In this final blog post of 2019, I would like to share with you nine of the lessons I have learnt over the past year, during which I have worked in seven countries with clients ranging from small startups to renowned educational institutions, global conglomerates and international corporations.
- PREPARATION IS PARAMOUNT
Praktiker Hellas and the 2nd Reflect Technological Conference were amongst my first assignments of the year. Accepting an invitation to be a keynote speaker for both was easy. Ensuring that I made an impact in both was not. Why? Because, I didn’t know much about Praktiker and addressing the more than 1,000 delegates at Reflect, who were there to hear about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the future relationship between man and machine, was not an easy task for someone who was not that well versed with AI. Without hesitation, I flew to Greece to visit several Praktiker stores as well as those of its biggest competitors. The insights, particularly those surrounding customer experience, were invaluable to my analysis. In the case of Reflect, I flew much farther and found myself 11,586 kilometres away at the Singularity University in Silicon Valley. There, I was able to immerse myself in the tech industry. Three months later, my keynote address was voted the best of the entire conference.
Lesson: Be ‘educated’ yourself before you attempt to educate your audience. If this means jumping on a plane, then do it. You might incur a temporary expense but you will increase the value you deliver to your audience. Your level of understanding of any topic will determine whether you are seen as an ignorant poser or an informed insider.
- EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
March was one of the most challenging months of my professional life. I had been invited to speak at Google as part of its “Talks at Google” series. Everything was going fine until, about halfway through my talk, the cameraman who was recording me suddenly collapsed. He fell to the ground as if he had been shot at close range. I had never experienced anything like this before and I anxiously waited for 15-20 minutes for the man to regain consciousness and be rushed to the hospital. I must admit that the incident knocked me off my stride.
Lesson: Life is always throwing unexpected challenges at us. Try to keep the saying “expect the unexpected” in the back of your mind. In this way, when something goes wrong, you will be flexible enough to adapt and improvise.
- KNOW YOUR OWN MESSAGE
We all make mistakes sometimes and, in April, I made not one but two. The first was to seek the opinion of far too many people about the best way to structure an address that I was due to deliver to an audience of 500 in Tallinn, Estonia. I then compounded the error by attempting to accommodate every differing view and idea that I had been offered. As you might expect, this not only confused my thinking process but my audience too. I was, regrettably, much less than 100% satisfied with my performance at this event.
Lesson: Eliciting the opinions of others is wise but you alone are responsible for the ultimate message you pass on to an audience. As the architect of your success, you need to be clear about what you believe and what you are saying.
- ROME WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY
May was the month during which Michalis Solomontos and I launched “Stand Up, Stand Out”, the first Michael R. Virardi online course for people wishing to learn or improve public speaking and presentation skills. In what turned out to be an excellent example of teamwork, we invested over eight months in preparation and brainstorming. This was followed by another month spent rehearsing and testing the course’s content before releasing it to the world. Michalis’ input proved beyond essential.
Lesson: Your attempts at anything worthwhile won’t bear fruit in a day. My online course was actually the result of 15 years of non-stop education and experience of public speaking. You need to be patient and, above all, keep going and never stop until your efforts bring a result with which you are completely satisfied.
- TAKE TIME TO REFLECT
In June I found myself in London working towards obtaining accreditation in the use of the Enneagram psychometric test. This test enables us to identify our personality type within a system of nine (‘ennea’ in Greek) different aspects of human consciousness. It allows us to understand our natural gifts and limitations. The accreditation process came with some revelations. The biggest one for me was finding that I am more oriented towards action than reflection. The advice I received from the experts was that I needed to invest more time in reflecting.
Lesson: If you don’t take time to reflect, you will probably carry on doing things as you have always done them. Evaluate all your experiences, especially those that lead to the greatest learning.
- KNOW WHEN TO SLOW DOWN
The great Robin Sharma recently said that “Elite performance without regeneration and refuelling leads to depletion.” He explained that, like life itself, productivity and creativity are a series of seasons. If you spend winter and spring doing nothing but working, producing, creating and giving, by the time summer arrives you’re going to be depleted, suffering from exhaustion and unable to do your best work. So, regeneration cycles are not a luxury but a necessity. We all need time to slow down, relax and recharge our productive and creative batteries.
Lesson: It’s often said rest is Nature’s best medicine. Don’t feel guilty about taking time off work, switching off your smart devices and enjoying some rest. Sometimes it’s essential to slow down for a while.
- FASTING MAKES YOU FASTER
In my calendar, September is the busiest month of the year and so it’s the time when I really need to stay in top form. One way that I have discovered to maintain my fitness, clarity of thought and well-being is through ‘16/8 Intermittent Fasting’. It involves restricting my eating to an 8-hour window and fasting for the remaining 16 hours. While promoted as an effective weight-loss method, I have come to see it not so much as a diet but more as a lifestyle choice. It positively affects the way I conduct my business. It’s also an amazing form of discipline training.
Lesson: Companies, like people, need to be lean and agile if they are to survive and thrive. If you want to feel that you are constantly in tip-top condition, fasting may help you do things faster… and better.
- PRIORITIZE (AND REVIEW!)
Those of you who have been following my work for some time know what the 7x7x7 rule is all about: It is a commitment to respond to any query or request within 7 seconds. Or, where such an instant response is impossible, within 7 minutes. Finally, if I have no e-mail access for some reason, within 7 hours. This past few years, as my work took me and my reputation beyond the borders of my small homeland, the deluge of e-mails and messages requiring my attention became unmanageable. I had to rethink my commitment to the 7x7x7 rule!
Lesson: Time is precious. We should spend as much of it as possible with family and close friends. We also need time to achieve our own goals. What’s left can be invested in helping others. Prioritize.
- RAISE YOUR VALUE BEFORE YOUR PRICE
Two of the best-known sayings in the world have totally opposite meanings:
“There are some things that money can’t buy” and “Everything has a price.”
Your goal should be to convince your clients that they are getting the best possible value, which would be unavailable without you. The second task is to convince them to pay for the privilege. People can always challenge you on your price or fee but you can make it impossible for them to challenge you on the value that you bring to the table. Before you raise your price, make sure you raise your value too.
Lesson: If you stay at the top of your game, by enhancing your products and enriching your knowledge, you will always be able to offer greater value than your competitors. Most importantly, people will gladly pay you for it.
2019 is ending but we can always carry lessons into a new year. If this year was good, make the next one even better. If this year was bad, reflect on why, and make changes in 2020. Think positively and don’t stop learning. Happy New Year and thank you for all your support and loyalty, it means a lot!