[Editor's note: Consultant Al Levi helps HVAC and plumbing contractors run their businesses with "less stress and more success." Here, Levi shares with readers ofThe NEWSsome of the questions he gets and the answers he provides. This column is meant to serve as a resource only. Please check with your own trusted business advisers, including your own attorney, to make certain that the advice here complies with all relevant laws, customs, and regulations in your area.]


Dear Al,
I hate public speaking but with an ever-expanding company I feel I must learn to talk to the company as a whole. I'm fine in a one-on-one conversation or meeting, but standing up in front of the entire company with every eye on me is unnerving.

I've tried to delegate this to my managers but they insist that I say something that will inspire the troops by setting the vision. I kind of agree but it doesn't lessen the anxiety. Do you have any suggestions?

- Tongue-Tied

Dear Tongue-Tied,
The two great fears we as humans have are death and public speaking. And of the two, public speaking is the greater fear. What that means is that most people attending a funeral would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy!

And, it is vitally important that you don't delegate the sharing of your vision with your employees. They need to hear it from you and look into your eyes to see your conviction. You set the attitude necessary to overcome challenges and to discover new opportunities.

Here are some quick tips to get you started:

The "vision" speech at a general meeting:

  • Keep the speech to about three to five minutes at most.

  • To help you stay on track, have numbered 3x5 index cards (in case you drop them, it's easy to put them back in order) with one or two thoughts on each card as reminders.

  • Print key words on the cards in big, bold letters.

  • What to talk about:

    1. What a great year it's been and thank them for making that so.

    2. Highlight the key changes for the better.

    3. Outline the sales goals for the upcoming year.

    4. Share why it benefits everyone that the company continues to grow.

  • Practice at home alone and then in front of family members so it gets more natural. Plus, it helps you to pace yourself.

  • Remember, they are really looking more for your emotions than your words. So smile as much as you can and don't be afraid to pause between cards.

    - Al Levi


    Dear Al,
    How do I get a new technician up to speed and on the road as fast as possible? I hire only techs from other outfits, and I assume they have all the necessary technical skills because they have a license. My goal is to only provide some basic sales training before I put them to work. What do I do first and for how long?

    - Speed Up the Process

    Dear Speed Up the Process,
    The recruiting, hiring, and training process is one area of your business that should never be rushed. Yes, you want to make your training effective and verified so that you don't waste time retraining on the same things.

    The time invested using a consistent, documented method pays big dividends here. The first mistake most contractors make is to only recruit when they need help rather than seeing recruiting as a year-round activity. There will always be people arriving and leaving your company. If you wait until you need somebody, you have to shortcut the process. It is so much better to tell everyone at the company, "We're growing and always looking for good people," rather than we're desperate to find somebody. A good worker will pay for himself.

    Assuming someone can perform your tasks your way without verification is a road to disaster. Some people are good test takers and they can achieve the license requirements without the practical skills required for real-world work.

    The time spent training and getting people comfortable with your company and your processes is the most important investment you can make. Build a good foundation by doing an excellent job of welcoming the new hires to the company.

    If you shortcut the process, you'll find yourself having to hire and fire too often, and that is a costly way of doing business.

    - Al Levi

    Al Levi of Appleseed Business specializes in private workshops, on-site assessments, customized operating manuals, and staff training programs for contractors. Levi delivers the benefit of the experience he gained from years of operating a large, family-run HVAC and plumbing business. For more information, visit www.appleseedbusiness.com. Levi's column runs regularly in the online Extra Edition section of The NEWS. To send him your own question, which if selected will run anonymously, send an e-mail to info@appleseedbusiness.com or fax him at 212-202-6275.

    Publication date: 06/12/2006