A close friend and mentor of mine once told me his key to successful public speaking: “The trick isn’t in finding a new topic; the trick is to find a new audience.” I’ve put that advice to use on a few occasions, and when the topic is search I’ve developed a good, repeatable story. I’m comfortable with the subject matter, which allows me to be confident in the delivery.
But as good as this advice is in the short term, it clearly isn’t viable forever. Things change, and new subjects become popular as the interest level in familiar ones diminishes. Focus on any one subject long enough, and you’re assured that something fundamental will change (unless your subject is history).
It’s also easy to find yourself in a rut, stuck in routine. Without external pressure to learn something new or sharpen an existing skill, it can be difficult to force a break from monotony. But across dynamic industries like search marketing, practitioners are required to continually challenge themselves to adapt to new realities. This is where the concept of “stretching” is best applied.
What is stretching?
Executive coach Tony Robbins teaches the practice of stretching to his clients. Essentially, it’s the practice of “stretching” a person’s perceptions of what they can and cannot accomplish. Robbins has his clients walk across hot coals to help them understand that they are capable of more than they previously thought.
A key element to Robbins’ version of stretching is in making a public proclamation about what you intend to accomplish. Tell your colleagues that you will write a book. Tell your friends that you will go skydiving. Tell your spouse that you will build a deck onto the house. Whatever you always hoped to one day accomplish, tell someone you will do it. It creates social pressure to successfully follow through.
My current stretching exercise
We have all experienced moments of procrastination in our lives, delaying a project until the absolute last minute. And when we finally got around to completing the project, it would typically turn out well. You’d wonder, “Why couldn’t I have done that weeks ago?” The answer is that we tend to excel when our hand is forced. Making a public proclamation is a way to force our own hand.
My latest attempt at stretching culminates next week at Digital Pharma West in San Francisco, where I’m speaking on the topic of social media intelligence mining. I’m nervous. This is uncharted territory for me. I could come across as a naïve dolt if I’m not buttoned up in my preparations.
This is especially nerve-wracking for me because: 1) I’ve never spoken on this topic before; 2) I’m still new to the field of pharmaceuticals marketing. Certainly I have a POV to share, but the newness of the topic and audience gives me pause. But by agreeing to speak at this show, and on this topic, I’ve committed myself to an experience that will surely stretch my skill set.
Encourage others to follow suit
While I don’t have a lot of insight into other industries, I can’t imagine there are many that reinvent themselves as frequently as ours does. The pace of change in search creates unique challenges to those who aspire to be at the cutting edge. I recently connected with a colleague who told me he allows his staff two hours per day, while on the clock, to do nothing but read the latest news! That’s a hefty investment to make to be sure the team is in tune with industry trends.
I couldn’t help but think that a better approach (or perhaps a supplementary one) would be to encourage those same employees to do more than read and share tactical updates with one another. Have them put their insights and experiences to use by identifying opportunities for them to stretch the limits of their skills. Have them commit to contributing to the corporate blog, lead a lunch-and-learn, speak at a conference -- whatever.
As important and rewarding as self-stretching can be, fostering an environment where others understand that the practice is expected can be equally rewarding.