Negotiating with a Monopoly

In some of my negotiation workshops I teach eight techniques for negotiating with a monopoly. They all can work, but they’re not easy. If you’re a nine-to-fiver you won’t do it. Ditto if you’re complacent, unimaginative, or afraid to take on a boss that is complacent or unimaginative.

One of the techniques involves vertically integrating, or doing (or threatening to do) what your monopolist does, thereby creating competition where none previously existed. I point out that Elon Musk has done this several times at SpaceX. Originally, Musk planned to purchase decommissioned ICBMs from Russia. When they jerked him around on price, he decided to build his own rockets. When Alcoa demanded an excessive price for fabricating nose cones, Musk built his own. When a specialty valve manufacturer did the same, Musk did the same.

At this point someone in the class will invariably say “Sure, Elon Musk can do that, he’s a billionaire, he’s the CEO, etc. I can’t do that at my company.” Wrong on both counts!

First objection: Elon Musk isn’t able to do it because he’s a billionaire CEO. Musk is a billionaire CEO because he is able to do it. Big difference! It takes time, money, effort, determination, and other things that most people aren’t willing to put in.

Second objection: Maybe your job description does not grant you the authority to make that call. In that case, maybe your real job is to persuade your boss (or his boss, or her boss) that he or she needs to make that call. If your company doesn’t, someone else will.

Lots of bosses worked hard to get where they are (middle management!). They’re not interested in taking a chance on something beyond the pale. They can get in trouble for screwing up, but not for doing the same old same old! That’s dinosaur thinking, and we know what happened to them.

Disrupt or be disrupted.

Do It Yourselfie: If you name the game, you own it

It seems that every time I look in a newspaper I see a photo of some head of state taking a selfie with a group of people. In olden times – before the word “selfie” came into vogue – you would just ask a bystander to snap a photo of you. It was a simple request that was rarely refused. In fact, the photo taker was usually happy to do it, smiled when you asked him, and you smiled back and thanked him. It was a very minor social transaction, but at least it was social.

The prevalence of social media is throwing many social interactions under the bus. However, I don’t really believe it is a consequence of unsocial media that causes people to forgo asking someone to take a photo for them.

Even in the age of the selfie you can ask someone to take a photo for you. You don’t have to do it yourself. However, people want to take a selfie just because the word “selfie” exists. It is more than a word; it is a phenomenon. There is even a song about it. You can also buy a rod to attach to your phone, attach your phone to the rod, extend it away from you, take the photo, and then disconnect your phone from the rod. Wouldn’t it be easier to just ask someone to take the photo for you? Of course it would! Isn’t someone always available and willing to assist? Absolutely! So why do it yourself? Because it’s a selfie!

This is a bizarre example of the “name the game” principle. If you name the game, you own it. I say bizarre because we probably don’t know who coined the term selfie, but since the game has been named, game on!

There are plenty of examples where the namer of the game is known, and reaps the rewards of naming the game. When Alvin Toffler coined the term “Future Shock,” he became the undisputed expert on all things shockingly futuristic. He did it again with “The Third Wave.”

You don’t have to actually name the game, so long as people think you did, or associate your name with the game. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a bestseller called The Tipping Point, which essentially gave new life to the older concept of critical mass. Gladwell did not actually come up with the phrase tipping point, he just saw it laying around unused, picked it up, and took it home. Finders keepers. But everyone just knows he is Mr. Tipping Point, and he gets paid big bucks to address audiences on the tipping point phenomenon.

Perhaps you can come up with the next hot phrase. It could make you rich.

What’s in a Name?

I grew up in Miami, which bills itself as “The Magic City.” Neighboring Coral Gables proclaims itself “The City Beautiful.” Adjoining that is South Miami, whose motto is “The City of Pleasant Living.” This has me a bit puzzled. Pleasant living? Come on, is that the best you can do?

You can imagine a string of other towns of modest ambition:

Bakersville: A darn nice place to live.

Jonesville: An OK place to live.

Smithsville: Not the worst place you could be.

Clarksville: We’ve got the last train!

Butlersville: Now with electricity and plumbing!

