Creating a Professional Presence and Positive Impression
The ability to establish rapport with others is one of the most important skills you can have, especially if you want to rise to the top of your profession. Learn the secret of knowing exactly what to say and when it say it. The results will improve your communications with others, whether it’s face to face, over the phone, or in a group setting.
Episode 5 – Creating a Professional Presence and Positive Impression
The ability to establish rapport with others is one of the most important skills you can have, especially if you want to rise to the top of your profession. Yes, some people come by it naturally. Their personality is so adaptive, it’s as though they have a sixth sense, knowing exactly what to say and when it say it. Their very nature allows them to engage with others in such a way as to suggest they have some kind of special psychic ability, allowing them to get inside our heads and know exactly what we’re thinking. It gives them a tremendous advantage in holding our attention, and when it’s their turn to talk, we can’t help but listen to every word they have to say.
Want to learn the secret? Want to become one of those people that others naturally gravitate to?
Hey, welcome back. This is Roger Reid with another episode of Success Point 360.
I can assure you that there’s nothing magical or paranormal about what’s going on with those who have developed the ability to read the very subtle and often subliminal signs from others and use it to reduce the normal suspicion, reluctance, and even fear that the majority of people have when they’re approached by someone they don’t know.
So if it’s not magic, if it’s not some kind of genetic predisposition on a cellular level, what is it?
It’s a skill. And it can be learned. And it can be used to establish rapport. If you use it well, and consistently, you’ll improve your ability to communicate, whether it’s one on one, face to face, over the phone, or in a group setting.
For example, let’s say you see someone standing at a buffet table, and without hesitating, you approach them, you make an innocuous comment, and suddenly you’ll talking like old friends. How is that possible?
That’s what we’re going to talk about, and by the time we’re finished with this episode, you’ll know how its done.
There’s a lot of information to cover, and the reason I’ve included it is because I’ve used it, I’ve taught it to others, and I know it works. My hope is that you’ll take away one or two of these techniques and put them use in your own professional and personal life. All the these skills are designed to enhance your face to face communication, as well as your opportunities for networking and team building.
As I mention later in the episode, you can certainly take notes, but it’s not necessary, and if you want to review any of the phrases used in the examples, you can find a transcript in the show notes at successpoint360.com.
So let’s start by talking about when and where you’ll most likely to derive the most benefit from using these skills.
From a business standpoint, some of the places that come to mind are company-sponsored events, seminars, conventions, and conferences – are of these an integral part of most industries. And as a side note, I’ll mention that the expanded use of video and teleconferencing has created a strong financial argument against in-person meetings. But managers also know the value of the added synergy that results from meeting co-workers face-to-face. So unless the organization is in a cash-flow crunch, you can expect the process of pressing the flesh to continue.
Regardless of the reason or purpose of the event, it’s an opportunity, and you want to use it to your advantage. So, while you may have talked to John Smith a dozen times on the phone, chatting with John in person, face to face, brings a different dynamic to the relationship. Your job is to make sure your personal exchange enhances John’s opinion of you.
First, make no mistake about why you’ll there. While the atmosphere may provide plenty of opportunities to socialize, it’s still a business function, and there’s always lots of eyes on you. Don’t screw up your chances for promotion by letting your hair down, drinking a pitcher of Margaritas, and convincing the secretary to go skinny dipping with you in the hotel pool. I mention it because I saw it happen.
Your goal should be to meet as many new people as possible, some of which may have the potential to boost your career or provide valuable insight that would otherwise be unavailable to you.
Now, I realize that for some of you, the idea of striking up a conversation with a stranger may be uncomfortable.
Because we tend to avoid those we don’t know, but here’s the good news: the usual social conventions that restrict our interaction with strangers is not in play at these business-sponsored events. In fact, meeting others by initiating a conversation is expected.
So, it’s not only acceptable to say hello and introduce yourself to someone you don’t know, it can reflect poorly on you if you don’t.
So how do you begin? What do you say to start the conversation?
You need to learn how to chit-chat? Here’s how it’s done. And certainly, you can take notes if you want, but it’s a very simple process, and if you follow the steps in the order in which I’ll present them, you’ll improve your connection rate far beyond the response you usually experience.
