There’s a great old Gary Larson cartoon about what we say and what dogs hear.
I wonder if we could re-title this cartoon “our needs,” as in: every time we regale someone with “what we need” we remember that all they’re hearing is “blah blah blah blah.” But whenever we say their name, whenever we paint them into the picture, whenever we make them part of the story, they hear us loud and clear.
If you agree with the notion, rather than thinking tactically how to make this shift by “changing your pitch,” you might instead ask yourself what’s keeping you from actually seeing the person across the table as an integral part of the story….because she is.
If you don’t feel that way, she certainly won’t feel that way, and you’ll be stuck in exactly the wrong place: “blah blah blah blah blah.”
A guy’s on the subway car with a guitar, ready to sing. New guy for today, but really he’s just another guy with a guitar…the same old story.
But then a passenger yells out, “YOU KNOW ‘MONEY MONEY MONEY BY THE O’JAYS? I WILL GIVE YOU TEN DOLLARS…TEN DOLLARS…IF YOU CAN GET THREE PASSENGERS TO SING ALONG TO THE CHORUS WHILE YOU SING!”
The guitarist says he’s game.
The passenger stands up, starts goading the guitarist, starts goading the other passengers – “C’MON NOW, THE BRAVE ONES ARE SINGING. HOW ABOUT THE REST OF YOU?”
And then, ten seconds later, the trouble-making passenger starts bee-bopping. He’s part of the band, he’s the front man, in fact.
“IT’S TRUE,” he says, “NO ONE ON THE TRAIN WOULD EVER BE THIS NICE TO A STREET PERFORMER!”
And the riffs continue. “WE’RE NOT HOMELESS, WE’RE NOT HUNGRY. IN FACT, WE SMELL BETTER THAN YOU….Just kidding…WE’RE JUST DOING WHAT WE LOVE, SHARING WHAT WE DO. BUY A CD, GIVE A DONATION, WE TAKE CREDIT CARDS…JUST GIVE US YOUR PIN NUMBER…AND GO TO ISAWYOUGUYS.COM…THAT’S ISAWYOUGUYS.COM….ISAWYOUGUYS.COM. HAVE A NICE DAY.”
These guys call themselves Akil and Sciryl (“lyrics” spelled backwards). And you can indeed find them at isawyouguys.com.
Here’s the deal: you’re facing the same choices as these guys. Your can choose to be a regular old street performer by showing up in the way you’re supposed to show up – you look appropriate, you act appropriate, you pitch in an appropriate way – in which case the only way you win is by being the single best street performer they’re looking for that day (and happening to sing the song they love).
Or, you can put on a show, a show they’ve never seen before, a show a lot of people won’t like but a few will stand up and say, “Finally, I’m sick of all these crappy performers, what I was dying for was a little entertainment!! Let’s talk.”
It’s safe to be a street performer, and you won’t make any enemies. But artists put on shows. That’s what makes them artists.
The O’Jays certainly knew that. Look at those outfits, look at those moves. A SHOW.
Here’s the deal: he’s in the room, so you options are either to talk about him or to pretend he’s not there.
You can put it off, you can discuss other things, you can hide for a while, but he ain’t going anywhere (heck, he doesn’t even fit through the door).
Imagine how you’ll surprise people when you – you who appear to have most to lose if you bring him up; you, whose plan seems to hinge on him not being there at all – call him out, describe just what he looks like, acknowledge that he could scuttle everything.
Better for you to name him and explain why it makes sense to barrel ahead regardless. It’s when someone else calls him out that you’ll be pushed onto your back foot and risk losing momentum.
Someone left me a voicemail the other day in which she said, “I know we keep missing each other, so I thought I’d try again. And hope that you appreciate my being pleasantly persistent.” Somehow, the way she said it, it really worked.
If outreach and building new relationships is part of what you do (and it is, no matter what you do), how you create the next conversation is always top of mind.
Nearly all of us need to be reaching out more, to be building more relationships and cultivating them with more care. When you reach out to someone new, especially when you reach out cold, you’re hoping for a “yes” to a first meeting, but more often you get a “no” or, more confusing still, silence. Then what?
The tricky thing about silence is that it can sound just like “no.” But it might mean lots of other things, for example: I didn’t notice your call/email; I’m not sure how serious you are; I really don’t have the time right now; you haven’t explained to me what value I’ll get out of the meeting; etc.
Take silence as an opportunity to fill in the blank with something other than the self-doubting, “Well, I guess they don’t want to meet with me.” Instead, persist, and do so in a way that demonstrates how you’ll handle the relationship once they let you in the door.
I like this notion of “pleasantly persistent.” It exposes the lie that we’re being persistent enough (we often aren’t), while also giving a simple descriptor of how to build a first connection that will lead to a constructive relationship. If you’re being pleasantly persistent, you’re communicating a few things: I take this meeting seriously; I know that I’m pushing, and I can tell that you’re a busy person; I will make a good use of your time. (Also, if you remind yourself that you’re being persistent in a pleasant way, it can help you overcome your own fears that you’re just badgering your prospect.)
Finally, this is also a good reminder of what you don’t want to be: unpleasantly persistent or quick to give up. Neither will get you there.
The NYC Police and the Metropolitan Transit Association have run a catchy public service campaign for the last few years whose tagline is, “If you see something, say something.”
The ad on the train I’m on has these words is big letters, with a picture of an abandoned bag. The message is to keep an eye out for suspect or abandoned packages.
I’ve probably seen this ad two or three times a week for the past few years, and only this morning I paid enough attention to notice the words underneath the tagline: “Tell us, a cop, or call 1-888-NYC-SAFE.”
I bet if you asked 50 people who had seen this ad what phone number to call, 49 of them wouldn’t remember.
It’s easy to make an example of this ad because it so clearly separates out the IDEA (“if you see something…”) from the ACTION (call this number). It could be that they figure “say something” is self-explanatory, but couldn’t they have traded catchy for memorable and said, “See something? Tell a cop or call 888-NYC-SAFE.”
The point is, most of the time we write or speak with the goal of convincing people of an idea rather than convincing them to take an action.
It’s actually much harder to get people to act. You only need to convince them of an idea while you’re talking. But to get them to act, they have to remember what you said long after you’re done . You’ll probably have to come at the idea from a number of different angles, getting people to work through their barriers and their internal conversation about why they should do nothing. You’ll have to be a lot less elegant and a lot more explicit. You’ll have to give examples and be motivational and inspirational and pound the table some.
You’ll have to sell.
And you absolutely, positively, definitely wouldn’t get stuck at a conceptual level if what you cared the most about was action.
If you see something, say something that will get me to act.