Interview with Christine K. Clifford
What is the message you hope people take away from your presentations?
Since I speak on a variety of topics, ranging from sales and marketing to using humor to get through life’s adversities, I always hope people walk away with actionable ideas– that they can make changes in their personal and professional lives and find a better life. And regardless of what topic I’m speaking on, I have a main message which is: Don’t forget to laugh.
Do you have a favorite experience from your speaking career?
One of my signature stories is always fun to tell because of the reactions from the audience. I was in the midst of treatment for breast cancer. Bald as a billiard, I took a break from my treatments and the cold Minnesota winter and flew to Scottsdale, Arizona. While I was there, a tournament was being played on the Senior PGA Tour, called “The Tradition.” I bought tickets and was standing on the tee, watching three of my golf idols tee off: Jack Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd and Tom Weiskopf.
A gust of wind came up and blew my hat– and my hair– right off my head, right into the middle of the fairway. The crowd of 10,000 people watching was silent. Not a peep. So I slid under the ropes, ran out into the middle of the fairway, grabbed my hat and my hair, and turned to the golfers. “Gentlemen, the wind is blowing left to right!” This story always brings down the house!
How do you prepare for speaking engagements?
I always ask to speak to as many people within an organization, including some of their customers, whenever possible. I’ve even traveled to conduct such interviews. I gain so much insight into what my client is struggling with, or wants to do better, or perhaps I learn things from their customers that they didn’t even know. The basic principles of my sales and marketing strategies don’t change, but I can customize them for the client.
How did your cancer ordeal help shape the person you are today?
I learned that there is nothing to fear. I encourage salespeople, for example, “Don’t forget to ask!” What is the worst thing that can happen to you? Your prospect might say, “No.” They might not return your call. But it isn’t the end of the world. You pick yourself up and move on to the next customer.
It also gave me the courage to do things I never knew I had inside of me: writing books, becoming a speaker, starting several businesses. If my Guardian Angel landed on my shoulder today and said I could go back and change three things in my life, my cancer experience would not be one of them. For me personally, it’s been a true gift.
Do you have any tips for individuals wishing to become better salespeople?
I have enough actionable tips to fill hours of conversation! But a few would include, don’t be a Jack of All Trades. Instead, become a Master of One. When you try to be too many things to too many people, you dilute your message or your company. You’re never perceived as an expert in your field. Instead, become the “Go To” person about one thing and the entire universe will open up to you.
My second piece of advice is, learn to tell your story and tell it well. Instead of opening a sales call with the benefits and features, and God forbid, price of the item/products/service you are selling, first, tell me your story. Why did you become a banker, or a teacher or open your own eye clinic? Tell me your story.
How are your keynote presentations unique?
I follow my own advice: I tell stories. People are always fascinated with the variety of stories I tell about issues like brands, price, relationships, packaging. I also insert a lot of humor and use my own trademark cartoons from many of the books I’ve written whenever possible. Stories are the way the human animal learns.
How much does humor factor into your keynotes?
For my presentations in healthcare, it’s predominately humor based. Using my own personal experiences, I demonstrate how we can find humor in even the most difficult situations. Humor is a great connector of people. And it’s a fabulous way to break the tension, put people at ease and find a way to communicate. In my corporate presentations on sales and marketing, I like to use humor as a way of puctuating my content.
What is the most important thing you have learned about yourself?
That I am a survivor: of breast cancer, of ups & downs in my companies and careers, of domestic violence, of loss. But being a survivor is a powerful thing to be. It teaches you that life goes on; it gets better and better; and it allows you to teach others by example. Thank you for the opportunity to share a bit of my story with you and A-speakers.