If you want people to truly care about what you’re saying, then it’s critical to move the make me care meter. Learn how and you can change outcomes.
A new drive through self-service car wash called Auto Spa opened up in my neighborhood, so I decided to try it. As I entered and saw it cost seven dollars, I thought that was a bit pricey just to wash the outside of the car, even though unlike other self serves, this one dries the vehicle for you. However, they market themselves as a car spa, so maybe there were some spa like amenities.
At the full-service car wash I normally frequent, they clean the inside and outside of the vehicle for ten dollars. Even when they’re crowded, they go the extra mile as well, sometimes rinsing off the mats or using compound to erase a scratch. They don’t charge for it either. Instead they smile and say, “our pleasure”.
As my car and I exited the auto spa washroom, four men yielding drying cloths began wiping down the vehicle. I opened the driver’s door and pointed to the dirty water that had pooled on the ledge where you step into the car and asked one of the men if he would wipe that too.
He replied, “we don’t do that”.
I was surprised so I repeated what he said and inquired why not?
He answered, “we just don’t do that”.
Not wanting to get into an argument, I pointed out that he was already drying the car and the dirty water at the bottom of the door was caused by the wash.
He shrugged and walked away.
So, as he and his three colleagues stood just feet away, I opened the trunk, pulled out some towels and wiped the dirty water caused by the car wash as they watched.
I was about to leave when a cloud of irritation swept over me. That’s when I got out of the car and found the manager. I told him as one business owner to another, I wanted to give him some friendly advice. After explaining what happened, he said he was sorry, and they would dry it next time. I said there wouldn’t be a next time because I was never coming back. I told him I would return to the car wash down the road because they provided better service and you got more for your money.
He nodded. I continued and explained that the bigger problem is business thrives by word of mouth. If I tell someone I had a bad experience, they’ll tell someone else who will tell someone else who will post on social media and then people stop coming. However, if you go the extra mile and provide great service, your customers can become your best public relations agents.
Something seemed to resonate as he asked who of the four employees refused to wipe the dirty water from my car. Not wanting to get anyone in trouble, I said I wasn’t sure. He walked over and reprimanded all of them. I drove away.
Regardless of industry, going the extra mile is about providing value for others. When you help someone out, do something without being asked or provide an additional service at the same cost, that’s value. Not only do you score a few extra points, but you make others feel good in the process.
I recall a situation that coincidentally, also involved cars. A car dealer we worked with wanted to provide customer service training for its service representatives after someone failed to go that extra mile. A woman who had been without her car for several days came to pick it up. It was a dreary drizzly day with salt and melting snow assaulting cars on the roads. As she drove out and put her windshield wipers on, there was no windshield wiper fluid. Furious, she drove back to the dealership and asked why. The service manager told her it wasn’t on the work order.
A few extra minutes providing checking fluid levels could have increased customer value and led to years of additional business. Instead, the woman never came back again.
So, what exactly is value? To customers, it’s often when a person feels they received good service at a good price, or they received extra services at no extra cost. Companies often claim they provide extra value at no additional cost, but the only person who can determine value is the customer. To me, value is about the experience.
Let’s say you hire a company to provide certain services. They do a good job and you feel the cost was reasonable. Next year, you hire a different company to deliver the same services. They also do a good job, but the people are friendlier, warmer and they spend more time with you than expected. Additionally, they throw in a few extras and give you helpful hints for the future. Then they check in with you a few days later to make sure all is well. You had a better experience with the second company. That experience equals value. Value often leads to loyalty.
As I am writing this article, I’m in the process of getting some insurance quotes. I reached out to three companies. The first company emailed me a form and said when I complete it, they’ll provide a quote. The second company which I already do business with told me to call my agent. The agent told me to call someone else. The third company had someone return my phone call almost instantly. She asked questions, seemed to take an interest in my needs and promised to provide a quote as quickly as possible.
Unless the quote is outrageous, I will choose her. She provided a better experience and gave me a glimpse of what it might be like to work with her company in the future.
Do an on-line search for customer value and you will find over a million articles on the subject. From creating value steps, implementing strategies to improving customer experience, many of these articles provide solid advice. The best ones offer common sense.
That means standing in your customer’s shoes. How would you feel if your car was being serviced for days and they didn’t check the windshield wiper fluid? Or you pay good money to have your car dried and they miss part of it? Typically, it’s the little things that ruin experiences for customers. Little things add up and detract from value. When customers feel they aren’t receiving what’s valuable to them, they go elsewhere, and your business dries up.
In our new series, try it this way, to become a more compelling communicator, start by thinking differently.
