Lessons in Influence from Key West

I travel a lot and, I admit it, I occasionally whine about airplanes, airports, rental cars, time zones, overhead space, other travelers — well, you get the drift.  But I knew better than to complain to anyone about my recent trip to Key West for the Public Affairs Council’s National Grassroots Conference.  In Key West the high was around 79 degrees.  In Washington, D.C. it was 45.  ’nuff said.

I tried to make it up to all my acquaintances by really working hard at the event.  I went to all the sessions and started cocktails before 5:00pm only once.  All that diligence paid off.  I learned a great deal, met many people and reinforced my relationships with others.  I even got to smoke a really good cigar at one of the post conference events.  And as we all know, the “net-playing” (note: faithful readers of the blog and the book will know I hate the term networking) can be as or more important than the actual session-going and note-taking itself.

That said, I did take notes.  And here are three important things I learned from D.C.-insider professionals about winning The Influence Game:

People like to feel special:  Almost every influence professional I spoke to highlighted a piece of their program designed to recognize the extraordinary efforts of their star advocates.  This included simple thank you notes, award programs, social media shout-outs and exclusive educational programs — both at conferences and online.  Heck, even a ribbon on a convention name badge can make a person feel special.  But not all “specialness” is equal.  The most successful efforts were sincere, not just part of a “we-have-to-have-a-VIP-program-so-here-it-is” approach.  True professionals don’t express thanks simply for the cynical purpose of getting more in the future.  Yet many of those they thank are willing to take it up a notch, mainly because being thanked is such a pleasant and rare experience.

Takeaway:  Ask yourself this question.  “In my own influence situation how can I honestly express my appreciation for those who help me along the way?”

People like to share success, not failure:  I just love telling people when I make horrific mistakes, don’t you?  In truth, I don’t even like admitting to myself when I’ve made one.  Sometimes I’ll tell my dog, but he’s pretty nonjudgmental.  I think there are two reasons we don’t like to talk about our failures.  First, we’re scared people will think we’re not all that bright.  I mean, who would want to hire / work with / buy from someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing?   Second, fixing our mistakes can be hard.  It takes an admission that something isn’t working, analysis as to what that is, brainstorming for solutions and then implementing a new approach.  It’s so much easier to sit back and watch Downton Abbey than it is to shake things up.  But believe it or not, you’re not the only person making mistakes!  It happens all the time.  Even I do it every once in a while.  With practice (full disclosure, I’m not quite there yet), these mistakes can be opportunities to help not just yourself, but an overall organization or other individual as well.

Takeaway:  Ask yourself this question: “What failure can I admit to and not only learn from myself, but use to help the person / people I’m trying to influence do something better?”

People like to have fun:  Hey, there’s a reason why the conference was in Key West in February.  People like to be in pleasant places surrounded by pleasant people.  We don’t really want to talk business all the time, even if we love what we do.  Human beings tend to gravitate toward other human beings, not just job titles.  If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re probably doing something wrong.

Takeaway:  Ask yourself this question:  “What can I do to make these ‘influence situations’ fun for all concerned, including myself?”

I can’t say I do all of this.  There are even times when I do none of this.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t see the value of it — and I hope you can as well.  Happy influencing!

My New Cause: Dog Enfranchisement

Tomorrow I might send my dog Ozzie down to the polls to vote.  It’s 7:15pm on November 5th, and while I know who I’m voting for in the Presidential election, I’m still at a loss for some of the local races.  That’s in part because even I, the Advocacy Guru, has a tough time figuring out who will be the best leader.

Thank goodness Ozzie is in the house, though, because according to this post titled “If Dogs Could Vote” from “dog whisperer” Cesar Milan, our canine companions can identify who is (or should be) the pack leader much more quickly and easily than humans.  They have an inate ability to sense key components of effective leaders, such as authenticity, energy, an emphasis on the well-being of the pack and, most important, what Milan calls a “calm-assertive” personality, or the ability to demonstrate “calm strength.”  These are the dogs (or humans) other dogs turn to in a crisis.

It’s important to note that these qualities aren’t always conveyed verbally.  Body gestures, facial expressions and eye contact all send cues about who really means what they say.  In some cases, it doesn’t even matter what you say — in the political world, as in the dog world, sometimes how you say something is far more important than the words that come out of your mouth.  I know this to be true when Ozzie is misbehaving.  I can say his name and the word “no” all I want, but he knows things are serious when I put “that tone” in my voice.

In essence, dogs instictively know who to trust with the decisions that impact them directly on a day to day basis.  I keep asking Ozzie to tell me how he does this, but he hasn’t revealed his secrets.  So I guess I’ll just get him to fill out the ballot.  That’s not voter fraud, right?

And speaking of filling out ballots, don’t forget to vote!

I Think I Might be Lactose-Intolerant: I Have No Patience for it Whatsoever

You might be thinking that’s TMI (Too Much Information, for those who still write in complete sentences), but my point here is not to tell you about my dietary proclivities.  It’s to make a point about language.