There are two schools of thought when it comes to self promotion:

  1. You have to toot your own horn because no one will do it for you.
  2. If you have to toot your own horn it’s because no one else thinks it’s worth tooting.

As you have probably guessed, the ideal is somewhere in between. You have to present yourself at your best without overpromoting and sounding boorish. If you feel too humble, modest, or self-conscious to blast your horn at top volume, you can shine a light on what you make or do and let it reflect positively on you.

Steve Jobs always spoke glowingly of his products at Apple. He used superlatives such as revolutionary, amazing, breakthrough, and so on. We got the idea that he was making great stuff. And that he was a genius.

Jobs’ potential heir to the throne in the kingdom of innovative technology is Elon Musk, the driving force behind Tesla Motors, Solar City, and SpaceX. The technology he is creating will have a tremendous impact on the world. But you wouldn’t know it from listening to him. When introducing Tesla’s new Model X SUV (which you can see on Youtube) he used these words:

“something I think pretty special”

“there’s no other car like this”

“this is a product you’re gonna love”

and his closing line: “Alright, so, the Model X….”

At one point he even said “a little unwieldy.” With that kind of lukewarm self-endorsement he might as well live in Jonesville. Or Chernobyl – motto: We’ll be radiation-free in only 80 million years.

Maybe Musk is not yet comfortable in his role as world changing dynamo. Maybe he tries too hard to appear humble. He should watch some Steve Jobs videos and learn how to sell great stuff.

You also have some great stuff to sell. Don’t be so modest. Talk about the great stuff you do, and people will think great things about you.

The Magic Number is Three

A recent study provides ample evidence of something we’ve suspected all along: when offering reasons in an attempt to persuade, three reasons work best.

Researchers at Georgetown University and UCLA looked at six scenarios where reasons or claims were offered to persuade:

A breakfast cereal
An old friend reuniting with a former boyfriend
A restaurant
A new brand of shampoo
An ice cream shop
A politician

For each of these six scenarios, one, two, three, four, five, and six reasons were offered in support of the persuasion attempt.

The study concluded that when the audience suspects that persuasion is a motive (which is always the case with business audiences), persuasiveness peaks with three positive claims, and falls off with four or more claims. As the number of claims increases from one to three, targets find the additional information useful. But once you hit four, you trigger their skepticism and your persuasiveness diminishes significantly.

Lesson: Always offer three reasons in support of your proposal, idea, or argument. If you only have two, think of another. If you have four or more, cut the excess out. Three is the magic number.

See Kurt A. Carlson and Suzanne B. Shu, When Three Charms but Four Alarms: Identifying the Optimal Number of Claims in Persuasion Settings, at

What’s with all the hate?

A couple of recent news items provide interesting grist for the mill. Margaret Thatcher’s death has been met with a surprisingly large number of celebrations. I do not recall such outpourings of joy when her Yankee counterpart, Ronald Reagan, was sent off. Both were extremely divisive, so why the different treatments?

Reagan was called the Great Communicator – erroneously, I believe. He talked a lot of mush. But he was likeable and was able to connect with people extraordinarily well. Thatcher expressed herself better, but wasn’t that likeable.

The second item concerns actress Anne Hathaway and her legion of haters. People love to hate her, and the reason boils down to this: she seems too polished and fake.

It may seem harsh to hate someone for being cold and businesslike or phony and prissy, but the people have spoken. Warm, likeable, and authentic are where it’s at.

The Two Qualities Every Kickass Presenter Must Have

There have been several books written solely about Steve Jobs’ skill as a presenter. Jobs is widely acclaimed as the ‘gold standard’ of presenters. And he certainly was outstanding. But even Steve Jobs was only human, and he made mistakes and missed opportunities just like the rest of us. He also broke a lot of “rules”:

Conventional wisdom says you need to make good eye contact. Jobs didn’t. He looked as if he was in his own little world: Steve’s World. Fortunately for him, everyone wanted a peek into his magical world. No one cared that he wasn’t looking at them.

Conventional wisdom says you need to move with purpose. Jobs paced back and forth aimlessly. His audience sat enthralled anyway.

Conventional wisdom says you need to pause at appropriate points and have a smooth delivery. Jobs would take a swig of water in mid-sentence. His audience would wait for him to resume and not tune out.

