How to start a conversation without sounding creepy

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I just read an article based on an interview with Terry Gross, the host of NPR’s “Fresh Air”. Over the last 40 years, she’s conducted thousands of interviews and offered her advice on the best way to start a conversation.

The only icebreaker you need, she said, is to say: “Tell me about yourself.”

She says “this is much more effective than the dreaded, “So what do you do?” because you don’t make any assumptions about the other person.”

She prefers her way because it, “. . . allows you to start a conversation without the fear that you’re going to inadvertently make someone uncomfortable or self-conscious. Posing a broad question lets people lead you to who they are.”

Naturally, I have a few thoughts about this.

First, if you know your audience and you’ve done your homework on the person you’re interviewing, you should be the one in the lead. If you leave it up to the interviewee, they’ll take you places you and your audience don’t necessarily want to go.

Second, making people a bit uncomfortable can lead to a more interesting interview.

Okay, this is coming from a lawyer, not the host of a cultural events show, so take it for what you will. But you know I’m right, don’t you?

Anyway, I picked up the article because I thought I’d learn a new way to start a conversation with a stranger, while networking for example. Something better than, “What do you do?”

Nope.

If a stranger comes up to me and says, “Tell me about yourself,” I’m pretty sure I’d be creeped out and say something like, “Why do you ask?” or “Who the hell are you?”

I have issues.

Seriously, if you want to start a conversation with a stranger, stick with what other people expect to hear and are prepared to respond to.

You can pick up on something you see or you heard them say. You can pay them a compliment, e.g., “I like your tie”. Or you can ask a simple question, e.g., “Have you heard this speaker before?”

Easy. Everyone’s comfortable.

Once you’ve broken the ice and you’re having a conversation, ask them “What do you do?” Because you want them to ask you what you do.

And, if you’re conducting an interview, for a podcast or video or because you’re writing a book, get my book, The Easy Way to Write a Book. You’ll learn some non-creepy ways to start the conversation and get to the good stuff.

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4 simple steps to building your contact list

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Want to meet some new people (prospective clients, professionals, influencers. . .) without leaving your home or office? Want to do it by investing just a few minutes a day?

Okay, listen up. Here’s what to do:

Step one: Choose a category

What type of contacts would you like to add to your list? If you want to “meet” other lawyers, which practice areas? If you want to meet business owners, executives, or prospective clients, which type of business or industry?

Step two: Make a list

Find a directory, list, or some websites comprised of the kinds of people in your chosen categories. Note their contact information.

Step three: Create an “excuse” to contact them

It could be to invite them to an event you’re hosting or promoting (e.g., a meetup, golf tourney, charitable event, membership drive, restaurant opening for one of your clients or friends, etc.)

It could be to invite them to speak at your event, post an article on your blog, let you interview them for your video channel, or fill out a survey you’ve posted.

It could be to meet you for coffee because you have something in common (target market, client, neighborhood, practice area) and you want to see how you might work together.

It could be because a mutual client, business contact, or friend said something nice about them and you wanted to “meet” them.

Step four: Call

Yes, call. It’s much more effective than email or a letter for a first contact. You want them to see you as a real person, not a faceless collection of electrons spamming their inbox. You want them to hear your voice and you want to hear theirs.

And hey, if a conversation ensues, that’s a good thing.

Introduce yourself, tell them where you got their name, say something nice about them (e.g., you like their website, you heard nice things about them), and invite them to speak, meet, write, etc.

If they’re not in, leave a message. Circle back to them at another time.

Told you it was simple.

How to get more referrals from lawyers and other professionals

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Maybe you should stop networking

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Some folks don’t listen. They know they shouldn’t discuss politics and religion but they can’t help themselves. They’ve lost friends, relatives no longer speak to them, and who knows how many clients will never come back.

The problem is, in today’s political climate, when we meet new people–at parties, at formal networking events, or going out for coffee with a prospective client or professional contact–politics inevitably comes up.

You can (and should) change the subject. But that’s often easier said than done.

Therefore, I propose that you give up networking, at least for now, at least until the craziness dies down. Build your practice without it.

I’m serious. There is just too much at stake. If you go to an event and word gets out that you support someone or something that a preponderance of the group or someone with emotional problems does not, you risk being ostracized, shamed, even physically harmed.

