Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Five Business Lessons I've Learned from Reality TV!

Reality TV has been the bane of existence for most actors and television writers since it first infiltrated prime-time television. And since I have spent 30-plus years as a professional actor and 15-plus as a TV/film writer I should rightly resent the onslaught of reality TV for taking away job opportunities from people like me. BUT,… I have to confess. I love watching shows like American Idol, Next Food Network Star, So You Think You can Dance, Project Runway and The Voice, because the communication trainer and coach part of me learns so much from them!  

Those shows illustrate, support and re-enforce so many of the things that I teach, train and write about. And for entrepreneurs and business owners,I'd like to point out some important lessons these competition shows can teach us.

First, let me point out the similarities as I see them. In the very early phase of your business, you probably had to win over a friend, a family member or an investor and convince them of the validity of your product or service. That would be like the initial auditions reality contestants have to go through. In the next phase of your business, you may have to sell your concept to a larger investor, partner, bank, and of course your prospects & customers. In this phase you need to show not only that you have a good concept, but that that concept can make a larger group of people happy and profitable. That’s like the phase where the reality contestants have to impress the larger TV voting audience (and the show’s producers) that they have what it takes to impress, entertain and encourage audiences to tune in.  Then, as time goes by, you, like the reality contestants, have to prove that you are not a one trick pony, that you have “Star Power” and will be able to sustain the audiences/clients interest week after week, month after month, year after year. How DO they do it??

Here are FIVE business lessons I've learned from watching reality television that might help catapult YOUR business to super-stardom.

1) It’s not just about how great you or your business are:
In most of these shows, talent is rarely the issue. Unlike in the early years of American Idol, most of the contestants are immensely talented. Just like most entrepreneurs and business owners have really interesting products and services. What these show’s continually illustrate is that likeability, relate-ability and passion are often much more important than talent.  

In my new book Standing Ovation Presentations, I identify nine different communication styles which I have dubbed ActorTypes. The nine ActorTypes” - based on 9 character types you see every day in movies and on TV, are the Hero, Villain, Super Hero, Ingénue, Sex Symbol/Super Model, Comic, Whiz Kid/Nerd, &  Curmudgeon. (Take my ActorType quiz and find out what YOU are) 

On a past season of The Voice, one of the contestants was a tried and true Whiz Kid. She was nerdy, wore glasses, was not conventionally attractive, had a distinct way of moving and dressing yet had an incredible voice. She clearly and easily became a judge and audience favorite because she was talented, likeable AND passionate about what she stood for - giving a voice to the underdogs. She made all the underdogs in the world feel like they were enough. What does your company make people feel? 

2) Be unique but authentic:
We've all seen the wacky folks at tryouts who do everything and anything for their 15 seconds of fame. In the above example: simply DRESSING or acting like a nerd would not have been successful if it wasn't coming from an authentic place.There are branding and marketing “experts” who will try to sell you outrageously creative ways to brand and market yourself or your business. Some of them might be genius and you might indeed catch the public’s attention. But if those branding and marketing ideas are not consistent with the values that you and/or your business & brand represent, those creative marketing tricks will not create loyal fans and will not move you forward in the competition.

In fact, I recently received a snail-mailed box of "stuff" from an entrepreneur whom I did not know. It was an invitation to help her launch her new book. At least I think that's what it was because I have not read the whole thing. (my son enjoyed some of the edibles included) It was a very expensive and gutsy marketing campaign, I admit, but not knowing the person, I don't know that it was effective. For me it was not. I was curious how they had gotten my home address, why I was selected to receive it. And the insert was very text heavy so I did not care to take the time to read it all. Furthermore, the campaign did not seem to be consistent with the photo of the person sending it!

3) Take risks but don’t confuse us:
It’s great when the country artist nails an R&B tune. Judges and audiences love that. But when a contestant sings, designs, cooks a different style every week, they will inevitably get this feedback; “We don’t know what kind of (fill in the blank) you want to be.” or “We don’t feel like YOU know what type of (Fill in the blank) you are.” The same thing happens when businesses start rolling out services or products that might be interesting in and of themselves but may not align with the company’s mission. Offering a product or a service that does not match your company’s style will feel inauthentic and may therefore confuse your customers and fail to take off. Think Dell’s attempt to roll out fun MP3 players or Volkswagen's attempt at a luxury car.

4) Express your passion & share your story:
Another related comment reality show judges give is, “I don’t see YOU in this” or “I don’t feel your passion…”  Whether it’s the type of food being prepared, the song choice, the design created, or the delivery style, if the contestant is not somehow baring a piece of their soul and expressing their truth, the judges and the audiences have a hard time connecting, engaging and voting for them. 

On a recent episode of Food Network Star, one of the contestants let it slip that he had overcome a substance abuse problem. That information, instantly gave the judges a different perspective. They got to see a tiny window into his soul which made everything else make sense. And the chef himself, I’m sure, felt more at ease because he no longer felt he had something to hide. Is there something about you or the origins of your business that you’re still hiding or that you don’t think is relevant? I’m NOT suggesting you air out all your dirty laundry but sometimes sharing a deeply personal story is the one thing that will endear you to your customers and create raving fans. I can’t tell you how many times I've sat with a client and had to take out my proverbial shovel and dig, and dig and dig until I've uncovered a golden nugget of a story that we were able to mold into fabulous sales pitches, conversation starters and presentation topics. But without that story, they would be just another... (Fill in the blank)

5) Don’t allow feedback to sway you. You don’t have to come in first to win!
As business owners, it’s easy to get discouraged. There are so many businesses out there and so much information vying for everyone's attention. It’s easy to start comparing yourself with other businesses or business owners who seem to have “won” and cornered the market.  But don’t get swayed by competition and or negative feedback.  Looking back at the history of many competition shows, you will find that the person or act that eventually won the big prize, is not always the same person or act that went on to become the most successful or well-known. In fact, some folks who got harsh criticism and were sent home early, have gone on to shine the brightest – think Jennifer Hudson. There’s room at the top for all of us if we keep on our own authentic path.

There are many other business lessons to be learned from competition shows: How to learn the difference between confidence and arrogance; How to work through fear and shine under pressure; How not to slack off even when you think you’re at the top. So, even though my husband and son make fun of me for watching; and some of my friends are SHOCKED when I confess my guilty pleasure, I insist that I’m doing it for educational reasons! (okay… so it is a tiny bit of a guilty pleasure) But I’m learning a LOT! So sit back, grab some snacks, pick up the remote and let me know what you think.

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