Recently I had a conversation with an Executive Director who approached me about speaking at their event. He had heard me speak somewhere else and thought I would be a great fit in educating his members – a diverse audience of association CEOs, hospitality salespeople, and meeting planners.
It was during our discovery conversation that he said to me “The S Word is still a taboo word.”
I immediately wondered “Had I said shit during my original presentation? Did I already offend him? Why is he even talking to my use of adult words that makes him blush?”
I stayed quiet as I continued to process what he had just told me. That’s when he said, “They prefer to say member engagement in the non-profit world not ‘sales’ because they all believe they are not in sales even though they are.”
I laughed. Out loud. And then continued to explain that I really thought he meant the word shit. Then we both laughed because apparently ‘sales’ is a cuss word on the fringe in his world.
The reason he shared this with me – he specifically wants to promote what I do with improv in improving conversations, especially in managing up, down, and sideways. Using the word “sales” in my marketing materials would intimidate them and I would lose their engagement before I even stepped foot on the stage.
Turns out I’ve become a master of disguise.
You see, I spent most of my career disguising the word ‘improv’ because for a period of time that word intimidated business professionals. I would hear things like – ‘We’re not funny” or “We don’t want to appear unprofessional because we’re having fun or laughing.” I’ve even gotten the response “For that kind of money I’ll just take them too happy hour or an escape room.” What a kick in the crotch. But it also happened in the days that I wasn’t as seasoned in selling the value of what I do.
I even avoided the phrase “team building” for a while because that phrase triggers panicked fears of zero ROI.
In reality, it was the company’s way of saying “There’s something wrong with our team and we don’t know how to articulate the problem.”
Eventually, I would learn to execute better discovery – sus out if they were looking for entertainment, education, or a seamless blend of the two (in my line of work this is called EDUTAINMENT.) More on that in a later blog.
Now, business professionals embrace improv as a tool for conversations, leadership, and ideation.
The same can be done for the word sales so it’s not synonymous with the word shit. But how do we go about debunking the belief that sales is reserved for door-to-door encyclopedia peddlers and used car salesmen? How do we discourage people from disguising sales as things like “member engagement” and proliferating these negative stereotypes?
I think it was Daniel Pink who said “if you’re talking to humans, you’re selling.” And he isn’t wrong. We all have something to sell. Whether it’s a product or a service or an idea. We are all in sales.
Look, engagement isn’t a bad word because to sell, we must first engage, but let’s not pretend that what you’re doing isn’t selling. What’s that expression? Don’t piss down my neck and tell me it’s rain?
It’s time you embrace the “s word” because we all do it.
As a side note, if you’re interested in having me as a keynote speaker – let’s chat. “S word” optional.