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Wall of shame…

Don’t expose your audiences to claptrap, warns David Mullard, as the business development manager at SP returns from KL.

Do you know the weight? What if you are wrong?

Have I got your attention?

I hope so. If not, I probably still have a better chance of getting it than if I’d have shown you a PowerPoint slide with a photo of my company’s headquarters behind an animated marketing slogan. You know the presentations I mean; the ones that go on to list the products a business provides, how many employees report for duty every day, and why it cares about its customers more than its competitors.

Wayne Wille, my counterpart in the States, always tables those hard-hitting questions at the start of his training sessions and presentations:

Do you know the weight? What if you are wrong?

It gets the room’s attention. In some cases, one can even see the delegation quizzing themselves behind widened eyes: I think we know the weight. Did we check? Who double-checked? How did we measure it? Was it recorded? What if we did get it incorrect? Is the crane we’re using of high enough capacity? What if something goes wrong? Have we done everything possible to make the application safe?

A PowerPoint presentation that resembles a catalogue is likely to come across as claptrap.

A PowerPoint presentation that resembles a catalogue is likely to come across as claptrap.

Wayne clicks through the next couple of slides. He has worked closely with a U.S.-based distributor to gather examples of damaged lifting and rigging accessories that have been inspected and removed from service. Some of the photos are jaw dropping: hooks that have opened under load; shackles that have bent; master links that have broken; lifting eyes that have sheared; etc. It often causes the audience to shift a little in their seats, as though the backs of their chairs all of a sudden become uncomfortable.

They wonder: What if this happens to us? Do we always know the weight? Are we sure?

The presentation becomes something of a Wall of Shame, where lifting and rigging flaws are exposed. It’s not an exercise in naming and shaming but more a case of revealing how common overload situations are and how easily they can be prevented by using a load cell. Further, it outlines the dire consequences if that advice isn’t followed. There’s a neat slide named “what happens if you don’t” that sums it up nicely.

That collection of worn and damaged rigging gear serves as a learning tool—they can see what went wrong elsewhere and use that to improve their own safe lifting operations and ensure they don’t feature in a future presentation! The main takeaway is an emphasis on the importance of proper inspection of lifting and rigging gear and on preventing overloads.

Wayne has perfected a powerful method of engaging people in his content and helping them to understand the importance of knowing the load. It’s true that ‘know the load’ is our recently-adopted company mantra—and we acknowledge that we’re in a commercial business—but giving that tagline substance and cause it what folks buy into, as Wayne realises.

Rising in the east

OGA attracted a quality demographic.

OGA attracted a quality demographic.

I was mindful of my colleague’s skill as a presenter when I prepared for a recent trip to Malaysia for the Asian Oil, Gas & Petrochemical Engineering Exhibition (OGA), which took place 18-20 June at the Kuala Lumpur (KL) Convention Centre. My itinerary was multifaceted in that I was to spend time on the exhibit of our new Malaysian distributor, Goforth Corporation, and deliver a number of presentations to its representatives and other delegations. An area where Wayne also excels is in tailoring his content for the audience of the day and I too was sure to pitch my messages and hone technical detail to the expertise of the listener.

It’s a widely overlooked presentation strategy, yet it’s a no-brainer. Think about it: a teacher giving a revision session to a Year 11 class about to take a GCSE exam (tests that are usually taken here in the UK by students aged 15-16, after two years of study) is going to package information differently to a peer giving an introductory lesson to a bunch of Year 7s who have just started secondary or high school. It’s the same in industry: some people need to know what a load cell is and how it works, while others already have a background knowledge akin to that of the presenter. It’s easy to lose the attention of a roomful of engineers if they feel patronised.

It takes time before a presenter is equipped to deal with all eventualities, even on their chosen specialist subject, and researching demographics in advance is advisable. I’ve spent a number of years expanding my material that I can now tweak and manipulate depending on the usual variables: number of people in the room, amount of time available, levels of expertise, grasp of English, experience with SP equipment, and so on. I always have a plan but build enough flexibility into it to react to the audience and endeavour to involve them as much as possible.

