got on their wavelength, established a rapport. During your appointment you are certain to experience some knockbacks – criticisms, things that don’t go to plan, awkward moments. How will you deal with those?

And, essentially,  you have to establish exactly what it is that the client needs and what you can provide to satisfy them. It may well not be what they think they need.

All this sounds like I am describing a sales meeting. I could well be, but actually I am describing an experienced children’s entertainer arriving and performing at a kid’s party. 

Snap!

As a magician and juggler, I have been entertaining at kids parties for 25 years. There is not much I haven’t encountered, not much will surprise me, not much I can’t cope with. 

Recently I read Daniel Pink’s excellent book “To Sell is Human” (#ad) and I realised that kids parties are just like sales meetings.

Drive to Succeed

At the outset, working from the car, stopping at service stations, laptop and mobile use when parked up to do a bit of admin and book the next appointments. All very familiar territory.

Over the years I have discovered how to knock on the door looking and feeling fresh, energetic and ready to go rather than exhausted and frustrated from the journey.
It all has to do with time management, good nutrition and sleep. Leave enough time so that you have a break half way. Don’t have a burger for lunch, have an M&S salad. Arrive 30 minutes early, have a ten minute nap in the car and then quickly do your final prep before you go into the meeting. If necessary play some ACDC loud on the stereo to get you buzzing, I recommend Thunderstruck 🙂

Trust me, it works!

It’s as Simple as ABC

Pink suggests that successful sales people need to follow a basic ABC formula:

A – Attune. Get on the same wavelength as your client, work out how they tick, establish a rapport.

B – Buoyancy. Learn how to bounce back and continue enthusiastically when faced with knockbacks, criticisms and the unexpected. 

C – Clarity. Establish exactly what it is that the client needs. This is done by working out which are the right questions to ask. Very often the client might think they know what they need, but by asking the right question(s) you can establish that they actually need something slightly different.

All these are true for both sales meetings and kids parties. I will explore them further over the next few blog entries.

Building Your Crowd

On Saturday night I was booked to do an outdoor pre-fireworks magic and circus show by a school. It was dark, freezing cold and the forecast promised rain half way through my show. I had one floodlight off to one side so I had some lighting, but not great.

By the time I had set up there were a few people milling around looking chilly. I was competing with hot dogs in the warm school canteen and bouncy castles in the sports hall.

I knew that I had straitjacket escapology and fire eating up my sleeve, but I had to get an audience first.

Confidence from Experience

I have done enough shows to know that I had a fighting chance of success, even though a large part of me wanted to go into the warm canteen for a hot dog and forget about the whole thing!

In these situations one has to build a crowd from scratch. I learned all my crowd-building techniques years ago from travelling down to London and sitting and watching the street entertainers in Covent Garden. It is an art, but it is learnable. The more you do it, the more confident you get.

Building Rapport

I started off by doing 15 minutes walking around the crowd on stilts, chatting to people and doing small magic tricks for them, with the promise of a dangerous magic and juggling show to follow. Building rapport and curiosity.

By doing this I managed to get about eight people to form the nucleus of my initial crowd. I put on some loud music and did an announcement over my PA system. Another four people arrived as a result, I had just enough for the next step.

From here on it was textbook Covent Garden.

A bit of banter and improv with those that are there: one-to-one interaction, make them feel special. 

Get Your Friends to Help

I then explained to the audience that I needed their help to build a bigger crowd. They liked me by now so they wanted to help me. I explained that I would run on and they had to give me the loudest clap and cheer that they could. This caused interest in those who were a little way off and they came to see what was going on. 

Then I did the first couple of bits of material, using volunteers, and getting a huge round of applause for the volunteers, building the crowd all the time. 

On to the first big trick – the straitjacket and chain escapology – again using two volunteers to chain me up. Lots of banter and improv and laughs. By this time the crowd is growing naturally – who doesn’t want to go and see what all the laughter is about?

Tipping Point

At some point there is a tipping point and you don’t have to consciously crowd-build any more, you just have to be funny, magical and entertaining. By the time I got to the fire juggling and fire eating there must have been 60 people watching and an amazing atmosphere. 

Success!

What About Your Show?

What has this got to do with work and life in general?

Whenever you start a new project you feel like you are on your own. But you are probably not. You may well have friends, family and some contacts from various points in your life. Some of them may at least be interested in following your progress at this stage. 

You can build on this initial interest by social media posts and face-to-face networking.
You can afford to make all you interactions highly personalised at the start because you are actually creating a committed core crowd of supporters who will then be willing to help you in the next stages. 

Do people favours, make them feel special. They will then want to return the favours later on to help you to build a bigger crowd.

