Instantly sound more trustworthy by dropping these words.

Instantly sound more trustworthy by dropping these words.

I love words. I understand, value and utilize the power they each hold. As a professional creative, I prescribe words like a doctor prescribes medicine. People hire me to find the right words to make their brands, products and services sound as attractive as possible.

Just as words have the power to make people, places and things sound more attractive, they can also make them sound uglier. I know which words make me sound like me is dumb. And I know which words make you sound pervy.

In America, we constantly introduce new words and phrases into our banter to see what sticks. Some of these are interesting and innovative (Emoji, FOMO, Photobomb). Some of them are moronic  (Totes, Obvi). Either way, blame Kanye.

Today, there are two unfortunate phrases that are clinging to conversations like cockleburs on corduroy.  If they haven’t arrived in your neck of the cell tower yet, they are coming. I’m referring to the increased use of, “To be honest’ and her twin sister, ” To tell you the truth”.  I know deep down you know this, but when you tack these unnecessary qualifiers onto any other statement, you have told the person on the receiving end of the statement, “Usually I lie to you.’ Or ‘Most of the time I just make up shit without verifying.’

At The Perfect Agency Project we are especially concerned about removing these phrases from business. We don’t want your salespeople or customers support staff dropping, ‘If I’m being honest’ or ‘To be completely truthful’ on your customers and potential clients.  This undermines the trustworthiness bestowed upon your brand. And that will end up costing both you and I real money.

Please coach your team out of using these phrases. You can do that by sharing this post. Or you could do what I do when people drop these phrases on me. I respond immediately to the errant statement with, “Thank you for being honest with me.” The response I get is always very WTF-y. Because people are not thinking about what they are saying.  But I want you to. I want you to sound smart. And trustworthy. And professional. But, hey, It’s all good.*

*’It’s all good’ has been rated as the funniest cocklebur-phrase of all-time by The Perfect Agency Project. Because it is almost always used in instances where something, if not everything, is not good at all.

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To have more great ideas stop thinking about it.

To have more great ideas stop thinking about it.

I love ideas. New ideas tingle and jump in my head like pop rocks. If that is how crack makes you feel I would like crack. A lot. Ideas are the seeds that grow every kind of human-induced improvement on this planet. Yet many of us don’t spend much, if any time ideating.

I love the entire ideation process. I love loading my brain with information by reading and researching. Great ideas come from rearranging the ingredients in your head in new and novel ways. The more ingredients the more possibilities.

But after you top off your brain with input about the problem to be solved comes the most valuable part of the process: Stepping away from the problem completely. And doing nothing. That’s right. Just let the elements do what they want to do. Not what you want them to do. Yet, deep inside your mind, the ideas are growing. And fermenting. Brewing and bubbling. Forming and frothing. Without any additional effort from you.

This part of the process is like making cheese. Or wine. Or a baby. Well not making a baby. Just the baby-growing part. To the naked eye it looks like you are being lazy. The fun distractions at advertising agencies and other creative environments are great at getting team members away from the active thinking and into incubation. That way you don’t get in the way of the natural process. Think of it like baking a cake. Opening the oven door and jabbing toothpicks doesn’t help transform the batter into cake. Time and heat do the work.

The incubation period is the most valuable step in developing unique and differentiating ideas. Yet it is absolutely free. At The Perfect Agency Project we don’t charge for the time when we’re not actively thinking about challenges. During this phase of the process you can multitask. Or sleep. Or make cheese. Or compost. Or babies. The longer the incubation period the more you compound the interesting.

Unfortunately, for the professional creative, the incubation period is an endangered part of the process. Over the course of my career this valuable time has been disappearing like the Brazilian rainforest. And record stores. A lack of planning on the part of the requester hacks at this time. So does a lack of patience. But creatives thinkers have not done enough to promote the ROI clients earn on this free time. I hope sharing this post is a first step in re-establishing the importance of this step.

To make sure you get the most value out of the incubation period start early, build in time for nothing and let the team sleep on it. I often wake up and find myself perched on a great idea like a hen sitting on a warm egg. Resist the temptation to see work ASAP. You will often get the best results if you see the work ALAP.

So spend less money. Offer more time. Let your team know the outline of the challenge early. And watch the great ideas emerge like popcorn. And wine. And babies.

An idea to make debates useful again.

An idea to make debates useful again.

On Sunday night I watched the presidential debate. It was ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I was highly entertained. But the debate failed miserably at its sole purpose: helping Americans become better-informed voters. There was so much talk about non-issues, non-answering of questions and unverified fact-spewing that all of America was dumber for having watched it. Entertained, but dumber.

When it was finally over I switched channels and watched the Sunday night football game. Taking in the final 15:00 minutes of the Packers and Giants game was like mental sorbet, cleansing my palette before I prepared to think like a human again on Monday morning.

But a funny thing happened when I woke up the next morning. I had an idea to solve the debate problem.

