elevator pitch | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Beyond The “Elevator Pitch”

We hear a lot in business literature about how it’s important to have an “elevator pitch” — a prepared speech about our business that’s so concise we could deliver it to someone on a brief elevator ride.  We’re often told to memorize our elevator pitch and practice it in the mirror, making sure we look and sound appealing and confident.

This may sound great in theory, but in my experience, when someone delivers an elevator pitch to me, it’s pretty obvious and painful.

Often, I’ll be at a party or event, having an otherwise pleasant conversation with someone.  But then we’ll get into talking about their business, and they’ll suddenly undergo an unnerving transformation — their posture will get rigidly straight, they’ll slap on a forced grin, and they may even start speaking in rhyme (“I turn your reads into leads”), as they recite their rehearsed speech.

When someone starts talking this way, it doesn’t exactly inspire me to buy what they’re selling — instead, whatever pleasure I was getting from our conversation quickly evaporates, and I want to excuse myself for more hors d’oeuvres.

“Elevator Pitching” To Yourself

I don’t mean to say elevator pitches are never useful.  I’ve found, both in observing myself and working with clients, that delivering a sales pitch out loud is most helpful, not when we’re talking with another person, but when we’re alone.

The exercise I’m suggesting — which is similar to an exercise I have people do in pairs in my workshop — involves simply finding a place to be alone, and speaking, out loud, a brief description of what you have to offer.  As you do this, notice how you find yourself feeling and reacting.

Some questions you might ask yourself include:  where is my body tensing up as I’m talking?  Is this a really intense or anxiety-provoking experience?  Is there some reason why doing this doesn’t feel okay — maybe, for instance, there’s a sense that I’m being pushy, greedy, or deceptive, or that I’m wasting someone else’s time?

In my experience, the more awareness we develop around why it’s hard to talk about our business, the more we become able to put into perspective the difficult thoughts and feelings that come up when we self-promote.

How This Has Helped Me

This exercise has been very helpful to me personally.  In the past, when someone asked me “what do you do?”, I’d find answering difficult for some reason.  I’d get an uncomfortable, heavy feeling in my stomach, and to avoid that feeling I’d often find myself downplaying what I did or changing the subject.

Worse still, all the usual techniques for crafting a compelling elevator pitch didn’t seem to help.  No matter how much I practiced my speech, and worked to deliver it with convincing intonation and body language, that pesky sensation remained.

I finally started getting more comfortable talking about my business when I shifted my focus from trying to “look and sound good,” to getting intimate with that weird feeling that came up when I promoted myself.  My new practice was to make my speech, while holding my attention on my stomach and any queasiness that arose there.

What I found was that, the more I just allowed that unsettled feeling to be there, without running away from it or criticizing myself for having it, the more familiar and tolerable it became.  Once the feeling became easier to be with, talking about my business began to feel more natural, and even fun now and then.

Some Announcements

Upcoming workshop: I’ll be leading another full-day Inner Productivity Intensive workshop in the San Francisco Bay Area, on February 26, 2011, with yoga teacher Rosy Moon.  I’ll be offering a substantial discount to my newsletter subscribers shortly, so I’d definitely recommend signing up for the newsletter if the course sounds like something you’d be interested in.

New e-book at DevInContext: At my lesser-known-but-just-as-worthwhile blog, DevInContext, I’ve released a free e-book compiling some of my best posts there into longer essays.  I think it will be food for thought for you if you’ve been interested in any of the recent controversies surrounding the personal development field.

I came to praise them, not bury them: I previously put links to Evita‘s and Patricia‘s warm and wonderful reviews of my audio course at the end of one of my more “avant-garde,” “grunge,” and, er, “Personal Development 3.0″ posts, but I thought it would also be helpful to add them at the end of this one too, to make sure their posts get the exposure they deserve.

“Authentic Marketing,” Part 5: A Personal Share

“I teach people how to use mindfulness practices, like meditation and yoga, to focus while they work.  I help them bring these practices into their in-the-moment experience of working — to go beyond just using them on the yoga mat or the meditation cushion.”

This is a correct description of what I do.  Unfortunately, it also tends to make people’s eyes roll and/or glaze over.

