Friday, February 26, 2010

Play! Play! Play! Play!

Normally, when you think of the work that you do, playing is the last thing that comes to mind. Yet it is so imperative that you find some way of making your work fun. In this installment, I’m going to talk about why working is so much better when you play, especially if you’re working around others.

Now chances are, if you have a job that puts you around a lot of people at any given time, you’ve got to look at act professionally. But there are times when the routine of doing your job with excellence can actually cause you to get stuck in a rut. Human beings really don’t like change all that much – we often go for the same type of things. Don’t believe me? When you go to your favorite restaurant, there’s usually a dish that you prefer to order over anything else. When you go to a movie theater or a church, you typically have a certain place where you’d like to sit. We don’t naturally go for something different, because familiarity brings with it a sense of comfort. In a way, it feels a little bit like home. That’s natural. But it also can breed stagnation. When you’re not pushed or challenged to try something different, your work can actually suffer and become less and less productive.

So changing things up a bit will help inject a little bit of life into what you do, and one of the easiest ways of changing things up is to find a way to play every day in your work. If you’re in a situation like a church volunteer or a DJ (both of which I do), you’re going to be around people, so not only are you playing, but you’re getting others to play with you. And you’d be surprised what people will do if you just ask.

First things first, though. You have to get over yourself. You have to set aside whatever notion you have about how you’ll appear to others so that you can really break loose. Many people we know on a professional level (or at least in a working environment) don’t ever truly let us into their world unless they start playing. It’s at that point their full personality comes out. I used to work with a woman that I thought was all professionalism, no goofing off at all, until one day before a meeting started, she was joking around with another one of our colleagues. I got to see a side of someone I hadn’t seen before, and I was actually interested in getting to know her better. I figured, if she can have fun at this job, I want to learn how (by the way, the job was telephone customer service).

Last year I helped teach the 4 basics of the CM Smile/Permanent Impact approach at my church with most of our service team members, and the following Sunday, one of our parking lot crew members began helping the ushers seat people in the auditorium, but she did it like she was parking cars. She had her bright yellow vest on with the flashlight wands, waving people in and down the rows. She had a ball with it, and it put smiles on the faces of many in attendance. To this day, people still remember that.

In the church office, I and the rest of the staff make it habit of celebrating people’s birthdays by getting everyone together to play a prank on that person. We covered one person’s entire workstation with aluminum foil, including her keyboard, mouse, chair, design manuals, even her jar of peanut butter; another person was doused with silly string by the whole office staff; another person was given her own beach-in-the-office – we had filled small disposable Styrofoam bowls with sand and spread them across every square inch of floor in her cubicle. For my birthday, they had contemplated coming into the bathroom while I was in the stall and singing “Happy Birthday” while I was finishing up . . . the timing didn’t work out, but I thought it would have been funny if they’d have been able to pull it off.

As a DJ, I find that playing is absolutely essential to doing a great job. Typically, people don’t hire a DJ unless they want to have a party of some kind, so I take that attitude with me into every show I do. I’ve never spoken to a client that said, “We really don’t want anyone to have a good time.” Can you imagine? So I and the other DJs I work with are all trained to practice the art of playing. We get out on the dance floor with the crowd, teaching the Cupid Shuffle and the Cha-Cha Slide. We build rapport with the guests as we take requests, joking with them and letting them know that we’re there to have as much fun as they are. We hold dance contests for people and give them chances to win prizes that really aren’t worth much of anything. We do whatever we can to go beyond the ordinary, because the ordinary is boring. Honestly, how many times have you been to a party and seen the DJ NEVER get out from behind the booth? And how boring is that?

When it comes down to it, the whole CM Smile/Permanent Impact approach can be summed up if you get this one aspect down really well. If you’re playing, chances are likely that you’ll already have arrived with a good attitude. If you’re playing, chances are likely that you’re there, in the moment. If you’re playing, chances are likely that you’re looking to make someone’s day a little bit more special. I can’t over-emphasize the importance of being able to loosen up, have some fun, laugh, and get others to join you.

I used to work as a professional improv comedian, and one of the games that we did in our improv show I introduced as an icebreaker game at Complete Music. It’s called Dance Craze. I ask for 3 or 4 volunteers, who come out and sit in chairs I have waiting on the dance floor. I then reveal that they’ll be competing in a dance contest against each other, but they won’t be dancing any traditional dance moves that have been given before. Instead, I go to the crowd and take suggestions, then give those suggestions to the contestants, who have to come up with a brand new dance, on the spot, based on that suggestion. For instance, I’ll ask for some sort of household appliance, and someone will shout “toaster”. I’ll give that to the next contestant, start the music, and that person will created a danced called “The Toaster.” It’s amazing to see what some people can come up with, and I get the audience involved by having them vote by applause for who they think created the best dance. And often, I’ll try and incorporate that winning dance move later in the evening. To be honest, there have been some times that I’ve seen people start doing those winning moves on their own.

I read an article by a computer technician who worked at a software firm, and he wrote that they have a motto in their office: “If someone looks like they’re having a bad day, throw something at them.” Lighten up, folks. Life is too short to take every little task that we do and bury our noses in it, grinding down until our souls are left on the wayside. We have to find ways to have a little fun every now and then. If we don’t we’ll lose the joy of our work and career, and if you’re already doing what you love, then you’ll get even MORE out of your efforts.

Be more, do more, expect more. Play more.

There Is No Box.

