Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Best Elevator (Anti-)Pitch

Whether you're an entrepreneur, job-seeker, a yoga teacher, or a performer, it's essential to be able to effectively tell anyone you meet what you do (and subtly convey why they'd want to work with you). However, no one likes feeling like a prospect or being sold to, and people can spot the “I’m-not-really-interested-in-you-but-hire-or-buy-from-me” tone or verbiage in a heartbeat. So, what to do?

OK, I admit it: I hate the term “elevator pitch.” It sounds contrived, forced, and implies that you’re basically trying to sell to someone, but neither listening to nor connecting with them. So I prefer to reframe it as “effective engagement.” The problem is: when at a large networking event, mixer, or party, you have only a few moments to get people’s attention. How can you do this both effectively and organically?

Let’s start out with what you don’t want to do. First, don’t look around the room distractedly as if there might be someone better to talk with. Please. Second, and very importantly, don’t simply say, for example, “I’m an accountant” or "I teach yoga" or "I'm a drag queen" (yes, I'm fortunate to have a wide variety of readers). The other person has then labeled you, put you in a nice little box, and is ready to move on to the next person - which is not what you desired.

Do these instead:
1) Make strong eye contact, and take deep breaths while listening.
Give them your full attention, and sincerely enjoy meeting the mystery that is another human being. Yes, nonverbal communication is an essential aspect of engaging others. But really - it should be fun! Sure, it's fine to go with the idea of making new contacts, but relax about it.

2) When saying what your work is, address how you solve people’s problems – and state how customers feel afterward. For example, in my work as a Performance Coach, I say something to the effect of, "Well, I help entrepreneurs and executives radically transform their 'everyday performance' - such as improving their public speaking and presentation skills, and just performing in life more effectively - which helps my clients become much more comfortable and effective and leads to bottom-line results."

Yes, I intentionally employ so-so grammar in my anti-pitch, to make it more real. This doesn't translate so well to print, as the written word lacks any nonverbal communication, and it also makes it sound very formal (as does overly rehearsing it). Each time I meet someone, I change it somewhat depending on the connection. Rather than an exact pitch, I utilize a couple of phrases (out of several that I've found people respond to), which allows me to follow up in more detail depending on whatever grabbed them.

Your "pitch" is really just a sentence or such that begins the engagement; let the rest emerge naturally and conversationally. Regardless, it's best to mention how you solve problems for people, and always address emotional needs - by conveying how you resolve troubling issues, or mentioning how clients feel after experiencing your work. (This may sound basic to some, but over 90% of people I meet at networking events don't do this!) Keep in mind that these are very basic suggestions, and you need to adapt them so that they're comfortable for you.

A few other tips:
  • Don't explain your work in detail. A surgeon wouldn't tell you how she performs surgery, would she? You just want to know that your life will be saved. If a new contact really wants to know more, then explain, but largely focus on the problem being solved and/or the result. And don't try to squeeze in too much information, no matter how persuasive, in the first breath - let that be your follow up.
  • Don’t memorize your "pitch." Many elevator pitch techniques say you should memorize it exactly, and also not reveal what you do at first, so they have to ask. I find both of these to sound forced and fake, and makes me want to run away and meet someone "real." Yes, the goal is to get them to inquire more about what you do – but these tips just don't work well. Instead use a “keyword search” and pull up phrases in a more relaxed manner, within the context of the conversation. Do, though, practice this conversational approach, so that you're comfortable with it.
  • Make connections, not sales. Sure, someone might walk away wanting to do business with you - but in a chance meeting, it's not likely. The point is to simply make a connection; you never know who might become your biggest fan and refer many customers, even though they never work with you. Plus: if you've effectively engaged them, you're actually creating space for them to say they want to work with you.
  • Express your joy and love for what you do. Would you want to work with someone else who doesn’t enjoy how they spend their time? Sure, at some point or another, what we do is a job – but you have to focus on your joy of helping others and, in one sense or another, improving your clients’ lives. Let this come across.
Think of it as an ever-evolving art form: how to be relaxed, spontaneous, and effective. By trying out this method, instead of Pushing People with your Pitch, you can Draw them in organically, through the pleasure of meeting another human being, and sharing about your lives and what you love to do.

6 Ways to Network Authentically and Effectively - and Get Clients

You've been there. Yes, that networking event you had to push yourself to attend. After heading to the bar and getting a drink, you plaster a smile on your face, grit your teeth, and make small talk. And hope that, somehow, it leads to new business.

If this wasn't you, you've surely witnessed it countless times. Or, perhaps you've avoided such events for fear of the above. Is it possible to truly enjoy ourselves - and also to really be ourselves, in a relaxed way, as if we were enjoying a nice dinner with close friends?

One question that often arises, for public speaking, presentations and when networking, is authenticity. Have you ever met someone at a networking event, or witnessed a speaker, who just felt fake? Or... have you ever felt fake? Most of us have. Whether we try to or not, we usually seek to conform with perceived societal norms and expectations. These get in the way of being ourselves and expressing ourselves easily. Ironically, even if we try to rebel against them, we’re still “in relationship” with them, and thus can’t escape them. So, what to do?

Tip #1: Get present. A good first step is simply focusing on the breath. It’s the most fundamental means of finding yourself amidst everyone else. Instead of worrying about how you're being perceived, practice deep abdominal breathing, the most essential bodily activity. Then, stretch and loosen up to let go of unnecessary physical and mental tension.

Tip #2: Play. What we think of as “natural” or “ourselves” is really a series of habits. We can find a new range of expression by playing. Have fun! Alter your voice, your facial expressions, etc. This can break us out of our habitual expression and constriction, and help us take ourselves less seriously – a good step forward.

Tip #3: Don’t try to look good. The more you try to make a good impression, the worse you’ll actually do. Let go, relax and speak with much less effort. You’ll be surprised how much less stressful it feels, and how much better you’ll be received.

Tip #4: Focus on who you’re communicating with - and let your own work arise in conversation. Regardless of whether it’s an audience or an individual, really listen. Even if they don’t express anything deep back, look for hints about how their work is either important to them or an important service in the world, and engage them about it.

Tip #5: Frame what you do engagingly and in terms of how you help people. If you just say, "I'm a CPA," they'll put you in a nice box and psychologically move onto the next person. However, if you say something more along the lines of, "I'm a CPA who works with small businesspeople and helps them save money," it gets them thinking. (No, that's not a stunning example, but you get the idea.) Always find a way to get them to engage you and ask questions; don't give a final answer right off the bat. But, in the end, communicate both what you love and how people have benefited - and let them realize on their own what they'd gain from working with you. Caveat: be wary of "elevator pitch formulas" that sound good in theory but forced when they come out of your mouth. Find what works for you.

Tip #5: More than anything, connect. It's far better to make a handful of great connections than superficial talk with two dozen people you forget. Enjoy just meeting people! They'll appreciate your attention. So focus on quality connections, and don't try to get around the room as fast as you can. Caveat: put your attention where it's warranted. If someone doesn't feel like a good connection (either personally or business-wise), give a "Very nice to meet you" or such, and move on. Use your time wisely.

Tip #6: Follow up. Immediately. As in, the next day. Write a brief note. Don't, however, go right into the hard sell, which will turn them off and make others think you just want to make money off them, and didn't appreciate them as people. And, if you had a great conversation, seek them out on Biznik or LinkedIn too.

The above tips are just a beginning - but they'll get you started, and go a long way.