Weaknesses Into Strengths

“Pardon?”

I grew up in a quiet family. No shouting, no conflict, everything very gentle. It was lovely.

But I developed a very quiet speaking voice. I naturally mumbled and people were always asking me to repeat myself, often more than once. I found it very frustrating. I instinctively started organising life to avoid free-form conversation in noisy environments.

Whereas my contemporaries went down to the pub as teenagers, I never felt the urge. I favoured a more structured extra-curricular life: music lessons, Scouts, gymnastics.

Unless it was highly organised and disciplined, eg, Scouts, I preferred solo endeavours to team sports. And my hobbies were solo as well – juggling, magic and going for walks with the dog.

Shut Up and Dance

In my mid-teens my love of music and gymnastic training happily coincided with the dawn of breakdancing in the UK. My mates and I went to the local youth club, which was basically a disco. It was too loud to talk, so no conversation-induced stress there. I and a couple of others were regularly coaxed into the middle of a large circle and encouraged to explore our breakdancing potential. 

Along with the breakdancing went body-popping and robotics. Consequently, when I went to university and joined a church drama group, I naturally gravitated towards the mime roles. Someone saw me perform and mentioned a mime and physical theatre school, which I then attended a few years later. Truly a happy place for me as a performer anxious and self-conscious about my vocal ability.

Finding My Voice 

Years of solo practice gave me juggling proficiency, and the mime training gave me slapstick, so people started to ask me to perform. 

Once I had done a couple of thousand magic and circus shows I began to realise that maybe, just maybe, I was able to stand in front of a crowd and talk. 

Down the line, I joined Toastmasters and realised that I was actually quite good at public speaking and that I actually quite enjoyed it. I took some voice coaching, entered a national speaking competition and came second. The vocal coaching was hugely affirming: yes, it gave me some techniques to finally conquer my mumbling, but it mainly showed me that my voice was no longer a weakness.

Not the Same, Different

Most entertainers come in to children’s entertainment through magic, drama and/ or storytelling. I did 15 years of shows before I added any magic. My shows have always been unique. I have a mime and physical theatre element that most don’t, because that was my route in. Without my perceived weakness I may never have added that element. 

If you have a characteristic that you perceive as a weakness, take some time to reflect.

You are unique. You have will have a unique path through life. There may be others on a similar path, but none will be exactly the same.

You can only start from where you are. You can’t pretend to be someone else. They have their own journey.

Flip, Flop and Fly 

You may think you have a weakness that is holding you back. Flip it. Reframe it.

Your perceived weakness will impose boundaries on you. Don’t worry about that. Creativity loves a boundary. Your ”weakness”  can drive you down a road less travelled and you will end up with something special to you. As a result, your perceived weakness will end up gifting you a unique strength.

You may well take a different, longer route, but you will have valuable and unique perspectives and experience as a result.

Moonwalking

“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”

This famous quote is spoken by Tancredi in the novel “The Leopard” by Guiseppe Tomasi de Lapadusa (translated by Colquhoun) (#ad).

If you stand still, the world moves on and you will be left behind.

And if you want to move forward, you are going to have be pro-active about it. In order to progress, think about to what you are giving your time.

It is very easy to be very busy without being productive.

The Moonwalk

The moonwalk is a dance move made famous by Michael Jackson in the 1980’s, originally thought to be invented around 50 years earlier by tap dancer Bill Bailey.

I started learning it in my early teens and then perfected it while I was at mime school in my 20’s. These days it forms part of my straitjacket escape to music(!) 

The moonwalk gives the illusion of walking forwards while you are actually moving backwards. 

It is so easy in life and work to appear to be moving forwards while we are actually moving backwards, or at least to be left behind as the world moves on.

How do we avoid this?

The Pause

Reflection is always valuable. 

Spend some time thinking about the activity that fills your life. You will have choice about much of it, if not all of it. Is it moving you forward? Why are you doing it? Maybe some of it was useful once but is now just habit. 

I am a big fan of education – stay curious, keep learning. Much education can move you forward and help you to advance, but some learning is just esoteric. This is fine if it is just for leisure or relaxation, but make sure you know why you are doing it. 
What tactical learning can you engage in to take the next step?

Likewise, think about the societies you belong to, the meetings you attend, the hobbies that you do. Do you know why you are doing them? Again, if they are good for your social life, relaxation and/ or recreation, that is great. But, again, know why you are doing them. If they have run their course, move on to something else that will help you take the next step forwards.

