Pitching & Presenting

How to Be Strategic: Kill the Word “Strategic”

How to Be Strategic: Kill the Word “Strategic”

It was the eve of a key stakeholder workshop for a major sports event.

The organizing committee and the event marketing agency that I was heading were putting the final touches on the room set-up.  Jimmy, the committee’s head of communications, was at the lectern rehearsing his presentation.

Corporate buzz here, corporate buzz there, corporate mediocrity everywhere.  It tasted like iceberg lettuce.  Romaine has more character.  Rucola has more meaning.  Baby field greens stand for something.  Iceberg stands for nothing.

The presentation was actually pretty good.  It was the vocabulary that dulled the taste.  “Blah, blah, blah-dee-blah, blah.”

Thanks to Harold, my Head of Sales and a witty cynic to boot, I soon came to realize that this mediocrity was the result of an all too popular business word being overused.  Again and again… and again.

“Jimmy, for Gawd’s sake… 27 and counting!” Harold called out toward the lectern, and he put another notch on a sheet of scrap paper.  “I only started counting part way through, and you’ve used the word ‘strategy’ or ‘stra-TEEEE-gic’ 27 times!”

It’s been over a decade since that strateeeegic rehearsal, but it pops into my mind often… every time I hear The S-Word used when another word would be more effective.

I recently saw a business book title that boasted 251 “strategies” for winning more business with key customers.  I’m sorry, but the concept of “strategy” deserves greater respect than that.  I can’t remember 250 strategies.  Maybe you can, but you could never implement them.  You’d live your business life in a dizzying tail spin.

How about 25 strategies and 225 tactics?  Sorry again.  Too complex.  In the fast pace of the Brave New World, I’d fail with the 25.  And so would you.  And so would your sales team.  And therefore, your strategies would fail!

Some business people differentiate between strategies and tactics by saying that strategies are long-term and tactics are short term.  I say there’s a correlation to that, but it’s not the differentiator.  Others say that strategies are broad and comprehensive while tactics are pointed and focused.  I still think that’s a correlator and not a definer.

For me, the real difference between strategies and tactics is the following: strategies contemplate the resources required for effective execution.

If you have to add, reduce or re-deploy resources in order to implement an activity, you’re probably talking “strategy.”  If you change message points in your presentation while in the taxi to a prospect’s office, you’re probably talking “tactics.”

By overusing The S-Word, we actually dilute its real impact.  And we sound like recycled, mediocre, corporate mush.

By forcing yourself to use The S-Word less frequently, you’ll logically force yourself to use other words more frequently… and you’ll be more effective in the process.

Try “tactics” or “tactical” for starters.  (After all, the winning skippers of yachting teams recruit superb tacticians.)  Try “approach” or “action plan” or…

You get the point.  By overusing The S-Word, we actually become… less strategic!

Take it from Jimmy.

The next morning at the stakeholder workshop, he made his presentation… and he wowed them.  The stakeholders I spoke to were really impressed, perhaps because he reduced his use of The S-Word to a grand total of ten.

Harold counted every last one of them.  And I noticed that the words “promotion,” “programs” and “activities” a lot more.  Not only did Jimmy sound more professional, he actually made a lot more sense.

In fact, he came off like a real… strategist.


Photo by Joey Ganoza http://www.flickr.com/photos/8998965@N05/