So before you try to make yourself over as the next Steve Jobs there are a few things you should know.

You’re not Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was a celebrity. He could deliver presentations to thousands of people while dressed in jeans, a black T-shirt, and sneakers. He was only one of a handful of people who could pull that off. Mark Zuckerberg can do it. Richard Branson can do it in a dress. But even Donald Trump wears a suit when speaking to a large group, like most politicians and CEOs. You probably should, too.

Steve Jobs always had a friendly audience. Whether addressing an audience of Apple employees (friendly), a group of developers and techies at a product launch (friendly), or students at their university commencement (awestruck), Steve Jobs didn’t have to worry about hecklers or skeptics. His audiences were very receptive. You probably won’t be so lucky. Most of your audiences will be skeptical at best and hostile at worst. How unfair! But that’s business.

Steve Jobs missed opportunities. One was when he introduced the world’s thinnest notebook computer, the MacBook Air. Jobs, always the showman, took the sleek new product out of an interoffice mail envelope and unveiled to the world it for the first time. The only problem was the image projected behind him was of an interoffice envelope. That made the grand reveal somewhat anticlimactic – people saw it coming. I like to imagine what he could have done differently:

Imagine Jobs is about to introduce the MacBook Air. Suddenly, a man in a familiar brown deliveryman’s uniform wanders onto the stage and interrupts him.

Deliveryman: “Excuse me, I’m looking for Steve Jobs….”

Steve Jobs: Looks at audience in disbelief, as if there could be someone on the planet who doesn’t recognize him. Pregnant pause. “I’m Steve Jobs.”

Deliveryman: “OK, I need you to sign right here.”

Steve Jobs: “I’m in the middle of an important presentation, can’t this wait?”

Deliveryman: “No sir, it’s urgent – I have to deliver this right now.”

Steve Jobs: “Sigh. OK.” [signs for the envelope]

Deliveryman: “Thank you. Have a nice day.” [exits stage left]

Steve Jobs: [opens envelope] “Introducing the new MacBook Air.” [super-crazy applause]

This may seem like nitpicking, but Steve Jobs had a much more forgiving audience than most of us will have. We have a tougher time standing out and getting our message across.

Why is Jobs so good despite breaking so many rules? He’s a celebrity and an icon.

So how can you give a great presentation if you’re not an icon like Steve Jobs? Here’s the secret: passion and authenticity.

Passion is what excites the audience. Passion pushes our emotional buttons. Passion moves people. Being enthusiastic and dynamic, running about excitedly, shouting, gesticulating madly could be suggestive of passion, or lunacy, or trying to hard. But true passion comes through without the histrionics.

Steve Jobs doesn’t bounce off the walls, scream, or dislocate his shoulder with overdone gestures. But the passion is clearly there. It shows in his choice of words, his emphasis and tone, his commitment to his vision – he reeks of passion. When you love what you’re doing, it shows. He transfers his passion to the audience.

Authenticity means you are being true to yourself. Your audience wants to see the real you, and they can spot a phony. Authenticity is the highest form of credibility. It is more valuable than all the knowledge, experience, expertise, and authority in the world. If you are true, the audience will believe in you. Being an expert also helps, but that’s the bare minimum in business. Authenticity is more important – it connects you to your audience.

Competence and professionalism are expected of any business presenter – you don’t get extra points for having them. Confidence, presence, and polish are nice to have. But passion and authenticity are the two most critical qualities of a kickass presenter. Anything else is gravy.

Kickass Business Presentations is out

Why this book?

There are so many books about presentation skills out there, and over the years I’ve read scores of them. Most of them repeat the same nonsense:

Only 7% of your message comes from the words you use, and 93% comes from body language, tone of voice, and your appearance. Ridiculous! The study usually cited to support those numbers said nothing of the sort.

You need to locate your diaphragm and learn to breathe properly. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure your diaphragm is right where it belongs, and you don’t have to worry about your breathing. My guess is you’ve been breathing all your life, and you’ll get enough air whenever you speak.

