Negotiating and Presentation Skill: “A Rose By Any Other Name…”

Tips for Sales and Media Presentations: “A Rose By Any Other Name…”  by Gene Griessman, Ph.D.

If it’s a rose, don’t call it a carnation. Call it by its correct name. You may write an elegant letter or make a dynamic presentation, but you are going to be embarrassed if you get the words and names wrong.

If it looks like a truck…A number of years ago when I was on the faculty of North Carolina State University, I was asked to teach a series of short courses for UPS, which had a training arrangement with the university. I knew my subject matter but did not bother to learn enough about the culture of the famous corporation that was paying me to teach their executives.

I assumed that the brown trucks that every American is familiar with are called trucks. Wrong. Just because it looks like a truck and sounds like a truck doesn’t mean that UPS people call it a truck. After my blunder, a senior executive took me aside and told me that they are called “cars” or “package vans” and the UPS tractor-trailers are called “feeders.”

Vocabulary building. What was the general principle in play in this situation? Distinctive cultures develop distinctive vocabularies. The original cause for using a particular word or phrase or terminology may be forgotten or there may be a legal reason or it may be because of custom and usage. Whatever the cause, you will quickly show that you are not an insider if you misuse or mispronounce the vocabulary.

As a professional speaker, I now do background research before the presentation. I will ask if there are words or concepts that are taboo. Knowledgeable insiders will tell me if there are land-mine words or phrases or expressions that I should not use. And to give a positive tone to this approach, I will ask if there are words, phrases, acronyms which will give me credibility with the audience. For example, if I’m doing a seminar or keynote for the hospitality industry, I will call customers “guests,” not customers.

If it’s a rose, you can re-name it. Roses can be called American Beauty or Wild Eve or Jubilee Celebration and a thousand other beautiful names. In other words, you can be creative and strategic.. That can help you persuade and sell.

Here’s what master-salesman Harvey MacKay says about the naming process: “Sometimes you can get what you want by calling it by another name. Let’s say your opponent does not ‘renegotiate’ contracts. Okay. What if we call it a ‘contract extension’? Your opponent says no to severance pay? Okay, it’s a ‘consulting contract.’ A potential employer does not want to hire you on a permanent basis? Okay, it’s an ‘internship.’ And you’ll work for nothing. They only have to pay you if they care to.” (“Pushing The Envelope All The Way To The Top,” p.107)

A rose that smelled sweetly at Georgia Tech. One of the greatest successes in my own career occurred when I re-named a rejected idea. At the time I was Director of National Media at Georgia Tech. The year was 1984, ninety-nine years after the school was founded.

I approached The New York Times about doing a story on Tech’s centennial. No way, they told me. The Times does not do centennial stories. Too many schools celebrate centennials for that to be a story.

A new idea came to me. I knew that Georgia Tech had been founded in order to train engineers, architects, and business leaders to rebuild the South in the hard years following the Civil War.

Approaching The Times again, I asked, “What about doing a story about the role Georgia Tech has played in building the New South?” They loved the idea, sent a writer and photographer to Atlanta, and published a big, illustrated feature story on the history of Georgia Tech. That article is thought to be the first major piece the paper had ever done on the school, other than sports stories.

When it appeared, congratulatory calls and letters from PR people at colleges and universities poured in from all over the nation. One publicity director told me that that particular story was worth millions in free publicity.

Success occurred because a rejected idea was given a new name. I re-named the rose. It would have been a mistake to call the rose a carnation, but it was not a mistake to give the rose an imaginative name.

Excerpted from “The Achievement Digest”  (TAD) with permission.
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