Better to keep people guessing.

Unless most of your clients come from one side of the spectrum and you’ve made a decision to forgo business from the other side, what do you have to gain by flapping your gums in public?

I know, we shouldn’t have to keep our mouths shut. So what? That’s the way it is.

The last time I brought up this subject, I heard from a lawyer who told me he says whatever he wants, he doesn’t care what anyone thinks, and anyone who disagrees with him “can go f*** themselves.”

I didn’t like his attitude so I removed him from my list.

Here’s how to network without leaving your office

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No friends, no problem

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Yesterday, I said the best way to network is to have your friends introduce you to some of their friends. But what if you don’t have many friends? Or the friends you have don’t know anyone in your target market?

You go to plan b. You do everything you can to meet some people (without an introduction or endorsement) and do your best to turn them into friends.

Yeah, it’s work. It’s not easy. It takes time. But you do what you’ve gotta do.

Yesterday, I heard from someone who has started a professional networking group in Manhattan. He’s looking for a few lawyers to come to their upcoming event and check out the group. He asked me to let him know if I knew anyone.

I assume he’s already invited all of his professional contacts and asked them to extend the invitation to their professional contacts. (If he hasn’t, he should.)

But that’s not all he can do.

He can get on the phone and call lawyers in his market, introduce himself, and invite them to the event. If they can’t/don’t want to come, ask them to pass along the invite to their lawyer friends.

If they say yes, they’ll come, offer to allow them to invite their contacts to come with them.

Spend an hour or two, call enough people, make the event sound sexy, offer free food, and you’ll get some folks showing up. Oh yeah, start your calls by reaching out to the contact persons at professional networking groups out of your immediate area. They may know people who are looking for a networking group that’s closer to their home or office.

What else?

He can post the event on his social media channels. He can post the event in appropriate Facebook and Linked In groups. He can do a mailer or advertise in professional journals. He can email his clients or customers (because everyone has a lawyer in the family). He can knock on doors in office buildings near the event and invite the occupants or pass out some flyers.

He doesn’t have to do this every week. Just long enough to get the group going and make some new friends.

Thing is, everyone he invites to his event who doesn’t come is someone he might be able to network with anyway. Call them again, remind them who you are, and get to know them. Who knows, they might become a friend even if they never come to your event.

The attorney marketing formula

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Friends first

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Networking isn’t just about meeting new people. It’s about how you meet them and what happens after you do.

The best way to meet new people is to be introduced to them by a mutual friend. The operative word is friend. Not an acquaintance or a casual business contact, a friend. Someone who knows, likes and trusts you.

When a friend introduces you to another friend, magic can happen. The number one rule of networking, then, is to make friends first.

Friends enjoy each other’s company. They do things for each other and are willing to ask each other for help.

Look at the list of people you know. How many are friends? It might be only a few but you only need a few to start.

Your friends can introduce you to their friends. You can gain access to their groups and meet influential people in them. When you do, look for ways to make new friends by finding out what they need or want and looking for ways to help them get it.

Networking isn’t just a tally of transactions. It’s about friends helping each other because they want to, not because they are obligated to.

If you want to grow your practice or build your career, go make some new friends.

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Find out what people want and show them how to get it

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Legendary investor Bernard Baruch said the secret to getting rich is to “Find out what people want and show them how to get it”.

Ah, you thought you were supposed to “help them” get it. No, you’re busy. You can’t help everyone do everything (unless they hire you). You have a practice to run.

Show them what to do. Showing is easier than helping and nearly as valuable.

Give them direction and feedback. Point to resources. Refer them to experts. Show them what to do. When push comes to shove, they don’t really expect you to drive them to their destination. They will appreciate you for giving them a map.

On the other hand, don’t just “tell them what to do”. Anyone can do that. Anyone can post a list of recommended resources on their website. No, show them.

Talk to them and make sure you understand exactly what they want and why. Then, provide suggestions and recommendations specific to their needs so they can get what they want as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Explain why you recommend A instead of B. Give examples so they understand your rationale. Make sure they are ready to move forward before you turn them loose but let them know they can come back to you if they run into a snag.

Showing is less than helping but more than telling. Find out what people want and show them how to get it.

