Friday, March 25, 2011

You're worth it

I just received a $425 bill in the mail today. And I couldn't be more delighted to pay it.

This bill is my annual membership in the National Speakers Association. It is a club you cannot get into unless you do a lot of paid professional speaking. Here in Ithaca, NY, for example, which is crawling with luminaries from Cornell and elsewhere, there are only three members. So for me it is both a great resource, and a celebration of getting to speak 40-50 times a year.

Which got me thinking about how you - and perhaps your business – value yourself. What makes *you* worth a premium price, one that people are more than happy to pay? Here are some things that can add to your own personal value:

Invest in yourself. What is the difference between me now versus then? First, a lot of work and study on my content and my platform skills. Years ago people gave me good ratings. Nowadays, in 2011, I regularly hear people say my workshops are the best they have ever attended. And I know I still have a lot more learning left to do.

Investing in your skills has two important benefits. The first is the obvious one: you hone the skills. But I think the second one is even more important: you start thinking of yourself as someone who is worth the investment.

Incidentally, they say you have really arrived as a speaker when you are interrupted by applause, and when you get standing ovations in the middle of your talks. I have never had either of these things happen yet. My mother, on the other hand – who is not a professional speaker – experienced both when she delivered a loving and humorous tribute to my late father, shortly after he died. So my next goal is to catch up to Mom someday.

Look at what you give instead of what you get. A lot of beginning speakers will ask "what can I charge?" I ask myself "what will my audience take away?" When I step on a stage nowadays, I *know* I am going to create an "a-ha" moment that changes the way people communicate.

Value goes beyond your products or services, into who you are. I would stand on my head to give my clients a great experience. I will come early, stay late, customize my material, meet and greet people, have breakout sessions, or practically get them coffee if they want. This may be why a lot of my livelihood comes from customer relationships, not just customers.

So take the question of what you are worth, and turn it into one of how much value you can give. And realize that this value could be much higher than you think.

Think about what the other person values. I am not just happy to pay a $425 bill. Years ago, I was delighted to have to suddenly pay a five-figure sum. You see, my wife was in a serious automobile accident, running full-speed into the back of a stopped truck. She hit it with such force that its tailgate ended up inside her passenger compartment, totaling the car, but still walked away from the accident.

I could not have been happier to purchase her a new car with every airbag imaginable. Cars are relatively easy to replace; wives and soulmates, not so much. So I was and still am incredibly thankful for the privilege of writing that big check.

Bringing this around to your business, there is often a lot of *relative* value in what most of us do. Think about what people want, need, and value. Think about where their "points of pain" are. What can you do to ease that pain, and what is it worth to these people?

I once read about a dog trainer who practically couldn't get arrested – until she changed her focus on teaching people how to avoid dog attacks. Suddenly mail carriers, meter readers, and others flocked to her seminars. Likewise, I don't have a lot of flashy new speaking ideas. I simply teach people how to communicate in their most difficult situations, with customers and each other, and make a nice living from the relative value of these skills.

So what are you worth? The answer is simple: not a penny more than you think you are. So start valuing yourself, with all the potential that you have inside, and then go out and share that value with others. For me, this has always been the true key to a nice life.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Anatomy of a bad apology

Some of you may have seen a news story last week about John O'Connor – a college basketball coach who was caught on videotape knocking over one of his players in practice, kicking him when he didn't get up, and then yelling, "Got a little blood on ya? Good!"

This incident made the news after the player filed a police report, and kicked off a national debate about tough versus abusive coaching. It eventually culminated in a tense meeting between player and coach on the television show Good Morning America, during which the player would not accept the coach's apology. Soon afterward, the coach resigned his position.

After reviewing a video of the show, I feel this incident has an important lesson for all of us – but not the one you might think. I feel that in this case, the coach did not lose his job over a shove on the basketball court. He lost it over a stupendously bad apology.

Apologies are a tightly scripted dance where every word has to work. They are one form of communication where 99% often isn't good enough: like O'Connor's game of basketball, the momentum of the game can turn on you in a heartbeat, and the wrong words can easily backfire. So in that spirit, I would like to respectfully break down how the player probably heard O'Connor's words.

"This was an accident": Here, the coach is blaming circumstances rather than himself, and saying it wasn't really his fault. Statements like these are like throwing chum into shark-infested waters.

"I was just trying to make us a better team and make us more competitive": This is the dreaded rationale statement, where he thinks the right reasons will somehow make things OK. But the listener doesn't care. Instead of taking ownership, these "reasons" make him sound entitled and defensive.

"It was unintentional by me": He may think he is saying he had no malice of forethought. Instead, it sounds like he had no control over what happened, and for that matter, it could jolly well happen again.

"I'm really sorry that it happened": Oops. This is the classic "I'm sorry but not responsible" statement. Instead of talking about what *he* shouldn't have done, he wishes that "it" hadn't happened.

So let's replay this apology as the player probably heard it: "I wasn't responsible for what happened. I have no clue how I could have avoided it. Besides, I had good reasons for it. So it's too bad it happened." Breaking down the linguistics, I frankly don't think the player had much choice in turning it down, especially in front of an audience.

Even worse, when GMA host George Stephanopoulos asked coach O'Connor whether his behavior was over the line, he hemmed, hawed, and insisted it was an "accident." Linguistically, game, set, and match went to the player at that point.

Now let's try a real apology that steps up and takes ownership, validates the injured party, and expresses remorse and restitution: "Matt, I crossed a line last week. I tried to be competitive after a tough loss and took it much too far. In the process I embarrassed you, me, and our school. I acted like a bully, and I don't blame you for reacting the way you did. You are a good player, and this shouldn't have happened to you. I apologize for what I did; more important, I want to promise you that I have learned from it, and that it will never happen again. I hope you will give our coaching relationship another chance from here."

If the coach had chosen the right words, I feel his player would have been much more likely to accept his apology; in fact, he might have seemed petty not to. And the coach – who had the support of much of his team after the incident – would probably still have his job and his dignity intact.

If this subject interests you, check out a truly incredible book: Effective Apology by John Kador. It breaks down the mechanics of good versus bad apologies – and in the process, will teach you how to have grace and power in your most challenging situations. Like sinking a clutch 3-pointer, I hope this coach can eventually learn to use the power of words better, and move forward from this incident.