Let’s make debates more like football games.

One of the great things about a football game is that it follows a clearly defined set of rules. There are pre-established ways to score points. There are also consequences for breaking the rules. The debates should have the same structure.

edhochuli

Instead of having a moderator like, say, Lester ‘Don’t-Mind-Me’ Holt, we would have referees, like Ed Hochuli. Ed is a trial lawyer when he’s not flexing his zebra stripes.  He’s the man we need controlling the candidates.

The Perfect Agency Project’s debates look something like this:

  • Moderators are replaced by referees (didn’t I just say that?): refs put the question in motion, blow whistles to stop the talk and penalize participants for breaking the rules of the debate.
  • Penalties: The ultimate penalty in a debate is air time. If you fail to answer the question, stray off topic or introduce false information, you have to sit out questions. Debaters have to serve there ‘Time Outs’ in a hockey-style penalty box. I would have Martha Stewart design it.
  • Run over your time limit: a whistle blows and your mic is cut off. If we can humiliate Hollywood stars by cutting their mics off during an acceptance speech, surely we can do the same to long-winded presidential candidates.
  • Talk when it’s not your turn: You lose time. This is just like being offsides in football. Or encroachment. Or interference.
  • Unpresidential-like conduct: Your mic is cut off. A third-party candidate walks on stage and replaces you for the next question.
  • Answer a question: score points on a 1 to 7 scale based on the quality of your answer.
  • Don’t answer the question: no points
  • Make false claims: the referees stops the debate, sites the facts, sends you to the Martha Stewart penalty box.
  • Nachos: Let’s all eat them. Just because.

But this is just a start. Now it’s time to add your ideas to the comment box. Don’t mention any candidates by name. It’s not that kind of show. Just the football-style rules we could incorporate to make the debates fair and informative. Points will be awarded for good rules. A flag will be thrown on anything that is offsides. Ready? Set. Omaha!

6 lessons from the class everyone should take but no one ever does.

6 lessons from the class everyone should take but no one ever does.

I work in advertising. I know the value of the New and Improved. Which is why I am always trying to create a newer, improved-er version of myself. I realized at the beginning of my career that if I wanted to catch up to the best professionals in this industry I was going to have to do my homework. So I began studying and learning. Not in a structured school program. But in a self-directed, choose-your-own-adventure, movie montage kind of way.

Like most people who are into self-improvement, I have focused heavily on communication skills: public speaking, presentation skills, selling skills. But the deeper I get into this game Prince called, Life, I realize that most people (including me) spend too much time on the wrong side of the equation.

The most effective and important communication skill is not speaking. It’s listening.

Listening is where all success starts. It is only through listening that we understand the problems that we need to solve. It is how we hear what isn’t said (don’t think about this too hard or it sounds really stupid). Through listening we learn about other people. We learn about their history, their values, their styles and their quirks. Which allows for deeper, more meaningful and more valuable relationships. Yet when was the last time you heard about someone going to a listening seminar?

So here are The Perfect Agency Project’s 6 Keys To Improving Your Listening Skills. These are sure to make you a better, bigger-eared version of yourself.

1. Listen Competitively.

Start by trying to be really good at listening. You already know the little things you have to do to be a great listener. We learned them playing Simon Says. Look at the person talking. Give the person speaking your full attention.  And do this like your earning potential, relationships and Parent Of The Year award depend on it. Because they do.

2. Shut your mouth.

We are often so compelled to talk that we stop listening. If you want to be a great listener you have to silence your own impulses. And focus on your role as a listener. This means you are not providing answers, or solutions or opinions. You are harvesting. Not planting. Know what season it is. Bring the right equipment to the field.

3. Keep your partner lubricated.

I don’t mean with alcohol or KY.  With affirmations. And demonstrated interest. Lean in. Show you care. And you will keep others flowing with information. Yet without the annoying public outcry that comes with waterboarding.

4. Listen with your Spidey Sense.

Go beyond the words that are said. Note the tone. The emotion. Those things are like limps, signaling that something deeper is wrong. Or they could signal that someone is in a good mood that exceeds the norm for the current situation. Maybe they just got engaged. Or maybe they are on drugs.

5.  Play back, Jack.

The curtain call of any good listening session is the summary of what you heard.  The highlight, simplified conclusion or takeaway that demonstrates that you really heard what was said. What was implied. And what is now important.  Do this and you will always leave a conversation with more personal equity.

6. Lock up the valuables.

The most important listening skill is keeping the private stuff private. You have to know which things you heard were intended for you alone. And don’t talk about them. When people know that you are trustworthy they tell you more. You become an important confidante. An insider. It’s like being sponge-worthy.

Improve your listening and everything else will improve. Better relationships with your friends, family and co-workers. Better solutions to problems. More and better networking. And better creative ideas. If you have your own tips and tricks for better listening I would love to hear from you.