I returned home from a catch up with a friend of many years' standing recently, vowing "never again". Of course I don't really mean that; what I mean is "not for a while", because it works better in small, infrequent doses. Here's why:
This is someone who by their own admission genuinely believes that what they have to say is more important than anyone else. They committed a list of "crimes" in the course of the evening, including, but not limited to:
- Banging on, and on, and on... and on about the only thing they are interested in. No matter the conversational roadblocks I set up, it always came back to their children. Now, I am a loving and committed stepmother. I am "mother" to an ebullient ten-year old Labrador. I even feel maternal towards our fish, for goodness' sake. But do you want to hear me talking about them ALL THE TIME? I think not.
- Failing to ask any questions. Need I say more? ASK PEOPLE QUESTIONS. I know you are (in your head) the most urbane, fascinating person ever to have walked the earth. You're not, though. Especially after we've been subject to your own personal equivalent of North Korean TV, set to transmit for five hours, blaring out your own propaganda. It should be a two-way thing. Put a sock in it, for everyone's sake.
- Interrupting and talking over. Erm, hello? I have something to say too and as I've been in listening mode since what feels like 1973, I'd appreciate you doing me the courtesy of letting me talk for 30 seconds. Or more. Please. I'm begging now.
- Failing to listen/making assumptions. In the rare moment when you do ask questions, please actually LISTEN TO THE ANSWERS. It's quite tiring having to watch you watching over my shoulder; asking me to repeat myself or making assumptions. Plus I'm getting a sore jaw from the rictus grin I've been wearing since we sat down.
- Talking VERY LOUDLY and in a M-O-N-O-T-O-N-E voice, AND segueing from one story to another about your kids' antics to another without pause for breath. I mean. Come on. We're in public. People are trying to enjoy their supper. I'm getting murderous now, and your safety's in danger. Just saying (or thinking; can't you read my body language/see the mad glint in my eye?).
Now, I bet that if you've read this far you're wondering why I will ever see this friend again.
Well. We've know one another for almost thirty years. We've been through a lot together and provided support, both practical and emotional. We have history. I'm willing to put up with this for a while longer at least. I have faith that the person I know of old is still in there (although I’m not entirely sure; we do get more entrenched in our ways as we age, and behavioural shifts are hard).
But when we're working with clients or prospective clients we don't (usually) have the benefit of thirty years' experience behind us that helps them to remember that, actually, we are not complete twits (or for my Scottish readers, numpties).
So if you've read the above list and think that any of the items on it apply to you, get a game plan going about how you're going to improve things for your (prospective) clients and colleagues at all times, including when the stakes are high and we've been invited to pitch.
When we go to pitch for work, it should be all about them, not you. We all get nervous. Sometimes that makes us do many or all of the things in my list of crimes above; it's a safety mechanism. Our audience doesn't need to hear us extol our own virtues (even if true, it wears terribly thin after a very short time). They certainly don't want us to do the stuff on the list above. The intention is good; the effect is not.
If you're certain that you never do the stuff on the list then may I suggest you ask a trusted friend, a trusted colleague and a trusted client for some feedback about what you're doing well and where you could improve. There will be something. I promise you.
And go and read Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and/or Robert Cialdini's work on "Influence". You're striving for "Likeability" here:
- Smile (you miserable so and so)
- Use and remember people's names (yes can remember them. Write them down if you're worried about forgetting)
- Ask questions and listen to the answers (as opposed to simply waiting)
- Talk in terms of their interests (your children/dog/stamp collection/Game of Thrones obsession can wait)
- Be interesting too (when it's relevant, timely and not for too long. Starting to feel like Korean TV? Stop. Now.)
- Do some reading about the concept of Social Style and how to adapt your behavioural patterns to theirs (do something for others). My next blog will be about Social Style, so help is on the way.
Finally, have a sense of what you're trying to get from the pitch. At that moment it's usually the work itself. Unsuccessful in your pitch? Ask for some feedback. You don’t want to think that you might have left the room to a collective sigh of relief (like the huge one I let out when I finally got on the train home after that fateful evening) and nobody’s told you. Do you?
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about the author
Nicky Denegri is our Senior Consultant. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop her an email and we will be in touch.