In this weekly series, our friends at MBA Career Coaches will be dispensing invaluable advice to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews.
“Practice makes perfect,” they say. And there is certainly some validity to that adage. Practicing the things you might like to tell someone in an interview or at a networking event is useful because it gives you the chance to collect your thoughts, organize them in an orderly fashion, and recall the key vivid details of stories you might want to tell. In that regard, practicing an elevator speech or any other story about your life can be very valuable.
The problem though is that you can’t create the “perfect story” that will work every time. Perfection implies something is fixed and frozen. If your goal is to memorize something and use it over and over again, it may work from time to time, but more often than not your networking attempts will fall flat. I am sure we can all remember that time we sidled up to someone we really wanted to meet, launched into our planned talk, and midway through realized it just wasn’t connecting and our value wasn’t getting across. That’s because in a first conversation with someone – the kinds of dialogue you might have at a networking event or with a busy executive in an elevator– the goal is NOT to get your point across. The goal is to make a human connection.
The people you follow up with, the people you remember are the ones with whom you make a connection. This is true no matter where someone sits in the organizational hierarchy. If the CEO likes you when she meets you in that elevator, then the door may be open for a follow up conversation. If you fail to make a human connection, at best she won’t remember you; at worst, she might even avoid you.
So why does the elevator speech so often fail? Because it is an attempt to transmit a fixed monologue instead of participating in what should be a spontaneous dialogue. You know what I am talking about – a conversation is a living thing, a collaborative interaction among the people having it. If it is your goal to “get your message across,” it will go over like a lead balloon.
To succeed in these all-important first interactions, you need to be in the present moment. You can’t rely on a script from conversations past. Here are some tips for being more present in the moment so that you can make deeper and more meaningful connections through your networking efforts:
- Get happy. It’s very important to enter a conversation in a good mood. Most importantly, you need to make sure you are feeling confident in who you are. If you had a bad day at work, if that negative performance review has just flitted across your mind, stop. Do not start a conversation now. Instead, remember some things that you are really proud of – your manager’s kind praises about your most recent career success, that tutoring student who turned her performance around because of you, the giant risk you took in planning a solo trip to a foreign country that turned out to be a magical journey. Do not try to approach others until you are feeling great about yourself first.
- Let go of your agenda. There may be something you want from the person you are about to talk to. Putting your attention on that inherently makes you focus on the future and not in the present moment. That is a sure-fire way to fail to make a connection. So just let it go. If there is something you want – like an introduction or an opportunity to interview at the firm – just remind yourself that those details can work themselves out later. Your only job is to connect with the person in front of you. Save agenda items for follow-up if that helps you stay focused here and now.
- When in doubt, talk about something you love and let other people pick up the thread from there.