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Welcome to

The Standup Trainer Newsletter

August 2008

Brought to you by Ellen Dowling, PhD ("The Standup Trainer") and the fine folks of Dowling & Associates, Inc.



This newsletter is guaranteed certifiably useful as well as amusing. (If you are not completely satisfied, there are unsubscribe instructions at the end.)


In this issue: A Risky Presentation is its own Reward

I recently delivered a keynote address here in Albuquerque, New Mexico to about 240 administrative professionals from a national governmental agency. The title of my address was "Delivering Customer Service." (Yes, I know, I know, that is so NOT the world's most enticing title, but it's what I was given. Lemonade from lemons, and all that.)

When I was preparing my address, I mulled over several different ideas for how to make my one-hour-and-fifteen-minute presentation engaging and instructive. Should I do a sort of standup comedy routine about bad customer service? Surely there would be slews of scenarios for me to act out. Yeah, but I was to be presenting from 10:15 to 11:30 AM, so no real need to wake everyone up. Plus, that would mean that I would have to do ALL the work.

So maybe I should do a PowerPointed presentation on something like, "The 10 Rules of Good Customer Service"? Surely I could come up with 10 rules. But then, what could I devise that no one in the audience would have ever heard before? ("Rule No. 8: Always be prepared to write a check from your own bank account to make the customer happy"? Yeah, sure, no one's ever suggested THAT before.

Hmmmmm. And then I started thinking about the fact that EVERYONE IN THE WORLD recognizes good (or bad) customer service when they see it. And they all pretty much know what they have to do to deliver good service. It's really a matter of "wanna"or not. (Ellen's Law of Congeniality: It's always easy to communicate with someone you like, someone who likes you, or someone who IS like you.) Conversely, it's always difficult to have a meeting of the minds with someone you think is an idiot. (And nearly impossible if that person thinks you're an idiot, too.)

So I decided I would involve the audience in my presentation right from the get-go. After the standard survey question start ("It's great to be here. How many of you are from places other than New Mexico? Wow--lots of hands up. Well, welcome to the Land of Enchantment!" etc.), and a quick definition of the term "customer" (basically anyone you serve, whether your boss, coworkers, or general public requestors), I gave them their first group assignment:

My Worst Encounter (Ever!)

Directions: Think about the worst encounter with a customer (or client) that you have had in your professional career. This encounter should be an event that caused you a significant amount of stress at the time. It should also be an event that you either
1. Told EVERYONE about, because it was so stressful and unbelievable or
2. NEVER told anyone about, because it was so stressful and unbelievable (but now time has passed and you are able to speak about it).

Do not include real names, but do include specific details. Use your answers to the questions below to construct your story.

1. When (month/year/time of day) did this encounter take place? What was the weather like (if relevant)?
2. Where did this encounter take place? Describe the specific surroundings.
3. Who was involved in this encounter? Describe the person(s) you had to deal with. What did they look like? How big (or small)? What kind of "attitude" did they display? (You can even draw a picture of them here, if you wish.)
4. What actually happened?
5. How did you feel at the time of the encounter?
6. How do you feel now, x amount of time later?
7. If you could relive this encounter, would you do anything differently? If yes, what would you do?
8. What did you learn from this encounter? What advice would you give to anyone who finds themselves in this same situation?

I asked them to think about the assignment quietly, and then share the results with the others at their table. (There were about 10 people at each table, mostly women.) I walked around the room, noticing that there was at least one person flailing her arms about at each table, obviously relating a horror story to her enraptured listeners. "OK," I thought. "This just might work."

And then I did a very risky thing.

I asked if someone in the audience would raise her hand if she had heard a particularly horrifying story, and sure enough, this one woman's hand popped right up and she said, "Oh, yes! You've got to hear Kelly's story. It's amazing!" So I take the microphone over to her table and give it to Kelly, who proceeds to tell her story to the entire audience. (Kelly is a risk-taker, too.)

Here's the risk I took: I had decided before the presentation that I would use WHATEVER STORY CAME UP as a touchstone point for my entire presentation. I would refer to the story, and the storyteller, periodically throughout my presentation, asking such questions as, "And how do you think this technique would have helped Kelly deal with her abusive boss?"

So I had a lot riding on this opening exercise. What if the story was just a total bust? ("Well, I once didn't get my hamburger made exactly my way.") Or what if it were X-rated? ("Well, I was selling some 'marital aids' at Al's Adult Book Shoppe . . .") Gulp.

Ah, but I knew the odds would be in my favor. And sure enough, Kelly told a story that I could indeed use throughout my presentation, a strange tale of a very bizarrely abusive boss who liked to bounce his stress ball off his employees' foreheads to make a point. (After being bopped herself, Kelly gave her two weeks' notice.)

Best of all, the exercise absolutely energized the entire audience. And I didn't have to think up any scenarios of my own.

A few days ago, my brother Jon Dowling (Hearne Professor of Theoretical Physics and Co-director, Hearne Institute for Theoretical Physics at Louisiana State University) made a presentation to Department of Defense representatives in Hilton Head, So. Carolina. As my brother wrote,

"I enjoyed dueling with the competing quantum sensor teams while we jockey for a potential $5 Million Phase II grant from the Department of Defense."

Most popular was my slide showing our chief competitors (MIT and the Harris Corporation), as a giant Borg spacecraft taking on the tiny Star Ship Enterprise (LSU). I pointed out that even though the Enterprise was outnumbered and out gunned in that episode, they won the battle through bravery, creativity, and deception. Everybody including the MIT guys laughed and the Department of Defense guys all wanted a copy of my Star Trek slide.

Ellen, I always like pushing the boundaries. My fear was I would show the slide and nobody would laugh or smile. In order to succeed you have to sometime take risks."

Amen, Brother!

That's it for this month! If you enjoyed this newsletter please do pass it on to your friends. (Or send them to www.standuptrainer.com to get their own subscription. Why should YOU have to do everything for them?)

If you have a suggestion for something we could do to make this newsletter even MORE useful as well as amusing, please contact us:

Dowling & Associates, Inc.

Ellen Dowling, President

(505) 307-1700