Speak little; listen much

I’ll be giving a talk at TEDxWellington next weekend.  I’m not allowed to reveal too much about what I’m going to say, but I will be spending some time talking about the IETF’s Requests for Comments, or RFC’s for short.

One of the most important RFC’s is RFC 760, which defined Internet Protocol, or IP for short – this is the really basic schematic for how Internet information packets are put together.  Section 3.2 contains the following lovely snippet, now referred to as “Postel’s Law”:

an implementation should be conservative in its sending behavior, and liberal in its receiving behavior

I was looking for a way of expressing this in plain English, and came across this lovely paragraph from 17th century theologian Francis Fenlon:

Speak little; listen much; think far more of understanding hearts and of adapting yourself to their needs than of saying clever things to them.  Show that you have an open mind, and let everyone see by experience that there is safety and consolation in opening his mind to you.  Avoid extreme severity, and reprove, where necessary, with caution and gentleness.  Never say more than is needed, but let whatever you say be said with entire frankness.  Let no one fear to be deceived by trusting you …  And correct yourself, for the sake of correcting others.

This came from Fenlon’s collection of Spritual Letters to Women, but is equally applicable to us moderns of any gender, especially software engineers.

HT: Stan

Pitching tips

Idealog magazine published an article today about a great little initiative by MYOB – getting people to pitch their startup ideas for a cup of coffee on their way to work.  Nice one, Sarah Putt – I’m all for anything that encourages people to find their inner entrepreneur and find the courage to share.

Sarah had asked me earlier in the week if I could share five tips for people pitching their ideas on the fly – and here’s what I said:

1. Always start with your name and the name of your business, enunciated very clearly.  Really basic, eh – you’d be surprised how many people don’t get this right, and left me thinking – who was that?  what was their business called?

2. Establish rapport with your audience – look them in the eye, and send out your love.  You’re doing what you’re doing because you believe in it and you want to help them, right?  If not, you should probably be doing something else or talking to someone else.

3. What’s your vision/strapline?  Whatever you’re doing, it’s to solve a real world problem.  Examples: The Warehouse – where everyone gets a bargain;  MYOB – Love your work;  BMW – The ultimate driving experience.  Focus on the why or the end state, not the how or the process.  Make sure your passion shines through!

4. What is it about your team or product that makes it unavoidably attractive?  Kiwis are prone to underselling themselves, now is not the time to be modest.  Don’t lie or overextend the truth, but everyone and everything has some kernel of underlying awesome – leave your audience in no doubt as to what that is.

5. End with a positive call to action – no ask, no get.  Frame it with urgency (not desperation) in the sense that they’ll be missing out if they don’t act.  Do what you can to make it easy to say yes and hard to say no.  If your audience doesn’t know what you’d like them to do, how could you ever expect them to do that?

6.  Practice, practice, practice.  Use live subjects wherever possible – listen uncritically, and integrate the feedback into the next iteration of your pitch.

Okay that was six tips, so here’s an extra added bonus:

7.  Always stretch the rules – but don’t overstay your welcome.