When we talk about being “lactose-intolerant,” we mean “my body can’t handle foods that contain lactose.”  But since the word “intolerance” also refers to a lack of respect, that statement technically could be interpreted as, well, a hatred of lactose.

Sure, 99.999 (or hopefully 100%) of human beings understand the context of this particular example. But what about another example?  What if you said “legitimate rape,” like Senatorial-candidate Todd Akin from Missouri?

Nope.  I’m not defending Todd Akin.  I’m really not.  Not even a little bit.  I think he’s really pretty awful.  I simply cannot tolerate him, as it were.  In this case, though, as misguided as he was, I’m pretty sure he meant “legitimate” as “actual” and not as “allowable.”  As in “when it’s rape, not consensual,” not “rape is allowable because it won’t result in pregnancy” (obviously wrong on many levels).   IMHO (In My Humble Opinion, sentence users) he’s wrong in every aspect of that comment — medically, emotionally and morally. But let’s not get hung up on him using a word in a wrong context.  That’s clearly not the biggest part of that problem.

For our own influence situations, this means that we should think carefully about every word we say and every sentence we write, particularly in terms of how it might look to someone who would interpret our words in a different way.  It also means looking at other people’s messages in that same light.  When they say something that irritates you, is it possible they don’t really mean what you think they mean?  I’ll admit, this is definitely one of those “physician heal thyself” kind of things.  I am notorious for firing off cranky e-mails in response to a comment I wildly misinterpreted.  And then, of course, I usually go back with my tail between my legs.  Sometimes we all accidentally say things that we don’t mean.

So learn from my mistakes as well as Todd Akin’s.  Oh, and BTW (“By The Way” for the full sentence users), I’m not really lactose intolerant, so feel free to send cheese and chocolate.

Anyone Know Mandarin?

ImageJust learned that my publisher made a “global rights deal” for The Influence Game to be published in China!  Now, I’m sure you’re wondering “how could U.S. lobbying tactics apply in China?” Or you might be having some cynical thoughts that I won’t express here.

I interpret China’s interest in the book as a recognition that the strategies lobbyists use to get what they want on public policy questions can be used in any walk of life (sales, association management, personal relationships — whatever). Now whether you agree that can be done without manipulation, bribery or lying I can’t say.  Personally, I know it can be done ethically and honestly because I’ve seen it and give examples throughout the book.

How does this apply to you? Let’s say you’re a business person trying to sell something.  Or an Association Executive hoping to increase membership. The following strategies can help you achieve your goals:

  • Know your audience well enough to know why it’s a win for them: People don’t buy things (or join things) because you want them to do so.  They take action because they’ve figured out there’s an advantage for them in terms of what they want to achieve. Lobbyists learn about members of Congress by finding out what bills they’ve introduced and what the constituents of those legislators care about.  They know what gets them up in the morning and keeps them up at night.  If you want someone to join your organization or buy your product, be very clear on why what you’re offering makes their life easier or addresses their pressing concern (not yours).
  • Know your audience well enough to know what’s the best way to approach them: There are no universal methods of communication that are always best for everyone. People want to be approached through the means that works best for them.  When you’re asking them to buy something, use their preferred mode. It’s only when they’re trying to sell you something that you can feel free to ask for them to reach out in another way.
  • Ask: What’s the number one reason a member of Congress doesn’t sign on to a bill? Because no one asked him or her. What’s the number one reason you don’t make a sale? Because you didn’t ask. Look through the materials you’re sending out to see if you’re just explaining why what you want them to do is so fabulous or if you’re actually asking them to take an action.
  • Follow-Up: I am shocked at the number of people who walk in to a Congressional office, ask for $6 billion, don’t follow-up for a year and then are surprised when they don’t get what they want. Believe me, there are plenty of people asking more frequently for that $6 billion. Be politely persistent, while recognizing that there’s a point where you just become irritating.  Don’t cross that line.

Whether in China or the U.S. (or Denmark — where a different group just bought the book), the principles behind effective persuasion remain the same.  So take some time to figure out how they apply to you!

Writing One Thing and Saying Another: It’s Not as Easy as You Think!