This is me, showing you how to get more referrals

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Hanging with the big dogs

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“Who you know is more important than what you know”. It’s a law. The Law of Association.

We tend to be like the people with whom we associate most. If your personal and professional contacts consist primarily of smart, successful, and well-connected people, you are probably smart, successful, and well-connected.

We tend to share many of the same habits, attitudes, and opinions of the people in our inner circle. We read the same types of books, talk about the same subjects, and know many of the same types of people.

Your life would be different if your contacts consisted primarily of lazy people with bad habits and a poor work ethic.

Your task is clear. To continually upgrade your associations.

On a scale of 1 to 100, we are all 50s. There are people we look up to–the 80s, 90s, and 100s, and there are people who look up to us. To upgrade your associations, you’ll want to seek out and associate with the 80s and above.

It’s not easy to meet the top people in any field, let alone convince them to invite you into their world.

But you can do it.

Start by eliminating the bad influences in your life. They’re holding you back.

If you now associate with 20s and 30s, people with bad habits, bad attitudes, and poor motivation, stop spending time with them. If it’s difficult to remove them completely from your life, perhaps because they are family or co-workers, spend less time with them.

Then, start filling the void with people who are a little higher up the scale from you.

You’re a 50, right? So find and meet some 60s. People who have more experience, better skills, or more success than you.

Get to know them. Bring value to them. Eventually, you’ll become like them.

Then, as a 60, seek out some 70s.

Work your way up the scale, in increments. Eventually, you’ll be associating with 90s and 100s.

Maybe then I’ll take your call.

How to get referrals from lawyers and other professionals

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Who’s coming to your party?

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If you were opening your practice this year you might hold a grand opening. Invite friends and business contacts to come celebrate with you and get some information they can share with their friends and clients and business contacts. It’s a great way to generate some momentum, make some new contacts, and take the first step toward signing up a few new clients.

Well, guess what? It’s not too late. You can hold a grand re-opening party and accomplish the same thing. Only now, it will be better because you have actual clients and referral sources you can invite. You can use the occasion to introduce your guests to other guests, helping them make some new contacts and get some new business.

You can also use your grand re-opening to make some new contacts.

In addition to inviting people you know, invite people you don’t know but would like to. Invite prospective clients, professionals, business owners, and other centers of influence in your niche market or community. Invite people who can hire you or recommend you. Invite people who are influential with a big network of contacts you’d like to target.

It’s your party; you get to make the guest list.

Imagine what your practice will be like by next year at this time if you invite 50 centers of influence to your party this year.

Everyone loves a party. Start making your list.

Once you meet them, here’s what to do with them

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When your networking isn’t working

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You want it all. Now. So you try to do it all. But when you find yourself overwhelmed or out of time, you go back to doing nothing. We see this a lot with networking events, don’t we?

A professional goes to an event, as the speaker or for networking purposes, with the goal of meeting as many new people as possible. They collect lots of business cards, shake a lot of hands, and go home exhausted. They can barely remember the people they met. The cards they collect sit in a drawer, ignominious reminders of yet another wasted outing.

Sound familiar? Want a better way?

Instead of a goal to meet twenty people, how about a goal to meet just one?

One person to talk to and get to know. One person you can follow-up with, meet again, and build a relationship.

The next time you go to a networking event, set a goal to make one good contact. Do that and you can spend the rest of your time at the event, guilt-free, hanging out with the people you already know.

Networking without leaving your office

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Aim for the top dogs

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You know a lot of people. You’d like to know more. Instead of meeting people randomly, you should meet and work with the biggest and the best.

The ones who influence the right people in your niche or local market. The ones who can send you business, introduce you to other influential people, and show you how to do the things that got them to the top.

They might be other professionals. They might be bloggers, authors, speakers, coaches, or trainers. They might be politicians, consultants, business owners, or industry leaders.

They all have one thing in common. They can help your career take a giant leap.

It may be harder to connect with them but it is worth the effort. One top dog can do for you what 100 other dogs cannot.

Don’t settle for building a network of ordinary people. Set your sites on the biggest and the best.

Start by asking yourself these two questions:

1. Who are the 10 leading people in my marketplace, and
2. How can I connect with them?

Answer these questions and get to work. One day, your name will appear on other people’s top dog list.

Building a successful practice starts with a plan

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