Stop presenting and start having conversations

I believe there’s a difference between above the line ‘mechanics’ and below the line depth. What do I mean? Well take presentation skills for example. You can tell someone to project their voice to the back of the room, to use fewer bullet points on slides or include a story. This is good mechanics. But how you connect with people? How do you come across as being likeable, credible and authentic? How do you take people on an emotional journey?

The same applies to networking. Yes, the mechanics are important. You can teach people to dress appropriately, work the room, enter a conversation politely, ask good questions, present their business card at the right point and follow up leads promptly. But can you develop a conversation? Can you improvise and be spontaneous? Can you come across as being interested in the other person without appearing false or ‘coached’?

This is what I mean by below the line skills. It’s the difference between going through the motions and truly making a natural connection. It’s about the psychology of communication, about how you make people FEEL, about being interested in people.

I took my two youngest kids for a pizza the other day, to a local cafe bar. The staff are always polite and reasonably efficient, but there’s no spark. They’re not having fun or creating fun for their clients. You order at the bar (there’s much tapping on a computer screen – no eye contact). You pay your money (more tapping). You sit down and wait for the food to arrive.

The young man comes over (slightly nervous). “Margherita?” “Oriental?” Pizzas are placed on the table, cutlery handed over, then….nothing. A big, round nothing. Not even a “can I get you anything else?” or “Enjoy your meal”. He just melted away.

Now for me those little questions are more than just a pleasant nicety. They’re permission to start, a kind of closure. Starters orders…and you’re OFF!

The other day my son and I are in Nando’s. “Have you been before?” asks the waitress. “No”. “Ok, let me go through the system with you.” If I’d been diffusing a nuclear bomb maybe I’d need the degree of instruction I received, but not for ordering chicken and chips! It was absurd. But she’s told to do it, possibly even coached a bit.

Contrast that with a story my business mentor Chris Allen told me. He and his wife were dining out with another couple. The waitress had been very pleasant, a real ‘natural’. The mains were cleared away and she asked about dessert. Stomachs were patted and the diners said “No thanks, we’re a bit full.”

Then the girl surprised them. “You know, we all have 2 stomachs – one for savoury, one for sweet. These desserts are something special and maybe you’ll find room in the sweet space?”

Guess what..they ordered desserts!

My point is that we shouldn’t train the personality out of these people by insisting on a mechanised procedure. We have to encourage people to let their natural flair come through, to be authentic, while coaching them to produce commercial wins. Human beings are designed for conversations, not presentations.

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