Let’s begin by identifying the players. You’re “A.” The stranger is “B.” Your focus is on “C.” Always make your initial comment or question is about “C,” meaning you pick a subject that does not involve you or the stranger. It might be the food, a positive comment about the the weather, or the color of a shirt someone else is wearing. And never begin by complimenting the stranger’s appearance. It not only sends up a red flag, it can leave you without a comfortable transition in conversation.
Try to choose a topic that both of you have in common. For example, maybe it’s raining outside, and you both forgot an umbrella. You could start off by praising the presenter in a seminar you both attended, or you could make a comment about the food or the venue. Just be yourself and if you receive a friendly response, continue the conversation by asking a question or two.
If you’re part of a group that’s from the same industry or company, it’s okay to use that mutual relationship as the “C.” For example, “How long have you been with Acme Corporation?” Or, “This is my first national convention. How about you?”
These are situations that create great opportunities for networking. And if you’re going to be productive at networking, you’ll spend most of your time doing two things: listening and talking.
Make sure it’s in that order, preferably in a ratio of about 80/20. Be a great listener, and you’ll make a great impression. People love to talk about themselves. Your job is to listen attentively, ask questions, and provide positive feedback.
Here’s a word of warning: Always use discretion when revealing personal information to someone you just met. Just because the other person is extremely forthcoming with personal or even intimate details, don’t feel obligated to do the same. We typically make assumptions about others during the initial meeting, and revealing too much, too soon, can send the wrong impression. For example, if you spill your guts about your wife’s affair with the gardener, you’ll probably end up regretting it.
Keep your conversation positive and upbeat. If the new acquaintance begins to rant about problems at work or home, listen politely, but don’t agree with his argument or reinforce his opinion, especially if it means taking sides. When you’ve had enough, nod and say, “You’ll have to excuse me, but a co-worker is waving at me, and I need to check in with her. I wish you the best with that situation, and I hope it works out well for you.”
And, as a general caveat, avoid trying to elicit comments by wearing something odd or unusual. It may influence or “taint” a stranger’s opinion of you before you can say a single word. And yes, men, this includes gaudy ties (I remember some guy wearing a bright yellow tie with a big, red fish to a job interview. That wasn’t the reason I didn’t hire him, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that stupid tie.)
So keep the outlandish accessories or unconventional outfits at home where they belong.
In addition to the ABC method of initiating a conversation, I want to offer several additional suggestions you can use to strike up a conversation and establish rapport:
- Quickly smile and say, “Hi.” This is absolutely the easiest way to approach and completely disarm someone. They’re seldom expecting it, and it opens a door that lets the conversation flow. However, timing is critical. You must smile and get the “hi” out of your mouth in the very first second of the encounter, or it won’t have the same impact. And only use the word “Hi.” Saying Hello, how are you, or some other form of greeting, won’t work as well. Follow it up with a comment about something in the immediate vicinity, (using the A-B-C method), and in twenty seconds you’ll be talking like old friends.
- Match eye contact. I’ve heard personal communication experts suggest looking directly into a stranger’s eyes when talking to them. However, too much eye contact can backfire and make others feel “stare-conscious,” resulting in them feeling nervous or uncomfortable. The key is to match their eye-to-eye time. If they appear to have trouble looking directly at you, try glancing away every now and then, allowing them to evaluate you without pressure.
- Listen to other conversations. Be aware of what’s going on around you. If you pick up on something interesting, simply approach the person and say, “I couldn’t help overhearing your comments about . . . ” Then take it from there.
- Create an “elevator pitch.” The opportunity to meet someone new is often constrained by time limits (and thus was born the “elevator pitch”). In these spontaneous situations, you typically have less than a minute to make a positive impression. The goal is to leave your new acquaintance with a clear indication of who you are and what you do—especially when your intention is to make a new business contact.
A friend of mine piques the interest of strangers who ask him what he does for a living by saying, “I’m a fixer.” You can imagine the questions he receives, which allows him to fashion his response and personalize the conversation to his advantage.
Let’s switch gears for a minute and talk about vocabulary, and specifically, what I call techno-speak.
There’s no faster way to distance yourself from others than by using a string of industry-specific words and phrases that leaves laypeople and generalists with only a vague understanding of what you’re saying. Common sense suggests using clear, concise language while avoiding vague or confusing terms and phrases—because no one wants to use a dictionary after meeting you to try to figure out what you said.