It was 8:00 in the evening and I was presenting to healthcare specialists who had flown in from various locations across the country to attend a medical meeting. My task was to teach them how to present complex scientific information to other healthcare experts in an efficient and engaging way. Given many had been flying for hours from different time zones and were now eating and sipping cocktails, even if I was terribly engaging, I wondered how engaged they would be. I decided a good place to start would be at the beginning as that’s typically where many speakers lose their audience by reading the agenda slide.
After a brief ice breaker to set the stage, I presented two options for opening a talk about a newly approved cancer drug that extended survival rates. First, I read their agenda word for word. Eyes glazed over. Second, I woke them up by asking a thought-provoking question related to their practices, then paused and emphasized key findings that had never been achieved before. Their heads nodded in approval.
Then I asked the group, what do you think of that?
As the room collectively nodded their heads in approval, suddenly a leading researcher in the front row stood up and said, “I think it’s boring”.
I had two choices. I could ask her why, but then I risked she would try to take over the meeting. Or, I could I could disagree which would challenge her credibility and alienate her. It was clear she wanted the floor and wanted to be heard. So, I gave it to her, but did so in a way that made her feel valued.
I invited her to stand up and show us how she might have presented opening remarks. She was quite pleased to do so and did a nice job. I complimented her in front of everyone and explained that there are multiple ways to deliver opening remarks as opposed to a one-size-fits all approach.
Most importantly, I used the opportunity to explain that the beginning of a talk is the best opportunity to command attention and that’s why it’s so important to say something meaningful. In scientific presentations, it may be defining the scope of your work or stating key findings that you will elaborate on later. Either way, you must help listeners understand how it affects or benefits them and you must do it efficiently, so they know why they should listen to you.
The researcher who challenged me did this very effectively. She started by stating a common problem everyone in her audience shared. She quickly highlighted key findings to illustrate how outcomes might be different. Then, instead of reading the agenda, she explained the objectives of the talk. Right away, the audience was engaged and understood why the information was relevant to them.
In more than two decades of experience coaching speakers, I have found that even the most seasoned experts misread their audiences. Because they are speaking to peers, they assume their listeners know what they know. That’s a huge mistake because if you present information at a level too complex for some to understand, you will quickly lose that part of your audience.
The disconnect of scientific and many presentations is the lack of conversation. You may be wondering; how can I have a conversation if I’m presenting? I challenge you to change your thought process. Stop thinking of your presentation as giving a talk and start thinking of it as having a message-focused conversation.
Yet so many technical presenters think of slides as their script. They follow their slides, sometimes word for word, instead of letting the slide follow them. Imagine if Abraham Lincoln had delivered the Gettysburg address in a PowerPoint presentation. Or what if Martin Luther King relied on slides when he gave his powerful ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. If you think that’s not the same as an academic or scientific speech, perhaps you should reconsider.
Albert Einstein once said, “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
The next time you have to give a talk, ask yourself this question. If your slides crashed, could you still deliver the information? True, you may leave some things out and not be able to show all of the data, but if you can still provide the key facts, then yes you can because you know your subject.
To accomplish this, try practicing with the slides and then again without the slides. With slides, you begin to internalize the information. Without slides, you will be much more conversational as if you’re speaking to a neighbor.
Slides are often text heavy and written in sentences that appear in small fonts. That means the slide is designed for you and not for your audience. Fonts should be big, so your audience can see the words. Text should be minimal to prevent listeners from reading. If people are trying to read the slide, then they are not giving you their full attention. Strive for your slides to follow you and reinforce what you’re saying. You should not follow the slide.
Here are some additional tips to keep your audience engaged.
What’s the story?
If the fire alarm went off in the room and listeners could only hear one thing, what would that be? Write it down. That will help you shape the story and key message you want to deliver.
Want vs. need
There is a difference between everything you want to tell them and what they really need to know. Focus on their needs to create more efficient, engaging talks that are easy to understand.
Two sets of slides
In a perfect world, you should create two sets of slides. Set one includes all the detail and is available to those who want it. Set two is more minimal and what you project when presenting. It’s your job to make sense of information. If people can get what they need by reading your slides, why do they need you?
A picture is worth a thousand words
Look for ways to turn sentences into phrases and 12-point font packed tables into visuals such as pie charts and bar graphs. Highlight key findings to help people understand what’s important.
No matter how many times you’ve delivered your talk or how well versed you are in the subject, winging it is not an option. The more you practice out-loud, the smoother and more confident you’ll be on game day. You can also tape yourself which will help you hear where you need more inflection, pausing and vocal variety.
Remember, communicating is about connecting. If you fail to connect, you fail to engage. If you don’t engage, no one is really listening.