Reality Check for Meetings

By Barry Maher

Recently, I spoke at an awards dinner for a class of sales trainees. The corporate trainer introduced me as, “a special treat—a motivational dynamo.” What the trainees didn’t know was that, as part of that special treat, they were about to discover that the products they’d have to sell were the most expensive in the marketplace—by far. Prior trainees had been left to make that discovery on their own, once out in the field. That hadn’t worked. So the training director had asked me to “see if you can slip them this little fact of life buried in a hail of purple whale manure.” Then he’d handed me several formulas for proving that more money is really less money: none completely accurate; all vaguely reminiscent of medieval arguments on the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

Seeing a disaster in the making, I suggested a different strategy. Fortunately, the powers-that-be agreed. Instead of clouding the issue, I hit it head on.

“When you get out in the field you going to hear about a lot about your company’s prices,” I said. “In fact, you may have already heard something about them. Are your prices more expensive than the competition’s? Absolutely. Much more expensive! But do you really think your competition would charge less if they could charge more? They’re not humanitarians. They want to make as large a profit as possible, just like anyone else. They charge less because that’s all they can get anybody to pay. You people charge more because you can charge more: because your clients are not just willing but happy to pay more for the results your products deliver. Now let me tell you exactly why they’re so willing . . .”

We all know that you can motivate people for the short term by pumping them up with illusion and wishful thinking, by sugarcoating the facts, even by out-and-out lying. We’ve all seen it done; we’ve all had it done to us. But if you want to your meetings to stimulate change and effect long-term behavior–to get your people where they want to be, to get the organization where it needs to be, to have a financial impact and improve the bottom line—you’d better start by dealing with reality. Bury potential negatives in a hail of purple whale manure and “whale manure” is what they’ll be saying about your meeting.

Reality Checklist

  1. What are the negatives surrounding this meeting, topics you might be tempted to hide, topics everyone will be thinking about—and the chronic complainers will be grumbling about—whether or not they’re ever mentioned out loud?
  2. Understand the potential downside of those negatives: to your attendees, your organization and to any others involved.
  3. Understand the potential positives that surround those negatives: for the organization, for your attendees, for everyone involved.
  4. Isolate the What’s in It for Them for each of the Thems you need to reach. Take care of the What’s In it for Them, and the what’s in it for you—and the company—will take care of itself.
  5. Marshall your best possible case, then imagine yourself presenting that case to the group. Imagine there’s unlimited Q&A with the biggest complainer in the company taking the lead.
  6. Are you, yourself, really sold? If not, don’t expect that you or anyone else will be able to sell the group.
  7. If you’re not sold, what would it take—what can you or the company do—to make the case more saleable? If it can reasonably be done, do it.
  8. If it can’t be done, deal with the reality, frankly and honestly, explaining why it is the reality and why it’s in the best interest of the company—and therefore ultimately in the best interest of each employee.
  9. Never forget that truth is the ultimate sales trick. And the ultimate motivator.

Adapted from Filling the Glass: The Skeptic’s Guide to Positive Thinking in Business by Barry Maher (Dearborn 2001).

© Copyright 2013, 2006, Barry Maher & Associates, Las Vegas, Nevada

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