I know this all too well, because I delivered this “elevator pitch” many times.  What’s more, for many months, I kept describing what I do in this way, even though I knew it was boring and confusing people.

Why did I keep saying this to people, despite its obvious soporific effect?  The answer is that lots of resistance came up inside when I thought about changing it.  Because I found the resistance uncomfortable, I left my pitch unchanged so I wouldn’t have to feel it.

Welcoming My Resistance

I finally started getting traction around this issue when I decided to re-read my book and take my own medicine.  Rather than fleeing from the resistance, I chose to sit with it.  I got intimately familiar with its contours — where I felt it in my body, whether it manifested as a tingling, pulsing, tension, or something else, and so on.

As I’ve experienced so many times, putting my full attention on the tightness in my body actually dissolved it.  My solar plexus, where the most tension was, relaxed, and I sighed with relief.  And, as usual, with that relaxation came helpful insight.  What I saw was that I was clinging to this dull description of my services because, in my mind, it made me sound intelligent and unique.

After all, even if people didn’t buy my book or take my workshop, at least they wouldn’t see me as just another rah-rah jump-up-and-down-to-”Simply-The-Best” motivational speaker.  At least they’d know I don’t spout self-help cliches like “take action!  Think happy thoughts!  Like attracts like!”  You see, I use sophisticated words like “mindfulness,” and that makes me different!

In other words, I recognized through self-exploration that I was afraid of looking average — and, most importantly, that I was allowing that fear to control my business decisions.  I was letting concerns about my image get in the way of actually delivering value to people.

Allowing My Averageness

Getting conscious of this fear also helped to liberate me from it.  After all, I realized, what’s really going to happen if someone sees me as average?  Will I disintegrate or spontaneously combust or something?  Probably not.

What’s more, I recognized that, no matter what I accomplish, there are many ways in which I’m forever doomed to be average.  Studies have shown, for example, that I share approximately 99.999999% of my DNA not only with you, Dear Readers, but also with orangutans and mandrills.  Why go to such lengths to conceal my built-in averageness?

Armed with this new awareness, I came up with a much more clear and concise summary of what I do.  It goes a little something like this:

“I help people get focused and motivated at work.”

I’ve noticed that this produces a lot less nodding off, and a lot more purchasing of my stuff, among potential customers.

What about you, Dear Reader?  How are you letting image-consciousness get in the way of giving your gifts to the world?

Bringing Humanity Into Networking

“Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve been going to my fair share of business networking events recently, and what’s come up for me is that the conventional wisdom on networking and “selling yourself” could use a little tweaking.

Like many people, I used to go to these events with a memorized, polished “elevator pitch” and responses to questions about my business.  I’d usually come away from each interaction pleased with how concisely and fluidly I delivered my pitch.  Strangely, though, I wouldn’t find myself meeting a lot of clients or making a lot of lasting contacts with people.  After a number of these experiences, I started to wonder if networking events were a waste of time.

My Change of Heart

My frustration continued until, at one event, I had a sudden insight.  I was talking to another entrepreneur, and he was telling me something like “I help online businesses convert reads into leads.”  (Yes, it rhymed.)  As he delivered his well-rehearsed pitch, I noticed a few things about how I was feeling.  On one level, I was impressed at how thoroughly he’d prepared for the speech he was making.  But at a deeper level, I felt both sympathy and distrust.

I felt compassion for this man because it struck me that he wouldn’t have spent so long polishing his pitch if he didn’t, on some level, feel painfully afraid.  Perhaps it was an anxiety that others wouldn’t take him seriously if he wasn’t hyper-prepared to interact with them, and that if someone didn’t respect him that would be a fate worse than death.  Whatever it was, I felt a desire to help him move beyond his fear and enjoy himself.

Although my heart went out to him, I knew—even before I fully understood what he wanted to sell me—that I wasn’t going to buy what he had to offer.  If he was so deeply afraid, I recognized, he couldn’t possibly have my best interests at heart, because he was too preoccupied with his own survival.  In short, I couldn’t trust him enough to do business with him.  I also realized that I’d been doing exactly what this man did, and that this was likely having others react in the same way.

