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Pythagoras said, “The beginning is half of the whole.”   In communication terms, we can confidently take this to mean that if there was ever an important time for you to do well in a meeting or conversation, it is the beginning.

How persuasive or effective you are depends a lot on perceptions and impressions that you create early.  The Set-Up is a useful little tool that will help you focus your thoughts in a meeting, presentation or negotiation. It also makes you look prepared!  There are four steps:

WHAT – what is the subject or purpose of the meeting?

WHY – why is this important or relevant now? (urgency or context )

HOW – how is the meeting going to run?  Share the agenda, roles, logistics,timing,etc.

OUTCOME – what do we all have to be or do by the end of the meeting? What does success look like?

If you start like this you are more likely to establish a subtle control over the flow of things as well as give others the opportunity to speak up early if their expectations are different. I’m all for making it easier for you to do well.  Do it early!

Recently there has been  news of major cutbacks in funding for science and other important programs here in the US.  I noticed that many commentators are talking about institutions and scientists now having to ‘beg’ for funding to survive. Begging for funding isn’t new news in any industry or boardroom. (or kitchen table for that matter). Shortages of funding are a fact of life for most of us.  Begging for funding is just one approach and it has a short shelf-life.

Why beg when you can pitch?  There is an opportunity to take the high ground by learning what it takes to persuade the person with the money. Persuasion, fair and square.  It is relevant, grown-up and long term.  Yes, it takes a bit more work to persuade.  Wallowing and putting on your whiney-face might buy it once for you.  Persuasion keeps the wolves from the door.

I overheard someone the other day talking about being at their class reunion recently and being a bit bored with the conversation around the table. “Because of Facebook, I felt like I knew everything about everyone already.  There was nothing left to talk about”.

Oh my. Really?

Social media certainly does some of the ground-work for you in terms of small talk. What it doesn’t really offer is the rich, gooey insight that makes conversations and friendships rewarding and interesting. How about instead of being stuck with nothing else to say, use the information as a platform to dive deeper, quicker.  Social media can give you the ‘what’ but not always the ‘why”.  That is, an understanding of someone’s underlying motivations, fears, values or beliefs.

So next time you go to a class reunion take advantage of the next level of questioning and start your sentences with; “why” or “how” or “Tell me a little more about”.  It’s amazing what you will find!

Most of us find it hard to deal with criticism, even if it’s fair. The rule here is, if it isn’t fair, don’t take it personally. If it is fair, don’t take it personally, but acknowledge it and consider it a gift. (a good thing to strive for, anyway)read more

His poetry is a good place to go to fortify your quality communication cravings.  A smart place to rest your mind.

I have found a fun way to work with some of my faithful readers in the blogosphere. This year, I will be doing selected phone/skype coaching and 100% of my fees will go to my favorite non-profit organization, The Friendship Club. I sit on the Board of the Friendship Club and am very proud of what they are doing. You would be too.  Have a look.

If you are interested in  phone/Skype coaching with me and would like to choose the amount you donate to the Friendship Club, send me a note and let’s set up a time to talk about your needs. You can also feel free just to donate to them directly.

It is a time to stick together.  If I can help you and you can help The Friendship Club what a wonderful world it could be!

An important development I see emerging in my conversations with clients is the need to be clearer in what they say and do.  Life has changed for many people, personally and professionally – and it is more important than ever to be able to explain it well and where necessary, make changes and take action.

Clarity takes courage, not polish.  By courage I mean the will to resist saying and doing things in the same old way.  Not just polishing messages to ‘sound better’ or ‘different’ by rearranging the words or emphasis.  By courage I also mean doing your homework so that what you say and do is truly relevant to those who matter most to you.

For many the personal and professional dust is beginning to settle.  Some like what they see and some don’t.  Some still can’t see anything but are expected to have an opinion.  Wherever your situation, keep in mind that real clarity has relevance at its heart.

Ahh, the holidays. Reminds me a little of African watering holes I have visited over the years where herds of animals who normally might eat or chase each other, gather peacefully for a life-giving drink.  Most of the time.

At a recent gathering I noticed my friend was troubled by her relationship with her mother-in-law, who really intimidates her, particularly at family gatherings.    The more intimidated my friend feels, the worse it seemed to get. She has a tendency to compensate by becoming nicer, more agreeable, more accommodating, more clever.  I like to call this ‘getting even more amazing’.

For example, her mother-in-law would quietly disapprove of many things my friend did during the gathering.  My friend would over-respond.  Bigger gestures, bigger smiles, bigger apologies, bigger niceness.  All while she was seething inside.

This is a pretty common response.  The irony is that what she is doing in attempt to make things better is the very opposite of what she needs to do.

