Maybe you’ve heard. Tennis and Ping Pong had a baby – they named it “Pickleball.”
This game/sport is kind of a hybrid of the two, played with paddles, a wiffleball and a court with painted lines and a net strung across the middle.
I’ve been playing it for the last couple of months, something I never anticipated.
First, because I decided long ago that I would commit what little competitive testosterone I had left to playing basketball. But with that shut down for the foreseeable future, I was in search of a new, friend-based activity.
Second, because the name itself sent me running in the other direction. “Pickleball” doesn’t sound like a sport, let alone an inviting one; more like a formal dance at a farming cooperative.
And so, despite my friend Joe’s long-held enthusiasm for the game, whenever he brought it up, I pretty much wasn’t even listening. To rephrase that famous line from Jerry Maguire, you lost me at “pickleball.”
The Words You Use Matter
When it comes to generating interest in ourselves and our work, small professional service firms and solos are very much dependent on the words we choose.
Use them effectively and clients come your way. Use them poorly and, like a fun sport with a second-rate name, lots of people are going to walk right by.
These are the three big communication mistakes to watch out for:
Mistake #1. Your words are too complicated.
I get it. You want people to appreciate the breadth of your experience, the quality of your credentials, and the value that you bring.
And that’s fine – assuming you’re sitting across the table from a prospective client who just said, “Tell me about your work.”
In nearly every other circumstance, however, your goal isn’t to impress. It’s to be understood and remembered.
That’s because these (much more common) casual conversations – with a neighbor, brother-in-law, business colleague, parole officer, etc. – are primarily intended to plant a word of mouth seed.
These aren’t the people who hire you; these are the people who tell other people about you. And there are a lot of them.
But if your self-description is brimming with jargon and hundred-dollar words – “I’m a reptilian quadrant-based leadership-empowerment enabler,” nobody will understand (let alone remember) any of it long enough to pass the message to others.
Learn to explain what you do using simple, everyday words.
Mistake #2. Your words are too tentative.
Lately, my wife Linda and I have been watching the show Lenox Hill. It’s a documentary that follows the lives of four doctors in a New York City hospital.
Here’s what I’ve noticed: the surgeons, even when breaking the news to someone about a brain tumor or otherwise serious illness, do it in a way that always sounds reassuring. The message is clear: as bad as things are, you’re in the best possible hands.
Your clients, prospects and readers also want to believe that they are in the best possible hands. That means no hedging.
… saying/writing “I think” at the beginning of every sentence;
… taking a “middle of the road” stance on every controversial question in your field;
… biting your tongue instead of objecting when your client (who, by the way, knows not even one-tenth as much as you do about the subject matter for which you were hired) is about to do something that is clearly not in their best interest.
People want to work with experts. You need to start behaving like one.
Mistake #3. Your words are too boring.
It would be nice if all that mattered in standing out was your ability to share clear, accurate, useful information.
Of course, as long as we’re dreaming, it would be nice if left-handed bald men named Michael were revered as gods.
Neither is going to happen. For better or worse (probably worse) each of us has become a content publisher; all of us are overwhelmed with information.
In such a noisy, time-constrained environment, plain vanilla doesn’t cut it. Besides, I’ve met you – you’re not boring in person.
But when it comes to “important business communications,” your personality disappears and your words sleepwalk out the door with all the flair of a Supreme Court amicus brief (whatever that is).
Stop that. Your key differentiator as a small firm or solo is you. Start sprinkling in real words, personal stories and the occasional, enthusiastic bits of punctuation!!!
Humans respond to other humans.
Here’s the bottom line.
When you sell “air,” as we professional service providers do, words are all we’ve got. There’s no taking it for a test drive, tasting a few bites, or lacing up a pair and walking around the store to see how it feels.
People talk about and/or hire you based on their completely unscientific assumptions about what you have to offer, nearly all of which is derived from the words you use.
It’s not fair and it’s not logical. It’s called marketing.
See you at the dance formal.
- What do you think would be a better name for “pickleball?”
- Do you have any friends named “Joe?” Give examples.
- How do you describe the work you do?