How Networking Advice Feeds This Anxiety

Much of the advice on networking we see in books, articles and seminars helps create the kind of interaction I described.  For example, I suspect you’ve read or heard statements like these:

“Remember, people don’t care who you are—they only care what you have to offer them.”

“You have only thirty seconds to show that you matter—make them count.”

“You’re always under the microscope at a networking event, because everything you say and do reflects on your business.”

Reading this sort of advice helps me understand why many people I meet at these events seem kind of stiff or freaked out.  If I walked into a room believing “the people in this room won’t care about me unless they think I can make them money,” or “no one will take me seriously unless I deliver a perfect elevator pitch,” I’d feel scared and miserable too.  The usual networking advice makes assumptions about the world that just sound kind of ugly and intimidating to me.

My Experiment With “Hanging Out”

Since I had the realization I described, I’ve been trying a different approach to networking.  I’ve been going to events simply to enjoy being with people, as if I were going to a party or hanging out with friends.  I’ve been more focused on listening to and finding out about the people I’m with than making sure they leave the conversation with the right “takeaways” about my business.

Obviously, this is contrary to most business advice out there.  “A networking event is not a party,” most marketing gurus would probably tell me.  “You need to come in with specific sales objectives in mind.”

But the fact is that my new approach has “worked,” in the sense that I’ve become far more capable of meeting clients and making real connections with people.  If I don’t attach the kind of life-and-death significance to networking that I used to, I don’t come off as fearful or unnerving to people I interact with.  Instead, when I’m relaxing and enjoying myself, my presence has a calming effect on people, and they see me as more trustworthy.

Nadia from Happy Lotus recently pointed out a psychological study making the simple, but often overlooked, point that just being around a happy person can have us feel happier.  I think this factor is as important in our business relationships as it is in socializing.  When we let go of our fearful assumptions about the world and bring some humanity into our business interactions, others become more willing to be with and trust us.

(For those of you looking forward to Part Four of my series on listening, it’s coming up next.)

Bringing Humanity Into Networking

“Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve been going to my fair share of business networking events recently, and what’s come up for me is that the conventional wisdom on networking and “selling yourself” could use a little tweaking.

Like many people, I used to go to these events with a memorized, polished “elevator pitch” and responses to questions about my business.  I’d usually come away from each interaction pleased with how concisely and fluidly I delivered my pitch.  Strangely, though, I wouldn’t find myself meeting a lot of clients or making a lot of lasting contacts with people.  After a number of these experiences, I started to wonder if networking events were a waste of time.

My Change of Heart

My frustration continued until, at one event, I had a sudden insight.  I was talking to another entrepreneur, and he was telling me something like “I help online businesses convert reads into leads.”  (Yes, it rhymed.)  As he delivered his well-rehearsed pitch, I noticed a few things about how I was feeling.  On one level, I was impressed at how thoroughly he’d prepared for the speech he was making.  But at a deeper level, I felt both sympathy and distrust.

I felt compassion for this man because it struck me that he wouldn’t have spent so long polishing his pitch if he didn’t, on some level, feel painfully afraid.  Perhaps it was an anxiety that others wouldn’t take him seriously if he wasn’t hyper-prepared to interact with them, and that if someone didn’t respect him that would be a fate worse than death.  Whatever it was, I felt a desire to help him move beyond his fear and enjoy himself.

Although my heart went out to him, I knew—even before I fully understood what he wanted to sell me—that I wasn’t going to buy what he had to offer.  If he was so deeply afraid, I recognized, he couldn’t possibly have my best interests at heart, because he was too preoccupied with his own survival.  In short, I couldn’t trust him enough to do business with him.  I also realized that I’d been doing exactly what this man did, and that this was likely having others react in the same way.

How Networking Advice Feeds This Anxiety

Much of the advice on networking we see in books, articles and seminars helps create the kind of interaction I described.  For example, I suspect you’ve read or heard statements like these:

“Remember, people don’t care who you are—they only care what you have to offer them.”

“You have only thirty seconds to show that you matter—make them count.”

“You’re always under the microscope at a networking event, because everything you say and do reflects on your business.”