Does this happen to you or someone you know?

Here are a couple of options: ignore it or call it.  Both are kind of a tactical confrontation.  Both happen the moment a jibe occurs.  Regardless of which option you go for, remember that when someone disapproves of your behavior like this, they thrive on your pain.  You need to understand that the jibes are not about you – they are the other person’s problem. To take them personally or to take responsibility for them turn them into your problem and it can make things worse.  Ignoring the jibes means you won’t give them the oxygen to survive. (always easier said than done of course)

If you decide to call it – you acknowledge it and seek to understand it.  My friend’s mother-in-law often delivered her jibes and disapprovals quietly to her so no one else could hear.  It is important for my friend to respond in the same way – quietly and directly.   The mother-in-law’s most common disapprovals were stated as:

‘I don’t think that is appropriate for the children’

‘We don’t do it like that in our family’

‘You clearly don’t know how to do it properly’

Here are some suggested responses (delivered with full eye contact of course, with a calm and interested tone)

‘Why do you feel that way?’

‘What would you prefer?’

‘Where did you get that information?’

Gatherings at the watering hole are rarely easy (or safe).  I encourage you to find a trusted friend and rehearse your plan.  Be brave.  Make small changes step by step –  it starts with sticking up for yourself.

Making the call

Last week, I encouraged you to think differently about picking up the phone and making those important ‘cold’ calls. This week, let’s make the call!

Before you pick up the phone:

Be sure you are comfortable – standing or seated

Try saying the first sentence or two of what you plan to say over the phone out loud to yourself, in the tone you intend to use. This will warm up your voice and relax you a little.

Make sure you know who you want to contact and how to pronounce their name.

Be ready to answer the question, ‘how can I help you?’ with confidence and clarity.

Have in front of you key reminder points and any information you may need to refer to.

Ok, let’s go.

You have three to five seconds until the person at the other end of the line makes their first decision about you: do they want to carry on listening or try to get rid of you? This decision is largely based o your tone of voice.  Keep it natural, conversational, familiar but not over familiar.

Keep in mind that your time and your listener’s time is of equal value. Don’t sound overly grateful or humble. Use these three to five seconds to introduce yourself and check whether it is a good time to speak. You may have to explain why you are calling. Keep it short.  Shirt answers create the desire to hear more.

Key thing to remember – most of the time you just want to convince them to meet you.

Think of this simple formula: What + Why + Prove it

What is in it for me?

Why should I be interested?

Prove it!

You have got a few minutes at most to answer these questions for the other person, so involve them.  You can do this by referring to a need that your idea will address.  Because you have prepared well and know a little about them, you are more likely to be able to give a good reason (benefit) for the meeting.

Keep your statements short and sweet and you’ll make them ‘juicier’ and more interesting.

For example:

“Jane, I am interested in talking to you specifically about some consulting work regarding protection from Rule 123 that I am doing with other clean-tech companies.”

“oh, ok – I don’t have a lot of time, what do you want?”

“I know that your green waste business is going to be subject to some changes under Rule 123 in January next year. I have worked with other clean-tech companies like X, Y and Z and helped them prepare to minimize the costs associated with it. I’d like to meet you to discuss how I can help you.”

In the brief conversation, Jane knew what was in it for her and why she should be interested. The proof is that other companies in her industry have been involved.

At least, you want to create a desire to hear more. If Jane is rushed and want to end the call, suggest making a time to meet.

At the end of the call, follow up with a note or email whether you arranged a meeting or not. Keep it simple. Thank the person for the call and remind them of the key points, agreements or next steps that resulted from the conversation. Do it right away so that the energy and tone of your conversation is still there.

For example:

Dear Jane,

It was a pleasure speaking with you today.  Your project sounds exciting and full of promise.

As we discussed, I will be contacting you again on Wednesday of next week to follow up with Margaret.  You mentioned that by then you should know the outcome of the board meeting.

If you got a no over the phone you can still follow up with a brief, non-pushy note to say you will try again at a later date.  People can and do change their minds and circumstances change.

With the right information, preparation and attitude, making these calls can be fun and rewarding.  Get in some practice by making calls to gather information and do research.  Most people will be happy to help and will respond to your tone and style.  Always sound conversational, respectful and interesting and you’ll soon find that this kind of call holds no more fear for you than calling a friend.

Go forth!!

Pick Up the Phone will be in two parts: This week, The Starter Kit and next, Making the Call

The Starter Kit

Lately I have met a lot of people starting or building their own  businesses and charities needing to reach out more to the community to raise scarce funds or generate interest. It means more of getting in touch with people they don’t know and asking for something they want.  Easy, right?read more

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