How to Stop the BS and Get Started

Updated to Speaking on June 16, 2023.

My audience was financial planners. Not any financial planners – these were the gold star, top performers in their region. They walked on water. 

I had been invited to speak about goal setting at their upcoming conference. And I had a problem.

How do you get a room full of successful, award-winning, high-achievers to agree that better was possible?

We’ve all experienced tone-deaf sale pitches (webinars, YouTube, keynote speeches, sales calls) that start with a solution, and hope it matches your needs. In my case, it might sound like “Hey, I know you make millions of dollars and drive a new Porsche, but, you know…you could be doing better!”

That’s like a restaurant chef cooking everything on the menu before the customer picks their meal. It’s an impressive presentation, but 95% won’t get eaten.

I needed to find their gap.

Find the gap

Before I present to any audience I try to discover the gap between where they are (current reality) and where they want to be (future reality). “Always make the gap,” advises presentation expert Nancy Duarte “as big as possible.” (I explain the gap in this post A Better Way to Win More Sales)

My research for the upcoming event included confidential interview calls with some of the planners. On the calls, I discovered that some of their gaps were loud and obvious (“I need to get to the gym more often!”) while others were more subtle energy-sucking background noise (“I’m easily distracted and that pulls me off my game.”) 

My goal was to arm them with better skills and the confidence to help close their gaps. And because these are numbers people I decided to get their attention with a number.

On a scale from 1 to 5

On the day of the event, I kicked off my presentation by asking delegates to answer two simple questions. First, I had them write down their income goal for three years from now. Next, I asked the question I hoped would set the stage for the rest of our hour together.

“Based on what you know today, on a scale from 1 to 5 (where 5 is absolutely certain) how would you rate your chance of reaching that goal?

The room was silent. Slowly, one after another, pens started moving as each person wrote a single number on the hotel stationery. 

The average rating for my cream-of-the-crop, top performers was “3.”

I had their attention.

Getting to the gap

Since then I always start a presentation by having delegates rate their current performance. My goal isn’t to beat them up with bad news; my goal is to build them up, starting with a clear-eyed look at their current reality.

If you ask someone how’s it going, you get answers like “Oh, pretty good.” or “It’s going great, you?” That’s not helpful. When you get a measure of how things are going you have empirical evidence—a place to start. 

Knowing how many hours you sit in front of Netflix every night, or spend every month dining out is a lot better information than “Gee, it’s really not that much.” It’s the same thing with measuring your productivity, sales, exercise, finances, sleep, or time meditating. 

Better information leads to better results.

For most of my presentations, I use four metrics everyone can relate to:

  1. Planning (goal setting, following plans), 
  2. Performance (giving 100% while honoring work/life balance), 
  3. People (relationships), and 
  4. Personal (taking care of self) 

After a short preamble to explain my motivations, I ask delegates to rate themselves,  just as I did with the financial planners, on a scale from one to five. 

Next, I have them circle the metric they intuitively know needs their attention first. For example, improving planning skills (“Planning”) can lead to being more productive (“Performance”), etc. 

In five minutes we move from a theoretical conversation to a practical, problem-solving exercise. For the rest of our time together, the focus is on improving the single rating they circled. And it all started by zeroing in on a single number. 

Measure what matters

When my parents were raising our family of nine kids, I doubt they ever talked about exercise, meditation, gratitude journals, or whether they should go vegan or gluten-free. They were simply content and happy to get on with their day.

Today we are bombarded with advice (I guess like this blog) about diet, exercise, relationships, being happy, and how to age well. Everywhere you turn there is another book, podcast, documentary, or article promoting a better way to live life.

It’s all good stuff and it’s all more than one person needs. “If we try to focus on everything,” cautions, venture capitalist and Measure What Matters author, John Doerr, “we focus on nothing.” 

If you have a gap in life (health, happiness, money, work, sleep) put a number to it and start there. When you do a little better in one area of life, like dominos toppling over with the momentum of the one before, other good things happen.

If you got this far, you might also like these posts:

The Salesperson in You
A Better Way to Win More Sales
Death of a Public Speaker