Reading this sort of advice helps me understand why many people I meet at these events seem kind of stiff or freaked out.  If I walked into a room believing “the people in this room won’t care about me unless they think I can make them money,” or “no one will take me seriously unless I deliver a perfect elevator pitch,” I’d feel scared and miserable too.  The usual networking advice makes assumptions about the world that just sound kind of ugly and intimidating to me.

My Experiment With “Hanging Out”

Since I had the realization I described, I’ve been trying a different approach to networking.  I’ve been going to events simply to enjoy being with people, as if I were going to a party or hanging out with friends.  I’ve been more focused on listening to and finding out about the people I’m with than making sure they leave the conversation with the right “takeaways” about my business.

Obviously, this is contrary to most business advice out there.  “A networking event is not a party,” most marketing gurus would probably tell me.  “You need to come in with specific sales objectives in mind.”

But the fact is that my new approach has “worked,” in the sense that I’ve become far more capable of meeting clients and making real connections with people.  If I don’t attach the kind of life-and-death significance to networking that I used to, I don’t come off as fearful or unnerving to people I interact with.  Instead, when I’m relaxing and enjoying myself, my presence has a calming effect on people, and they see me as more trustworthy.

Nadia from Happy Lotus recently pointed out a psychological study making the simple, but often overlooked, point that just being around a happy person can have us feel happier.  I think this factor is as important in our business relationships as it is in socializing.  When we let go of our fearful assumptions about the world and bring some humanity into our business interactions, others become more willing to be with and trust us.

(For those of you looking forward to Part Four of my series on listening, it’s coming up next.)

Bringing Humanity Into Networking

“Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve been going to my fair share of business networking events recently, and what’s come up for me is that the conventional wisdom on networking and “selling yourself” could use a little tweaking.

Like many people, I used to go to these events with a memorized, polished “elevator pitch” and responses to questions about my business.  I’d usually come away from each interaction pleased with how concisely and fluidly I delivered my pitch.  Strangely, though, I wouldn’t find myself meeting a lot of clients or making a lot of lasting contacts with people.  After a number of these experiences, I started to wonder if networking events were a waste of time.

My Change of Heart

My frustration continued until, at one event, I had a sudden insight.  I was talking to another entrepreneur, and he was telling me something like “I help online businesses convert reads into leads.”  (Yes, it rhymed.)  As he delivered his well-rehearsed pitch, I noticed a few things about how I was feeling.  On one level, I was impressed at how thoroughly he’d prepared for the speech he was making.  But at a deeper level, I felt both sympathy and distrust.

I felt compassion for this man because it struck me that he wouldn’t have spent so long polishing his pitch if he didn’t, on some level, feel painfully afraid.  Perhaps it was an anxiety that others wouldn’t take him seriously if he wasn’t hyper-prepared to interact with them, and that if someone didn’t respect him that would be a fate worse than death.  Whatever it was, I felt a desire to help him move beyond his fear and enjoy himself.

Although my heart went out to him, I knew—even before I fully understood what he wanted to sell me—that I wasn’t going to buy what he had to offer.  If he was so deeply afraid, I recognized, he couldn’t possibly have my best interests at heart, because he was too preoccupied with his own survival.  In short, I couldn’t trust him enough to do business with him.  I also realized that I’d been doing exactly what this man did, and that this was likely having others react in the same way.

How Networking Advice Feeds This Anxiety

Much of the advice on networking we see in books, articles and seminars helps create the kind of interaction I described.  For example, I suspect you’ve read or heard statements like these:

“Remember, people don’t care who you are—they only care what you have to offer them.”

“You have only thirty seconds to show that you matter—make them count.”

“You’re always under the microscope at a networking event, because everything you say and do reflects on your business.”

Reading this sort of advice helps me understand why many people I meet at these events seem kind of stiff or freaked out.  If I walked into a room believing “the people in this room won’t care about me unless they think I can make them money,” or “no one will take me seriously unless I deliver a perfect elevator pitch,” I’d feel scared and miserable too.  The usual networking advice makes assumptions about the world that just sound kind of ugly and intimidating to me.

