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Review: Communicate to Influence – How to Inspire Your Audience to Action by Ben and Kelly Decker

Communicate_To_Influence_Book_for_BlogThis review first ran in the Aug. 31 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Communicate to Influence: How to Inspire Your Audience to Action

By Ben Decker and Kelly Decker

McGraw Hill


Inform, entertain, direct or inspire.

These are your options every time you stand and deliver. Choose wisely.

Too many of us aim no higher than informing an audience. We deliver the audio version of memos and reports. That’s a waste of time for us and a wasted opportunity for you.

Entertaining gets you a laugh and not much else.

Directing only works when we’re in a crisis and need to take corrective action ASAP. Playing the dad or mom card any other time gets you disengaged employees who only do what they’re told with maximum supervision.

Inspiration is what we crave and what you should aim to deliver whenever you’re speaking. Inspire us and we’ll follow you because we want to and not because we have to.

“There’s an endless deluge of data, facts and figures,” say Ben and Kelly Decker, authors of Communicate to Influence and consultants in business communications. “We’re inundated with all of that, and we’re seeking more. Trust is down, our attention is spread thin and we’re thirsting for inspiration all around us. Urge us to be part of something. Challenge us to believe in something. Motivate us to act.”

So why do so many speeches, presentations and talks motivate us only to stare at the screens on our digital pacifiers and will away the minutes?

The Deckers say we fall victim to five lies of public speaking.

  • We believe that if we say the words, people will get it.
  • We fool ourselves into thinking that when we’re on, we’re great.
  • Instead of preparing, we think we can we just wing it
  • We believe that we’re pretty good at public speaking and our colleagues, like the subjects in the Emperor’s New Clothes, give us false reassurance.
  • And we stick with the tried and true ways of communicating, which explains why no meeting’s complete without a PowerPoint deck and all talks are delivered behind a lectern from a script.

The Deckers have come up with a communications roadmap to move you from informing to influencing and inspiring.

Always start with your audience. It’s all about them and never about you. Know what they want to hear. Tell them how they’ll benefit and make the world a better place. “Your audience members want to be moved. In order to reach them, we need to get to know them and design our message to directly meet their interests, wants and needs.”

Make an emotional connection with your audience. We don’t care what you know until we know that you care. “It’s not our competence but our warmth, humility, genuineness and generosity that people pick up on first when they are evaluating us,” according to the Deckers. Fail that test and we’ll tune you out.

Strengthen your emotional connection by telling stories and using humour, analogies, quotes, pictures and visuals.

Exude humble confidence. Be authentic. Realize that the experience you create while communicating matters more than the words you’re saying.

Focus on communicating just one big idea. “What is the one point you want your audience members to take away? You have to pick one thing to say. Really. One and only one.” Tell us everything and we’ll remember nothing.

And don’t forget to tell us what we can do. Don’t leave us guessing. Serve up a combination of general and concrete action steps. “You must be able to point them toward a path of action. Give them a vision for the future – whether it’s in the next hour or the next year – with a couple of steps they can take to make something happen.”

The roadmap set out by the Deckers requires you to do your homework before you stand and deliver in a banquet hall, board room or on the shop floor. If you’re a leader, you have a responsibility to do better than just inform, entertain or direct us.

“People around you want to be part of something bigger – they’re thirsting for inspiration and begging to be moved. It’s time to answer that call.”

Review: The Membership Economy by Robbie Kellman Baxter

membershipThis review first ran in the Aug. 17th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Membership Economy: Find Your Superusers, Master the Forever Transaction and Build Recurring Revenue

By Robbie Kellman Baxter

McGraw Hill


My wife and I had a perfect meal the other weekend.

We went to Culantro Peruvian Cookery on King William Street in downtown Hamilton.  From the house-made purple corn juice and chicken and beef empanadas to the shrimp ceviche and stir-fried skirt steak, chef Juan Castillo cooked an outstanding dinner that didn’t break the bank.

We both thought Culantro had just opened its doors. Turns out it’s been around a while.

So here’s a business opportunity for an entrepreneurial Hamiltonian.

Tell me where to eat. Introduce me to new restaurants and hidden gems like Culantro. Profile the owners and chefs who serve up family recipes and authentic dishes free of deconstruction and infusion. Connect me with an online community that isn’t overrun with follow-the-crowd gastronauts and Instagramming hipsters.  And send me a special offer every month.

In return, you can bill my credit card 12 times a year and I’ll encourage everyone I know to sign up for a subscription and pay their dues.

“Membership is the Holy Grail of business because recurring revenue is predictable and smooth,” says Robbie Kellman Baxter, author of The Membership Economy and consultant to Silicon Valley companies. “Smooth revenue makes it easier to manage a business, to justify additional investment, and to plan for the future.

Instead of customers, you have members. And rather than one-off sales, you have what Baxter calls forever transactions.

“An organization able to build relationships with members – as opposed to plain customers – has a powerful competitive advantage. I’m convinced that the membership economy will have as profound an effect on society as the Industrial Revolution or the spread of the automobile.”

