Seth Godin: Hardly Worth the Effort

Seth Godin is the author of several books about “marketing, the spread of ideas and managing both customers and employees with respect”. They are international bestsellers. His blog is one of my favourites and I highly recommend it.

In this post from 19 May 2010, Seth talks about the importance of making that extra effort to distinguish yourself from the crowd. It is this effort – which is usually the hardest part – that makes the difference between those who get by and those who stand out.

Let’s apply this principle to just one aspect of presentations – PowerPoint.

My students often ask me whether their PowerPoint slides must be absolutely perfect to get their message across. Of course, the answer is no.

By now, most people are used to seeing PowerPoint slides that have spelling mistakes or uneven indentation or irregular spacing between lines, etc. And, I suspect that only a small minority will hold such errors against you.

That is precisely why you should make every effort to make your slides perfect. So that your audience is able to distinguish your presentation from all the bad ones that they have seen. So that your presentation does not get filed, figuratively or literally, with the mediocre ones.

Excellence rises above the mass of mediocrity and gets noticed. Excellence is invited back to speak again and is well paid. Of course, mistakes will happen and we should not beat ourselves up when they do. But by working hard to eliminate mistakes in your slides, even small ones, you will raise the standard of your presentations noticeably.

Hardly worth the effort? To the contrary.


Hardly Worth the Effort

by Seth Godin

In most fields, there’s an awful lot of work put into the last ten percent of quality.

Getting your golf score from 77 to 70 is far more difficult than getting it from 120 to 113 or even from 84 to 77.

Answering the phone on the first ring costs twice as much as letting it go into the queue.

Making pastries the way they do at a fancy restaurant is a lot more work than making brownies at home.

Laying out the design of a page or a flyer so it looks like a pro did it takes about ten times as much work as merely using the template Microsoft builds in for free, and the message is almost the same…

Except it’s not. Of course not. The message is not the same.

The last ten percent is the signal we look for, the way we communicate care and expertise and professionalism. If all you’re doing is the standard amount, all you’re going to get is the standard compensation. The hard part is the last ten percent, sure, or even the last one percent, but it’s the hard part because everyone is busy doing the easy part already.

The secret is to seek out the work that most people believe isn’t worth the effort. That’s what you get paid for.

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  1. Great Post John,
    I was reading both and it really struck a chord. I was about to launch my e-book about a year ago, and it would have been easy just to slack off and do the 90% but I just wasn’t satisfied with it. I think knowing that we give the extra 10% in our lives brings a huge satisfaction to ourselves and offers people great credibility. After all, if we notice these errors on a resume what makes them forgivable anywhere else?

    1. Thanks for the comment, Vincent. I am with you all the way. In my old law firm in Toronto, I was on the Student Committee for several years. We used to receive 1,000+ applications for perhaps 18 to 20 articling positions. I was constantly amazed by the number of cover letters that contained bad grammar or typos – sometimes typos of the firm’s name! My view was that if the person cannot take care with a cover letter that is 100% in his or her interest, how can I be confident that he or she will take care with the files of the firm’s clients? John

  2. John,
    I could not agree more – the last mile is by far the most important one. The final 10% you put into your presentation, pitch, product or the delivery of your service is the crucial difference between success and oblivion. Everything else is just laying the groundwork.

    The same, by the way, applies to life and business in general; by going the extra mile, you stand out from others who do not. This is not always easy; at times, you wonder why you do it, considering so few others seem to do so. But in the long(er) term, success always come and you realize why you are doing it. Taking the time to help out others in a way that really makes a difference, answering e-mails promptly, giving freely of your time and energy, constantly looking for ways to support others in achieving their objectives – that is what really makes the difference.

    It is true that this takes time, energy and commitment – however, in a society which seems to be plagued by managing quantity rather than quality (how many people have recently told you they were “very busy” – doing what?), focus and dedication are surefire ways to set yourself apart.

    To me, it is more a matter of overall life philosophy than a conscious thing – I find there is an almost Zen-like element to the overall pursuit of perfection (“pursuit” being the key word here). The secret, perhaps, is not so much to seek out the work that people believe isn’t worth the effort, but to do it in a way most people feel is too much effort. That is indeed what you get paid for.

  3. I agree.
    As as MS Office/PowePoint specialist sometimes I am called to check slides or files and to improve their quality, this means layout but, to me, also mispelling and mistakes. I don’t separate in layout and contents.
    That’s why it is not the last 10%, it is 100%.
    _Medium is the message_
    If you want to realize a pro flyer or else, you’ll need to check everything:
    bullet points, double spaces or lining, alignment, first and last name of people appearing in the file, consistency between slides or pages, correct format of dates (1st, 2nd…) and values (1.000,00 or 1,000.00, it depends on the language/country), months and adj. captal letters (May, Spanish…Italian people often forget it) and every single full stop and comma.
    Doesn’t matter if the client didn’t ask to.
    If you are working for an external client, you will appear more reliable and capable and he’ll probably come back to you again.
    If you are working for an internal client, you will appear as a teamworker, more reliable and capable, and the company probably will get a new client or business.
    There’s no point not to take care of every aspect.
    Everything matters!
    Ilaria Previati
    (sorry for the size of the message, and for mistakes, I hope there are not so many 🙂 )

  4. Good Post.
    Here’s one from Oprah Winfrey that I like:
    “Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”
    And another from Dale Carnegie:
    “Don’t be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do the little jobs well, the big ones will tend to take care of themselves.”

      1. Great Post John (& reply Fred)!
        What is it the British say “Take care of the Pennies and the Pounds will take care of themselves”.
        This is good encouragement to set oneself apart by “going the extra mile”.

  5. This post really rings true. As much as we may have been told not to, people do make judgements based on appearances. Things like spelling mistakes look careless, and how can you believe someone who may have holes in their argument? How can you work with someone who may be careless in their efforts?

    A professional presentation will convey the impression that you as a presenter, or as a company, are professional. Having a really good, well-designed, well-thought-out presentation will make a presenter stand out from the others, and really impress his audience.

    And yes, ‘take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves’ really does apply here – be pedantic with every small point, and the overall effect will be a great one.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International