It is very easy to get stuck in old routines and carry on regardless. Suddenly you can find yourself very busy while the world moves on ahead of you,

The Shuffle

If you reflect and realise that you have unproductive busyness in your life or work, have the courage to change. Maybe it is time to end one chapter in the book of your life and start another one. That is fine. 

Mix it up and deal the cards in a new order.

Look at how the world is dancing around you.

Ask yourself: “Am I moonwalking?”

Minimum Effective Dose

Bill Gates said:

“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”

I am not so sure about the virtues of being lazy, but I am all for finding the easiest ways to get things done.

Minimum Effective Dose

The more you do something the better you get. Therefore it makes sense to do things as much as possible. This is true of magic tricks, this is true of juggling, this is true of most business tasks.

The less time, energy and resources it takes to do something, the more often you will be able to do it. Therefore it makes sense to work out how little you can get away with while still doing something properly.

This is the concept of Minimum Effective Dose (MED), a term borrowed from the pharmaceutical industry.

Any More is a Waste

You may wish to take vitamin C supplements to boost your immune system. Up to a point, this will increase the level of vitamin C in your system and you will benefit from it. However, beyond a certain point you will have absorbed as much vitamin C as you can for the day. Any extra that you take will merely end up going down the toilet! You will have exceeded the MED.

At sea level, water needs to be heated to 100 Celsius to boil. You can add more heat after that, but it is a waste of time and energy. It won’t be any more boiling.

Efficient Circus

As part of my entertainment offering I run circus skills workshops at children’s parties. Juggling, plate spinning, diabolo. And that’s it. Maybe occasionally some poi twirling. I know other entertainers who run much bigger circus skills workshops for corporate fun and training days. They involve tightrope, unicycling and walking on stilts. Much bigger props. 

Why have I gone simple and small?

Well, my aim at a kids party is to get maximum participation, maximum engagement and maximum opportunities for parents to take photos. I have found that I can get all the kids and many of the parents involved and smiling with lots of colourful props flying around with only juggling balls and scarves, diabolos and spinning plates. 

The beauty is that I can carry all this in three shoulder bags. I can wheel my show case in at the same time. Only one trip to the car. Why do more? Big props would need me to have a van, take multiple loading trips and carry more injury risk. No, thank you. I don’t need all that to meet my objectives.

I have discovered the Minimum Effective Dose.

How much is “Effective”?

When do you go minimum and when not? The key is in the word “effective”.

If your aim is to be the best athlete there is, then there is no minimum level of fitness to achieve this.

If your aim is to be a recognised expert in your field then there is no limit to the amount of study and preparation that you need to do.

If you are building a bridge, you don’t build it so that it is only just strong enough, you engineer in a hefty safety factor.

However, given such exceptions, with most things you do not need to achieve 100% every time. If 70% will achieve the desired or expected result then go for that and then do it again. Achieving the extra 30% will take extra time, effort and resources that could be used to repeat the exercise, thus building more results, experience and expertise.

Perfection is rarely required for effectiveness.

Admin

As an example, think about how you respond to enquires: 

  • You could spend a lot of time getting to speak to the enquirer on the phone, having a lengthy phone call, transcribing what they say.
  • You could respond by email, typing everything out longhand.
  • Or you could use an email template, warmed up with a little personalisation.

How much would the prospect notice the difference? In many cases, not much, if at all. But the template approach could save you hours. Minimum effort, but still effective.

Consider Your Dosing

Have a look at your processes and business activities, Are you exceeding the MED anywhere?

Once the water is boiling, use the heat source to do something else.

Why a Sales Meeting is Exactly Like a Kid’s Party – Part 5

Clarity

I had to sell the party to the birthday parent to get the gig, but I am full sales mode from when I arrive at a kids party to when I leave. I shall explain why.

I have been examining the ABC of sales proposed by Daniel Pink in his book “To Sell is Human” (#ad). They are:

  • Attunement
  • Buoyancy
  • Clarity

This post deals with the third point, clarity.

Always Selling

During the party, I am selling to the birthday parent (to avoid buyer’s remorse), to the birthday child, to the guests and to the other parents. I need to establish clarity about me and my offering. 

In his excellent chapter on clarity, Pink suggests that sales people need to:

  • Identify the real problems that need solving
  • Contrast their solution with the alternative
  • Deliver a positive experience

What’s Your Problem?

Let’s take a six-year old birthday. The birthday parent(s) are expected to provide a party for the whole class but, on the whole, they have no idea how to control and entertain them. So they think they need a magic show.