Anyone interested in public speaking should take a look at this article from The Atlantic – a fascinating analysis of what Bill Clinton said in his speech at the Democratic National Convention versus what he wrote.  I’d say we can learn lessons from him for our own presentations, but since so much of what he does comes naturally, this may not be possible.  Nevertheless, I will make the attempt by outlining a few specific tactics I noticed:

  • Active Voice:  Clinton’s “on the fly” changes from a more passive to active voice were truly masterful.  Or, I should say, Clinton mastered “on the fly” changes from passive to active voice (that was a passive sentence rewritten in the active voice – get it?).   For example, in the middle of a sentence he changed “how many jobs were saved or created” to “how many jobs he (Obama) saved or created.” One has a mysterious force saving or creating the jobs. The other ties it all back to Obama. It sounds minor, but it packs a powerful rhetorical punch.
  • Painting a Picture:  Whether you agree with the sentiment or not, when he changed “anybody who makes $3 million or more will get a $250,000 tax cut” to “anybody who makes $3 million or more will see their tax bills go down $250,000” he made the issue real. The second sentence paints a picture, right?  You might not like an image of the ultra-rich chortling over their extra income – but it’s an image.
  • Inclusive: Great speakers don’t talk to an audience: they talk to compatriots.  They leave the audience feeling that “we’re all in this (whatever this is) together.”  But you can go overboard with that approach and appear disingenuous or not serious. Clinton struck the right balance by very strategically changing some of the references in his written draft from “the President” to “our President” or from “the country” to “our nation” – but not all of them.
  • Facts and Figures:  Clinton has often been praised for his ability to recall relevant facts and figures from the recesses of his brain at a moment’s notice.  He did just that during his speech, and in the most remarkable ways.  For example, he wrote: “well, since 1961 the Republicans have held the White House 28 years.” He said “well, since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years.” Think about how that sentence moves beyond amazing math skills and toward, again, painting a picture. It’s hard to relate to “1961.” The very subtle addition of “for 52 years now” makes all the difference.  

This all sounds simple, but do you know how hard it is to say one thing while reading something different on a teleprompter? And to know, instinctively, when it’s better to say “our” President in order to create a more inclusive feeling, versus “President Obama” for a more formal feeling? And to subtract 2013 (the start of the next term) from 1961 and get “52” – in mid-sentence?

Finally, great speakers know how to make each person in the audience feel as though the speech was for them alone. I think that’s in part because they really think about what the audience wants and needs from the presentation, as opposed to just saying what they want to say. Clinton excels at that.

Again, I’m not sure all these are skills one can learn, but I’m sure going to try.

What the Huffington Post Didn’t Publish About the Elections and Influence

OK, that title is a little salacious (word of the day!) but it’s true. The slide show below was pitched to HuffPo and they didn’t run it, so now you get to see it direct from the guru herself. The main message here is to not hate on the elections — they CAN be useful, I promise.

Yeah, I know you’re skeptical, so here are 8 tips for what we can learn from the campaigns for our own influence situations, with pretty pictures as well!  (BTW, super excited I figured out how to do this slide thing — if you want to know how to do it, just comment and I’ll let you know).


Influence Lessons from Hurricanes: Organization, Pressure and Timing

For reasons I don’t completely understand, I decided to vacation in Key West this weekend – right in the middle of tropical storm Isaac.  Well, actually, I do understand why I came. I wanted to go scuba diving, which has not happened. Of course, I feel bad complaining about how my vacation has been ruined when I see where Isaac is heading. All our thoughts should be going out to the people of the Gulf Coast.

But naturally, as I’ve sat here locked in my hotel room eating well-preserved food, I’ve been thinking to myself “do hurricanes have any lessons to teach us about effective influence?” Based on my hours of watching the Weather Channel the last few days, I can see a few skills that hurricanes and powerful persuaders share, including:

  • Organization:  Tropical storms become hurricanes only after “organizing.” Before that, every storm is just a big old hot mess (literally). While I’m not sure that Isaac has been “trying” to organize (it’s a meteorological phenomenon people: it’s not “trying” to do anything) it is true that a storm with a focused center packs a powerful punch. You need the same focus for your own influence effort.  What is your S.M.A.R.T. goal? Who do you need to approach? Who is influential with that audience? What information do you need to influence them? What messages will resonate? How will you follow-up?
  • Pressure: As air pressure decreases (as measured by a barometer), the likelihood of a tropical storm turning into a hurricane increases. In other words, the lower the pressure, the higher the potential impact.  This might seem counterintuitive to an influence situation, but think about it in your own life. For example, do you tend to prefer the high or low pressure sales approach? As with hurricanes, decreasing the pressure as you get closer to the decision increases potency.
  • Timing: Isaac traveled at a relatively fast 20+ miles per hour over the Caribbean. When entering the Gulf of Mexico it slowed to between 10 and 12 miles per hour. As the storm slows it strengthens. In your own influence situation you should ask yourself “if I slow down, will my argument become more powerful?” Being the right person with the right solution is important. Being the right person with the right solution at the right time is essential.

All this isn’t to say that it’s impossible to be influential in a fast-paced, high pressure and chaotic environment.  That’s certainly an influence game that everyone in Washington, D.C. must play to overcome Congress’ bias toward inertia. But many other “outside the beltway” situations (sales, negotiations, getting a job, persuading a spouse) might benefit from a more nuanced approach.

For now, let me just say to Isaac that everyone hopes you’ll be a little more like Congress and a little less like an entity that can get something done. I know I’m anthropomorphizing just like the meteorologists, but who knows?  It might help.