What does professional mean? If your equipment is bigger than mine are you more professional than me?

What does “professional” mean?

I mean, what does it really mean?

When I was a little boy, my Dad was the captain of one of the local golf clubs. Every Sunday we used to go there for lunch. Tangy tomato soup. Delicious plates of roast beef and Yorkshire puddings soaked in gravy. Followed by ice cream gâteaux.

After coffee, we often went into the Pro’s shop.

I remember asking my Dad why they called it the Pro’s shop.

“It’s short for professional,” he said.

What does professional mean?
My Dad explained the professional played golf for money. The golf club paid him to play golf, teach people how to play golf, and to run the shop for them. His occupation was a professional golfer.

Dad went on to say, even though he was the captain, and he played golf 2 or 3 times a week, he was an amateur golfer. Because he played for fun.

All these years later my Dad’s is the best definition of the word professional. It’s when someone get’s for the services they offer and not doing it as a hobby, for fun.

A professional photographer takes photographs and gets paid for taking photographs.

I take photographs. I enjoy taking photographs. But I don’t get paid for taking photographs. I’m an amateur photographer.

Easy isn’t it.

Size of camera

But recently I’ve seen people using the term professional to imply superiority. And in some cases, to have a go at people they feel are inferior to them.

Sticking with the photography example, I was talking to a design agency about producing video.

They reviewed some of the videos I’ve made using my iPhone 6S and my Lumix camera. They said complimentary things about my results. I was happy with their opinion. But they also said, if I wanted them to help me, they could make my videos look much more “professional”.

I asked them what they meant by more “professional”.

The answer was, “We can use a better camera. We can add more sophisticated graphics and we can introduce tighter editing.”

No one’s paid me for making my videos. I’m an amateur videographer not a professional. The agency is offering to film and edit videos for me for money on a professional basis. So the agency does meet my definition of professional.

But that’s not what they meant is it?

What they really meant is “professional” is using a more expensive camera. Using more expensive software to edit the footage. Using tighter, i.e. better, editing.

But would another, bigger, agency with an even bigger camera and even more sophisticated software offer an even more “professional” service to the first agency?

And is a film studio or the BBC more “professional” than the bigger design agency simply because they have access to bigger, giant, cameras and even more sophisticated editing equipment?

Vlogging a roadshow

A few days later whilst talking to a big financial services corporate who are about to do a series of roadshows, I suggested they got someone to Vlog it. Their reply was they couldn’t afford to hire a cameraman.

I said get one of the staff to do it on an iPhone. Or go out and buy a good point and shoot.

They said that wouldn’t be very “professional”.

So, their view is it’s not “professional” to do a corporate video on an iPhone or a cheap camera? Or to get one of their staff to Vlog a roadshow.

Do they think iPhones or cheap cameras shoot crap video?

What does professional mean?
Let’s be clear. iPhones and cheap cameras can shoot 4K video. Better even than standard BBC broadcast quality.

So if 4K on an iPhone or cheap camera isn’t “professional”, when does it become “professional”? On a Canon E90D? Or a great big BBC outside broadcast camera?

Passive language and jargon

Another time I was talking to a client about the language they use in their brochures. I found the language very passive, dull and full of management speak and jargon.

We did an edit of the brochures and introduced a much chattier style which I felt was much more engaging for potential customers. I’d researched their ideal client type and recommended words and language the clients had used themselves answering questions.

However, once the legal and finance people within the company got their hands on the redrafted copy, they wanted to change it back to the dull old style.

I do you get paid for writing copy for people and I do you get paid for creating marketing material. I’m a professional marketer. But it’s clear what this lot felt was more “professional” was the dull language, management speak, passive sentences and jargon.

Even though that language won’t engage their customers.

They’ve defined “professional” by their own corporate standards. And in their case professional means dull language, management speak, passive sentences and jargon. Just as the small agency’s definition of professional is shaped by the quality and size of their video equipment.

What does professional mean?

That’s fine I have no problem with people having standards.

It’s when people and companies start judging others by their standards that problems start. And if they imply someone else is “unprofessional” because they don’t have the same standards. Or the same sized equipment!