My Experiment With “Hanging Out”

Since I had the realization I described, I’ve been trying a different approach to networking.  I’ve been going to events simply to enjoy being with people, as if I were going to a party or hanging out with friends.  I’ve been more focused on listening to and finding out about the people I’m with than making sure they leave the conversation with the right “takeaways” about my business.

Obviously, this is contrary to most business advice out there.  “A networking event is not a party,” most marketing gurus would probably tell me.  “You need to come in with specific sales objectives in mind.”

But the fact is that my new approach has “worked,” in the sense that I’ve become far more capable of meeting clients and making real connections with people.  If I don’t attach the kind of life-and-death significance to networking that I used to, I don’t come off as fearful or unnerving to people I interact with.  Instead, when I’m relaxing and enjoying myself, my presence has a calming effect on people, and they see me as more trustworthy.

Nadia from Happy Lotus recently pointed out a psychological study making the simple, but often overlooked, point that just being around a happy person can have us feel happier.  I think this factor is as important in our business relationships as it is in socializing.  When we let go of our fearful assumptions about the world and bring some humanity into our business interactions, others become more willing to be with and trust us.

(For those of you looking forward to Part Four of my series on listening, it’s coming up next.)

Bringing Humanity Into Networking

“Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve been going to my fair share of business networking events recently, and what’s come up for me is that the conventional wisdom on networking and “selling yourself” could use a little tweaking.

Like many people, I used to go to these events with a memorized, polished “elevator pitch” and responses to questions about my business.  I’d usually come away from each interaction pleased with how concisely and fluidly I delivered my pitch.  Strangely, though, I wouldn’t find myself meeting a lot of clients or making a lot of lasting contacts with people.  After a number of these experiences, I started to wonder if networking events were a waste of time.

My Change of Heart

My frustration continued until, at one event, I had a sudden insight.  I was talking to another entrepreneur, and he was telling me something like “I help online businesses convert reads into leads.”  (Yes, it rhymed.)  As he delivered his well-rehearsed pitch, I noticed a few things about how I was feeling.  On one level, I was impressed at how thoroughly he’d prepared for the speech he was making.  But at a deeper level, I felt both sympathy and distrust.

I felt compassion for this man because it struck me that he wouldn’t have spent so long polishing his pitch if he didn’t, on some level, feel painfully afraid.  Perhaps it was an anxiety that others wouldn’t take him seriously if he wasn’t hyper-prepared to interact with them, and that if someone didn’t respect him that would be a fate worse than death.  Whatever it was, I felt a desire to help him move beyond his fear and enjoy himself.

Although my heart went out to him, I knew—even before I fully understood what he wanted to sell me—that I wasn’t going to buy what he had to offer.  If he was so deeply afraid, I recognized, he couldn’t possibly have my best interests at heart, because he was too preoccupied with his own survival.  In short, I couldn’t trust him enough to do business with him.  I also realized that I’d been doing exactly what this man did, and that this was likely having others react in the same way.

How Networking Advice Feeds This Anxiety

Much of the advice on networking we see in books, articles and seminars helps create the kind of interaction I described.  For example, I suspect you’ve read or heard statements like these:

“Remember, people don’t care who you are—they only care what you have to offer them.”

“You have only thirty seconds to show that you matter—make them count.”

“You’re always under the microscope at a networking event, because everything you say and do reflects on your business.”

Reading this sort of advice helps me understand why many people I meet at these events seem kind of stiff or freaked out.  If I walked into a room believing “the people in this room won’t care about me unless they think I can make them money,” or “no one will take me seriously unless I deliver a perfect elevator pitch,” I’d feel scared and miserable too.  The usual networking advice makes assumptions about the world that just sound kind of ugly and intimidating to me.

My Experiment With “Hanging Out”

Since I had the realization I described, I’ve been trying a different approach to networking.  I’ve been going to events simply to enjoy being with people, as if I were going to a party or hanging out with friends.  I’ve been more focused on listening to and finding out about the people I’m with than making sure they leave the conversation with the right “takeaways” about my business.

Obviously, this is contrary to most business advice out there.  “A networking event is not a party,” most marketing gurus would probably tell me.  “You need to come in with specific sales objectives in mind.”

