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Shift from Canned Monologue to Constructive Dialogue

Posted by: Today's Tip Contributor on April 5, 2010

Networking events are jammed these days with Walking Billboards: hard-selling, attention-grabbing, in-your-face, walking, talking advertisements. No one in their right mind wants to be talked at and sold to while sipping a cocktail and schmoozing with new contacts, so why are there so many walking billboards?

Fact is, in our enthusiasm to pitch our businesses, many of us have unwittingly been walking billboards at one time or another. Maybe we’re not as aggressive as used car sellers, but we are giving a canned monologue when a constructive dialogue would serve our purpose much better. We are talking at, rather than with. Here are four tips to dial down your presentation and create a genuine conversation in your networking:

1. Set the stage. Most people like to have a little conversation before listening to a promotion of any kind. Michael Port, in Book Yourself Solid, recommends avoiding "So, what do you do?" as the first question you ask a new contact. Instead, he suggests discussing a valuable book or conference that might be relevant. By getting to know the person and making a connection, you may not even need to use canned self-promotions.

2. Ask first. No matter how excited you are about your idea and your business, rushing to speak and get your message across is likely to create a barrier, no matter how great your offering. To reduce this barrier, you can simply ask: "Can I pitch you on my business and services?" This sets the stage for the person you’ve met to engage in a conversation with you, even if you simply can’t wait to rattle off your 30-second advertisement.

3. Allow personal space. I’m amazed by how often people pitching ideas move closer and ignore the fact that I’m moving away. If I need to endure a 30-second commercial, I like to have a little distance so I can actually process what the person is saying and not get distracted by their spittle and breath. I think everyone appreciates some breathing room when listening to a promotion.

4. Read body language. Most people, in a rush to get their message out, ignore the body language of the person they’re speaking with. Ask yourself: Are they listening? Are they engaged in the promotion? Do they share my enthusiasm? Then you will see where you’re connecting and where you’re missing the mark. Reading the person’s body language indicates if your message is being heard or if you’ve become a walking billboard—seen and ultimately ignored.

At one time or another all of us get lost in our enthusiasm to pitch our businesses. This enthusiasm can get in the way of a genuine dialogue. By setting the ground, asking before promoting, giving some space, and watching the body language, we can create real conversations and memorable new connections. Let the billboards stay on the highways.

Michael H. Felberbaum
Hamden, Conn.

Reader Comments

William Brooks

April 9, 2010 11:37 AM

Mr. Felberbaum,

This is good information. I am not a salesman and I do not like sounding like one. I from the old school, were relationships matter. Like you, I like to get to know the person first, before trying to sell my company or services.


William Brooks
Wm. Brooks & Associates

Gaylyn Williams

April 11, 2010 4:06 PM

I totally agree with you. Relationships do matter. They are more important than our products. The person needs to know that we care about them more than we care about our products.

My book, Harness the "Power of Exceptional Customer Service" addresses these issues. It recently received the 2010 1st Place Award in the business category.

Thank you for this good reminder.


April 13, 2010 3:36 PM

Two weeks ago I attended a how-to- network seminar at a local non-profit. I felt anxiety and dread upon hearing the importance of the "90-second pitch." And our instructor, a 30-something pro at social networking, in particular, told our small gathering that we should have THREE such pitches in the hopper and available to bring out on any given occasion.

This all goes against my sensibilities as a thinker and a former reporter. I'm personally just not interested in listening to anyone blather on about themselves and their work. It is always better to engage in meaningful dialogue, first.

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