However, their actual problem is that they are feeling stressed about the party and they want to deliver something special for their child. In addition, it would be good if it was a positive experience for everyone. Good magic would be a bonus.

Re-framing the problem like this suddenly means that the actual tricks performed are far less important than the degree to which the entertainer reduces stress levels. I identified this many years ago and it made a big difference to the way I sold and conducted my parties. They are now famously calm. Even though there are short periods of deafening noise, there are also periods of pin-drop silence. Everything is under control the whole time and everyone has a great time.

The parents look visibly relieved at the end. I have solved a problem that they didn’t even identify at the outset, but it was the actual problem that needed to be solved.

As sales people it is important to ask questions to establish clarity: what is the actual problem that needs solving? It may well not be the problem initially presented. Take time and trouble to do this and your prospect will feel understood and appreciated and will trust you more.

Compare and Contrast

You can establish clarity about your proposition’s value by contrasting it with the alternative.

I offer different packages for children’s parties. For some I take control of the whole party and there are two hours of order and enjoyment. However, I also offer a show-only option where I just do 45 minutes and the parents look after the rest. 

In these instances, before and/ or after my slot I am not in control, I am just setting up or packing down. The children will normally be running slightly wild, maybe with an un-trained parent trying to be an amateur entertainer and organise some games. 

This is great for me. As soon as I take over I instil order where there was chaos. I bring focus on wonder where there was only distraction. It makes me look amazing in the eyes of the booker and the other parents.

As a sales person you can throw the value of your proposition into sharp relief by contrasting it with the alternative.

“They’ll never forget how you made them feel”

Paraphrasing Carl W. Buehner, both in the context of magic performance and public speaking:

“They may forget what you say,
They may forget what you do,
But they will never forget how you made them feel”

People remember experiences far longer than material things. It make sense to deliver positive, memorable experiences and feelings wherever possible.

My aim at a kids party is to provide calm, wonder and enjoyment for the watching parents, rather than noise, stress and annoyance.

My final trick is with the birthday child. It involves little red balls that multiply in the child’s own hand. It’s not the most difficult trick to do, it’s not the most impressive in a magic performance sense. But in terms of emotional punch it is way up there. When I ask the child for their favourite bit of the party, it is almost always when they made the balls appear in their hand.

Whatever you are selling, remember to focus on how your solution will change someone’s experience and feelings.

And try to make the actual sales meeting a feel-good experience too.

Why a Sales Meeting is Exactly Like a Kid’s Party – Part 4 

Buoyancy (Visual) Aid

One of the opening routines for my kids party show has long been a mime illusion with a balloon. First the balloon appears to be stuck in space and then it starts to rise forcibly, threatening to lift me off the ground. Not only is it one of my favourite routines, it is also a great visual reminder of buoyancy.

Buoyancy is the ability to float. Something will float when the forces pulling it down are equal to the forces pushing it up. A helium balloon with a weighted string. A boat.

Floating Your Boat

Buoyancy is an essential quality for both sales people and children’s entertainers. 
In his excellent book “To Sell is Human,” (#ad) Daniel Pink identifies how we can be buoyant.

We need to manage:

  • Our self-talk beforehand
  • Our emotional mix during
  • Our self talk afterwards

We could be talking about a day of sales calls or a kids party. They are very similar.

Beforehand

Standing looking at a hall full of marauding, shouting six year olds can be quite intimidating. Just as lining up a day of sales calls can be intimidating. 

Several years ago I started giving myself a talking to in such situations. I asked myself, “Who is the best qualified and most able to deal with this situation in this room?” It was me, of course. The party always went well after that.

Pink encourages us to interrogative self-talk before we start. When we feel intimated, worried about facing an “ocean of rejection” we should be like Bob the Builder and ask ourselves, “Can we fix it?” He cites research that shows that framing it as a question is much more effective than framing it as a statement, eg, “Can I do this?” Rather than, “I can do this!”

Can you fix it? Yes, you almost certainly can.

During

Pink also delves into research that uncovers the ideal mix of emotional experiences to keep us buoyant.

If everything is positive then we become detached from reality. If everything is negative then we become disillusioned or worse. Surprisingly, a 50:50 mix of positive to negative emotions is not the ideal, the ratio to aim for is 3:1.

This rings true with performing. When constructing a routine I will use mostly use tried and tested material that I know will land successfully. I will also add in some less-tested material to see how it goes. It doesn’t always work, but that doesn’t matter because I know I will be back to a sure-fire winner very soon. I know that stand-up comedians use the same approach for introducing new material.

