About ten years ago I had a very interesting experience while attending a conference in Ho Chi Minh City.

I’ve been lucky enough to speak at conferences all around the world for years but this one was different.  I had an interpreter.

At first I thought ‘this should be a bit of fun’ and then I started to panic.  I was about to enter a whole new world, a whole new way of communicating with a group of people about a topic that was really important.

It wasn’t so much that I had to pause at the end of every sentence for my helper to deliver the same piece of information in Vietnamese, it was more the frenzy I whipped myself into as I concentrated more on what I was saying in the hope nothing would be lost in the translation.

I finished an abridged version of my usual presentation and I was exhausted!… and then terrified!

If I had to concentrate so much on my delivery THIS time then how must my deliveries have sounded every other time I took the stage speaking in English, throwing my arms around and speaking at 100 miles an hour?

I went back to my room and stared out the window for the next three hours while I tried to come to terms with how stupid I was not to have spent more time focussing on this in the past.

I assumed my participants in the audience knew and understood everything I was saying, in the language I delivered it in.  I assumed that by the nods and the post delivery smiles and offerings of congratulations that I was doing OK, and I assumed that because I kept getting invited back this must be what they wanted from me.

OK, so I can’t have really sucked or I wouldn’t have had an invitation back…

…but if I’d spent more time focussing on how they wanted to hear my message as opposed to how I wanted to deliver the message, I think I could’ve  done a much better job and maybe had more invitations.

And that has been my sole focus for the last decade!

SO how does this relate to you?

In your business do you really focus on delivering your message to the customer in a manner that they want to hear it?  Or is it a delivery that you think is right based on the ease of you delivering the message.

Put more simply, are you talking TO your customers or AT your customers?

In addition, are you assuming that your customers know what you’re talking about and that the content of your delivery is of interest to them?

At the same function in Vietnam I had breakfast one morning with a gentleman who owns a chain of pharmacies in Thailand.  During the course of our conversation he was telling me how his 107 year old company was slowly losing market share and he was struggling to pinpoint why.  When I posed to him my dilemma from the previous day the penny dropped.  Because people had been coming into his store for so long he had assumed that the delivery of his message was right and as a result had not updated his sales training or marketing techniques for years.

These two simple stories are great examples of why, as business leaders, we must continue to refine the way we communicate, sell, and market our business.  Not only in the content of our delivery but the way in which we deliver it.