Swearing on LinkedIn

A friend of mine, Cara, wrote a fabulous article on LinkedIn and included the word “Fucking” in the title. Her engaging, thought provoking piece made a hard-hitting point about people who want to work from home. She added a few more “fucks” in the body copy.

Her article went viral and attracted many thousands of hits and many hundreds of comments.

80% of the comments were positive and everyone agreed with the sentiment of her article. But the other 20% criticised her for using profanity in her article.

Reading the comments, it’s clear some of them couldn’t get past the swearing and even consider how powerful the message in the article was.

They pointed out LinkedIn is a “professional” website and there should be no swearing in such a “professional” environment.

Does “professional” mean an environment devoid of swearing?

I’ve worked in many big corporates and experienced boardroom debates loaded with Fs and Cs and Bs and Ts. Boardrooms are “professional” environments, aren’t they?

All these examples made me wonder what the word “professional” really means.

You are professional

And the answer is it means different things to different people and different companies.

It only becomes a problem when they judge others by their self-imposed standards. And imply that anyone else not living up to those standards is “not professional”.

Chris Marr who runs the Content Marketing Academy summed it up best, “Is the bigger problem here more about how people judge others on their own ideals? ‘This is how I think you should be behaving and you do not meet my expectations, therefore you are a lesser individual than I am and you are living your life the wrong way. This is how you should change your behaviour to meet my expectations…'”

It’s true in the case of Cara’s hashtag “swearygate”.

Photographer and content marketer, Anne Johnston said, “What gives you the right to judge Cara because in your eyes she doesn’t behave the way you think she should? People that are so uptight that they think their way is the only way? I ain’t got time for that! Professional does mean different things to different people but it certainly does not give you the right to treat people like shit because they don’t act the way you want them to!”

I like this take on the topic by software developer Phil Hearne, “I don’t have a problem with a word having two different meanings – there are plenty of examples. It’s the implication that anything that is not professional must be crap. And worse, those that go around thinking that ‘my standards are professional’ and anything else is not as professional. Who says?”

Here’s the thing.

Whatever your job, if you get paid, you are a professional.

Full stop.

You deliver a professional service at standards you set for yourself and your customers.

If you want to make video on your iPhone or camera. Do it. Go ahead and crush it. Don’t let anyone put you off. Okay an agency might be able to put a more “polished” production together, but never let them say it’ll be more professional than yours.

Other people and companies might have more expensive, or bigger, equipment, different standards and different outlooks but they have no right to judge you, or imply you are inferior if you don’t meet their own expectations.

If they do. Well, how unprofessional of them.

Now it’s your turn:

I’ve only scratched the surface of this topic. People can be professional and act in an unprofessional way, can’t they? What was bugging me was the “superiority” professional implies. What examples have you come across? Please leave a comment or share on social media.

World class communication and public speaking lessons from Marcus Sheridan

Do you do public speaking?

What about running seminars or workshops?

Whether you’re stood in front of 10 people or a thousand, you’re in the spotlight and have to be at the top of your game. And to stay on top you have to continue to learn, develop and improve.

You can watch Ted Talks, attend master classes, join Toast Masters, or you can seek out an event called World Class Communication.

I’ve clocked up over 20 years of public speaking. I’ve done audiences of 10. And crowds of thousands.

In that time I’ve learned, developed and improved and changed my style for the better. Starting out, I made the mistake many still do. Inflicting death by bloody PowerPoint on my audiences. Talking to slides and not to people. Now I hardly use any slides at all and my talks are better without them.

But the best lessons I’ve learned in 20 years of speaking happened over the last year on Day 1 and Day 2 of World Class Communication with Marcus Sheridan.

World class communication and public speaking lessons from Marcus Sheridan

Marcus critiquing our talks on Day 2: The Principles.

If you listen to my podcasts or read my blogs you’ll have heard me mention Marcus. He’s a US marketer and well-known keynote speaker. Described by Ann Handley as being, “in his own category of one”, Marcus is one of the most powerful, engaging speakers I’ve ever seen. At the same time, he’s a humble, family man without a trace of ego. A true professional.

When I heard Chris Marr, the Scotland-based entrepreneur and head honcho of the Content Marketing Academy, was running his WCC event, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of working with Marcus.

