Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Presentation

I thought the In Memoriam with James Taylor during the recent Oscar telecast was really nice (though some of my friends will tell you James Taylor’s songs should only be considered as grocery store music.) At my age, you read the obituaries first, before you get dressed.

I have to admit, I also liked watching the arrivals on the red carpet. I don’t care so much about answers to specific questions like, “Who are you wearing?” but I get a kick out of the general pomp and circumstance of it all. (If I ever went to the Oscars and somebody asked, “Who are you wearing?” I’d probably say I was wearing something I picked up at Gary’s Tux Shop at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, site of the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and I needed to get it back by noon the next day.)

But the people arriving, looking glamorous, the cameras flashing, fans waving in the stands, the exclusivity of the evening—all of that is emblematic of feeling special. Anybody walking down that red carpet at the Kodak Theater would feel special doing it. Even if they cannot breathe in their-tight fitting dresses or dashing suits and they have been dieting for a month for this one night. Even if an army of make-up people went to work on them the whole day, and their tan is sprayed on, the moment they are on the carpet being interviewed by Ryan Seacrest, they become Hollywood royalty. And we look at them as Hollywood royalty. We accept them that way. Because of the presentation.

The Oscars are all about the presentation. I lost track, but I think this year’s ceremony went on for about five or sixty-six hours. Was this necessary? Absolutely not. They give out twenty-something awards. The folks at Toastmasters could do that in half an hour.

“Sandra Bullock, here’s your Oscar. Kathryn Bigelow, come and get yours.” So on and so forth. They could do that.

But they won’t. It’s the Oscars. What are the Oscars without interpretive dance depicting the blue people of Pandora? Or a completely unnecessary montage of horror movies that include such frightening films as Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice? Imagine if the Oscars were presented differently. What if the Oscars were simply mailed out to the winners and announced the next day in the Penny Saver? Or if people showed up to the ceremony in their gym clothes? Would it still be the Oscars?

The quality of your work goes a long, long way in establishing your reputation—both professionally and personally—but there is something to be said for what the presentation of your work reveals about you as well. Likewise, your customers, friends, family, also get a strong sense about how much you value them by the way you treat them, by the manner in which they must interact with you and your company. When you go to a high-end upscale retail store like Neiman-Marcus, you expect certain things—certain elements that go along with the sky-high prices.

Three hundred dollars for a shirt, are you kidding me? Well no, they aren’t kidding. You can tell by the piano player tickling the ivories in the middle of the store, by the restaurant with a wait staff inside the store, and the higher-end brands available on the racks.

Go to Sears or better yet, Goodwill, and I guarantee you won’t find a man in a tuxedo playing a grand piano and there won’t be any restaurant on the premises where you can buy French onion soup. And if there were, you’d be surprised and slightly disturbed. French onion soup—at Goodwill? I think not.

You’d probably think you were on some kind "Candid Camera" type show. You have come to expect certain elements in a Neiman-Marcus that you otherwise would not expect at Goodwill and vice versa. A lot of this is what you bring to the table, through your own previous experiences.

The truth of the matter is that we bring these kinds of expectations and judgments in all aspects of our lives, whether they are subconscious or not. And because of these, you impact the way your customers and friends see you. How you present your services, your company, how you treat your customers and your friends, all speak into your presentation and the way you are viewed.

I had a flaky friend who would rarely return my calls. We would make plans and she would cancel or change them at the last minute. I came to expect this. I came to expect that I would need to call her three or four times before she would eventually call me. When I happened to run into her, she told me things had been “so busy” lately and that if she only had an ear piece so she could chat on the phone while driving it would be so much easier to keep in touch. Basically, our relationship hinged upon an earpiece. And I accepted that because I knew that’s the way she was. But then it occurred to me: if our friendship was on such shaky ground, it wasn’t much of a friendship. So I stopped making an effort to be in touch, and sure enough, we aren’t anymore. And guess what? I don’t miss her. Because it turns out I valued her friendship as equally as she valued mine, which is to say not very much.

It boils down to this old adage: You are what you eat. If you eat doughnuts and pizza all day, you’re not going to end up with a svelte body. (I can personally attest to this.) Like putting food in your body, what you put into your process will determine how that process looks.The people around you will value your company and your presence as much as you value theirs. The way you present your reports, maintain your office, answer your phone calls and respond to your e-mails say a bunch about your presence. You want your customers and friends to be comfortable and feel good when they are visiting your office or home or dealing with you in the ether.

Pay attention to the presentation. Make them feel like they are walking that red carpet. Provide the kind of glamour you see on television. Make your interactions with them special and unique. And they will do the same.

Choose a customer or a friend and get them something special for being such a valued part of your life, even if it’s just words of appreciation. Make them aware of how much you appreciate them by going the extra mile and getting something or doing something for them that you don’t have to, but want to.