Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Power of Sound Bites

If you want to master the art of persuasion, you must master the art of the sound bite. Politicians do it. Advertisers do it. Motivational speakers do it. They understand to boil down their ideas into catchy phrases and use them as a form of shorthand to catch and keep their audiences’ attention. Speak all you want, but most of what you say will be forgotten. To say something that will be remembered and that will influence, find a way to reduce it to a sound bite. Think about the printed ads, television commercials and speeches that have stuck with you. I bet what you remember are the catch phrases. They hook you and reel you in.

So when you are pursuing clients and convincing them to go with you instead of the competition, you need to think through how you can serve their needs. How your company is different. Why it serves their best interest to go with you. Write down the answers to all these questions. Then think about reducing your answers to several themes - central ideas reflecting why prospective clients need you. Once you do this, reduce those themes to sounds bites - one or more catch phrases that reflect the essence of your company and its ideals - phrases that resonate and that will stick in the minds of your audience. Just a few words - the right ones - can make the difference between pitching and selling - between talking and closing.

Where do you come up with sound bites? They are all around you. They are in the articles you read, they are in the lyrics you listen to and they are in the movies and television shows you watch. Train yourself to look out for them and start incorporating them into your selling. You will discover that with them, your power of persuasion will improve significantly.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Vision Thing

If you want to succeed at work, in your family and in your community then you need to become a leader. In any organization, there are the followers – the ones who do as others tell them, who choose not to think for themselves and are content to take orders. Then there are the managers, who direct others on how to implement someone else’s idea. And then there are the leaders, the ones who as Stephen Covey puts it, "start with the end in mind" and devise a plan on how to get there. They have the "vision thing," as some call it – they think big picture, they see what others do not and are not afraid of the expanse of their dreams. They are the ones who help organizations take huge leaps forward. Most organizations lack the leadership that they crave and need. Fill that void, and you will transform your organization.

But how do you become a leader? You say you are not the managing partner of your law firm? How can you lead from the middle of the organization or even the bottom? A title is not a prerequisite to be a leader. You do not wait until you have advanced the ranks before becoming a leader. As John Maxwell says, leadership has nothing to do with your position –it has every thing to do with your attitude and your perception of who you are. Start thinking like a leader; start thinking about the bigger picture, and the "end in mind" and develop the "vision thing." And then have the nerve to present your ideas to your firm and put your back into it and put forth the effort to make those ideas into reality. No one is going to make you a leader. You cannot wait until you get a title to become one. You need to create the opportunities, think big and be willing to implement your dreams. Your position may only be "middle management," but others will soon start seeing you as a leader. And with time, your firm will reward you and your title will soon match your efforts. Your title will come to reflect your leadership.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

There was a time when other than speaking to a person face-to-face, the mainstay of communication was writing letters. There were no e-mails or instant messages or Myspace accounts. There were no computers or Blackberries or cell phones. There was just a quill, a bottle of ink and a piece of paper. And with these simple implements, relationships developed and flourished. It is how John and Abigail Adams held each other up during this country’s fight for independence. On March 31, 1776, Abigail wrote John, “I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for liberty cannot be equally strong in the breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow-creatures of theirs.” Who writes like this today? What has happened to our gift to move others with our words? If you recapture the lost art of letter writing, you will find you personal and business relationships blossom.

No one writes letters any more. So when someone receives a written letter in the mail, they cherish it. Those letters are often keep. Read again. Put away, only to pulled out to be read again. If you want to make an impression, buy yourself stationary - professional looking stationary with your name and address across the top of the page and on the corner of the envelope - and commit to writing at least one letter a week. Pick an old acquaintance or an executive you met at a networking event. Sit down at your desk, with your stationary and your letter writing pen (I would suggest to make the experience complete, go out and splurge on a nice pen that you only use to write letters), and draft a letter. The first few letters are difficult. With e-mails and word processing, it is hard not to second guess every word you put down on paper. It will take some time to learn to write letters. Some of you will find the experience too bothersome to even pick up. Others will throw down your pen in frustration and your stationary will collect dust in the bottom drawer of your desk. But for those of you who stick with it, writing letters will become a natural and regular part of your life. You will find that these letters will forge closer relationships with family and friends. You will also find that these letters will forge closer relationships with business prospects and clients. In short, the forgotten art of letter writing will be good for you and good for business.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Way of the Samurai

According to what one of the elders said, taking an enemy on the battlefield is like a hawk taking a bird. Even though it enters into the midst of a thousand of them, it gives no attention to any bird other than the one that is has first marked.

Hagakure - Yamamoto Tsunetomo

The Japanese Samurai led their lives by the Bushido code, or the "Way of the Warrior." Chosen at birth, their training began in infancy - instructed on how to bow, how to dress, how to address their masters, how to withstand cold without shivering, how to withstand pain without flinching. They were taught to use the sword as an extension of themselves. And they followed a specific etiquette in everything they did - whether in every day life or in war. Justice was supreme under their code. Crooked and unjust actions were beneath them. Honor and courage governed their deeds and words. Honesty and sincerity were valued more than their very lives. For the feudal Samurai, it was more than just a job - it was a way of life. It defined them. They would rather take their own lives (for which they carried a second, smaller sword) than betray themselves - betray the Way of the Samurai. There was honor in the Way, and disgrace outside of it. There was meaning in fighting for their towns and provinces and emptiness in choosing to simply stand by.

Today, we lawyers belong to a similar warrior class. Though we have hung up the swords and silenced the battle cries, there remains in us a warrior spirit. We carry the duty and the privilege to fight for our clients, and we do so according to our own code of ethics -our own Way of the Samurai. It is easy to forget this as we perform the day to day tasks of responding to discovery and preparing motions and writing confirmatory letters. It is easy to forget the privilege and obligation we have to provide our clients the best representation possible. Just as the Samurai defended their feudal lords, we stand in defense of our clients, with the proverbial sword at the ready.

There is great honor in what we do. We can derive pride and solace and meaning in our roles as modern day warriors. What we do is more than just a job or a career - it is a way of life. We cannot allow the drudgeries and the small tasks get in the way. They obscure our calling, the reason we became lawyers in the first place - to fight for our clients, to give them a voice, to defend their rights.

We can learn about ourselves from the warriors who came before us. We can appreciate that our profession, in giving a voice to our clients and ushering them through the civil justice system, is a noble one - where words have replaced swords and our professional code of ethics have replaced the Bushido code. We are modern day warriors, and to consider ourselves something less - ones who simply push paper or bill hours, is to cheapen ourselves, to lose sight of who we are, who we are called to be. Work can become unsatisfying if we focus on the mundane - defining our lives by the little tasks and bothersome obstacles. We are so much more than that.

It is time to recapture our warrior spirit. It is time to don the robe, sheath the sword in its scabbard and prepare for battle. It is time to reclaim the honor and the responsibility and the grace that comes with representing our clients, lending them our voices and standing before them, prepared to bring the sword down in all alacrity. We are the modern day Samurai. And we are prepared to do justice.