Being Real vs. Being a Parrot

When I was working in New York City for thirteen years, a small part of my job involved getting radio stations to come and broadcast live from our radio studio. Once I made the initial contact with a show host, producer, or program director, I was invariably handed off to the station engineer who would proceed to ask me some technical questions about the studio.

As long as the questions were pretty basic, I was OK. I had been on enough phone calls and sat in on enough meetings with our own engineers to have a cursory knowledge of our technical capabilities. I knew just enough to answer basic questions about what equipment we had, what type of T1 lines and other routing capabilities we had. I didn’t understand most of what I was saying, I was merely parroting information given to me. But quite often I was asked a question or two that went beyond the scope of what I knew. And I knew enough to use those moments to admit my ignorance, tell the person on the other end that I was a “technological moron” and refer them to my engineers who were more than capable of answering those questions.

There’s a difference between merely spewing out facts you’ve memorized or heard, and speaking from real, practical knowledge. And in this day and age, just spewing out facts like a parrot will only get you so far. With the level of information available to your customers fingertips via the Internet, they come to you more informed than ever, and they have the ability to quickly see through the ruse.

If as a marketer, or a business person, you find yourself in this position, there are a number of things you can, and should, do:

1. Admit your shortcomings – Not everyone is an expert on everything. There’s no shame in admitting your flaws, imperfections, and shortcomings. Not only is this the honest thing to do, but it can also be endearing.

2. Learn more – As I work with clients, I find myself learning more than I ever thought I would about a variety of things. I love those moments when a conversation with a client turns into an education for me. While I’ve learned a lot about fire engines, cooking, homelessness, and country music, I’ll never be an expert in any of those subjects. On the other hand, I’ll be able to answer more questions about those subjects than I was before. If you’re a marketer, get to know as much as you can about your business. Not just the product or service you offer, but about every aspect of everything that goes into creating that product or service.

3. Rely on experts – While you might not be an expert on certain subjects related to your business, there might be others who work with you who are. If you can’t answer questions, defer to them; let them answer those things related to their area of expertise.

4. Show off what you do know – Part of gaining the trust of clients and customers is by showing them what you know. Your blog and other social properties are great showcases for your knowledge. As you write and share content from your chosen field, you let others know how knowledgeable you are. And as stated in the previous point, let other experts help you create content when necessary.

If we only spit back what we have learned, we will eventually run out of things to say, and people will realize that we’re nothing but a parrot.

What are you doing to increase your knowledge and show off what you know, while avoiding being a parrot?

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