Friday, November 14, 2008

How to be a keener: for clients and classrooms

Nice vacation huh? It’s been eight days since last publishing to the blog and I feel recharged. The TAs at York are on strike so in the spirit of everyone else who’s taking a vacation – enjoy Cuba, Sid and Olga! – I took one too and finished up on a bunch of work. We’ve been active with new clients too in the last week, doing a lot of pitches and signing clients for Winter projects. I’m really enthusiastic about the opportunities we have and the potential to get active on projects that loop in more Associates within B!G. We'll have more full-service accounts this next semester and will get back to our roots with an e-marketing strategy/Web 2.0 project.

(Clients, I know you’re reading this!)

Which brings me to tonight’s topic: how to be a keener but not a sycophant. Why is this important? Well, number one, the world loves keeners.

Number two, our grades in school are highly influenced by participation marks, beyond the percentage (usually 10%) that’s listed on the course outline. Don’t you think that the assignments of good class contributors are read extra thoroughly and receive relatively more mindshare?

Being a sycophant is a really sleazy situation. You’re reviled by the class and hated by the teacher. Your contributions are banal and brainless and typically involve nothing more than saying how brilliant you though the professor’s point was and how much it personally resonated with you. It’s the equivalent of a company being overly thankful for your business but not really knowing who you are or what makes you unique. I hate direct marketing that’s not relevant! So in other words, your words don’t stick and you’re wasting precious oxygen that better minds could have fed on.

But being a keener? Well, that’s a joy!

You’re not called on in class because you contribute more than the average student. You’re able to make the points you want that are most meaningful to you and your research interests. And you’re able to demonstrate to your slovenly peers what an amazing student you are – your rabid participation pays off when peers look to you as a person they want to group with. Group projects depend on being able to get your pick of the best students in the class, and like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, ‘like’ gravitates to ‘like’.

So how can you elevate your participation from mediocre to keener-tastic?

Preface your comments by emphasizing things that other people in the class have said. Never attack the person, attack the message. Duh.

Do the readings, or at least read the first and last paragraphs fully and the first sentences of all the paragraphs in between. This way you can get the gist of what the readings were about without really actually doing them.

Listen more. Don’t make a comment that you really want to say if it has nothing to do with the current topic or string of other comments.

Bring in aspects of theory in everything you say. Package your comment like this: 1) Issue, 2) Theory, 3) Explanation. It’s like a observation sandwich.

Never ever say how insightful you found something or how amazing you think something is. Why? Because everyone has things that they also think are interesting, so why is your take on it any more valuable than theirs? Like seriously, what new knowledge or relevant thought have you contributed by saying that you “thought that the Porter’s Five Forces model is amazing”…huh?

Now, client interactions are not meant to be superficial, they’re meant to be substantive. Applying a keener model to pitches and presentations means having a deep and thorough knowledge of the client and what matters to them. Say it honestly. Don’t try and schmaltz your words or qualify their business with superlatives. You’ll regret it in the end when you can’t get leverage or wiggle-room in the account (when the project turns to shit!) because you weren’t honest in the first place.

And to my professors, I highly recommend you read this article on how to deal with me. I like the suggestions to use hugs as reinforcement and to perform a criminal background check.

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