World Class Communication (WCC)

Day 1, called “The Principles”, covers the ten commandments of speaking, the essential “Columbus Principle”, the concept of preparing segments and not complete talks, and digs deep into the fascinating concept known as, “yes…and”. Expect 25-30 people at the event and you’ll have to speak at least once.

“The Practice” is Day 2. A more intimate group of only 10 people. You’ll stand on a proper stage, deliver your talks and hear Marcus add his critique. He’s never brutal, but he’s always challenging, squeezing out gems and angles you’d never have realised existed. Pushing you to improve. Motivating you to excel.

Some people were in tears on stage. Not because Marcus pushed them too far. But because he helped them find emotional depth within their stories. He gave them permission to be more human.

Before WCC I’d already changed my style over the years and put these principles into practice. Let me share them with you before I move on to the lessons I learned from Marcus.

Start with the speech, not the slides.

We’ve all done it. Especially if you work in a big corporate. Someone asks you to put together a presentation. Your mouse pointer immediately clicks on PowerPoint and you start to put together a slide deck.

Once upon a time this was my greatest presentation sin.

Basing your talk around the slides means you’ll talk to the slides during your speech.

Heading. Bullet point. Bullet point. Bullet point.

People can read but they turned up to hear you speak not to read your slides. Talking to slides diverts you from the people who are the heroes of your speech. The audience.

Have you ever been to a conference and a speaker puts up a slide with tiny writing even people on the front row can’t read? And he’ll say, “You probably won’t be able to see this.”

Don’t you want to shout out, “Well why bother putting it up there.”

Write your speech first. Build the structure and the stories. The conclusion. Only when you have the speech nailed should you think about whether you need slides.

World class communication and public speaking lessons from Marcus Sheridan

Day 2 venue: Scottish Whisky Experience.

Ditch the slides (or at least most of them)

Once you have your structure, messages, stories and conclusion only add slides if they help reinforce the point you’re trying to make.

If it’s a technical subject or about business results, then, of course, slides are relevant. If not free yourself from them. Forbid yourself to do heading and bullet points. If you must use slides just use a couple of words or a strong picture.

It’s surprising how expected slides are, though. Last year the day before one seminar, I received a panic-stricken phone call from the organisers.

“We haven’t received your slides,” they said.

“It’s okay I don’t have any.”

A moment of silence.

“But speakers always have slides. We like to give them out in the delegate pack so they can read along.”

Even some conference organisers think the slides are the most important part of the presentation.

Prove them wrong.

Start with a provocative statement or question

How many times have you heard someone start a presentation will a load of blurb about themselves?

“I’m really pleased to be here. Let me start by telling you about myself. And my company.”

Stop it.

People don’t want to hear your life story or an advertising campaign for your company. If the organiser did their work properly they’ll have introduced you anyway.

Start with a provocative statement like, “80% of businesses fail because they don’t focus enough on marketing.”

Or a question like, “By a show of hands how many people in the room have done a live video broadcast in the last 24 hours.”

Public speaking lessons from Marcus Sheridan – The Columbus Principle

The first of the lessons I learned from Marcus back on Day 1 back in May.

When you go on most presentation skills courses they still teach you an age-old successful formula.

Tell ’em what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you’ve told them.

It works. I’ve based many successful presentations on this formula over the years. Feedback has been great. But in the end, I’ve been up there in “tell tell tell” mode. It’s time for something different.

Marcus teaches the Columbus Principle. The idea is to ask your audience questions so they find the answers themselves. So you get them to tell you what you want them to hear.

It’s hard to switch to this way of presenting. You’ll get a load of “WTF” looks from audiences not used to being asked questions. But it works and it’s engaging.

Here’s an example. Before Day 1 if I’d wanted to show what a powerful content producing device a mobile phone is, I would’ve told the audience something like this. “The mobile device in your pocket is a phone, obviously but it’s also a portable TV studio. A live broadcasting unit. A radio station. And it’s a virtual assistant that can take dictation.”

Now instead of telling, I’ve asked questions to get the audience to tell me what the phone can do. Here’s an audio snippet from a recent presentation I gave where I asked questions and not just told the audience. It’s work in progress, based on what I learned from Marcus. I’ve been pleased with the results so far.

