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
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