As a sales person you can do the same thing when planning your calls. If you have a call that you know might be difficult, mix it in with some calls and other activities that will be easy and encouraging. 

Pink quotes Barbara Fredrickson, a leading researcher on positivity: 

“Levity is that unseen force that lifts you skyward, whereas gravity is the opposing force that pulls you earthwards. Unchecked levity leaves you flighty, ungrounded and unreal. Unchecked gravity leaves you collapsed in a heap of misery. Yet when properly combined, these two opposing forces leave you buoyant.”

Afterwards

If we have a rough experience, be it a sales call full of rejection, or a kids party that doesn’t work, the way we talk to ourselves afterwards is critical if we are to remain buoyant.

Ask yourself, was the rejection

  • Persistent? Will it be like that the next time or was it just temporary?
  • Pervasive? Does this apply generally or was it specific to that situation?
  • Personal? Was it because of me or because someone or something else external to me?

Almost always, the answer to all three questions will be “no”. The bad experience was down to factors that were temporary, specific and external. This allows you to learn any useful lessons from the experience and then move on to the next thing.

In researching his book, Pink spent time with Norman Hall, a salesman for the Fuller Brush Company. When considering self-talk, he quotes Hall who says:

“I’m a damn good salesman. You have to keep going. That’s it.”

Here’s to floating like a balloon…

Why a Sales Meeting is Exactly Like a Kid’s Party – Part 3

When you arrive at a kids party you immediately have to sell your credibility to the parent who booked you, the birthday child and sometimes the venue manager or caretaker. You have to give them confidence in you within seconds of your arrival. 
Very often you also have to sell yourself to the older siblings. Do a couple of mind-blowing close-up magic tricks for them at the outset and they will watch your whole show with rapt attention. If you don’t, they will sit at the back, look bored and cause trouble.

Think Pink

Daniel Pink, in the excellent “To Sell is Human”, says that sales people need the ABC:

  • Attunement
  • Buoyancy
  • Clarity

I will deal with attunement in this post and buoyancy and clarity in subsequent posts.

Know, like and trust

It’s a well-known phrase. If someone is to buy from you then they need to know, like and trust you. 

How do you make that happen?

It’s all about attunement.

Attune in Your Head

Essentially, attuning to your prospect or client, be you a sales person or an entertainer, has three elements:

  • Assume the right attitude
  • Work out their perspective
  • Strategically mimic them

Attitude

When you arrive you need to be humble. Don’t assume that you know what or who your client is. Obviously you will have pre-suppositions, but you may well be wrong. Be ready to change you mind. Have an open mind and be ready to listen, observe and learn. 

When I arrive at a party I am immediately thinking: “What are the relationships and dynamics here? Is there any underlying tension? Have they run kids’ parties before or is this their first time?”

Perspective

Pink cites scientific studies that perspective taking is more effective than empathy when it comes to selling. Knowing how someone is feeling will get you some of the way, but it is much more effective to work out how they are thinking and what is driving them. What are their incentives? Their concerns? Try and put yourself in their shoes and see things from their point of view. What are their presenting problems?

Whatever you do, you want to make yourself a welcome addition to their experience at that moment. Obviously you are a new and different element to their life, but you don’t want to be so different that you make them nervous. Somehow you need to fit in with their “normal”, whatever that may be. To do that, you need to try to understand how they are thinking.

Mimcry

You may well have read or heard about “Postural Echo”, the way that we mirror the gestures of others when we are agreeing with them.

Pink suggests that we can enhance our rapport with clients or prospects if we use “strategic mimicry”. It has to be subtle and not noticeable, otherwise it is creepy! 

Instinctively, I find myself at parties slightly changing the way I speak to match my client. Maybe a bit posher or a bit more down-to-earth. I find common points of reference, places we have lived, visited or worked, common interests wherever possible. I am searching for ways for me to link in with their “normal” so that I feel like a natural and welcome addition to their lives rather than a strange abnormality that makes them nervous.

Adapt to your surroundings like a chameleon. Pink quotes Galinsky and Maddux, who say, “Chameleons bake bigger pies and take bigger pieces.” 

Think chameleon!

Ambiversion Conversion

Pink introduces the wonderful phrase “ambivert”. We have all heard of extroverts and introverts. The data shows that the most effective sales people are those that are at neither extreme. Those in the middle (most people) are ambivert – they listen and observe carefully to get a true picture of the situation and then they can be confident and assertive when needed.

Rhyme Time

Remember, if you want your sales to be greater, be an attuner sooner than later.