Keeping Your Act Current


This weekend I'll be relaxing in one of my favorite vacation spots -- Las Vegas. (Well, maybe relaxing isn't the right word, since I usually need a rest when I get home!) If you've been to Sin City recently, you know that an entertainer named Danny Gans has become one of the hottest acts in town. The guy signed a $10 million-a-year deal to play at the Mirage. Now that's a good gig.

Gans is an extraordinary showman who easily transitions from dead-on impersonations of Sammy Davis to Al Pacino. He has range. But what sets him apart is an amazing ability to change his act based upon the reaction of his audience. Only the first few minutes of his performance are the same every night. The rest changes, so no two shows are ever repeated.

Gan reinvents himself nightly on a Vegas stage. In much the same way, great business leaders reinvent themselves when they communicate the message behind their service, product, company, or cause. I recall reading an article about Klaus Kleinfeld, president and CEO of Siemens (SI), an industrial giant. Ask him about popular music, and he can go on about the latest hip-hop star and the artist's contribution to the music scene. With a doctorate and MBA, Kleinfeld is equally at ease discussing the latest strategic management theories.

CONSTANTLY CHANGING. In a January, 2004, USA Today profile, a senior vice-president for marketing at Siemens offered his take on Kleinfeld as such: "I worked at GE (GE) with Jack Welch, and I worked in the Reagan Administration. I've never met a person who is as good a communicator as Klaus. It's a combination of his tremendous curiosity and his energy."

Curiosity is the key word. Kleinfeld's curiosity keeps him fresh and contemporary. Great business leaders are curious, always learning about the world around them and the world in which they do business. But they go one step further. They incorporate what they learn into their daily business communications -- infusing their presentations with fresh stories, strategies, ideas, and cultural references. They'll effortlessly weave references to pop culture with the latest management strategies and ideas. By doing so, they're much more engaging and interesting.

As a small-business professional, you should strive to keep your presentations topical to win over key audiences, including employees, colleagues, and customers. Financial guru Suze Orman once told me that when she was working as a planner in a small city near San Francisco, she would never use the same story twice with her clients. Financial markets are dynamic, always changing, as are conditions and case studies.

NEW AGE IDEAS. Venture capitalists have told me the most engaging presentations are topical. An investor for one of the world's largest VC firms once said entrepreneurs can grab his attention by teaching him something about an industry that he didn't know before. That starts by keeping your eyes open and being curious about the world around you.

Some people go to great lengths to stay current. Entrepreneur George Zimmer, who founded the Men's Wearhouse (MW) chain of clothing stores, keeps his brand fresh by seeking insight from nontraditional thinkers. In June, 2004, the company nominated spiritual guru Deepak Chopra to sit on its board. The Indian-born doctor turned new age master isn't exactly the kind of person you would associate with a men's apparel chain, but according to Zimmer, he's a "new paradigm" business thinker.

A CEO, Zimmer says, has to balance the interest of all stakeholders -- employees, customers, vendors, and the communities in which they do business. Zimmer stays fresh and current in a traditional industry.

FOLLOW MADONNA. Last year, I had the opportunity to interview Monster.com (MNST) founder Jeff Taylor, who said executives need to get out more. They may understand their company or product, but they struggle to show how it applies to our everyday lives.

"Become an expert in your industry, as well as your company or product," Taylor told me. "You have to be willing to change. A lot of people get known for one thing in their life. Like Henry Winkler getting stuck with Fonzi and never getting out of that character. Or Gary Coleman or William Shatner. Within your business, it's important to change and evolve, like Madonna."

Taylor always sought to reinvent himself and the company. He wasn't content to sit behind a computer in his office every day. "Be willing to change," he said. "But communicate those changes consistently."

UNDER CONSTRUCTION. In its 10-year history, Monster has continued to reinvent its slogan to reflect changes in what job seekers and employers seem to care about at a particular time. The taglines are meant to resonate with ever-changing career environments. Monster has changed its slogan no fewer than four times in the last decade, beginning with "There's a Better Job Out There." Other slogans include "Never Settle," "Declare Your Independence," and "Today's the Day."

Regardless of the slogan, the message is communicated consistently in all of Monster's marketing material and advertising -- print, TV and radio, or the Internet. Taylor kept his brand fresh by reinventing it virtually every two years. Although still an adviser to the company, he has moved on to other projects because he continues to discover new ways of reinventing industries in much the same way as Monster reinvented the way millions of people look for jobs.

Management guru Tom Peters once wrote, "The difference between great and average in any job...is having the imagination and zeal to recreate yourself daily." Reinvent yourself daily by staying fresh, current, and topical. You cannot afford less.

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