Build a membership organization and you may find yourself blessed with highly loyal and lucrative superusers who will help grow your business. “Superusers engage, attract and actively recruit new members,” says Baxter. “An organization achieves cultlike status when there is a small group of very devoted supporters who care about the organization very much – some might say too much.”

A few big trends are fuelling the membership economy. Technology is making it easier than ever to run loyalty programs, subscriptions and online communities.

Baxter says we’re also moving along the continuum from ownership to access. “As individuals grow frustrated with the burdens of owning, caring for, and storing too much stuff, they are looking for ways to minimize that stress. They are also experiencing a need for meaningful connection and community.”

Netflix is one of the membership economy poster children profiled by Baxter. Netflix killed the video store and wiped out DVD aisles at big box retailers with a better value proposition. Subscribe to Netflix and you can stream an unlimited number of shows and movies to your TVs, tablets and phones for a nominal monthly fee.  As an added bonus, Netflix delivers original content like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Wet Hot American Summer. Membership has its privileges.

Bricks and mortar businesses are also joining the membership economy. Kepler’s Books in California briefly closed its doors in 2005. Customers rallied to raise new capital, renegotiated a better lease and launched a literacy circle membership program. Membership dues funded award-winning events and community activities that brought in new customers. The store’s events were then spun off into a new arts and letters non-profit. “Today, Kepler’s Books has become a role model for independent bookstores from all over the world, many of whom are turning to their communities for more formal support in competing against online retailers and major chains,” says Baxter. “Kepler’s has gone beyond the typical loyalty program that many retailers use and built membership into its whole model.”

If you’re looking to join the membership economy, start by reading Baxter’s book. It’s well-researched and offers practical advice. She also walks through all the strategies and tactics required to build a successful membership organization from the ground up. The first strategy is the most important.

“If you want your organization to truly be part of the membership economy, start with the team and the culture,” says Baxter. “You need to have the right people and prioritize the right values.”

Review: Bruce Weinstein’s The Good Ones – 10 Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees

good onesThis review first ran in the Aug. 4 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees

By Bruce Weinstein

New World Library


LinkedIn remains a mystery to me.

I get endorsed for skills I don’t have by people I don’t know.

And strangers keep sending me invitations. They’d like to add me to their professional networks. Why? I have no idea. We’re not in the same line of work and we don’t seem to know anyone in common. At last count, I have 338 invitations that will forever be pending.

While constant invites can get annoying, I know better than to do a Blazek.

Kelly Blazek, the self-described Job Bank House Mother, got a LinkedIn invitation from Diana Mekota, a freshly minted grad in search of a job. “Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you and tacky,” Blazek fired back at Mekota. “Wow, I cannot wait to let every 25-year-old job seeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job. Love the sense of entitlement in your generation. And therefore I enjoy denying your invite. Don’t ever write me again.”

Mekota posted Blazek’s reply on Facebook, Reddit and other social media sites.  And so began the public shaming. Blazek’s slapdown got picked up by Buzzfeed and went viral on Twitter. Mainstream media then ran with the story. Blazek gave back the communicator of the year award she had just won. She publicly apologized to Mekota. And then she shut down her Twitter account, blog and purged her LinkedIn account of everything but recommendations.

“In a world where work is increasingly conducted online, high-character employees consider the consequences of every text, email, tweet and online forum post they make at work,” says Bruce Weinstein, author of The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees. “Some go further and apply that standard to their online activity outside work.”

Remember, you are what you tweet and you really don’t want to say or do something so dumb that it winds up on the front page of the Hamilton Spectator or goes viral online.

Smart companies are becoming increasingly good judges of character. Forget what you know or who you know. Who you are as a person can make or break your career.

The good ones – the high-character potential hires and employees – are at a premium.

“Character and performance are strongly intertwined,” says Weinstein, who helps organizations hire and promote high-character people.

High-character employees are high performers. They’re fully engaged in their work. They keep their promises and can be trusted do the right thing even when it’s easier to do something wrong or slightly questionable.

Employees who suffer from ethical lapses will, at best, be marginal performers who suck up an inordinate amount of their managers’ time and attention. They’re poison in the workplace and a real threat to your organization’s reputation.

“Companies that place a premium on the character of job applicants and employees are positioned to succeed in ways that their competitors cannot,” predicts Weinstein.

So what should employers look for? Weinstein has identified 10 qualities associated with high-character employees. Honesty tops his list. “No matter how knowledgeable or skilled a person may be, if he or she is fundamentally dishonest or doesn’t value honesty, that person is detrimental and possibly even dangerous.”

The other nine qualities of high-character people are:

  • accountability
  • care
  • courage
  • fairness
  • gratitude
  • humility
  • loyalty
  • patience, and
  • presence

Weinstein’s written his book for managers looking to hire high-character employees, job candidates wanting to stand out from the competition and employees angling for promotions. He offers sample job interview questions for each of his 10 qualities that do a good job of revealing a person’s true nature.

And here’s one of Weinstein’s best practical ideas. Start good-mouthing at work. Say nice things about people behind their backs. A little gratitude goes a long way and speaks to your character.

“Character may be an unusual topic of conversation in business but character is observable, subject to evaluation and indispensable. It’s time to place character front and centre in our thinking about business in the 21st century. The good ones do. How about you?”