There are certain employment epochs I remember fondly.
Through those experiences, I had the opportunity to learn a bit about myself, as well as a certain skill set. But looking back now, regardless of the job, one component always stood out: attentiveness.
It didn’t matter if I was trying to convince someone to sponsor a needy child, seduce someone into telling me their life story, or simply make a crowd of people laugh, being aware of my environment was consistently instrumental towards my success.
Some jobs you can bury your head and work, but not mine. It’s important to look up once in awhile and see how the world is reacting. Then assess: should I stay the course? Or should I get the hell out of Dodge?
MAY THE ODDS BE WITH YOU
When I went about knocking door to door, canvassing for World Vision, I recognized that although I meant no harm, I was still an annoyance. People did not want to be disrupted during primetime television, they didn’t want to listen to my sales pitch, and they definitely were not inclined to open their wallets at the door.
I can gauge in approximately 1.3 seconds whether the big beefy guy with a frown on his face is interested, or whether the sweet old lady with a smile is actually listening—or if she just wanted company; if so, to indulge her would be to trick her.
A good sales pitch is not one that tricks people into purchase—it’s not a performance, it’s not robotic. It’s a conversation. When the door opens or when the customer walks in, that’s your opportunity to educate and engage. And that is done through proper interpersonal communication, not necessarily with showmanship or razzle dazzle.
The best way to make a sale is by recognizing whether the person can actually afford it in their lifestyle; in other words, are they worthy of sponsoring a kid, buying a toaster, owning a Ford Fiesta, etc.? You should be helping them. Lose the stress of the quota and listen.
Engage in a humanistic way. Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself as a person, not salesman. A good salesperson takes the time to interact with the consumer, and not simply play the odds. Why do you yourself believe it’s a worthwhile cause? Before you can sell something to anybody, you must first be able to sell it to yourself. And then you roll the dice and see if the door slams in your face or not. No hard feelings if it does.
LISTENING MORE IMPORTANT THAN ASKING
As an interviewer, people always expect me to come with an arsenal of questions. And I do. I write down as many possible questions I can think of, some pertinent, some filler, but on the day, I set those questions aside. The questions I prepared become a crutch. I’ll use them only if there is a moment of silence that needs to be filled. Aside from that, I do without the questions, the same way an actor forgoes the script when it’s show time.
Imagine arriving at a house party with a notebook full of questions to ask the guests. You wouldn’t sit down with someone and automatically start quizzing him or her on his or her life, right? So don’t do that in a professional interview either.
Before you start with the five W’s they taught you in J-school, consider asking this question: How’s it going? Establishing a rapport is fundamental to a good interview. Odds are the person will say something to trigger your interest and then your curiosity will take over.
A strong sense of discovery will guide your interview, not your prepared questions. A common mistake is focusing too much on what you want to ask and not what your subject is actually saying. Take notes if you must, use a recording device, but above all else have a genuine conversation. After all, as an interviewer you are attempting to tell a story, and stories, at the heart of it, are about relationships.
You can approach an interview with zero questions prepared if you are actually curious about your subject. Questions will come. With that being said, do prepare some stock questions, since some interviewees are nervous, busy, or simply less inclined to offer effective sound bites and insightful responses.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
As a stand-up comedian, I learned that not every audience will relate to your jokes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find you funny. A good comedian is one that can adjust to the crowd and is funny through their personality and wit, rather than something scripted and rehearsed. You cannot force a group of people to laugh at you, but you can earn their likings, and that happens through dialogue.
I believe stand-up comedy is a dialogue. I’m not saying you should ever encourage the audience to heckle or argue with you. However, imagine a conversation with someone, but instead of having a response in words, it’s a response through laughter. Laughter is validation. But it can only come through if you understand your audience. This goes for all other form of public speaking.
I remember lectures I had in college where the instructors would just go on and on about whatever. Clearly I learned nothing. But the reason I can’t remember anything is because they couldn’t connect with me. They never looked up from their notes to ask, “Elliot, you get what I am saying?”
For comedians, the presence of laughter is affirmation. For public speakers, an absence of coughing is affirmation. Learn to read your audience and ask for a response if they are refusing to offer it. It’s a dialogue; there is no fourth wall.
Odds are, you are not the only person presenting at any given time, whether you are a comedian, a presenter, or the best man giving a speech at a wedding. In most occasions there is an opportunity for you to acknowledge your audience before you hit the stage.
In comedy, for example: if a comedian before you had made a similar joke to the one you’re about to do, measure whether the audience enjoyed it. If it received a lackluster response, consider swapping it—even if it might mess up your entire set. Don’t be stubborn when you know something wouldn’t work. Is the audience here to actively engage with you or are they just forced to be there and you happen to be on stage?
You don’t need to be the showstopper, but you should at the very least be memorable. Otherwise there is no reason for you to be on stage.
Whether you are selling, interviewing, or just trying to make a group of people laugh, the art of interaction is a two-sided rally. You might do the majority of the speaking, but when you aren’t, you better be listening.