Delivering a training presentation can be difficult when you don’t have the foggiest clue what your client actually does all day, or why their logo features a demonic, axe-wielding purple duck. Some managers have suggested that I’m not even capable of training their employees because I’m an “outsider”. An alien being. A freak of nature (okay, so this last suggestion pertains more to my sense of fashion than to any lack of company knowledge on my part).
“And besides, we do all our training in-house,” the human resources director would always emphasize.
“I know in-house training may seem more efficient, but have you considered the many benefits of out-house training?” I would confidently retort (and I must confess, I am a very confident retorter, why even in junior high I was known for my retorting abilities).
“Out-house training?” they always ask, in a rather shocked tone, as though I was the first person on the planet to suggest such a thing.
“That’s right. Bringing in an outsider might be just what your organization needs to shake things up and offer a fresh perspective on what you do. By the way, what do you do?”
And that would typically end the interview, unless you consider being forcibly dragged into the parking lot by Ethel the security guard the official end of an interview (which I, for one, do not).
But dear readers, I am pleased to report that, like puberty, those frightening and uncertain days are becoming a distant memory. Because now, before I make a presentation, before I cold call a client, before I even utter a client’s name in my sleep, I come to the table fully armed and dangerous. You see, I really do believe that outside trainers have a lot to offer an organization, as long as they get to know the client intimately. Which is why I have begun an intensive research program that I like to call: Organizational stalking.
It’s simple really. Find a client you’d like to work with (preferably one with heaps of unwanted cash lying around), and infiltrate them anyway you know how, especially sneaky ways, since that is how you discover what is really going on in a company.
Start with a little ploy that I like to call “The Bob Call.” Randomly phone people up in your target company and say, “Hi, it’s Bob. How’s it going?” People will be so relieved that someone cares about them that they will unload on you for hours. Sometimes even about work stuff. And if they ever question who Bob is, just retort with, “You know, Bob,” as though they should be utterly embarrassed for forgetting who Bob is.
The next stage involves physically infiltrating the company, which is easier than it sounds given that most security guards don’t really want to get involved in any conflicts with a skilled retorter named Bob. Then, once you’re on the inside, sample employees’ lunches in the lunchroom, spend some quality time in the executive washrooms, hover around the water cooler (be sure to drink from time to time to avoid drawing attention to yourself) and ride the elevator for hours at a time—you’d be amazed at what people say and do in elevators.
Crashing meetings is a must, however, because meetings, as well all know, are where everything happens. It’s easy to crash meetings, especially in large organizations where no one will know that you don’t really belong there, and where people routinely go missing for months on end. The key to a successful crash is to act confident, look like you belong, and, above all else, tightly knit your eyebrows together, as though you are solving complicated mathematical formulas in your head. Toss in a loud “I concur” every now and then, and be sure to laugh at all the right times, which is typically when everyone else is laughing. And never, as I learned the hard way, bring along a date.
The final and most brazen step of my “research” program involves following senior executives home and living with them for extended periods of time. Although this involves taking such extreme measures such as passing yourself off as “Chuck – the long, lost orphaned cousin-in-law twice removed” or marrying into the family, the payoffs can be enormous.
Now some folks may question the ethics of my techniques and suggest such banal approaches as researching a company on-line, setting up pre-workshop interviews or passing out questionnaires, but really, where is the fun in all of that? Not only do those approaches involve paper work, I’ve found that people will rarely open up and give you the real scoop, so I’m keeping with what I know works best.
As soon as I get out of jail.
Michael Kerr is the president of Humor at Work and the author of six books, including the best selling “You Can’t Be Serious! Putting Humor to Work,” “Inspiring Workplaces,” and “The Humor Advantage.” For humor at work books, articles and other resources, surf him up at www.mikekerr.com or reach Michael at email@example.com
Copyright Michael Kerr, 2006
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