Keep Trying, It Will Happen!

Just like with building a street-show crowd, it can feel like you stand no chance. But, the more experience you get, the more you will realise that you will probably have some kind of success. You just have to believe that you have something good to offer and then keep trying. If one approach doesn’t work for one person, try something a bit different.

At certain points you can ask your core crowd to help you build a bigger crowd.

It’s all an art, not a science, but you get better at it with practice.

At some point you will reach a tipping point and you just have to concentrate on doing good stuff, you don’t have to worry about building the crowd any more.

Iterative Persistence

Improving the Odds

If you shuffle a pack of cards and then cut to a card without showing me I have only a 1 in 52 chance of guessing the card.

However, I can improve my odds.

If I ask you a series of questions – and you answer truthfully – I can narrow down my options:
Red or black? Narrows it down to 26 cards.
Hearts or diamonds? Down to 13.
Picture or number? Either 3 or 11 cards.

If I found it was a picture card then I could just ask up to two more questions (Jack? Queen?) and I would have my answer.

Obviously, if I added a bit of magician’s skullduggery I could get the answer without asking any questions at all!

Does This Work?

Asking a question, learning from it and then asking a follow up question informed by the answer increases our focus and chance of future success. If you throw in a bit of skill and experience as well then you can get there even more quickly.

Every time you try something in your life or work you are effectively asking the question: “Does this work?”

The secret to growing and developing is to listen carefully to the answer, learn from it and then modify your actions accordingly the next time you try.

Steering Wheels

Obviously we are unlikely to get it right first time. But we are also unlikely to make mistakes without learning. In fact, making mistakes is an essential part of learning. 
If we are so afraid or failing that we never try, we will never learn and we will never grow.

As has been said many times before, it is easier to turn the wheel on a moving car.

Potters’ Wheels

I read a great story in Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed  (#ad) :

Two groups of students were asked to make pots. They had never made pots before. One group was told that they would receive credit for the sheer number of pots produced. The other group was told that they would receive credit for the quality of the pot, even if they only produced one.

The results were fascinating and informative. The “numbers” group produced an incredible amount of pots. In addition, the last pots they produced were of incredible quality because they had learned how to do it through making mistakes.

By contrast, the “quality” group failed to produce a single pot in the given time because they were so afraid of producing something sub-standard.

Done is better than perfect, but aim to do it better each time.

Oopses and What-ifs

I saw a great quote from Beau Taplin the other day contrasting mistakes and regrets: ”Better an oops than a what if.”  

A regret is something you did that you don’t want to remember, or something that could have done but didn’t. A mistake is something that you remember, learn from and therefore value.

Our digital world is perfect for trying stuff, failing quickly and trying the next iteration. Short attention spans, mass distribution and rapid communication are actually an advantage when it comes to trying stuff out.

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes; expect to make them, and value them.

Fail, learn, modify, repeat… and grow.

Self-Limiting Beliefs

That Could Never Be Me

I sometimes look at successful magicians on stage, on TV or posting their latest jet-set corporate gig on social media and think, “That could never be me.”

But why not?

How are they really different to me? I know I can stand on stage, I know I can perform, I know I can learn routines. So what is getting in my way of being just like them? Well, first I need to work out if I really want to do that kind of work – Behind the glamour I know that it comes with a lot of travel, stress and hard work.

However, more likely is the fact that I don’t actually believe that I can or should do it.
This is the whole field of self-limiting beliefs.

Feeling Lucky?

The only things really between myself and the successful TV magician are training, contacts and hard work. I could do all of those. You might say there is a bit of luck as well. However, luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you prepare enough and put yourself out there enough, at some point you will get “lucky”.

Origin Stories

Where do self-limiting beliefs come from? 

Maybe from your upbringing? “Oh, we’re not that kind of people,” might have been a spoken – or unspoken – family mantra.

Maybe from a religious background? A healthy sense of humility can go too far and turn into false humility so that you hide your light under a bushel. A determination to not make mammon your god can lead to a sense of guilt about making money.

Maybe from something in your educational past? I had a tall, thin university tutor, reminiscent of a hawk leaning over the desk towards me. He used to say things like, “That’s obvious, surely?” and, “But that’s just schoolboy stuff!” when I didn’t understand something. The result: I felt like I wasn’t clever enough for years, even though I had an Oxford University degree.

Don’t Jump, You Can’t Fly

It is worth remembering that some self-limiting beliefs are good and for our own protection. We correctly believe we can’t fly by flapping our wings so we shouldn’t jump off high things, we  correctly believe we are not flame-resistant so we shouldn’t put our hands in fires. 