But the fact is that my new approach has “worked,” in the sense that I’ve become far more capable of meeting clients and making real connections with people.  If I don’t attach the kind of life-and-death significance to networking that I used to, I don’t come off as fearful or unnerving to people I interact with.  Instead, when I’m relaxing and enjoying myself, my presence has a calming effect on people, and they see me as more trustworthy.

Nadia from Happy Lotus recently pointed out a psychological study making the simple, but often overlooked, point that just being around a happy person can have us feel happier.  I think this factor is as important in our business relationships as it is in socializing.  When we let go of our fearful assumptions about the world and bring some humanity into our business interactions, others become more willing to be with and trust us.

(For those of you looking forward to Part Four of my series on listening, it’s coming up next.)

Bringing Humanity Into Networking

“Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve been going to my fair share of business networking events recently, and what’s come up for me is that the conventional wisdom on networking and “selling yourself” could use a little tweaking.

Like many people, I used to go to these events with a memorized, polished “elevator pitch” and responses to questions about my business.  I’d usually come away from each interaction pleased with how concisely and fluidly I delivered my pitch.  Strangely, though, I wouldn’t find myself meeting a lot of clients or making a lot of lasting contacts with people.  After a number of these experiences, I started to wonder if networking events were a waste of time.

My Change of Heart

My frustration continued until, at one event, I had a sudden insight.  I was talking to another entrepreneur, and he was telling me something like “I help online businesses convert reads into leads.”  (Yes, it rhymed.)  As he delivered his well-rehearsed pitch, I noticed a few things about how I was feeling.  On one level, I was impressed at how thoroughly he’d prepared for the speech he was making.  But at a deeper level, I felt both sympathy and distrust.

I felt compassion for this man because it struck me that he wouldn’t have spent so long polishing his pitch if he didn’t, on some level, feel painfully afraid.  Perhaps it was an anxiety that others wouldn’t take him seriously if he wasn’t hyper-prepared to interact with them, and that if someone didn’t respect him that would be a fate worse than death.  Whatever it was, I felt a desire to help him move beyond his fear and enjoy himself.

Although my heart went out to him, I knew—even before I fully understood what he wanted to sell me—that I wasn’t going to buy what he had to offer.  If he was so deeply afraid, I recognized, he couldn’t possibly have my best interests at heart, because he was too preoccupied with his own survival.  In short, I couldn’t trust him enough to do business with him.  I also realized that I’d been doing exactly what this man did, and that this was likely having others react in the same way.

How Networking Advice Feeds This Anxiety

Much of the advice on networking we see in books, articles and seminars helps create the kind of interaction I described.  For example, I suspect you’ve read or heard statements like these:

“Remember, people don’t care who you are—they only care what you have to offer them.”

“You have only thirty seconds to show that you matter—make them count.”

“You’re always under the microscope at a networking event, because everything you say and do reflects on your business.”

Reading this sort of advice helps me understand why many people I meet at these events seem kind of stiff or freaked out.  If I walked into a room believing “the people in this room won’t care about me unless they think I can make them money,” or “no one will take me seriously unless I deliver a perfect elevator pitch,” I’d feel scared and miserable too.  The usual networking advice makes assumptions about the world that just sound kind of ugly and intimidating to me.

My Experiment With “Hanging Out”

Since I had the realization I described, I’ve been trying a different approach to networking.  I’ve been going to events simply to enjoy being with people, as if I were going to a party or hanging out with friends.  I’ve been more focused on listening to and finding out about the people I’m with than making sure they leave the conversation with the right “takeaways” about my business.

Obviously, this is contrary to most business advice out there.  “A networking event is not a party,” most marketing gurus would probably tell me.  “You need to come in with specific sales objectives in mind.”

But the fact is that my new approach has “worked,” in the sense that I’ve become far more capable of meeting clients and making real connections with people.  If I don’t attach the kind of life-and-death significance to networking that I used to, I don’t come off as fearful or unnerving to people I interact with.  Instead, when I’m relaxing and enjoying myself, my presence has a calming effect on people, and they see me as more trustworthy.

