I do a fair amount of presentations on Law Library, Knowledge Management, Records, Social Media, and Competitive Intelligence topics. When the talk is over, I usually go through the comments from the audience to see what I could have done better, or if there were things that I missed and need to include the next time around. Almost without fail, however, I see one comment every time I review those comments:

“I’ve heard all of this before, you’re not giving me anything new that will fix the issues I have at my office.”

This comment is usually tagged along with the section where I tell the audience that you need to “market” what you do; that you need to “communicate” with the key players in your firm; and, that you need to be “proactive” in your mission and not wait for someone to come to you first.

Everyone has heard that trifecta of Market, Communicate, and Being Proactive, but the primary reason you are hearing it over and over again is that without these three key elements, your goals won’t make it off the ground. Another reason that you hear these elements is that, although you may be the exception to the rule, most of the people that are in the room still struggle with actually implementing these three processes. I’ll give you one example from a webinar I moderated last week.

When asked what the Information Technology group could do better in working with the Library at a law firm, one of the answers was roughly, “IT should come talk to the library before they begin planning their projects.” The idea behind this comment was that the library has resources, experience and expertise in many areas that the IT group could leverage to approach their projects more effectively. That’s a great idea… but does anyone think that the IT group is going to amend its Standard Operating Procedure manual and add in: “Step One- Contact the library”? Probably not. So, the takeaway that I would think that you’d get from the trifecta of key processes is that you’d apply them in this order:

  1. Be Proactive – Go to the IT Group when you hear of upcoming projects that you believe your department could help with.
  2. Communicate – Talk in the language that IT understands. Build a business case that explains specifically what resources, experience and expertise the library has that would make the project more efficient. Verbal communication alone is simply not enough.
  3. Market – Upon successful implementation of the processes you’ve developed, bring that up with everyone that you want to do business with in the future. Nothing breeds success like success.
As much as I would love for one of my presentations to inspire someone go to out and solve all the issues they face back at work, I understand that it probably won’t happen like that. Presentations are more like conversation starters and idea generators. They are very general and the examples used in the presentations almost never address the specific issues that you face back at work. The best that many of us can hope for when we attend a presentation that is presented by a peer, is that we can have a few “take aways” that we can adapt to our issues. Presentations are simply that… presentations. The people that present are not consultants, they are usually your peers that are wanting to talk about some successes (or failures) that they’ve had to deal with and wanted to share those with others in order to get a conversation started. The hard work of actually continue that conversation, or building upon those ideas, is up to you.
It kind of reminds me of this story that I heard from one of my more opinionated congregational members of the Pentecostal Church I grew up in:

One morning, the Preacher was having individual prayer session with his congregation, which was made up of mostly farmers. As each farmer came in and talked with the preacher, they each gave pretty much the same request. “Brother, would you pray for me and ask God to kill off all these weeds that are choking my crops?”
After hearing this request from farmer after farmer, the Preacher welcomed in the final farmer and immediately said to him, “I suppose you want me to pray for God to help you with your weed problem?”
The farmer replied, “Oh, no Brother. I needed you to pray for my youngest child, who has been sickly lately.
The preacher was stunned, “Don’t you have a weed problem, Brother?”
“Oh, yes I do. They are terrible this year,” replied the farmer.
“Well, what are you doing about it?” asked the preacher.
The farmer looked the preacher in the eye and answered, “I get up early every morning and pray hard for the Lord to help with the weed problem. Then I get out in the field and hoe like hell.”