The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone who is preparing to speak to a group of people, or those embarking on a career path that might require frequent public speaking, is to work on knowledge, passion, enthusiasm, and authenticity before perfecting PowerPoint visuals or aesthetics. Of course, it helps if one is lucky or astute enough to earn a living in a field that interests or excites them, but it’s possible to be passionate about something that isn’t necessarily a life-long hobby. Absolutely, fine-tune the seminar and practice so content can be delivered to a time schedule in a digestible format, but an audience remembers most that which is put to them with fervour. I hope Goforth’s community felt I came somewhere close to achieving that.

Team Goforth seemed to enjoy my presentation at its Selangor headquarters

Team Goforth seemed to enjoy my presentation at its Selangor headquarters

University of life

Education and training is generally underrated in business. I know I reached for a school-day analogy above, but too often people think they’re free of learning once they enter the workplace. To SP, ongoing training is the cement that holds us together with Goforth and other global partners. We’re constantly sharing information about products, applications, end user markets, evolving best practices, and so on. We don’t want anyone going into the field with a flight-case full of our equipment with only a generic understanding of what each item does. It’s important that when users have questions, our distributors can answer them, at least in most cases. Wayne’s Wall of Shame proves that some marketplaces still have much to learn.

Generally, we should more readily learn from others. Wayne is just one person within and beyond SP that I admire and respect. As is evident in his presentation style, Wayne has an engaging persona and has cultivated some fabulous client relationships. Regular blogger Mr. Loadlink (aka David Ayling) is another. As I take on greater responsibility throughout my career I certainly ask myself with increasing regularity: ‘What would Dave do here?’ I admire Mr. Loadlink’s drive, energy, passion and business courage, for example. His ability to take a chance on something and then make sure it works out is inspiring. His mentorship has been priceless for me and most memorably of all it has always been fun.

Goforth’s busy OGA exhibit.

Goforth’s busy OGA exhibit.

Mr. Loadlink can even go in the opposite direction and make you feel like you’re along for the ride. On a handful of occasions he’s sought my counsel and I’ve tried to coax him down an alternative path, but he’s chosen to stick to his original idea. However, he always did so in a way that still made me feel part of the decision, not at odds with his way of thinking. I admire that, even if it does turn out to be some kind of Jedi mind trick, passed down from Obi Wan Loadlink, a distant cousin!

All that said, always be you. Regardless of what I’ve learnt from Wayne, Dave and others, I’ve only ever tried to be David Mullard. To emulate anyone too closely detracts from the personality that people want to engage with. I’ve had many forgettable encounters with individuals who were pretentious and whose personal brands were a facade. Whether you’re on a stage, on a trade show booth, conducting a site visit, or somewhere different altogether, authenticity is vitally important. A hallmark of all the successful people I know is a belief in the courage of one’s convictions, as Mr. Loadlink proves.

Who’s in your Hall of Fame?

Thank you for reading.
Dave Mullard
Business Development Manager, Straightpoint

It’s always a good sign when people have questions after a presentation.

It’s always a good sign when people have questions after a presentation.

It was a pleasure to spend time with Goforth and its community at last month’s (June) OGA.

It was a pleasure to spend time with Goforth and its community at last month’s (June) OGA.

Busy Fools and Discourses

A common character trait of many businesspeople, especially entrepreneurs, must be kept in check, says Mr. Loadlink.

I was jet lagged, my inbox was exploding, and I couldn’t remember the last time I went horse racing. For a moment, I wasn’t even sure what day of the week it was.

Now, I remember that time well; I made a note of it just to make sure I don’t go back. It’s not important when it was—only my close friends and family even know about it (until now!)—nor does it matter what label I put on my state of mind (burn-out could be one) but it was crucial that I learnt from it.