But we should try to work out which are the false beliefs that are holding us back.

Defy Your Doubts by Doing 

Then we should take action to defy our false self-limiting beliefs so that they start to lose their power over us.

There are two songs on U2’s album Songs of Experience that have been inspirational for me recently: “Get Out of Your Own Way” and “Free Yourself to Be Yourself” (From “Lights of Home”)

Thanks Bono, great advice.

Knowing When to Try a Different Routine

Cosy Chaos

I was performing at a three year old birthday party last week. It was in a small cottage living room. There were toddlers, two babies, several older siblings and some parents. A cosy and slightly chaotic atmosphere in which to do a magic and circus show. Such parties are great fun, you need to have a plan and plenty of material, but you need to be able to change tack in an instant because you never quite know what is going to happen next.

In my younger days I would have thought to myself, “I have a fantastic show and I am going to plough on regardless of what happens and they will then see my brilliance and commitment to my material.”

Adapt and Shine

Now I am more experienced I have realised that it is much more effective to be ready to adapt and improvise in the spur of the moment. In fact it often heightens the audience appreciation if you can incorporate and involve the interruptions of wandering toddlers or heckling parents and make them seem like amusing superstars.

Knowing when to stick with the script and when to change tack is hugely valuable life skill.

Commitment Condundrum

I have recently realised that I have a trait that has been a double-edged sword. It is my sense of duty, loyalty and commitment. For the whole of my life I have felt that, once I had committed to something, I should stick with it to the bitter end, come hell or high water. This has applied to to university courses, clubs, societies and even friendships.

This is all well and good, commitment and duty can get you through rough and difficult periods meaning that you and others benefit. But there comes a point when these traits can hold you back.

I completed a four year engineering degree as an undergraduate. I found it really tough and didn’t really enjoy it. I have never worked as an engineer. I briefly thought about changing course in my first year but didn’t because of my innate sense of duty and feeling that I should finish what I had started. Talking to my younger self I would say, “Change course, do something that you will love.”

Chapters and Seasons

Whatever you have done in the past will always remain part of your life. Rather like previous chapters in a book. They are always there as foundations, but the story moves on. Enjoy the different seasons of life.

Knowing when to stay or when to go is always tough always a judgement call. But hanging in there too long can hold you back from what really should be your next step.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I would suggest that we can all have a more fulfilling and productive journey through life and work if we:

  • Work out when to commit to something
  • Reflect regularly on whether to continue or to do something different
  • Have the courage to move on to the next thing when the time is right

Remember, when life heckles you, it might be suggesting a new routine…

Plussing the Show

Learn from the Mouse

We went to Disneyland Paris earlier this summer. It is an inspirational and challenging place for an entertainer. I wasn’t performing, I was there as a punter, but I was struck by the sheer excellence of everything Disney do and the attention to detail. 

Plus, Plus, Plus

One of my fellow Magic Circle magicians, Jez Rose, used to work in production for Disney. He told me about their concept of  “plussing the show”. They are always asking, “How can we make this better?” When you go to a Disney park, you can see the extraordinary effect that this approach has.

It means that they are always improving, always striving to be the best they can be. 

Black Boxes

It reminds me of Matthew Syed’s book “Black Box Thinking”, in which he references the airline industry, always seeking to learn from past mistakes (via black boxes) in order to improve the safety of the industry as a whole. 

Done is Better than Perfect

I would suggest that we can all enjoy better work and life by adopting this approach ourselves. We must be careful to avoid perfectionism, that way leads to frustration and inaction. But we can aim to be always improving. Done is better than perfect, but aim to do it better each time.

Tweak Every Week

Can you improve in your work? If you perform, write or produce anything regularly, how can you tweak it to make it better? Always self-evaluate, praise yourself for what went well and honestly analyse what you could do better next time. 

You can also apply this to your life. Can you make you daily routine more effective? Can you change you exercise patterns to give you more energy? Can you make adjustments to your diet? Could you alter the way you travel around to make you more productive? Could you make subtle changes to the way you interact with family and friends to improve the quality of you relationships?

Get Better, Live Better

As we seek to constantly improve we will inevitably come across new ideas and new people. This will make life more interesting and more exciting.

What can you do to plus your show?

Nap Store

What did Winston Churchill, Lyndon B. Johnson and Leonard Da Vinci have in common? 

They were all committed nappers.

Seems Right in the Afternoon

I have become a big fan of napping. I now take a nap once or twice during most days. Not long naps, just 10-19 minutes. 

You might think that 19 minutes is an odd choice, but I learned from Dr Hilary Jones  on Steve Wright in the Afternoon  that 19 minutes is an optimal time for a refreshing nap.

