The importance of self-improvement

By Greg Dardis / Guest Column

The bestselling author Donald Miller keynoted a four-day seminar in Nashville last fall where he evaluated business owners’ websites in real time. For the thick-skinned, it offered a chance for ex­pert, personalized feedback.

He began by addressing “the curse of knowl­edge,” a common mistake business owners make when they assume prospective customers know more about their business than they really do.

“We’re talking over their heads,” Miller said. “We’re not speaking to their actual needs.”

“If people can’t describe what you do in a short sentence,” he added, “you’re probably los­ing business to someone else, even if they’re an inferior company.”

Soon it was time for his first guinea pig: Vic­toria Clausen, the owner of a D.C.-based spe­cial-event company known for its flower designs.

Miller began by assessing her website’s home­page. The primary text, laid over a picture of an elaborately decorated table, consisted of four large words: “Victoria Clausen floral events.”

“No offense,” he said, “I’m sure you’re a wonderful person, but I don’t know who Victo­ria Clausen is. But there she is. And then ‘floral events.’ So floral events are events that are put on for flowers? It’s where flowers get together and have events together.”

Miller was being facetious, of course, but demonstrated how erroneously a casual vis­itor could interpret these choice words. Once he clarified that Clausen designs special events, Miller pressed a step farther.

“That’s what you sell: You sell a beautiful event. But I’m not looking for just a beautiful event. I’m looking for a beautiful event that im­presses my friends. … What’s in it for me? Every­body will be impressed. It’ll be the event of the season. What you’re offering me if you say ‘the event of the season’ is an identity. Something that I want that’s even more powerful than a beautiful event is I want to be the kind of person that is known for having a beautiful event.”

It was a razor-sharp, lickety-split assessment, and Clausen went on to take his advice. The pri­mary text on the homepage of her high-traffic site now reads: “Let’s design the event of a lifetime.”

This story resonates with me because it reflects the work we do at Dardis Communications: to help others “speak as well as you think.”

Clausen was already doing excellent work; she simply lacked the language to effectively convey it. So, too, do our clients, who come to us with a solid body of knowledge but need a little training to better articulate it.

There is a considerable confidence boost that comes with refining your public-speaking skills. It helps you articulate and own your profession­al achievements.

Clausen found the confidence to describe her capacity: to design “the event of a lifetime.” Like­wise, our clients are equipped to make the pre­sentation of a lifetime. They have all the tricks and tips to speak like never before.

This certainly comes in handy for the big talks in boardrooms and ballrooms, but it enhances all the other communication you do too – in caf­eterias and cubicles, in elevators and emails. It feels good to know that, at any given moment, you’re putting your best foot forward.

It can be difficult to pause the demands of daily work in order to undergo some self-improvement – be it a website revamp, a public-speaking sem­inar or a wardrobe consult. But in relatively little time, you wind up with a huge pay-off: allowing others to see the talent that was always there.

Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Communications, based in Coralville. For more information, visit