Seven Books for Public Speakers
The pile of books by my desk has become a block to the fire escape, so it’s time to read and review some of them for the insights that they offer public speakers and communicators in general. Following are quick takes on seven that you may find helpful.
The authors of Absolute Value want you to understand that the Internet world of information about people, products, and services allows for near-perfect information to be known about you and your business. So you’d better start paying attention to what other people are saying about you. Also, you’d better turn out a good product. This idea is of course not new, but I like these authors’ taxonomy of P, O, and M – where P is an individual’s prior beliefs about something, O is what other people are saying, and M is those poor, increasingly irrelevant marketers.
The book reinforces the idea that professional public speakers, like anyone else with a service offering, needs a strong line of good O going in order to create a sustainable business.
This is a wonderful book. Its advice about failure is refreshing: real, hard-won, and useful. And it even has a chapter in it for public speakers everywhere. The book showcases twenty-five successful women, giving them a forum to talk about the mistakes they’ve made, especially early on in their careers. I guess these are smart, successful women so they made fewer mistakes as they went on. I’m envious; I seem to keep making mistakes. Sometimes even the same ones again.
What’s great about the book is that the women telling stories in it actually do talk about their mistakes, instead of the usual, oh isn’t wonderful how that apparent mistake of mine turned out to be a genius move in disguise! There’s a lot to learn here, including the important idea that if you’re nervous giving a speech, “the most important thing to remember is that people don’t come to watch you fail. Care more about the subject than your ego.” Brilliant!
Is it possible to work inside a company like BP and have a desire to make the world a better place? Christine Bader believes that it is, or at least was, when John Browne was CEO. Under Tony Hayward, we had the Deepwater Horizon spill and a general pullback from alternative energy work – not so easy to be a Corporate Idealist there and then.
Christine Bader’s story raises some fascinating questions about the extent to which you have to be sympathetic with the hero of the story to listen to the tale. I found myself debating her position, that there was good work to be done from the inside, at every turn. I found it hard to believe her sincerity. And I wondered why she just didn’t quit. So of course she did. Now she’s working for a non-profit on corporate responsibility and raising twins.
Fair enough. Her TEDx talk is similar: poised, confident, and not authentic enough to grab you the way you need to be grabbed these days.
This is a fun collection of one-liners, with a supporting paragraph or two, each one of which is a pithy insight into public speaking. If you’re already good at that particular skill, you won’t learn much, but you will find some reinforcement of beliefs you already hold. If you’re new to public speaking, you’ll find the book full of worthwhile chestnuts to ponder as you sweat out those nerves in the weeks before your first big speech. From “Suspend their disbelief,” to “All value is perceived value,” to “Introduce your witch,” to “Narrow your focus,” all of the advice in here is good, sound wisdom.
Rohrs asks the question, how do you reach your audience in a digital world? And he answers it with a useful taxonomy of subscribers, fans and followers, and seekers, amplifiers and joiners. You worry about attracting a proprietary audience, as he calls it – what I would call a community – the people who know your stuff and are interested in it. Once you’ve got a handle on that, you can divide up that audience into types – the seekers, amplifiers and joiners. And then you can further divide your joiners up into subscribers, fans and followers. Each have different interests and needs – and therefore you need to cater to them in different ways. To help you do that, Rohrs discusses websites, email, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, mobile apps, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest, SMS, Instagram, podcasts, and a bevy of other ways to reach your people.
All of this is useful, especially if you’re a public speaker-author-guru just starting out trying to figure out how to reach a community of people who will buy your book, hire you to speak, or buy your products and services. For anyone with some experience in the online world, all of this will seem a bit obvious, but Rohrs’ systematic approach to the Internet jungle will help most people make at least a little new sense of it.
Schaffer puts his finger on a painful problem that has hurt businesses and their consultants since both got together: there’s a big difference between diagnosing the problem and doing something about it. He identifies five fatal flaws of conventional consulting, including defining the project in the consultant’s terms, ignoring client readiness, going to grandiose, too hands-off, and too much work by the consultants themselves. Instead, you need to define the project in terms of client results, you need to realistically assess the client’s capability, you need to tackle manageable bites, develop a working partnership, and get the client to do most of the work.
He’s absolutely right. And it’s hard to do. I imagine it’s why McKinsey only offers advice – it’s much safer that way.
The book is an interesting cautionary tale for public speakers who advocate change. They need to remember Schaffer’s five points, and create a speech that talks about the issues in the audience’s terms, you need to meet the audience’s level of ability to handle change, you need to break it down into digestible bits, especially because speeches are such inefficient ways to absorb information, you need to get to know your audience, and you need to turn the audience loose on the problem rather than doing all the work for them.
Williams and Drew make the following argument: history goes in 40-year cycles, each with a 20-year upswing and a 20-year downswing contained in it. First, there’s a “Me” cycle, then a “We” cycle. Me cycles demand freedom of expression, applaud personal liberty, believe in the individual, look for a better life, dream big dreams, need to be number one, likes decisiveness, leadership, and heroes. We cycles demand conformity, applaud personal responsibility, believe in the herd, want a better world, small actions, teams, humility, and sense of purpose and joint leadership sharing problems together. We’re in the midst of the upswing of the We cycle now, the authors argue, until 2023, whence will commence the down cycle of We….
What’s in it for public speakers? People change, so don’t market to generations, market to the cycle. You should be pitching your speeches to cater to a We cycle now, because we’re in the middle of it. You might argue that the whole motive behind TED, for example, is the We idea of trying to make the world a better place.
As the authors say, what works during a Me cycle is push, overcoming objections, selling as combat, self-confidence, specials, and sizzle. What works during a We cycle is pull, positive attraction, selling as seduction, authenticity, truth, and the steak not the sizzle.
The book itself is a difficult read, because all the typographic efforts to make it interesting just make it hard to get through. But the idea is at least worth pondering.