You need to follow a bunch of rules that all good presenters follow, so that you will be a good presenter just like all the other good presenters. In other words: bland, boring, plain vanilla. You don’t want to be like every other good presenter – you want to stand out.

These books are all about style and polish. If you follow their advice you might do well in a Toastmasters competition. But a business audience is far more demanding. A business presentation is not a beauty contest, it’s about persuasion.

So I decided to write a different kind of book. One that focuses on understanding your audience and developing a clear message. Creating slides and other materials that do what they’re supposed to do. Using persuasion techniques to win your game. Giving you the delivery techniques that make a difference (not polish!).

If you’re content to be like everyone else and settle for average then any book will do. 

But if you want to knock it out of the park with your business presentations, then this is the book for you.

It’s also illustrated!

You can get it now at Coming soon to bookstores, Amazon, and ebook portals. 


Raise You Game 2013

Once again, Asia Professional Speakers – Singapore (APSS) is hosting its annual Raise Your Game event at the Holiday Inn Orchard Road on Thursday, February 21. The full day seminar will feature ten top speakers presenting on a variety of topics to help you achieve greater personal and professional success. I will be presenting “The XI Commandments of Negotiating” and will call on at least a dozen volunteers from the audience during my highly interactive session. Sign up now at

Every comma counts

I recently told a few people that I enjoyed a short vacation with the family in Hong Kong. They invariably asked me how I liked Hong Kong. Then I had to repeat myself very carefully: “I enjoyed a short vacation, comma, with the family in Hong Kong. The family went. I stayed home. That was my vacation!”

I was in Hong Kong two years ago, with the family. I saw no need to go back. For one thing, I don’t really like to see my air before I breathe it. I’m a trusting guy, and I trust that when I inhale I will get two lungs full of air every time. It hasn’t failed yet.

Here’s the beauty of my solo staycation: I did everything differently. I ate food I would not normally eat with my wife and daughter, I did no “work” but worked on a few projects not related to my usual routine, I took a different route on my morning walk, and I dabbled (and dribbled) with paints. It was as if I had a different life for three days. It was a creative and liberating experience. I highly recommend it.

The state of communication

My sister-in-law, Sally, is a big Groupon fan. She invited us to dinner on Saturday night at a trendy little restaurant in an area of trendy nightspots. This place had sofas and ottomans clustered around low coffee tables rather than traditional dining tables and chairs. It was more comfortable for casual conversation than formal dining. There were not that many other diners, and nearly all had printouts from Groupon with them, leading me to believe the restaurant was not doing well. Most of the other patrons were trendy young couples of well-groomed women and their male companions with carefully tended bedheads.

I mention this because as a married man with a young child I don’t get out to trendy places very often. The thing that struck me the most was that all of these trendy youngsters were more occupied with their electronic devices – phones and iPads – than with their dates. I was out of the dating game before I got my first mobile phone. But I never brought an Etch A Sketch with me on a date to play around with during dinner. On a positive note, some of the couples were engaged with the same device, rather than each going his or her own electronic way.

Sunday afternoon found me browsing YouTube (though I was not on a date). As usually happens with YouTube I ended up in an unexpected corner of cyberspace far astray from where I started. I found myself watching clips from the old TV series “What’s My Line.” In this show a panel of four celebrities are blindfolded and have to ask yes/no questions to try to guess the identity of a celebrity guest. Some of the mystery guests were star architect Frank Lloyd Wright, jazz great Louis Armstrong, comedian Jerry Lewis, basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, and hot babe Raquel Welch. I was struck by how well-dressed, articulate, and gracious all of these people were. It seemed like they were not only from another age, but from another planet! I wonder whether any of the bedheads sitting around the coffee tables had even heard of any of these famous people.

I am not going to say communication is dead. It is alive and well, but very different. Fifty years ago people communicated for depth, exploring a subject for several minutes or more at a time. Now it’s more about breadth, about how many apps we can experience in a short span of time. Conversation is superficial, as it must be in the few seconds devoted to it before the subject, channel, or medium changes.

We’re all products of our times, and times are changing faster and faster. Change will continue ever more rapidly, and that will not change. I can’t imagine what the next generation will be like. I just know they will adapt just fine, and they will leave the bedheads’ heads spinning.