I’ve been in the presence of Presidents of Countries, Presidents of Companies, Presidents of Universities, Presidents of Non-Profits, and Presidents of PTAs. While working with those leaders I’ve watched and listened as they’ve been approached by people who want to impress them and/or want something from them.
Over the past four decades these are the five mistakes I’ve witnessed most often when someone gets the opportunity to have an audience and blows it.
1 Do very little research on them. There is more information about virtually anyone you want to meet in the searchable stratosphere. Research who you want to impress and enjoy discovering what you have in common. Once you have been thoughtful enough to do homework on people you want impress, tie it into why you wanted to talk to them.
2. Tell them how busy you are. Delete the word busy from your vocabulary. It suggests mindlessness. We all have a lot on our plate. When someone walks up to a leader and expresses angst over being busy, they are taking precious time from the person who would beat them in this game of “busy” any day of the week. Instead, thank them for taking a moment of their valuable time to speak with you.
3 Complain about the struggles you’ve had rising to where you are now. Every single person to have reached leadership milestones has endured more conflict and struggle than you can ever imagine. They’ve achieved their status and notoriety because they have gotten through it all with immeasurable grit and talked about it little. They are focused on their mission and goals. They DO and ACT more than they complain about any pitfalls in the journey.
4 Talk about yourself for more than 90 seconds — Get the other person to talk. Arrive to the conversation armed with GREAT questions/talking points about things you’ve researched and learned they would like to talk about. When they answer your questions, they’ll likely be in an animated state because you’ve taken the time with this detail. You’ll enjoy more of a conversation with them and less of a one-way street. If you see an opening, tell them the reason you feel connected to them. If things are going very well, tell them what you want to collaborate on and/or share with them.
5 Give them your book to read. To all my fellow authors I want you to know you are a star for writing, completing, and publishing your book(s). While you have your fans, you do not add to your fanbase by sharing your book with someone who hasn’t expressed any interest in you or reading your book. Let them ask for it or about it and then offer to give it to them.
Imagine walking away from a great conversation armed with simply that — a great conversation.
I have a colleague who regularly gets invited to events where A-listers and celebrities are present. He learns about some of the people he knows he’s likely to see and becomes equipped with great nuggets that aren’t commonly known. He’s almost always enjoyed a positive reaction because his approach is refreshing and different from the conversations they normally have. The A-lister appreciates the thought and the generosity of spirit in the conversation. He shows up not as boring but as a refreshing departure from what this A-lister is used to.
Practice having conversations with people you aspire to learn from and do so without wanting anything in return. What you learn will exceed the value of anything you sought to glean from the exchange.
Jeanne M. Stafford is a Leadership Advisor, Collaboration Specialist and Keynote Speaker. She trains boards, CEO and executive teams to get big things done when the people at table have differing views, opinions and agendas. Jeanne is President of the National Speaker’s Association in New York City and welcomes you to attend our meetings and put into practice what you learned from reading this piece.