It means that you wake up just before you start to go into deep sleep, meaning that you don’t wake up feeling drowsy. 

Dr Hilary recommended having a cup of coffee, setting a timer for 19 minutes and then taking a nap. That way you wake up just as the caffeine is kicking in.

Magic Hanky and Noises Off

I have trained myself to fall asleep almost at will, which is very useful for short naps. 

I set my timer, lie down, cover my eyes with a folded handkerchief.

Then a deep breath in and hold for a count of five then release. Repeat. Then to normal breathing. I focus on my breathing and also concentrate on background noises. I discovered this trick about a year ago. If I concentrate on the background noises, trying to pick them all out however faint, it means that I can’t concentrate on any work or other matters that might be playing on my mind. I have found that this enables me to fall asleep in a few minutes. 

Don’t Worry, Chill

It also doesn’t matter if you don’t actually fall asleep. Just lying down for a few minutes in deep relaxation will give you almost the same amount of benefit, so release yourself from the pressure to actually fall asleep every time.

Showbiz Secrets

I now nap before every gig. I will drive to the gig and arrive at least an hour before my start time. I park round the corner, get out my neck cushion, lay the seat back, handkerchief over my eyes and then ask Siri to set me a timer for however long I have. After my nap I put on my bowtie and waistcoat, change my shoes and arrive at the venue 30 minutes early to greet the client feeling refreshed, relaxed and ready to go. 

I commend this approach to you, it really works.

Get nap happy 🙂

Personality Un-Clashing

Part of The Company

A theatre magic show, even a solo show, demonstrates the work of many more people than just the performers. There are the writers, directors and producers. There are the magic inventors, prop makers and costume designers. Not forgetting the backstage crew, front of house and promotional team. Many different people, and many different types of people, work together to make a successful show. 

The same is true with work and life in general.

All Different

Life works much better when we realise that we are all different and we all need each other. We need to work out how we tick and then work out how we can all best tick together.

St Paul talked about us all being like a human body. The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” 

Type Discovery

In the last few years I have encountered different personality type analysis tools. Firstly I came across the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Next, a few years later was the Enneagram and then, very recently DISC.

The MBTI  has been around a long time. You may well know your type. I am INTJ, although I am pretty balanced in most areas, so some of it was a close call.

The Enneagram was revolutionary for our family. It has been around for thousands of years, invented by Sufi mystics. Until relatively recently its workings were kept secret, meaning that those in the know appeared to have prophetic or mind-reading ability. 
You can go very deep with the Enneagram, and many do. It enables you to identify your coping strategies, built up over the course of your life and then, with that enhanced self-awareness, you can work out how to grow and how to get along better with others. 

DISC was talked about at a Professional Speaking Association meeting recently by the marvellous Michelle Mills-Porter. It is an instantly-accessible concept – everyone is assigned a colour depending on their personality type – red, blue, green or yellow. You can discern your colour quite quickly, and that of other people. This can give you instant tools to know how to talk to someone or how to reply to their emails. I have only scratched the surface of this, but it warrants further study.

It is well worth exploring some of these (and other) tools. 

Different is OK, Different is Good

A key lesson for me from all of these is that we are all different and that’s OK. We are all coping in different ways and that means we react in different ways to life. Once you have an awareness of the types, it allows for much better relationships; it stops you expecting everyone to react like you and gives you an insight into other worldviews.

They can help you to know yourself, therefore working out you optimum work style, your strengths and weaknesses, your coping strategies and things to avoid. 

And they can also help you to work better with other people. 

As result, the magic show of your life could be amazing.

Should I tell you my secrets?

Exposure, the act of revealing secrets, is a hugely emotive topic among magicians. Some believe secrets should be protected at all costs, others think exposure is necessary for the development of magic. 

Latin Lovers

“Not apt to disclose secrets” is the chosen translation of The Magic Circle’s Latin motto “Indocilis Privata Loqui”. In my experience, most magicians err on the side of keeping secrets. I agree, without secrets the wonder of our art can be destroyed.

Walking a Tightrope

Alongside magic, I also perform circus tricks. 

The circus world is now very different to the magic world. It wasn’t always so. In the past, traditional circus families would guard the secrets of their trade just like magicians do now. However, then came the New Circus movement. 

The ethos here was very different. As well as eschewing animal acts, suddenly there was a willingness to teach anyone who wanted to learn. After all, for example, there really is no secret to juggling, it is just down to learning the right technique and then a lot of practice. What you see is what you get in a circus performance, there are rarely any hidden secrets, it is rather a magnificent display of centuries-old techniques, careful study and much rehearsal.

