One of the greatest things about being 56 years old and having grandchildren is that you keep seeing the same thing over and over, and only the young people think it’s new.
Sure, at one point, mass communication was directed only one way—think about newspapers, billboards and early network radio broadcasts. But when I was little, our phone was on a party line, so if you picked up the receiver while somebody else on your block was on the phone, you could hear them speaking. If you needed to make a call but someone else was already using the phone, you’d have to interrupt: “Excuse me, Mrs. Wilcox, could you wrap up your conversation? I need to make a call.” And not until everybody was off the phone could you make that call. That was like your local version of Facebook and Twitter.
When I was growing up in Kansas, at least one-third of my friends and relatives were farmers, and when I’d spend time on the farms, as soon as the sun went down, dinner was done and dishes were clean, the farmer would always walk out into the barn, where he’d rigged up a ham radio. I can remember being 10 years old on the Rockin R Ranch near Fort Scott, Kansas, so excited to listen to one farmer talking to others—they were supposed to talk about farming business and what to plant and water, but they also were talking about the Muhammad Ali fight, the World Series and everything else. A farmer out in the middle of nowhere in Kansas—where you could literally shoot a rifle in any direction and not hit anybody—was holding conversations with others in Iowa, in Nebraska and in North Dakota all at once.
Then, when we drove home, my dad would be on his CB radio. His handle was “The Golden Ghost,” and I’d always try to prank truckers: I’d get on and say, “This is Smokey the Bear, a highway patrolman, and I’m going to catch all you speeders.” They obviously knew it was a kid, but they’d all talk trash anyway. It was just a blast.
So when America Online came out, you know I was on that thing! In 1998, I sat there and got religion about the beginnings of Dentaltown, because I knew this was going to be bigger than the party line, the ham radio and the CB. It would be bigger than all of them, rolled up into one. The following year, we launched Dentaltown—which means this year we’re celebrating our 20-year anniversary! (Look for special features related to the anniversary throughout 2019, including a blowout timeline in our March 2019 issue.)
It’s what you say—and how you say it
Communication is just a medium. I can talk to you in voice; I can write a letter and send it to you; I can send a magazine, post a billboard, run a television ad, post on any of the social mediums—all the same.
Communication has always been one of the most important components of success. Peter E. Dawson, founder of the Dawson Academy, beat it into my head probably a half-dozen times that there are different types of dentists:
The “one–two” dentists, who look in the mouth and treat only the worst teeth.
Those who get more sophisticated in presenting treatment plans say, “Well, if I’m going to numb up this corner of your mouth, I might as well do the whole quadrant.” Quadrant dentists do much better than one–two dentists.
Then, there are the elites, who can present treatment correctly enough to close the sale—and do so a lot.
I don’t care if you’re the greatest dentist on Earth: If you can’t persuade your patients to agree to work, you’re not going to get a dollar. Many dentists have put a lot of money into getting their FAGD and MAGD, and fancy equipment, but don’t get to do any of the work because they never focused on the value of communication.
I’ve talked numerous times about why many dentists don’t tend to be “people persons”—you can’t go to college and knock out A’s in math, calculus, chemistry, biology and physics and also be a partying extrovert who’s constantly surrounded by friends and dates. If you have the discipline to put in the time to become a doctor, you’re likely to be a cerebral person who’s not in your natural zone leading a staff or presenting treatment or closing. That’s why it’s common for dentists to say, “I hate sales. I don’t like selling dentistry.”
It’s time to improve your game
The good news: It’s not just a case of “not your personality.” There are many things you can do to improve your skills in the communications arena. A few ideas:
Everybody I know who’s in the people business and really at the top of their game did Toastmasters, and many probably still go in and volunteer to teach at the group. Participating in Toastmasters teaches you the structure of actually communicating in oral dialogue: You have an opening, you have your body, you have your closing. It gets you more confident in speaking.
I also recommend improv school. I think that and dabbling in stand-up comedy helped me develop my best skill set for public speaking on dentistry. I say I’ve lectured a thousand times because I did stand-up comedy, and in addition to learning how to speak in public, it also brought me patients. I think I got a new patient out of every gig because when I walked off stage, people would say, “Are you really a dentist?!” I got a lot of the students—heck, I even got my own teacher.
The other one you’ve heard of a million times: Dale Carnegie. We recently learned that scientists at Oxford may have solved one of the biggest questions of modern physics with a paper unifying dark matter and dark energy into a single phenomenon … which is something that Albert Einstein said 100 years ago. The same principle applies to Dale Carnegie: He introduced his ideas a long time ago, but I don’t think anybody who’s attempted to redo his work has actually shed any more insights.
Improved communication skills also pay off when you’re working with your staff. If you’re the dentist and can lay out a good, honest vision and make your team feel safe, you can attract and retain quality people. But so many dentists, if a hygienist asks for a raise, the first thing they do is log on to Dentaltown and say: “What should I tell her?” It’s like, “Buddy, you need to learn communication.”