I frequently overhear introductions and first-time meetings that are full of techno-speak. Andfrom the aftermath of negative body language and blank expressions, the resulting lack of clarity has clearly left one of the parties unsure about the value of any future contact.
Using rhetoric that sounds like a third-party description can put distance between you and your listener. It can also make you seem detached, impersonal, and even a little arrogant. Someone who might have presented you with a new business opportunity may decide you’re full of BS and immediately discount your talent and ability.
Adopting the vocabulary of your chosen field is a necessary and expected part of any profession. It’s often a shortcut to understanding and communicating with others who are proficient in the specialized jargon of your industry. However, knowing when to use it, and when to translate it into lay-speak, is vital in creating positive first impressions, especially when you’re trying to establish credibility and authenticity.
Here’s how to translate high-tech vocabulary into human-speak. It’s based on a three-step method I’ve used for years, and I often recommend it to technical salespeople, engineers, and other “techies” when introducing themselves to strangers. (Author’s note: This material is excerpted from “Speak Up! A Step-by-Step Method to Conquer Your Fears and Give an Amazing Speech!” by yours truly.)
First, describe what you do in layman’s terms. Instead of introducing yourself as a Systems and Procedural Auditing Consultant, explain that you work in the accounting industry, consulting with medium to large businesses to identify wasteful and redundant spending while implementing effective tax strategies and improving profitability.
Use a brief story to explain your work in terms of its benefit to your clients. Staying with our accountant example, it might sound like this: “I recently saved a client tens of thousands of dollars annually by comparing the economic advantages of selling his storefront to an investor and leasing it back versus personal ownership.”
If your listener is still interested (based on their verbal and non-verbal feedback), invite them to contact you with questions or if they encounter a situation in which your input could prove useful. Unless your time or services are extremely limited—for example, you have a two-year waiting list of potential clients—make it clear that the initial call is complimentary. Emphasizing your availability with something like, “let me know if I can help,” can also be extremely effective.
There’s another tool that can be extremely effective when you want to LEAVE others with a positive impression. We’ve talked about some of the ways to make a good first impression, and now we need to insure that our exit impression is just as positive.
We tend to dismiss the importance of the exit because we think it’s the normal result of our conversation coming to a close. However, just like the process of initiating a conversation, the exit can be structured, formatted, and delivered in a way that leaves others wanting to follow up and make future contact.
Try using a few phrases that bring your interchange to a comfortable conclusion. For example, “I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you. I hope we can continue our conversation later in the week (or whenever would be the next appropriate time). Or, “Your thoughts and ideas on (the subject under discussion) are very interesting. I’d like to hear more. Maybe we can get together next week for lunch?”
Depending on the circumstances, you can also try a more personalized exit. For example, “Thanks so much for the conversation. I almost didn’t come to the luncheon, but I’m really glad I did.”
Invite future contact. This can be nothing more than an exchange of business cards, a cell-phone “hot-swap” (NFC – near field communication) of phone numbers and email with a follow-up text or email.
It’s time to tackle one of the most frequently asked about subjects in the field of human communications.
What do you do when you meet someone who wants to argue about everything?
I know there’s plenty of lawyers and debate teachers who believe the practice of arguing is nothing more than pursuing a logical and protracted discussion of evidence, opinion, and circumstance. (And they’re willing to argue the point until way past my bedtime.) In some circles, it’s thought to be a legitimate tool of getting to a better answer, to generate new ideas, and motivate new thinking that would not otherwise happen.
My advice? Treat an argument like the plague.
Engaging in an argument is an outright challenge, the verbal equivalent of throwing down the gauntlet. It says, I’m right and you’re wrong, and nothing you can say is going to change my mind.
I used to engage in arguments, believing others would never respect my opinions unless I verbally defended them. Even when the subject or the outcome was of little value, I made sure the other side knew precisely how I felt and why. I finally realized how much time I was wasting—and how many bridges I was burning.
In the working world—a place where progress is measured in productivity and positive relationships—there’s a big difference between a discussion and an argument. Here are the most critical distinctions:
- The majority of arguments are a waste of time. Seldom does either party accomplish anything, and it’s rare that one person changes the mind of the other. When people feel challenged or threatened, they typically dig their heels in deeper and fight even harder to maintain their sense of identity, authority, and personal power.