Nadia from Happy Lotus recently pointed out a psychological study making the simple, but often overlooked, point that just being around a happy person can have us feel happier.  I think this factor is as important in our business relationships as it is in socializing.  When we let go of our fearful assumptions about the world and bring some humanity into our business interactions, others become more willing to be with and trust us.

(For those of you looking forward to Part Four of my series on listening, it’s coming up next.)

Bringing Humanity Into Networking

“Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve been going to my fair share of business networking events recently, and what’s come up for me is that the conventional wisdom on networking and “selling yourself” could use a little tweaking.

Like many people, I used to go to these events with a memorized, polished “elevator pitch” and responses to questions about my business.  I’d usually come away from each interaction pleased with how concisely and fluidly I delivered my pitch.  Strangely, though, I wouldn’t find myself meeting a lot of clients or making a lot of lasting contacts with people.  After a number of these experiences, I started to wonder if networking events were a waste of time.

My Change of Heart

My frustration continued until, at one event, I had a sudden insight.  I was talking to another entrepreneur, and he was telling me something like “I help online businesses convert reads into leads.”  (Yes, it rhymed.)  As he delivered his well-rehearsed pitch, I noticed a few things about how I was feeling.  On one level, I was impressed at how thoroughly he’d prepared for the speech he was making.  But at a deeper level, I felt both sympathy and distrust.

I felt compassion for this man because it struck me that he wouldn’t have spent so long polishing his pitch if he didn’t, on some level, feel painfully afraid.  Perhaps it was an anxiety that others wouldn’t take him seriously if he wasn’t hyper-prepared to interact with them, and that if someone didn’t respect him that would be a fate worse than death.  Whatever it was, I felt a desire to help him move beyond his fear and enjoy himself.

Although my heart went out to him, I knew—even before I fully understood what he wanted to sell me—that I wasn’t going to buy what he had to offer.  If he was so deeply afraid, I recognized, he couldn’t possibly have my best interests at heart, because he was too preoccupied with his own survival.  In short, I couldn’t trust him enough to do business with him.  I also realized that I’d been doing exactly what this man did, and that this was likely having others react in the same way.

How Networking Advice Feeds This Anxiety

Much of the advice on networking we see in books, articles and seminars helps create the kind of interaction I described.  For example, I suspect you’ve read or heard statements like these:

“Remember, people don’t care who you are—they only care what you have to offer them.”

“You have only thirty seconds to show that you matter—make them count.”

“You’re always under the microscope at a networking event, because everything you say and do reflects on your business.”

Reading this sort of advice helps me understand why many people I meet at these events seem kind of stiff or freaked out.  If I walked into a room believing “the people in this room won’t care about me unless they think I can make them money,” or “no one will take me seriously unless I deliver a perfect elevator pitch,” I’d feel scared and miserable too.  The usual networking advice makes assumptions about the world that just sound kind of ugly and intimidating to me.

My Experiment With “Hanging Out”

Since I had the realization I described, I’ve been trying a different approach to networking.  I’ve been going to events simply to enjoy being with people, as if I were going to a party or hanging out with friends.  I’ve been more focused on listening to and finding out about the people I’m with than making sure they leave the conversation with the right “takeaways” about my business.

Obviously, this is contrary to most business advice out there.  “A networking event is not a party,” most marketing gurus would probably tell me.  “You need to come in with specific sales objectives in mind.”

But the fact is that my new approach has “worked,” in the sense that I’ve become far more capable of meeting clients and making real connections with people.  If I don’t attach the kind of life-and-death significance to networking that I used to, I don’t come off as fearful or unnerving to people I interact with.  Instead, when I’m relaxing and enjoying myself, my presence has a calming effect on people, and they see me as more trustworthy.

Nadia from Happy Lotus recently pointed out a psychological study making the simple, but often overlooked, point that just being around a happy person can have us feel happier.  I think this factor is as important in our business relationships as it is in socializing.  When we let go of our fearful assumptions about the world and bring some humanity into our business interactions, others become more willing to be with and trust us.

(For those of you looking forward to Part Four of my series on listening, it’s coming up next.)