sales | 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?

“Authentic Marketing,” Part 4: An Awareness-Building Exercise

In an earlier post, I suggested that we can actually enjoy marketing when we’re able to tap into our natural compassion and concern for others.  As I said, I think this often requires us to let go of the ways we protect ourselves from getting hurt when we interact with another person.

For example, if we’re at a networking event, and we’re worried that others won’t take seriously what we have to offer, maybe we’ll loudly brag about our products and services, not letting anyone get a word in edgewise.  However, this tends to get us exactly what we don’t want — people we interact with feel annoyed and don’t want to buy from us.

It would be nice if we could simply drop all these self-protection strategies and “get real.”  Unfortunately, it isn’t usually that easy.  Many of us developed these strategies a long time ago, and have been relying on them for a long time to get through life.  Thus, they’ve become unconscious and habitual — we no longer even notice we’re using them.

How do we get conscious of the ways we’re sabotaging ourselves?  In this post, I want to offer an exercise I’ve found very helpful in creating this kind of awareness.  It’s simple, but it can be surprisingly intense and revealing.

You’ll need a partner to do this exercise.  Stand across from each other and make eye contact, remaining silent for a few minutes.  As you face the other person, silently ask yourself a few questions:

1.  Where am I tense? Bring your awareness into your body, and notice any tight places.  For example, maybe your shoulders are tensing up, as if you’re about to be attacked and you’re preparing to defend yourself.  Perhaps you find your lips curling into a strained grin, as if you need to please the other person or convince them everything’s okay.

2.  What am I afraid they’ll do? Are you worried that the other person will do something hurtful?  Maybe, for instance, they’ll turn their back and ignore you?  Yell at you and accuse you of screwing up?  Deceive you and take advantage of you in some way?

3.  How do I want them to see me? What do you want the other person to think about you?  For example, perhaps you want them to think you’re totally calm about doing this exercise?  That you’re “nice” and not dangerous to them?  That you’re tough and you can protect yourself if need be?

4.  What do I want them to do? Is there something you want (or maybe even need) from them right now?  Do you want them to smile at you?  Or maybe you just want them to go away and leave you alone?

Now, consider the possibility that you’re bringing exactly the same attitudes and desires into every interaction.  If you’re feeling afraid of the other person, for example, you’re probably feeling afraid of a lot of people you deal with in your daily life.

As you might imagine, this exercise is often uncomfortable.  If you don’t like “awkward silences” in conversations, you sure won’t enjoy this!  However, the awareness it can create is invaluable.  Often, just realizing the ways you’re tensing up, protecting yourself from the other person, trying to convince them of something, and so on is enough to help you let go of those strategies.

As Fritz Perls, the creator of Gestalt therapy, put it, awareness by itself is transformative.

“Authentic Marketing,” Part 3: I Can Read Your Mind

It’s not just a line from the Alan Parsons Project — it’s the truth.

I know how you’re feeling and what your intentions are.  What’s more, everyone else does too.  Human beings are extremely empathic creatures.

I’m exaggerating a little — sometimes you can trick people into buying your facade.  But much of the time, when you think you’ve got us all fooled, you’re only fooling yourself.

People See The Concern, Not Just The Technique

I think this is the single most neglected fact in marketing literature.  The techniques in marketing books are usually about what you say and do:  the content of your “elevator pitch,” the right questions to ask sales prospects, how you should smile and use “confident body language,” and so on.

The assumption behind these techniques is that, when we’re with another person, the only thing we see is what they’re saying and doing.  But that’s simply not true.  We don’t just see their words and movements — we see the concerns that motivate what they say and do.

Networking events, which I’ve been attending a lot recently, are a great example.  I’ve had the experience many times of hearing someone give me an impressive-sounding speech about their business — but also being intensely aware of fear or sadness they’re feeling, and of any hidden agenda they have.

In other words, although I see their well-rehearsed words and actions, I also see the beliefs and emotions beneath those words and actions.  If they’re thinking “I’ve got to make this guy do what I want, or I’m not good enough,” or “I just want to get this conversation over with and leave this crappy event,” I can hear that just as clearly as I would if they said it out loud.

Let’s Just Admit We’re Mind-Readers

Why don’t “marketing gurus,” and personal development writers in general, acknowledge how empathic humans are?  Part of it, I think, is that many people are after a quick fix.  It’s easier to copy someone else’s words and body language than it is to take a deep look at what you really want and what you’re afraid of.  Thus, books and programs that teach us “the five sales tactics of successful people,” and so on, are an easier sell.

