Showmanship

This is the Age of Stand and Deliver. The digital landscape is awash with speakers, authors, thinkers, and innovators clamoring for attention and adulation.  The rush is on to build the best platforms, to sell the most goods, to land the best gigs. Making an impact in business today takes more than just a great website, a strong value proposition, a huge email list, and an effective social networking strategy. It takes showmanship.

Selling yourself and your business is much like performance art. You must practice, aspire to be the best, let your exuberance show, and always leave your audience wanting more. You want to be the one that surfaces when thought and talk turn to your products, services, skill sets, or areas of expertise, don’t you? If so, then inject some showmanship into your presentation. Great meetings, like great performances, get remembered.

Throughout the history of entertainment, the great showmen have one thing in common: a pathological drive to be loved by their audiences. To that end, they crave the spotlight and purposefully seek attention. Those who approach building their enterprises with the same tenacity will elevate within their tribes, separate from the also-rans, and increase their probability of winning business.

Commerce today plays out on many different stages—in boardrooms, at coffeehouses, during networking events, on the phone, and online. As professionals, we are constantly auditioning for the trust of others. Every handshake you give, every email you send, every voice mail you leave, and every live conversation you generate is your chance to shine, to sell, to capture a mind and heart.

Paying Dues in Business

COMEDY TRAGEDY MASKSOn the business stage, paying one’s dues translates to piecing together a compelling brand story and telling it as often and to as many people as possible. Do this well and, over time, you will gain the admiration and respect of peers and prospects. Stay positive, smile, and explore new ways to demonstrate your value. Today’s toil in the trenches is tomorrow’s conquest.

Historically, getting to the top—in any field—requires an unrelenting commitment to excellence, discipline, and personal sacrifice. In our highly-commoditized, attention-deprived world, getting noticed is a daily fight. Every ounce of recognition must be earned. Anyone who has spent time perfecting a craft understands the effort that is involved in breaking through and making an impression. Passion is not enough. In order to dwell top of mind you have to hit people in the core of their limbic lobe, stir their emotions, and become a memory that is impossible to displace.

Consider the singer-songwriter who moves from town to town and club to club, playing her heart out for non-appreciative audiences, hoping to be discovered. Night under night, under the heat of the lights, she summons forth the strength to convert ambition into action. Maybe, just maybe, a few people will be drunk enough by the end of the set and buy her self-published CD. Perhaps tonight there will be a talent scout in the house who will see how deserving she is of a recording contract.

As with the arts, there are no overnight sensations in business. We see legions of people, paying the price, pursuing a vision. The ostensible trappings of success and fame belie the back-story of struggle and survival that is playing out behind the scenes. We know that of the professionals who make the cut, and live lives of abundance and prosperity, many came from modest beginnings and endured lean times. The common thread is that when the situation dictated, they produced.

Showmanship in Business Conversation 

As professionals, we are all charged with simultaneously managing many conversations. We all know that good communication is the cornerstone of the trusted relationship and that conversations in the real world do not follow a template. Many interactions are extremely difficult to navigate. Asserting yourself in business the right way through conversation (face-to-face or via technology) requires vigor, preparation, and self-control.

I believe that the ability to generate and perpetuate good conversations equates to showmanship. When you are “on,” you know it. Your thoughts are organized, you find the right words, and your delivery is well-timed. When you are not engaged, people can spot it a mile away. You get lazy, speak in a monotone, shift your eyes, and act like you left your real personality at home. Conversation is work. Listening is work. Information processing is work. You have to burn many calories to influence someone, let alone get your point across.

Think of the great conversationalists that you know. What impresses you the most about them? Is it their diction? Is it their cadence? Is it the fact that they look you in the eye as they speak? For me, it is their sparkle. They radiate an unmistakable vibe. People who network well for business make it look easy. They are said to hold court. Those around them want to remain involved. That is showmanship.

