Talking Points and Listening Points

Everyone has heard of an elevator speech.  That’s the imagined scenario where you get on an elevator with your prospective employer (or if you are an entrepreneur, your prospective angel investor or lender) and make your powerful and concise case for what you hope will be a brighter future for you or your fledgling enterprise.

Whether you call what you say your elevator speech or your talking points, remember that conversations often lead to relationships, though speeches may lead to applause.  I’d rather have a friendship than a standing ovation anytime.

I am a fan of talking points; if I don’t have them, I quickly go off the script and into the weeds.  I tend to get excited when I get an idea in my head and I tend to be forceful and enthusiastic when I hear my excellent case.  There is only one big problem:

If you are doing the talking (or in my case, if I am), you/I can’t hear the questions, comments, ideas, or feedback—or even the request for clarification—offered by another.  The questions signal interest, conditions, engagement, or acknowledgment, and almost always are important to building a relationship, even in the apocryphal elevator.

If I recognized my future on a ground floor elevator headed upward with me, I’d start by asking a question. 

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?  Are you headed up to the Industry Conference also, by any chance?”  Because a conversation usually begins with a question, not a statement.

“Aren’t you Jane Smith?  I read the article you wrote in Career Development Digest. Brilliant point you made, about elevator speeches being oddly out of place in elevators.”  Because you know this person’s work, admire it, and it makes sense to confirm your suspicions that this is actually who you think it is.  Otherwise you might be arguably presumptuous, or thought to be a stalker. 

“I have some questions about my career direction and the advice I’ve been getting.  I wonder if I could get your thoughts on some of my ideas.”  It’s a good idea to ask permission to approach anyone, even if you have been introduced by a mutual friend, or especially if you have been introduced by a friend. 

Listen for interest, or the opposite, dismissal.

Whenever you wander or venture into a conversation, there is some risk that you will not be accepted exactly the way you want to be.  If you manage your risk, you will find that a slower pace, casual manner, and more curiosity than determination will ultimately get you closer to what you want—a relationship with a new friend or acquaintance. 

If you are speechifying about yourself, you will not hear opportunity when another offers it.  It sounds like this:

“I am so busy right now.  Could I introduce you to someone else in my company, or could I call you when things slow down a bit?”  The answer is yes, of course.  And then you follow up.  This is not rejection. . . . that is, it isn’t rejection until you try to argue that you only need a half an hour. 

“Have you tested your theory?  I am concerned that you may not have considered the other possibility.”  This is when you stop talking and listen for as long as the other person keeps talking.  Then you ask another question.

“Who are you again?  How do I know you?  Why are you calling me?”  Scary, yes, but questions in need of answers, to an opportunist.  You should definitely have good answers, and then some important questions of your own.

Listen for clues, understanding, and warmth.  Listen for understanding.  Listen for clues to next steps. 

Come to each opportunity with both talking points and listening points.  If you only consider what you will tell, you may never get to the right question.



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