OK, so I haven’t met the author Leil Lowndes and technically she isn’t part of our industry. But her book offers some great lessons on how to dazzle people and who doesn’t want that – in interviews, in a client service-driven industry, in life?!
It’s well worth reading the book from cover to cover. Each topic is presented in a 2-3 page chapter, so it’s easy to skip around or just read a couple per day. Here are my favorites:
1. Purge the vague question “How’s everything?/What’s new?/How have you been?” from your vocabulary. I’ve never known how to respond to that. My life sounds pitifully mundane if I can’t trot out a recent trip or funny story. I must not be the only person who thinks this way, because often the reply to “What’s new?” is “Nothing much.”
Lowndes recommends mixing it up by asking targeted questions about the current/recent events. Consider and empathize with whatever the person is presently feeling… what’s on their mind right NOW, e.g. “Wow, you must have had to leave your house really early to get here at 8 AM! Did you have a chance to grab coffee?” or “Hey, how’s Nadia like her new school?”
I prefer this small talk for a few reasons. First, it forces you to consider the mindset of your audience and talk about something that is meaningful to them at the present moment. It conveys that you’re thoughtful and interested in how their day is unfolding or what’s weighing on their mind. And finally, it gives them a concrete lead to engage in conversation. Magical. And not a bit hard to do.
Related concepts: “Be present” and “Make their day” from Fish.
2. Stop beating your chest in emails. Go to your Sent Mail box right now and analyze the last several emails you sent. How many times do you say “I”? E.g. “I wanted to check in on your progress” or “Here’s what I recommend” or even the innocent “I had fun at your party this weekend.”
Could you rewrite these phrases without using “I” and still convey the same meaning? Lowndes suggests you’ll sound less self-centered and bossy if you do. It’s takes a little practice and creative editing to get to: “How are you tracking on our project?” or “Let’s try this” or “Your party was a hit!” but it makes your recipient the star of the email.
Brownie points for using their name and/or remembering to use a salutation such as “Hi Renee” before racing into the message.
And, while we’re on the topic, Lowndes recommends forever banishing scary subject lines. After all, does anyone really want to open an email entitled, “!!!!!!BAD NEWS!!!!!!”
3. Show up early. All of us have been at an industry event where we don’t know anyone… wearing a name tag and meekly scanning the room for familiar faces or opportunities to strike up a conversation. In these situations, Lowndes suggests you arrive early. You’ll have a better opportunity to connect with other early birds, who will in turn introduce you to their colleagues.
I tested this out recently at a networking seminar where I had the following goals: 1) Connect with clients I hadn’t met yet, 2) introduce myself to the NYU intern coordinator, and 3) meet a few prospective interns. A tall order for a 2-hour seminar, so I gave my chronic lateness the night off and showed up 10 minutes early, while they were still setting up chairs.
In walk some people that look like my clients so I introduce myself and we spend the next several minutes talking about our goals for the intern program. Then I spy the professor I need to connect with and introduce her to my clients. Everyone is happy.
The presentation runs late, so people scatter afterward. There’s no time for networking, but I was achieved two out of three of my goals because I showed up early.
(A slightly more calculated maneuver: Hang out on the perimeter of an event until people arrive and take their seats. That way, you can sidle up and grab the chair next to your VIP. )
You can move mountains with these three principles:
1. Arrive early
2. Ask thoughtful questions
3. Invoke “we” instead of “I”
Imagine what you can do with her other 93 tips! PS – The YouTube video doesn’t do the book justice.