Great advice for sellers or speakers

Great advice is universal. Whether you’re selling a product or an idea

I recently wrote about’s CEO Jeff Bezos and the empty chair he arranges at meetings, to symbolize the customer. While researching that post, I came across a broader story about customer-centric philosophies. While these may seem to be focused on sales, they apply equally well to communications.

For instance, when Groupon ousted its founder and CEO, Andrew Mason, he offered this advice in his final email:

“Have the courage to start with the customer….My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers.”

The folks who produced this analysis of Mason’s ouster found that statement “muddy” and “ambiguous.” But to me it’s crystal clear—and great advice: The customer must be central to every business decision you make. And to every communication you write.

Data may look all clean and scientific, but there’s always a bias somewhere. In fact, this article identifies seven common biases in data analysis, including (I’m paraphrasing) the surprise of finding exactly what you set out to look for: “How in the world did that happen?”

Let’s apply that to communications: Data may tell you what your audience wants to hear. Note that I wrote “may”—you have to weigh the data against the inherent biases in collecting and analyzing it. But with or without biases, the story your audience wants to hear may not be the story you’re comfortable telling. If you can’t tell that story authentically, then either send someone else to tell it, or find a different story.

What does the customer want?

The old adage says “the customer is always right”—but is that true? Customers may think they come to Amazon to buy things. But that’s not how Bezos sees it:

“We don’t make money when we sell things. We make money when we help customers make purchase decisions.”

What can speakers learn from Bezos?

Do you look at your speeches as opportunities to talk about your company or push your ideas into people’s brains? Stop that!

Speeches are not infomercials. And of course you’ll talk about your company or your ideas, or both—but weave those things into the larger story you’re telling.

Key words there: “larger story.” Find a theme that’s bigger and more profound than you or your organization. And then use that theme to convey information to your audience. You want them to think about what you’ve said, to integrate it into their own worldview.

Give up on the idea of selling something and your audience will buy into your vision.

  • speeches
  • storytelling
  • writing