Make Their Day - The Details Hold it All

“Go ahead. Make my day.”
Most people that don’t pay attention to pop culture will tell you that Clint Eastwood spoke that line in the movie Dirty Harry, but they would be wrong. The line was actually spoken in the 1983 film Sudden Impact, a detail that wouldn’t seem significant to most people. But to a trivia hound, this detail is gold. It’s a detail like this that allowed someone to win $250,000 instead of just $100,000 on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, and I can guarantee that a little detail like that is important to the guy who won.

So when it comes to dealing with people in a working environment, the best way to making someone’s day comes down to the details. In fact, I think the old adage “the devil is in the details” is somewhat of a misnomer; the truth is that if you ignore the details, the devil shows up anyway.

One of the easiest ways to make somebody’s day is to remember their name and address them by it. When you meet someone for the first time, ask for their name, then repeat it back to them, then use it again immediately . . . to start. Something like this:
“Hi, I’m Zach. You are . . .?”
“I’m George.”
(while shaking hands) “George?”
“George, pleased to meet you. Where are you from, George?”
And so forth. If you can get yourself to say their name at least 3 times within the first 60 seconds of conversation, hearing yourself saying that name in your own voice will help to better imprint that name on your brain, especially when you’re looking directly at that person’s face. Then later, when you see them again, greet them with their name. I can’t tell you how impressed someone will be when you do that. They think that you took the time to remember their name, when all you really did was take a few seconds to self-imprint their name along with their face onto your memory.

This technique works great when you’re in the business of greeting people, working as an usher or salesperson, or just trying to make a new friend. In the DJ field, it also helps to remember someone’s name for when you’re speaking on the mic. People have this innately comfortable feeling that comes over them when they hear their own name spoken by someone else, so often I’ll mention someone by name over the microphone, especially if I see them doing something unique on the dance floor. It’s a great way to get people involved. You also seem like more of a friend than a detached DJ when you do this, and it lets people know that you’re approachable.

Sometimes you’ll be working with people that have a lot of wants and/or needs, a lot of details – write them all down. You’ll be much more likely to remember them that way, especially when you take the time to go back and revisit your notes at some point. One thing I do as a DJ is make a pre-event call, which is the time that I get the most information from my client about their event. No matter how minute or unimportant an item seems, if it could be something I could use later on, I’ll write it down. It takes more work than just trying to remember what you need to know, but you can use those points later, bringing them up to your client to let them know that you’ve been keeping that little detail in mind, and it has helped shape the way you serve them. Most people.

As a DJ, I’ve seen this take many shapes. I had a bride & groom that were triathletes, and they wanted something that sounded big and sportslike for their grand entrance at the wedding reception. So I downloaded a copy of “Bugler’s Dream”, which has widely become known as the fanfare for the Olympic Games. They loved it, and so did their friends and family. I also recently did a wedding reception for a couple where I was asked by many people if I had been hired because I looked like the groom. I hadn’t been, but when the wedding party arrived and I met the groom, we all had a laugh because we looked VERY much alike. Big guys, shaved heads, and facial hair. We even had the same color vests on with our tuxedos, which only led to more confusion throughout the evening, but I decided to have some fun with it, and made mention of it several times over the microphone. When you pay attention to a detail, sometimes you’ll touch on something very personal and important to your client, and they’ll love you for it.

Murphy sucks. His law states that if it can go wrong, it will. For that reason, you really need to plan ahead for any issues that could go wrong. There’s nothing worse than being rushed for something when you’ve promised someone you’ll be doing something by a certain time. Running behind schedule is a sign of unprofessionalism -- or at least a lack of professionalism -- no matter how great you are at the task at hand, so you need to plan ahead. I always tell my DJ clients, especially if it’s a big event like a wedding or anniversary party, that I’m going to need about 45 minutes to one hour of their time on the pre-call. And usually, I use ALL that time to get all the details I need, sometimes more. When you invest a little bit of time on the front end, then when it comes time to actually provide the product or service for your client, you’re spending less time backing up and retooling your procedure. Anticipate and plan for problems ahead of time and you’ll have a greater chance of success.

Sometimes you’re faced with a problem mid-stream, and you have to alter your course. Other times your client will ask you to provide something that you might not be able to do. In a case like this, it’s often the best thing to use some powers of negotiation – find out something that will create a win-win situation, even if it’s not exactly what your client wants. If you can be resilient, you’ll win more people over, and they will wonder why they didn’t hire you sooner.

Sometimes you have to go out of your way to help someone, do something you normally wouldn’t do. I’ve seen church greeters actually help people out of their cars and into the building when all they really have to do is open the door, smile, wave, and offer a handshake. I’ve seen servers in restaurants bring out a drink refill without asking, instead of waiting until a glass was empty. I’ve seen mechanics offer a discount because they had surplus parts that they wouldn’t be able to get rid of anyway. I’ve seen DJs find out special songs for guests at a wedding reception that weren’t even family, making them feel like someone actually cared if they were there or not. I’ve seen all sorts of people in all sorts of positions go out of their way, doing something they weren’t required to do, in order to make someone’s experience that much better. When you give a rip, you’ll give someone else a reason to remember you.

Remember, all this takes work. Honest, true, plain ol’ work. You can’t expect to coast through ANYTHING and be a success. You have to get your hands dirty, make the phone calls, pound the pavement, plan a strategy, get your head in gear so that you can be the best at what you do. Make the decision to work for what you want, and always look for ways to improve. If you think you’re as good now as you’re going to get, you’ll prove yourself right. Take control of your work by taking pride in what you do.

Ultimately, it’s the little thing, the tiniest detail, that makes or breaks you. Don’t ever settle for glossing over the details when you have the opportunity to make a lasting impression. Trust me . . . this stuff works.

There Is No Box.