Every conversation counts — large or small, formal or informal. In fact, according to author and motivational speaker Brian Tracy, "Your ability to communicate with others will account for fully 85 percent of your success in your business and in your life."
That might sound like a huge percentage, but after more than 25 years of coaching executives, I have to agree. People tend to prepare for presentations and pitches, yet it's those short conversations that move careers forward. If you want people to do something with your information, you need to bring your best "in the moment" skills to every conversation.
When you treat casual interactions with as much importance as formal presentations, you will find it easier to persuade people, close deals and be considered for prime projects.
Chance Does Favor the Prepared
Come prepared for you — your patterns, your behaviors, your triggers, how you make decisions, how you negotiate and so on. Persuasion is easy when you're holding the floor like it's your stage. Consider bringing the same level of preparation to your everyday conversations.
Let's say you're in an elevator and someone asks how your team is doing. Chances are you say "fine" and look back at your phone. What stops you from saying something catchy and meaningful so he remembers you? Whether or not you're in an actual elevator, you have only a moment to hook someone's attention and make a good impression. Your words count.
Big moments matter, but micro moments matter even more. While quick conversations are spontaneous, you can prepare for them. Thinking through your most common scenarios (as well as the people in those scenarios) helps you to be prepared when they arise — because they will. Here are three solid ways to start:
1. Master 'Main Point' Moments
When people are unprepared for a conversation, they speak without focus. They ramble and fail to recognize when the audience has tuned out. I learned this the hard way in a presentation I gave in my early days at Microsoft. I was presenting for budget approval for an online cultural assessment tool that would be accessible to all employees. I was nervous because this was my first big presentation to my vice president.
If conversational speech falls between 150 and 185 words per minute, I was was at 200. The VP of HR in my region gently put her hand on my shoulder and said something that's always stuck with me: "It's okay. Slow down. We don't need to know everything."
I thought I needed to provide every last detail of the tool to get their approval, and in my rush to get those details to them, I lost the main point. I forgot what my audience really wanted: an explanation of what the tool is and how it will benefit the business.
When you are nervous, look back to the core of your message. What are you there to do? What do you want your audience to do or feel? People don't want to hear the minutia. Take control, narrow in on the core message, and convert your audience — no matter how small or impromptu — by making your main point relevant to your listeners.
2. Create the Connection
Have you ever experienced a situation in which you're speaking to someone who's looking you in the eyes and doing all the "right" talking gestures, but you can tell he's talking at you because he's "reading" from that secret instant messaging compartment in his head? The words come out, and his mouth is moving, but he's not connected to you. This is when I stop listening.
In "Say It Like Obama: The Power of Speaking With Purpose and Vision," Shel Leanne talks about the importance of sending a message to the people you're talking to that says you are "on the same team, in the same boat, facing the same fate" — and that's exactly what you're shooting for.
One of my clients is a master of this. He starts conversations with a question or an insight around why his topic is meaningful to him. At a recent global sales meeting, he shifted the whole tone of the meeting by making the connection: "Let me share with you what I'm noticing in the business and why I'm concerned. I know A, B, and C are happening, and I know we can fix it if we do X, Y, and Z. I need to know whether you are willing to do this with me because I cannot do this alone."
It wasn't just a task being assigned. His listeners could feel the urgency and worry he conveyed before he presented a way forward. He created belief. His approach was so brilliant that his message has started to drip into everyday coffee conversations — people were that inspired.
Make your main point clear, and make it relevant to the people you're speaking to. Connect them to how you're feeling about this topic by stating your actual emotions: I am excited. I am frustrated. I am worried.
This gives your listeners a clue as to what's happening inside of you and connects them to your ask. Establishing that connection creates the path of least resistance and engenders curiosity. First, make the connection. Then, curate examples and data points around your ask. Be with them at their level. Help them hear and feel what's going on in your world. Connecting your thoughts to theirs validates and acknowledges their experience.
3. Validate and Verify
It should go without saying that you want to have a dialogue, not a data download. The best way to do that is to stop, ask questions, and really listen to the other person's answers.
Although every professional's job is to be a subject matter expert in his own domain, you just might learn something new if you listen before you speak. You don't have all the answers, and you don't have to appear like you do. Start by being curious. Seek to understand first.
You've been talking since childhood, yet you probably have not been preparing for meaningful conversations. Consider treating every conversation like a public speaking opportunity. Know your main point, connect with your audience, and validate your assumptions. When you come prepared, you and your words will be memorable.
Photo credit: Shutterstock/Iakov Filimonov