This is one of the key, game-changing lessons you’ll learn on the WCC course. Try it. The results are amazing.

Listen to the answers

If you’re going to ask a load of questions you have to listen to the audience’s answers. Often the golden nugget you need to let you make a vital point will come from an audience member. Marcus refers to the Power of Three. If you stick with the same person and ask them more than one question you’re more likely to get the nugget you need.

As Marcus says, “Asking one person three questions is more powerful than asking three people one question.”

Be careful, though. I’ve found myself thinking about the question I’m going to ask the next person and not listening to the answers. If you do that you’ll miss the gem you need to nail your point.

The Power of Silence

Silence is a great way to emphasise a message. But when you’re on stage one second feels like an eternity.

Marcus helped us to exploit the power silence can bring to the point you want to make. So hit the audience with your punchline and count slowly to 10 before you continue.

Yes, that 10 seconds might feel like an hour. You might be desperate to continue. But hold on. Let your words sink in.


Another game changer. Most of us probably put presentations together from scratch or adapt existing ones. Maybe starting with the slides which we’ve already discussed isn’t best.

Marcus teaches segments. Rather than writing whole presentations create a series of segments. And when someone asks you to put together a full presentation simple construct it from the most relevant segments in your segment locker.

The key to each segment is the story.

I’ve always littered my presentations with stories. Always believed stories are the best way to engage an audience. But I’ve never thought about them in the context of segments before.

You can split each segment into 4 parts.

  • A question or questions
  • The story
  • The result
  • The call to action

In the above example audio snippet the segment would work as follows:

  • Questions: What can your mobile device do?
  • Story: The practical example of using the mobile device to create text from dictation
  • The result: The realisation you have a powerful content creation device in your pocket or bag
  • CTA: Go out there and create great content

Most people doing presentations might unconsciously have segments. I found the formal process of identifying them, separating them and working on the stories, means I can put together a great presentation quickly.

The story is the hero.

Other gems and last thoughts

Marcus’s comments on my presentations both humbled and motivated me. And I have some things, like “silence” and “the power of three” to work on. But it’s now just his comments and suggestions on your own work. You learn a ton from his thoughts and advice for everyone else in the intimate group.

  • Where to stand on stage and how to use movement to enhance your storytelling
  • A reminder of the structure of a cracking story: the setup, the struggle, and the resolution
  • Letting the “laugh wave fade”
  • Relating lessons you want the audience to learn back to yourself, “I had to get over it… We have to…”
  • Focus on the outcome
  • It’s all about the story
World class communication and public speaking lessons from Marcus Sheridan

Day complete. Many lessons learned.

I’ll say it again. What a game changing couple of days.

Many thanks to Chris Marr from the Content Marketing Academy for arranging WCC. And to Marcus Sheridan for such an inspiring, motivational experience. I’m fired up to get out there and deliver more talks.

If you fancy going on World Class Communication click here to find out more from the CMA website.

If you want to hire me to speak at your next event click here to find out more about how I can help you.

Now it’s your turn

Any thoughts about World class communication and public speaking lessons from Marcus Sheridan? Leave a comment below or share it on social.

Public speaking tips and world-class communication – MAF108

In this episode, I talk about world-class communication.

How you can take your presentations to another level.

Welcome to episode 108 of the Marketing and Finance Podcast.

Public speaking tips and world-class communication

What you’ll hear about in this episode

  • Lessons learned from Marcus Sheridan – a world-class presenter and facilitator
  • The “Columbus principle” of asking instead of telling
  • Snippet from a recent seminar about “The TV studio in your pocket”.
  • Other tips you can use to stand out as a public speaker

Following a family bereavement, I’m a bit behind with my podcast interviews.

Sorry about that.

So today is one of those occasional episodes where it’s just me and the mic, talking about a topic that’s recently caught my attention. I reflect upon what I’ve learned over 20 years of public speaking and share some quick tips you could use to up your game. I also talk about a workshop I attended led by Marcus Sheridan and the game-changing effect he’s had on my presenting.

There’s also a chance for you to attend a similar workshop with Marcus in Edinburgh on 28 November 2016 – but you’ll have to be quick.

If you enjoyed – Public speaking tips and world-class communication – please leave a comment or a review on iTunes.

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