Showmanship as Business Performance

Grinding out conversations, especially online, on a daily basis is an arduous task for many professionals. The constant flutter of information from email to voice mail to meetings to events can be mentally and physically draining. The challenge lies is encapsulating your ideas and embedding a call to action in every message. In order to thrive in the Digital Era, you must consistently market smart, constantly boost your level of engagement, and always be ready to take it up a notch. That is in-the-moment branding.

Sustaining energy—both mental and physical—throughout the meeting, the presentation, the consultation, or the casual encounter at a networking event is pivotal to winning business. Without the requisite cognitive and physical stamina, it will be difficult to leverage your interactions. There are those that rise to the occasion and give it everything they’ve got, while others merely phone it in, unable to muster interest or even a smile.

In the words of the legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi: 

“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.”

Throughout the years, as my platform has developed, I have embraced a show-must-go-on mindset. Sure, there have been days when I didn’t “feel it.” Yes, I have sat through meetings where I wished I was somewhere else. In those instances, I learned to draw from my reserves, stay in character, and reach down deep for something extra. I knew that if I pushed myself to make that one last phone call, answer one more email, create that final paragraph of content, or linger at the event just a little longer, then something good was bound to happen. I was right.

The Competition for Attention and Regard

Great performance artists live for accolades and recognition. They compete to be seen, heard, and loved. Thoroughbred business performers compete, too, by going beyond what is required in any given situation to achieve an objective. They stay up late, plan, write content, and execute during their waking hours, banking each completed task as a stepping stone to their goals. They know that if they do not do what it takes to make it rain, someone else will come along and steal their thunder.

In our distracted economy, hyper-connected world, call it what you will, the competition for undivided attention is cutthroat. It takes tremendous drive to achieve and maintain visibility, and convince people unequivocally on the value that you provide. When it comes to gaining esteem, the leader, seller, advisor, problem solver, and job seeker all find themselves alone on center stage. Each has his or her own crowd to wow.

Good showmanship in the telling of the brand story is competitive advantage. There are more people infiltrating your space, seeking to capitalize on intellectual properties similar to yours or sell the same products you offer. These are your competitors, vying for the same outcomes—sales, quality leads, thought leadership. In the daily fight to capture attention, you have to outthink, outpace, and out-communicate them. They are bringing their A game every day. Are you?

Parting Thoughts

♦ In his play, As You Like It, William Shakespeare writes: “All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players.” These days, you have to be a bit of a showman to compete for business. A baseline enthusiasm is simply not enough; more skill, tact, and adrenaline are required to deliver the message in the most appealing manner.

♦ We are all under immense pressure to produce. I believe that the best performances come from a place of pain, and result when you hold your feet to the fire in pursuit of a vision. You will not garner the respect of your target audience until they see that you are giving your all.

♦ For the business professional, showmanship means that you treat every interaction as if your survival depends on it. Lock in on every conversation partner. Pour your soul into every piece of communication. Regardless of with whom you are engaged, pretend as if they are seeing your act for the first time.


Since 2006, JD Gershbein, CEO of Owlish Communications, has helped advance the collective awareness of LinkedIn and inspired opportunity-oriented professionals in all walks of business to step up and achieve on the site. His ability to spark others to action has earned him the moniker of “The LinkedIn Catalyst.” JD is considered one of the world’s top thought leaders on LinkedIn, and a pioneer in the design and delivery of LinkedIn education. He is also a globally acclaimed social business psychologist, keynote speaker, and frequent broadcast media expert on LinkedIn for business. Additionally, JD is adjunct professor of marketing communications at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Stuart School of Business, where he is advancing social media marketing as an academic discipline. In addition to his blog, The Wisdom Zone, JD is a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Forbes.

All text, logos and designs are ©2016 by JD Gershbein and Owlish Communications, and are protected under United States Copyright Laws. No content herein may be downloaded, reproduced, copied, projected, defaced, edited, or used in any manner without the express permission of Owlish Communications.

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