You only get one chance to make a first impression, so you better make it great !
I am amazed at how many professionals forget some of the basic rules of etiquette, and ignore common sense and basic marketing and sales techniques, when presenting themselves for the first time. No matter how hard I try to focus on the positive aspects of someone’s pitch, it’s usually the glaring mistakes that rise to the surface and outshine the other elements. Like that kid who was always acting up in your high school homeroom class, these mistakes scream “Look at me – I’m bad!”.
Don’t be fussy.
Your mother was right – stop fidgeting! Don’t fuss and muss when you talk. This is true whether you’re presenting to a group or just having an informal conversation with one person. Don’t play with your hair, your tie, your rings, your cufflinks, your pen or your pocket change. It’s distracting to your listeners and they’ll start thinking about your hairstylist, where to buy finger bling, or playing pocket pool with you, instead of focusing on what you’re saying.
Don’t go negative.
Don’t dis your competitors, your colleagues, your boss, your wife, your kids, or your neighbors. Don’t tell me that you’re miserable, hate your job, had a bad childhood, and that you’ll lose your house if you don’t make this sale. Don’t tell me that you became a life coach because your dog hates you. These things will not inspire me to hire you. I may feel some sympathy and compassion, but I’m not your best friend or your mother. I want to work with intelligent, emotionally mature, stable, successful professionals. If I wanted to surround myself with whining, kvetching cry-babies, I’d run a daycare. At a networking event, misery does not love company, and no one will want to talk to you if you’re depressing. You will not earn my respect, admiration or trust by criticizing and complaining. Instead, put on a pair of rose-colored glasses, look for the silver lining among the clouds, be optimistic and inspiring, and talk to me about the lemonade instead of the lemons.
Don’t bore me with details.
Don’t overload your pitch with technical details. Don’t describe every single feature of every product or service. A step-step description of how you design, plan, develop, manufacture, construct, code, calculate, and distribute whatever is you are selling is not relevant in an elevator pitch. Unless it’s simple and ‘sexy’, and you can explain it in 30 seconds or less, I won’t care about your process. If I haven’t asked, then I don’t immediately need to know all the options, pricing and payment plans for each and every service package or product you offer. Instead, give me the big-picture, down & dirty, quick & easy version of why your service or product is useful and how it will make my life and my business better. If you can catch my attention and accomplish that, then there is a good chance that I will agree to meet with you over coffee to learn more about your business and how it can help me.
Let’s (not) make a deal.
Don’t try to close the sale. You don’t know what I want, you don’t know what my company needs, and I don’t know enough about you or your services to agree to buy anything from you. Unless you’re selling inexpensive and attractive pens, and I have an immediate and desperate need to write something, the odds are you’re not going to close the sale on the spot. The goal of a first impression is to simply open the door, not slam it shut on my wallet. If you try to encourage, push and convince me to make a commitment the first time we meet, the only commitment I’ll make is to myself – to avoid you like a New York City bedbug, and to give my business to your soft-spoken, un-aggressive competitors.
Don’t be a drag.
Don’t drag it on and on and on and on. Like the Oscar® speeches, networking pitches should be timed. When in doubt, less is more. If you go over the allotted time, loud music starts playing, someone drags you away with a cane, and we cut to a commercial with cute puppies.
And one more thing…
Once you’ve exchanged business cards and had enough conversation, make a polite closing statement such as: It was nice to meet you. Have a good evening. Don’t ever darken my path again you freak. Enjoy the conference. Goodbye and good luck. That was 15 minutes of my life I’ll never get back, I hate you. I’ll follow up with you by the end of the week. And then walk away. Don’t add “and one more thing”, and don’t stay and try to make painful small talk. Like a bad relationship, it will only get more awkward and painful as the time passes and you will end up crying into a tub of chocolate chip mocha ice cream wondering what went horribly, terribly wrong…