I’m very proud of my work ethic but I let it get the better of me. I’d convinced myself that one more hour with my nose millimetres from the grindstone was always worth it. I saw no harm in waking up to a notepad full of ideas and scrawled diagrams on my bedside table—the product of sleepless nights wondering how to gain 1% more productivity here or 2% more margin there. I thought, isn’t it great that I can be creative when everyone else is asleep? I cursed the hours when my body finally succumbed and I completely shut down; exhausted, I sunk into the pillow before I’d even thought about trying to get some sleep.

Sadly, many readers of this blog can probably relate to this. After all, what makes us successful entrepreneurs is a passion for what we do. And that’s the hardest thing to rein in. I never cursed any sleepless night, or 80-hour week (many were probably more) because I loved every minute of them. The buzz of working on an overnight flight before landing and going straight into the office was like a drug. Cramming as many trade shows as possible into a spring or autumn season kept adrenaline whizzing through my body at such a rate that I sometimes had to remind myself to eat.

That was ok, though, because there was always someone to have a networking dinner with so we could talk about work in between mouthfuls.

In hindsight, it’s clear how clouded my senses had become. I justified to myself missing barbecues with friends and family; and saw the layers of dust building up on my golf clubs as a sign of my success. I remember thinking back to the days when my company was in its infancy and I had time to swing a club or put on a snappy suit and spend a few hours at Goodwood, which is not only my local racecourse but also one of the most picturesque in the world. That entire caper was for those with time on their hands or a lack of drive. I couldn’t keep count of my shots on a course or place bets at a track and answer phone calls or brainstorm at the same time. So I didn’t do it.

Stress out

Any medical professional will tell you that enduring a state of stress over a long period of time is a harmful thing. It puts strain on all the organs and bodily functions that we need to take care of the most. The side effects—loss of appetite, sleepless nights, low immune system, low energy, headaches—are there for an individual to feel and their friends and family to see, but they’re somehow suppressed or given a different label. It’s the quality of air in aeroplanes that makes one feel drowsy, I’ve heard it said. Or, no wonder that high-flying business owner has constant headaches, performing such wizardry on spreadsheets until the small hours.

When entrepreneurs get together it creates an intoxicating, yet dangerous, environment. See a group of over-worked, highly stressed professionals in a huddle, laughing, and it’s usually because one of them has mentioned a television programme or favourite pastime. They might even have had the audacity to mention the upcoming weekend. Champagne is spat from their ulcer-ridden gobs and they double over their big guts. One scoffs: what chance have I got to watch TV?; another boasts: weekend, what’s that?; I remember when my handicap was down to seven—now I couldn’t even hit it off the tee, roars the most pale-looking of them all.

If none of this incentivises a reader to slow down, get this: working so many hours actually makes a person perform worse. Chances are, a solid 50-hour week and a weekend off with the family, perhaps with a gentle coaxing of ducks into a row on a Sunday evening, will yield greater productivity and efficiency than an 80-hour week where one has barely spared time to ask how a loved one’s day at school or work went. Think about it: how could I have been as dynamic and engaging at a trade show on the morning after an all-nighter at the laptop, than when I’d had a relaxing meal, seven hours of sleep, and a healthy breakfast? The mind is a powerful thing and it can seemingly convince a person, especially an entrepreneur, of anything.

Any medical professional will tell you that enduring a state of stress over a long period of time is a dangerous thing.

Any medical professional will tell you that enduring a state of stress over a long period of time is a dangerous thing.

Here are my top four tips for anyone getting sucked into the world of busy fools:

  1. Get active

Schedule activities away from work and make them business-free zones. Whether it’s fishing, golf, horse racing, or billiards (fresh air activities are better), put plenty of it in the diary and make them as important as quarterly board meetings. Further, when the rod is cast, the ball is thwacked onto a fairway, the bet is place, or the black is potted, don’t let the workplace detract from the moment. Turn off one’s mobile phone and don’t put anything work-related in the diary immediately afterwards that might create a distraction or tempt a person to rush away from the fun. It’s amazing how mind, body, and soul can benefit.

Schedule activities away from work.

Schedule activities away from work.

