I was meeting with Sharon over lunch yesterday. She’s been a successful professional for 20 years and now functions as a project manager and part-time business developer. She is considered a leader in her firm, one who might be asked to become regional manager before too long.
However, she freezes up when she thinks about having to make small talk with strangers or people she knows only slightly. Her role requires her to attend networking meetings and to build her circle of contacts.
The key for Sharon and everyone else who dreads networking is this: Ask good questions that get the other person talking about themselves. And make sure they are not questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no.”
In truth, we all like to talk about ourselves. We like to brag about our kids or tell a humorous story about what Fido did. We certainly share stories about our travel nightmares or the weather.
So, try out some of these the next time you’re facing the networking nightmare.
- How did you fare during last week’s snowstorm/flood/etc? What did you do (or have your kids do) to keep from going crazy?
- I heard you have a new baby/just got married/bought a new house or car. Congratulations! What kind of impact has that had on your life?
- I’ve been thinking about where I might go on vacation this year. I’m collecting input from folks I talk to. What has been your favorite vacation spot? (Follow up with “And why?” if they give you a one-word answer.)
- You can use that same technique to get someone talking about their favorite breed of dogs, model of car, private school, etc.
- If someone has an accent that indicates he’s not local, say, “I noticed your accent. What part of the country are you from?” Or “What’s your country of origin? Either can easily be followed by “What brought you here?”
Remember: The key is to ask a good question that keeps them talking about themselves and lets you be the listener.
Do you think this management team served its employees well?
Our son does what I call in-house customer service for a telecommunications company. Last week the powers that be called the staff together to tell them what was coming up this week. (We like it when people set clear expectations.)
Due to several factors, management portrayed this week as Hell Week (my words).They let staff know that this week was going to be extremely busy and that people would feel the pressure.
They set an expectation that this week was going to be totally miserable. Our son bought into the expectation. He even advised us that he would be under extreme pressure and might not be his usual jolly self.
I give management good marks for letting people know that it would be rough this week. However, couldn’t they have tempered that warning somewhat, so it wouldn’t be so dire? Or maybe they tried and our son didn’t hear it.
We get what we look for in this world. If we expect stress and problems, that’s what we find. If we expect good things, we manage to find those, too.
Our thoughts and expectations—what’s between our ears—are the only things we can control. What thoughts are you programming yourself with today?
P.S.: I just asked him how Monday went. “It wasn’t bad. Much better than what I expected.”
Yesterday I sat through a 45-minute presentation where I understood next to nothing. The guy might as well have been speaking Greek, which I don’t understand.
I was supposed to walk away from the presentation understanding what his business does and what his business model is. Didn’t happen.
When we write or talk to others about our business, we talk from what we know and understand. We throw in technical terms and acronyms. We assume our reader or listener follows us.
When crafting a message, written or oral, you have to think about your reader. Ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly.
- What does my audience (reader or listener) want to know?
- What does my audience not need or not want to know?
- Does my audience really need a step-by-step history of how I got to where I am?
- What jargon, technical terms, and acronyms will my audience understand?
- What do I need my audience to understand when they get through the message?
- What do I need my audience to do after they get through the message?
Spend some time answering these questions before you even start to write anything. Your audience will be glad you did.
It was a painful conversation to witness. I was meeting with Jennifer and Patrick. They are partners in a small professional service firm. We were discussing things that the business needed and trying to prioritize those needs.
Patrick was quite adamant that the accounting system needed to be overhauled. Now.
Jennifer was concerned that the firm needed to be developing its junior staff. Then she started thinking about more concerns.
“In addition to accounting and training, I’ve been concerned that we may be behind on our policies and procedures manuals,” Jennifer said.
Then she added: “What about that new product line we’ve planned? And then there’s . . .”
Patrick blew up. “You’re doing it again. You’re throwing more issues on the table than we can possibly deal with. We agreed to focus on one. And it’s the accounting system. And it needs to be done NOW.”
That’s when I had to step in.
Patrick is one of those folks who can focus intensely on one topic and deal with it right away. He wants closure. Jennifer is one of those folks who needs to explore lots of options before she decides anything.
What do you do when you find yourself in their situation?
You first, before you even start the conversation, state what outcome you want from the discussion.
Then you set a timeframe for the discussion. Patrick could do it in 2 minutes. Jennifer might want to take 2 hours. You agree on a compromise that gives Jennifer her “and another thing” time. And you agree that you will make a decision at the end of that compromise time.
It’s not perfect but Jennifer gets to do her thing and Patrick knows he will get a decision when they’re done.
Talk about changing customers’ expectations. . .
I recently spent some time at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. Piedmont is a great facility and is always ranked among the top hospitals in the country.
The staff is exceptional. They always have a good attitude and are focused on helping their patients get well. I’ve been at Piedmont before, so I expected such high caliber service.
And, since I’ve been there before, I also expected the usual crappy, flavorless hospital food that I’ve experienced in the past.
But not this time.
Piedmont offers room service for all meals, where you get to pick what you want and when you want it. The menu has great variety, from peanut butter sandwiches to chicken kiev. If you want three desserts, you can have those, too.
You call your order in and, within a reasonable time, a room service waiter, in full room service dress, delivers your food to your bedside table.
And it actually has some flavor.
Talk about creating new expectations for your customers. What new expectations are you creating for your customers?
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