The act of teaching circus skills will actually enhance someone’s enjoyment of watching a circus act, because they then have an enhanced appreciation of the skill involved.

So there is obviously a balance to be struck between sharing and not sharing secrets.

Cards Close to Your Chest

How does this apply to work and life?

Some commercial secrets are worth protecting. For example, you won’t want to publish all of your financial data, strategic plans or intellectual property because they would then be fair game for competitors to use to their advantage.

Secrets and Pies

But there is a flip side. You have probably heard phrases like “A rising tide lifts all boats” and “If you make the pie bigger, everyone gets a bigger slice.” There is something in these ideas. If you share your knowledge and tricks of the trade, you serve to increase the quality and reputation of your sector as well as increasing the size of your market.

This can seem counter-intuitive at first, but I have seen it work in the area of entertainment.

Thirty years ago, no-one had close-up magicians at their weddings. However, because some magicians shared their knowledge and expertise at getting wedding gigs with the magic community, lots of people now have magicians at weddings. The market is not yet saturated, most weddings are still magician-free, so there is potential for further expansion.

I have even heard internet business gurus advise us to “Give away your best material”. They claim that sharing their big idea for free builds credibility and creates hunger for more in-depth paid-for material. I am sure that they are right.

A Time and Place for Everything

In life, you only have to have a passing acquaintance with social media to know that there is such a thing as over-sharing. It is not good to bare your soul to the world at large. We need to present ourselves honestly to the world, both online and face-to-face, but that doesn’t mean sharing your deepest darkest struggles with all and sundry. It is not good for you and it is not good for anyone else.

However, again, there is a flip side. Bottling things up and telling no-one is a disaster in the making. Depending on the nature of your bottled contents, it could be a disaster tomorrow or it could be years down the line. 

We all need people we can fall apart with, with whom we can be completely honest and vulnerable. Our fellow magicians with whom we can share our most precious secrets.

Find the balance between sharing and not sharing, both in work and in life. It’s not always easy, but it is always worth the effort.

Friends 2 – The One Where John Realised it’s Worth the Effort

Unique Mix

A pack has 52 different cards. Once shuffled, no pack of cards will be in that particular order ever again. This is just statistics. The number of possible combinations of 52 cards is 52!, or 52 factorial, ie, 52 x 51 x 50 x 49… all the way down to one. The result is 8 with 67 zeroes after it! 

You have a unique combination of encounters and relationships in your life, richer if it contains a mix of comfort and challenge. Be aware of this and intentional about it.

Different Strokes and Different Folks

We gain when we do not restrict our friendships to those who are like us and to those with whom we agree. Mixing with people who are different is very good for us, it helps us to grow and widens our vision. 

I used to visit an old chap with learning difficulties. He was utterly unlike me. His flat was squalor, he spent most of his time playing video games and I was always wondering what I might catch from his coffee cups. But we became firm friends and he kept me from assuming everyone in the world was like me. I was very sad when he died a few years ago and I was privileged to give a eulogy at his funeral.

Don’t just have friends that agree with you, otherwise you will be missing out on fascinating discussions. Through limited behind-the-scenes glimpses, I have realised that many politicians are excellent at this. They can be on opposing parties and vehemently disagree but yet respect each other and enjoy a drink in the bar after the debate.

Levelling With You 

There are different levels of friendship. Even Jesus had three very close disciples (Peter, James and John), a slighter larger group of 12 who were close, then a wider group of 72.  It’s not a bad pattern. We need those with whom we can bare our souls, those with whom we can share everyday life stuff and then those who are business or social connections, only getting to see part of our lives.

Bank on it

Nurture your friendships. Don’t take them for granted, they will be in danger of slipping away. This is particularly true if you move to different parts of the country or different parts of the world. 

Stephen Covey, in “Seven Habits or Highly Effective People”  talks about “emotional bank accounts”. This is such a useful concept. 

When we meet anyone we unconsciously open an emotional bank account with them. From then on we are either depositing or withdrawing. Every time we have a positive interaction with that person, every time we do something for them, spend time with them, ask how they are, listen to their story, give them a gift we are making deposits.

Every time we annoy them, take advantage of them, take them for granted, ignore them or hurt them then we are withdrawing from the account. 

When we need a favour or forgiveness from them, their response will depend on the balance in the account. Think about it, the people who are most likely to forgive you are the ones to whom you have given the most. 

Friends Reunite

How much time have spent with the friends that you want to nurture? Not enough? Then send them a card. Fix up to have lunch with them. Make a phone call, send a text. It’s not rocket science but it can make a huge difference. 

Show your friends that you value them, cultivate the friendships and both you and they will be all the richer for it.