  1. Take long holidays

It’s remarkable how many successful people, with plenty of money, don’t take holidays. I’ve heard (and made) all the excuses in the book: I’ve got too much on to leave the office; I’d only spend the whole time in the room working; what if I couldn’t get reliable Wi-Fi?; I’d have too much to catch up on when I got back; the company would lose momentum without its leader; what example does it set if I sit on a beach for two weeks?; I’m happier at work than on a sun-bed or sight-seeing so what’s the point?

The most laughable of all of these is the necessity for a business leader to be at their company’s beckon call 24/7. Of course, it would be unwise to take a three-month tour of the Far East just days after registering a UK-focussed business at Companies House, but there’s something wrong with an established, successful firm if the wheels come off when the boss takes some time off. (I’ll come back to this point.)

  1. Prioritise relationships

There’s no point reflecting on a great career, prematurely bound to a rocking chair, if it has come at the cost of every hobby, friend, and family member a person had. It’s no badge of honour or achievement to say, “I’m a great businessman, that’s why I haven’t got any friends or family.” Make time for immediate and distant family; sign-up to memberships that have nothing to do with business; be on a WhatsApp group with people who don’t even know what you do for a living; have a circle of friends that ask how you are but not how work is going. At times of great need, these are the people who will step in, not the customers or suppliers that get the majority of an entrepreneur’s time. Get to the office on a Monday morning having forgotten about what it looks like for 60 hours.

  1. Take email off your phone

This has proven to be a game-changer for me. Like a lot of business leaders, indeed, anyone in most jobs these days, I get bombarded by emails that range from important messages from by business partner to spam about money laundering schemes. I got into a mentality that I was being judged by the time it took me to respond, forward, delete, or act upon messages. If it was 2:05am and a customer had asked a question, they’d have the answer by 2:10am. Every time I felt my phone vibrate, I’d check the message and deal with it. Now I have to log into my laptop to access messages, which is inconvenient and takes time. Great! It means I only address them when I’m settled at a desk with a cup of tea—not when I stir in the middle of the night.

Taking email off my smart phone has drastically reduced stress levels.

Taking email off my smart phone has drastically reduced stress levels.

I wholeheartedly embrace the benefits of technology and I love my smart devices, but being a slave to an inbox is foolish. When I started my career as a rep, I used to carry a bag of 2p coins with me so I could stop and use a payphone by the roadside if I was running early or late for an appointment. Businesses back then still turned over millions of pounds. Whilst our companies are reliant upon technology and the efficiencies it creates, nothing is going to happen if an email doesn’t get replied to when one is at an airport or taking a taxi to a hotel.

As Steve Torres, CEO at Group Four Transducers Inc., told me once near his home in Boston, Massachusetts, it’s important to take time to smell the roses.

Good luck, Jessi; welcome, Kizzie

I alluded to the importance of systemising a business and building a strong team earlier in the piece. I don’t want to lose the hands-on approach that’s served me so well over the years, but much of being able to step away and implement any of the four tips outlined above depends on an entrepreneur’s ability to delegate and entrust a team.

We were very sorry to see Jessi Boskovic leave us recently; she had been with SP since school and blossomed into a consummate professional. However, we wish her well with a new challenge and remain proud that she will use the experience gained with us to no doubt be a huge success elsewhere. Jessie has been replaced by Kizzie Cordwell, inside sales, and the team is excited about working with her in the immediate and long-term future.

We had 18 applicants for the job and Kizzie was the outstanding candidate. I talk (and blog) a lot about the DNA we look for in prospective employees and we’re confident we’ve chosen wisely in our latest recruit.

Thank you for reading and use the hashtag #loadcell on social media.

Mr. Loadlink

It is important for business leaders to allow members of staff to represent the company on the front line. Dave Mullard, business development manager; and Mike Neal, product sales engineer, did a great job at the recent Vertikal Days, I hear.

It is important for business leaders to allow members of staff to represent the company on the front line. Dave Mullard, business development manager; and Mike Neal, product sales engineer, did a great job at the recent Vertikal Days, I hear.