Archives For change

Bring about changeWhen speaking to promote change, resist the urge to attack the status quo or its supporters.

The only reason to give a speech is to promote change of some sort: a change in how people think or feel or, more importantly, act.

If you’re happy with the status quo and you want people to keep on doing what they’ve been doing, don’t give a speech. Throw a party.

The underlying message of a speech promoting change always comes down to this: the new vision, initiative, product, service, behavior you’re proposing is better that what already exists.

How do you talk down the status quo without belittling those who had a part in bringing it about or who have a stake in maintaining it?

(When the status quo is clearly unjust, cruel, or oppressive, it may be honorable and brave to confront head on those who created and seek to perpetuate it.)

But in most cases assailing the supporters of the status turns them into opponents and hardens their resistance.

Do this instead. Demonstrate how the current problems or deficiencies–the status quo you wish to change–are rooted not in past mistakes but in subsequent changes.

Don’t say, “We’re having problems in the finance department because my predecessor [the current CFO] purchased an inferior accounting software program.”

Say something like, “When we purchased our current accounting software, it was highly rated. But in the intervening years, technological advances and our increasingly complex requirements have made it inadequate for our needs.”

Make it your goal to bring about the change you believe in, not to denigrate the status quo or vilify its supporters.

Change the ConversationI’ve recently been talking to a consultant from CRA Inc., a consulting firm outside Philadelphia. Because I liked her approach, I checked out the company’s website where I came upon a line that sums up much of my own thinking: 

“Change the conversation and you change the outcomes.”

If you accept that premise, as I do, the question then becomes, “How do you change the conversation?”

In speechwriting/communications circles, the typically answer is, you change the “frame” that people use or you “reframe” the way they look at the issue.

I prefer to talk about changing the metaphors we use.

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The goal of any speech or presentation is the same: change.

The only reason to give a talk is because you want to bring about some change in your audience. To change what they know or, more importantly, how they think. To change how they feel. And, perhaps most importantly of all, to change how they act.

The biggest mistake speakers make in preparing a speech or presentation is the failure to define its goal: what they want from the audience.

If you’re not trying to change the audience in some way, you’re wasting their time and yours.

Leaving people exactly as they are, in their habitual ways of believing, belonging, and behaving, may be — to your thinking — perfectly fine. If that’s the case, pat them on the back and send them on their way. Just don’t give them a speech.

You can’t make people change, of course. You can only create conditions, or expose people to ideas, images, emotions, and experiences that make it possible for them to change.

So the next time you have a speech to give, or you plan a presentation, ask yourself how you want the audience to change as a result of listening to you.

Sometimes I think we’d all be better off if we stopped shoulding on ourselves. As in, “I shouldn’t have done that.” Or, “I shouldn’t feel that way.” Or, “I should lose weight.” And, at the same time, we’d be happier if we stopped shoulding on each other.  As in, “You should be more careful.” Or, “You shouldn’t speak to customers like that.” Or, “You should have been more considerate.”

One of the greatest impediments to changing an undesirable behavior, a habit, or a situation is the word “should” and the sentiment it conveys. 

(“Should not” and “should have” are simply variations of “should” and are equally toxic.)

What good is “should”? What good does it do?

“Should” basically implies that whatever we’re currently doing, thinking, or feeling — when compared to some ideal of perfection — is wrong. It’s bad. It needs to (it should) change.

But “should” rarely does lead to change. It merely makes us aware of some inadequacy, and it does so in a way guaranteed to make us feel judged and belittled and, paradoxically, less inclined to change.

“Should” denies reality. Or, at least, it denigrates reality. But the only way to make a change, any kind of change, is first to acknowledge what is: what we’re actually feeling, thinking, or doing. Then, and only then, can we make a free and honest assessment of it, examine its causes and contributing factors, explore realistic and incremental ways to change it, and commit to making that change.

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