At a deeper level, I think it’s also unnerving to contemplate the possibility that others are aware of what we’re thinking and feeling.  I think we all find it comforting, at times, to believe that others don’t know our true intentions, and that they’re seeing only what we want them to see.

What we don’t often realize, I think, is that it can also be liberating to admit how attuned we are to each others’ emotions and thoughts.  If you know my true intentions and how I’m really feeling, there’s no need for me to try so hard to have you see me a certain way — because it’s not going to work anyway.

In other words, if there’s no point in trying to convince each other we’re charismatic, dominant, secure, or whatever else, we can all just relax and let go of the strategies we rely on to deceive each other, and maybe even start having little fun in our relating.  I know this sounds wonderful to me — I felt some tension drain out of my shoulders as I wrote it.  :)

So, I invite you to consider, if just for a moment, the possibility that people in your life can “read your mind,” and notice whether that offers you a new sense of freedom.

Thoughts On “Authentic Marketing”

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I’ve read a bunch of discussions on blogs recently about how to be “authentic” in marketing your goods and services—and, in some cases, whether authentic marketing is even possible—and I have some thoughts to contribute.  I’ll offer a simple, but powerful, question to ask when you’re working on selling your stuff to guide you toward feeling more aligned with yourself as you do it.

My sense is that, when we say we want to do “authentic marketing,” we mean more than simply not lying.  Of course we don’t want to claim to have experience we actually lack, or that our products do things they don’t really do, but that’s not enough by itself.  Ultimately, I think, what we want is to feel refreshed and uplifted when we’re promoting ourselves, rather than drained and frustrated.  Ideally, we’d enjoy promoting our work as much as we enjoy the work itself.

In my experience, whether we get this feeling depends on how we see ourselves.  If we perceive ourselves as adequate and complete, exactly as we are, and our marketing efforts are driven by that belief, we’re likely to feel fulfilled.  But if we think of ourselves as not good enough, and we try to compensate for or conceal our inadequacy with our self-promotion, we’ll probably suffer.

Completeness Versus Compensation

What do I mean when I talk about “compensating” in our self-promotion?  I’ll illustrate with three basic ways I’ve noticed people trying to cover up some perceived problem with themselves in the marketing context:

1.  “I’m Too Small.” If we see ourselves as inferior, we may try to make up for it by exaggerating our abilities or accomplishments.  Maybe, for example, we’ll portray the product we’re selling as the answer to every problem a person could possibly experience.  Or, we’ll use tons of bold and underlined text in our sales copy (as in SUPER FAST CASH! $$$!!!), because we’re worried that otherwise no one will notice us or take us seriously.

2.  “I’m Too Big.” If we see ourselves as too loud or taking up too much space, we’ll likely compensate by downplaying or omitting what we have to offer.  Maybe we’ll make a lot of self-deprecating jokes to make sure we don’t come off as arrogant or bragging.  Or maybe we’ll just avoid marketing altogether, because the very idea of “talking ourselves up” doesn’t mesh with our self-image as a modest or humble person.

3.  “I’m Bad.” Perhaps we see ourselves as fundamentally “evil” or dishonest, and we make up for this by trying to appear trustworthy and upstanding.  Maybe, for instance, we begin our sales copy with “I’m not going to lie to you,” or talk a lot about our personal lives to make sure others know we’re “more than just a faceless salesperson.”  (Duff M. writes insightfully about this kind of compensation in his piece on “presenting an authentic image.”)

Getting Conscious of Your Compensation

Naturally, when we’re doing marketing—or anything else—from a place of feeling wrong or deficient, we tend to find it painful and frustrating.  This is why I think it’s important to become aware of the ways we see ourselves as inadequate, and the places where we could stand to be more accepting and compassionate toward ourselves.

So, if you find yourself feeling drained, irritated or nauseated by the self-promotion you’re doing, I invite you to ask:  “am I trying to make up for some problem with myself right now?”  In other words, are you trying to prove that you’re capable, modest, or honest, or perhaps something else?  If so, why is proving that important to you?  What’s going to happen to you if you don’t prove it?

This can be an uncomfortable inquiry, because it may expose areas where you aren’t fully okay with yourself.  But getting conscious of those places, I think, is an important first step toward accepting yourself more fully.  And when you let go of trying to compensate for or conceal some problem with yourself, marketing can become easier and more enjoyable.

(You can read Part Two of this series here.)

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.)