5 reasons I continue to repeat myself and you can too

Photo by Oleg Laptev

Why Is Repetition Persuasive

Last week I was invited to speak at Salesforce on the book I co-authored with Karen Catlin called Present! A Techie’s Guide To Public Speaking. There were close to 400 people in attendance.

This wasn’t the first time I had spoken at Salesforce, and it wasn’t the first time I had given that particular talk — I have given it 50+ times!

During Q&A someone asked me, “What I am going to do next?”

My response, “Keep saying the same thing!”

Yup.

It’s tempting to get into a mode where you keep creating new things. The rush of dopamine you get when you experience something new keeps you wanting more!

It’s harder to get that same rush if you’re just doing the same thing day after day. But there is value in repeating a message and refining the work that goes along with it.

The value is tied to the end goal.

For me, the goal in repeating my talk is to encourage more people in tech to speak up and share their expertise.

The Catalyst

Back in 2014, I hosted a Femgineer Forum at Salesforce on Why You Should Speak At A Technical Conference. I talked about why it was important for one’s career, company, and community.

Were there people who were already speaking? Yes.

Were there people who weren’t? Yes.

Did everyone sign up to speak after my forum? No.

Was it because I wasn’t persuasive enough? Maybe.

Was it because they didn’t have the time or see the value? Maybe.

Was it because they didn’t know how? Maybe.

There were a lot of reasons that held people back.

Here’s the thing, if I had just stopped after that one forum, I’m sure people would have gone on to speak. Maybe someone else would have inspired, motivated, and shown them how to speak. Or they would have figured it out themselves.

But after that forum, I realized there was more that I wanted to do. Salesforce invited me back to do a workshop for their employees.

After the workshop, Karen and I developed an online course, which we deliver once a year. We also go a lot of requests to teach a shorter workshop, and we’ve delivered that at places like the Grace Hopper Celebration to hundreds of technical women.

Grace Hopper Celebration 2015: hundreds of technical women power posing!

A little over two years ago, after doing more extensive research and testing, we decided it was time to package our approach and scale it by co-authoring and self-publishing our book Present! A Techie’s Guide To Public Speaking.

Why did we do ALL this knowing that there are other people out there doing similar work and that people might just get sick of us repeating the same message?

For the following 5 reasons.

Reason #1: The first time someone hears a message it may or may not resonate with them

It doesn’t resonate because they aren’t ready to hear it. They may be bogged down with other priorities, or don’t see the immediate value. They know trying something new will put a strain on their already overbooked scheduled.

Their classic response is they just don’t have time. Or they may couch it saying they don’t have the budget.

Bottom line, they aren’t ready to invest.

Change of behavior is hard, especially if there is some fear wrapped around it.

In our case, it doesn’t help that public speaking happens to be the #1 fear across the world!

They also might discount who the message is coming from. They don’t see them as credible — even if the person delivering the message has demonstrated an ability to produce results. Or they think the results will vary, and they won’t experience those as well.

Or maybe they just don’t like the particular style or method of delivery.

For example, we get a lot of pushback on our online course from people who prefer learning in-person. Teaching in-person is more expensive and time consuming for us. We’re willing to do it, but it comes at a price to our students. So we try to keep things accessible with an online course.

Initially, we got pushback on just having an e-book and softcover. Many people wanted an audiobook to listen on-the-go. When we had the time and money, we created one.

Reason #2: There’s always someone new or even someone who has heard your message before whose needs change

Given how many times we’ve delivered our talk, I’m concerned that someone has heard my message and will tune out. While that does happen, there is always someone like Tammy Butow a Site Reliability Engineer at Dropbox who said:

“I’ve heard Karen and Poornima speak many times, and I always learn something new. I implemented a few of their Q&A strategies in a recent talk, and was amazed at how it made the audience more engaged.”

People pick up on something new. And as much as we may believe that everyone has heard what we have to say, I’ve found there is always someone who hasn’t yet discovered our message.

Reason #3: It doesn’t seem different “enough”

With a cursory look, our message is simple: “Get out and speak! Don’t know how? We’ll teach you.”

It’s been up to us showcase how we’re different and who our exact audience is. That takes a level of experimentation and refinement, which comes with time and repetition.

Had I thrown in the towel after the first year, I would have missed out on discovering that there are people, especially early to mid-career tech professionals, who really struggle to speak. They have some unique challenges that other solutions don’t address.

There will always be people who are happy with their current solution or a general approach. But when I’ve taken the time and effort to refine my message, more people have understood how it’s different, which leads me to my fourth reason below.

Reason #4: When you have a focused message over time people see you as THE expert

When you repeat yourself, sure people may tune out, but others start to get what you have to offer. That starts to produce a nice ripple effect. They see you are committed to staying the course and find you credible. As a result, they start to evangelize your message and refer people who need your help.

Reason #5: Everyone needs a reminder

I don’t know about you, but I have gotten more and more forgetful over the years. Since I’m currently 7 months pregnant, I have this condition called pregnancy brain, and it doesn’t help!

I’ve found myself going back and re-reading books, reviewing courses I’ve taken, and asking for advice, only to realize that what I needed was someone to remind me of what I already knew.

I thought it was just me, but it turns out lots of people love a refresher. They have the information locked away in the deep recesses of their brain, and they just need someone to help them unlock it. These folks are a pure joy to work with because once they end up re-discovering what they knew, they end up teaching me a thing or two based on their past experiences.

How do you keep it fresh and motivate yourself?

Just because you’re repeating the core message doesn’t mean you cannot switch directions or refine what you have.

Each year we iterate on our online course based on feedback from our students. We take stock of what we’ve learned from delivering our talk, new questions audience members have asked, and evaluate if it makes sense to alter our approach or message.

These small tweaks over time have made a big difference.

Having a focused message has also meant that there have been services and products I’ve had to stop offering or shut down altogether. But I welcome those decisions, and see them as opportunities rather than problems.

How do you know to keep going?

I have just three questions for myself:

  • Do I enjoy the work and find it fulfilling, despite minor setbacks or moments of self-doubt, or is there something else I would enjoy more?
  • Are there more people out there who could benefit from my work and will value it, and enough of them to sustain my effort?
  • What is it going to take to do the first two, and am I capable of doing that work?

It’s your turn! Do you have a message or an idea that you’ve either moved on from or dug into deeper? What was your approach and the outcome? Let me know in the comments below!

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