Friday, February 11, 2011

Are You Speaking Up With The Times?

You'll be missed Coach!
Jerry Sloan resigned yesterday, after spending 23 years coaching the Utah Jazz in the National Basketball Association. He was the longest-tenured coach in the four major professional sports, and nearly 40 current NBA  players weren't even born yet when he took over the team from Coach Frank Layden.

Let it be known I'm a huge Utah Jazz fan - before I moved to Utah and since, and I'm an even bigger Jerry Sloan fan. He's old-school. Believes in hard work, precise execution, discipline - all things that don't typically describe the typical NBA player today. All things that don't describe the typical student, businessperson, or even certain speakers today, either.

While there are many factors that play into Coach's resignation, his Messaging is central to all of them. While anyone who lasts as long as he has in a sport that has seen 240-plus coaching changes during his career at Utah must show some flexibility in Messaging, ultimately he was only willing to alter his ways so far.

In any industry, the young players of today tire of the messages from champions of yesteryear. Few coaches, CEO's, or leaders of any kind can last much longer than two generations, much less 3 or more. Even those that do will switch teams, companies, or expertises along the way.

As speakers we have a responsibility to our audiences and our own career viability to Speak Up With the Times - to make sure our message continues to ring true each time we give it. While those we speak to are likely more diverse than today's NBA athlete, they can still tire of the same messages from bosses, advisors, consultants and speakers.

Of course, just because a message is often given over and over through the years is no reason to toss it out the window. To the contrary, usually its the best messages that persevere throughout time. Coach Sloan's message works, year after year. He just got tired of having to adjust his messaging for each new group of hotshot young charges coming into his care.

How are you staying current? Are you still telling the same stories you did last year? Five years ago? Ten? Let's take a look at ways you can stay current, and not let the company's new superstar point guard send you to an untimely retirement:

1. Record Your Speeches...and Listen to Them. The first part means nothing without the second part. What examples are you using? Which adjectives do you favor? Are you still using exclamations you heard from Marcia Brady or The Cosby Show? Are you still using Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods as your example of excellence? Time to read the news, watch a little bit of American Idol and Jersey Shore, and raise your game. OK, I'm kidding about Jersey Shore. Mostly.

2. Check Your Wardrobe. While there are certainly some classic styles, certainly for men, it never hurts to take a hard look at retiring that tie from 10 years ago, and altering the cut of your suit. Ladies, you're usually so much more fashion conscious than us poor XY folk - so take pity on a male speaker and help them find a new look even as you make sure you're not still wearing powersuits and using hairspray by the barrel.

3. Update Your Technology. Not that I recommend PowerPoint, far from it. But if you are using it, make sure you are using it well. Consider looking at Prezi and seeing what the future may bring for multimedia. How you handle tech in your audience needs an update as well. People will be texting and tweeting no matter where you are - it's the new notetaking. Find ways to use it to connect with your audience, such as creating a backchannel, instead of letting them disconnect from you.

4. Update You. It's easy to get caught up in a zone of what works. To go out and do what we do without keeping up with the world around us. Change is rampant in today's world, and we now have more ways to keep up than ever before. Don't let the next change of regime pass you by - because your audience is keeping up, whether you are or not. Probably in the middle of your speech.

We can all hope to have long and lush careers, whether our heroes are Jerry Sloan or Zig Ziglar. Timeless truth is just that. Today's audiences still need the wisdom of the ages. They just need the Messaging to be their age, not aging. Speak Up to the Times and you will Speak....& Deliver!

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