- Many arguments are fueled by the need for personal recognition, often giving voice to those who otherwise have nothing to say. Contrary to those who believe they can overwhelm and overcome any opponent with their logic and well-structured rhetoric, argument it’s a poor technique for demonstrating intelligence. Habitually argumentative people are often seen by others as belligerent, arrogant, and difficult. The result? No one wants to be around them.
- Compared to an argument, a discussion is a civil, respectful exchange of ideas, opinions, and intentions. Points of potential disagreement are often presented as questions, needing clarification. The goal is to understand the other side’s needs. By asking for more information, both sides arrive at reasons to see the situation more clearly. Even if your antagonist does not ultimately agree with you, they are far more likely to respect you for your reasonable approach to the subject, and the fact you were willing to listen. If your intention is to motivate others to objectively consider your side of the issue before making a final decision, learning to use the nuances of a directed discussion can be very effective in reaching your goals.
How do you diffuse a potential argument? Here are a few suggestions on how to move from a potentially volatile dispute to an amicable discussion:
- Determine the importance of the subject. Then set limits on your responses, attitude, and general behavior. Is insisting the other person understand your position worth losing any future association with them? If you have an existing personal or business relationship with someone, don’t put that relationship at risk over subjects that are insignificant or unimportant.
- Never argue opinion. Most strongly-held beliefs are nothing more than personal opinions. I’ve heard heated arguments over which lake has better fishing potential, or which guitarist is more talented, or which singer has the better voice. No two people evaluate the same situation in exactly the same way. Allow others to express their opinion without the need to respond with judgment. It’s an essential requirement for maintaining rapport and deriving future benefit from the relationship.
- Make an intentional effort to LISTEN. Ask questions. If you truly don’t understand the other person’s logic, ask for an example. It’s an indication you’re trying to see their point of view. Most will appreciate your objective mindset.
- Never lose your temper. Maintain your focus on what’s important. If the other person becomes emotional or childish, see the situation for what it is: a desperate cry for personal validation. The phrase “for the sake of argument,” describes an immature and self-indulgent approach to communicating with others.
- Create space for the other person to be right. Instead of pronouncing an idea or opinion wrong, use language that suggests the existence of alternatives that could be equally accurate. Phrases such as, “I wonder if . . .” or “I’ve always thought there might be more to the subject, so my opinion is still in the formative stages.”
- Respect the other person’s viewpoint by bestowing their thoughts with credibility. Use a phrase like, “That’s an interesting viewpoint; I hadn’t thought of it that way.” You’re not saying you agree with them, but you’re not outright dismissing them, either.
- Eliminate the word “but” from your vocabulary. When you use the word but, everything said immediately prior is disputed or at least discounted. It’s inherently argumentative and dismissive. Try using the word “and” in its place and see what happens. It may seem awkward at first, but if you don’t hesitate or place undue emphasis when making the replacement, you’ll be surprised at how effective this simple technique can be at lowering the defenses of others and enhancing your communication in general.
- Don’t allow others to bully you verbally. If you find yourself confronted with an argumentative person who wants to “show you who’s boss,” or insists on using an argumentative stance to bring attention to himself while in the presence of others, try changing the subject. If that doesn’t work, excuse yourself with a prior commitment. You don’t need to wait for an opening in the flow of rhetoric because you may not get one. Simply say, “That sounds interesting, and I’m sorry I can’t stay, but I’m running late for my next appointment, so I have to say goodbye. Perhaps we can continue our discussion at another time.” Then smile and walk away.
I’ll leave you with this: Honing your social skills will get you noticed and on the shortlist for promotion. Communicating on paper is essential, but being able to share your thoughts and ideas face-to-face is the hallmark of a leader. If you’re serious about your career, it’s not something you can leave to chance. Like any other skill, in-person communication is an ability that can be developed and improved with preparation and practice.
If you’d like more information about this podcast , visit SuccessPoint360.com. And if you have a question or comment, I would really like to hear from you. You’ll find a contact link in the main header. And of course, you can subscribe from anywhere you usually download your podcasts.
Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next time.
© 2020, Roger A. Reid