Tuesday, 17 March 2015

To build a reputation as an expert you need some tasty bits of trivia

If you want to get ahead in business it usually pays to display the expertise that your position implies whenever you can, everywhere from the boardroom to the conference stage. Presentation skills can help to create such a reputation and there is a trick to conveying expertise and being remembered for it: find yourself some tasty bits of trivia.

The fact is that quantity and even quality of knowledge is not necessarily going to enhance your reputation. Selecting knowledge that creates insight is what you should probably be aiming for, but even that is not necessarily going to make you memorable. To get people going away remembering and re-telling your gems of wisdom you need to be counter-intuitive and come up with a few simple one-liners that you might even go home and tell to your loved ones.

Think in terms of the little stories Sir Michael Caine used to come up with in his many chat show appearances. He claims he never actually said: “Not a lot of people know that”, but it’s exactly the sort of thing he would have said following one of his little trivia stories, so the phrase was used by all the impressionists and became attached to his persona. Nowadays the concept is exploited by Steve Wright on Radio 2 with his ‘factoids’ feature and the long-running Qi TV series is built entirely around the concept of: “I heard something quite interesting about……”.  You know the sort of thing: Fleas can jump 350 times their own body length; elephants are the only animals that cannot jump; polar bears are left-handed.

So how do you make this work in business?  Reflecting on what you say about your work to friends and family is probably a good start. I was coaching a travel market analyst in presentation skills; he was from Georgia and his latest assignment was to become the expert on all things Russian within his firm. In the initial run through of his presentation he displayed a lot of graphs and statistics, which were all very sound but left little lasting impression. When we took a break for coffee I happened to mention something about the big global online brands such as Amazon, Google and YouTube.  He responded, saying: “We have all those brands in Russia, except they are rip offs. They work on the same model and at a glance they look the same, but they are all fake versions”. 

I suggested he should use this concept in his presentation and he struggled at first to understand why it was applicable. I replied that it was not directly applicable to selling travel in his region, but he should remember his personal agenda: to become the ‘expert on all things Russian’. Telling this story and showing some pictures will give his audience a little bit of trivia they will remember and take away with them to use as chit chat at home and down the pub, as well as around the office. He could justify a small deviation like this as creating context for the hard facts and figures that follow. The audience might not remember that data, but the trivia would make them remember him as the ‘go to’ person on everything Russian. As a final convincer, I asked him if he had seen Top Gear the previous Sunday; he said he had missed it, so we looked it up on the iPlayer. Clarkson and May were visiting China and they made a very entertaining and extremely memorable feature on the fact that Western car brands such as Mini, BMW and even Rolls Royce had all been copied by rip off replicas.

So stand back, look at the bigger picture and pick out a few elements from the lighter side. That’s what is most likely to get you remembered as the serious player in your field.

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