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Humareso Blog

It Don’t Mean a Thing

Ella could saaaang.  You know, just belt one out like she was making tea.  Effortless power, entrancing melodies and a sass hidden just below the surface.  And if you don’t know that Ella is Ella Fitzgerald, then, my friend, get on your favorite streaming service and indulge.  Life-changing.

Decades ago (gulp), Ella did a series of commercials for Memorex.  This company manufactured cassette tapes for the masses (look it up…they were something real).  The premise of having Ella was her vocal range.  She could shatter glass with her mezzo-soprano notes.  Memorex would bet on its quality being so high that a recorded voice of Ella would still break glass; and so it did.  The tagline was “Is it real or Memorex?”

But, if you know anything about recording tapes, the quality does not remain intact forever.  After a number of plays, the tape would start to degrade.  Ella’s voice did not remain as it once had, at least on the tape.  I had boxes of mix tapes that I made (think Guardians of the Galaxy) which now sound like warbled versions of bad karaoke.  It’s not pretty.

When you first hear the tape, it sounds as good as live.  The more plays, the less live it sounds.  The quality breaks apart.  It’s very similar to our approaches to work.  What we once did ten years ago may have been awesome.  People were astounded.  The content was dazzling.  But, through the years, it’s lost its luster.

Often, it comes back to us.  We’ve dialed it in for a while.  We took a training out of our closet and hoped to plug it in with the same effect.  We’re not passionate or fresh about it.  Think about your first trainer session, or your first handbook, or your first management presentation.  Weren’t you nervous?  Didn’t those nerves make you more attentive to what you were doing?  Didn’t they push you to greatness?  Thoroughness?  Care?  Just recycling the same stuff starts to sound very much like those warbled tapes.

Be live, not Memorex.

It could be difficult to sense that you’re less impactful.  You might think you’re just as sharp.  It’s best to ask for someone else’s opinion, or to survey the participants more regularly.  You don’t want to live in your own world with this.  Effective adoption of training and improvement is just as important as crafting the policy and content.

Part of the secret sauce in being “live” is coming back to the why.  Ask why this policy, training, conversation is important.  Why does it matter?  And what is the long-term impact, because of the content as well as effect to the culture?  These answers should motivate.  That motivation should be directed towards preparation and delivery.

And it would be a mistake to not remind you of the old tried and true method of recording yourself delivering the material before doing so.  This allows you to better hear the tone of delivery, the quality of your words and the intended meaning.  We can be so convinced that our method is clear, and then we listen to a recording.  We hear nuances that leave a door open to a different interpretation or adoption method.  Those issues can be remedied ahead of the actual delivery.

The cassette tape may have joined the 8-track (yes, fine, I’m old, whatever) in fading into a distant memory, but the lesson from Ella is clear.  We can still “shatter glass” with our sharp content delivery, impassioned tone and colorful application.  And nothing beats live.