A wise man once said: “It’s what you say when you’re not saying anything that people listen to the most.” Although it sounds weird, the fact is we are communicating all the time, whether we are speaking or not. According to Albert Mehrabian, professor emeritus of psychology at University of California, Los Angeles, the words we say only convey seven per cent of what we are communicating to others. Our tone of voice makes up the next 38 per cent, but it is our body language that says the most – the remaining 55 per cent.
When you’re in business, you are ‘on stage’ all the time. Our customers, staff and stakeholders are making decisions about what they will do next based on what they believe we are saying – whether we know it or not. There is no room for ambiguity or mixed messages. We all have a personal brand. People are either attracted to us or will cross to the other side of the street when they see us coming. We are all Marmite. Have you ever thought about what your personal brand is?
Do you know what you stand for and what values you represent in the eyes of others? One lady who knows more about this than most is the personal branding specialist MonaLisa Chukwuma. Her new book, called Define Yourself, is probably the most comprehensive on the subject I have ever read. Our personal brand is our choice. We can invent the person we want to be and then become them, but this doesn’t mean putting on an act like a performer in the West End. You have to be congruent and live your brand in everything you say and do. You have to be predictable and consistent in the way you approach any set of circumstances. People love positive predictability. We can all light up a room – some of us do it when we walk in, others do so when they leave.
Which are you? It’s also true that we only get one chance to make a first impression. The opinion we form about somebody within the first minute of meeting them often sticks with us for life and rarely changes. So what can we do to make the most of that first precious moment?
Have you ever been to a networking evening and watched people get it wrong? Their objective seems to be to give out as many business cards as they can and make their pitch to anyone standing within three feet of them. In their rush to achieve this, they hardly listen to anyone. In fact, it is almost impossible to get a word in edgeways. Will this endear them to others and generate a rush of business?
Probably not. In 1936 Dale Carnegie, in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, was promoting the concept of being a good listener and encouraging others to talk about themselves. Certainly, this is the fastest way of finding out if someone is in your marketplace – it beats wasting five minutes by talking at them without knowing anything about them. Dale also believed that to win friends you have to become genuinely interested in other people. Funnily enough, if you let others do all the talking, they will believe you are a great conversationalist.
Of course, no one will ever win business by remaining silent, which is why you have to hone what you do say to make it count. The best way of talking about your business is in terms of outcomes rather than services. Put yourself in the mindset of the person you are talking to and ask yourself: what’s in it for them? For example, you might build websites and be able to talk techy till the cows come home. However, few people will get excited if you launch into an explanation of search engine optimisation and the clever things you can do with HTML. Instead, what you might say is: “I help businesses turn casual visitors to their websites into customers by using a tried and tested technique.” The question that immediately invites is: “What is that?” They you’re into a conversation. Or you can talk about best lightweight double stroller if you see they are taking care of their newborn babies.
The person wants to know what’s in it for them. Picture yourself going between floors in a lift with another person. You only have a few seconds to answer their question of: “What do you do?” What can you say to get their attention and generate a desire to learn more? As a publisher, I wouldn’t talk in terms of creating and selling books, but instead talk about helping people to raise their profile in their marketplace, positioning them as an expert and opening up a new income stream by becoming a published author. Putting the benefits first rather than the features.
Just because you might sell a service or product the person you are talking to might want doesn’t meant they will automatically become your customer. People have a mental checklist they are measuring you against. They want to do business with people they like – why wouldn’t they? So how can you make yourself more approachable?
Take another leaf out of Dale Carnegie’s book and always talk in terms of the other person’s interests. You may be a passionate football supporter, but if that is all you talk about, you’ll soon find yourself on your own. By learning about your customers, what their problems are and what they are trying to achieve, you can give them the gift of your specialist knowledge. Knowledge is a currency. Share it generously and customers will reward you by coming back time and time again.