Whatever you’re selling and wherever you’re selling it, first contact — which happens in a millisecond, is critical to all that follows.
I’m talking about audience connection, which, to be clear, doesn’t have to be 75 people in an auditorium listening to a speaker performing on stage. The audience is the cop who pulled you over, your colleagues at a staff meeting, or, as in my case, the dozens who dropped by– one at a time or in small groups — at a recent author event outside a bookstore in Bethany Beach, Md.
Strategically, I couldn’t have picked a better spot. To approach or leave the beach, you had to walk past my table. But it was also a challenge to remember that the first thing you want to talk about is the last thing a stranger wants to hear.
That is, you want to do your pitch. They need to like you a little first. So in that first moment, you must get their permission. How? It starts with confident eye contact. Then a greeting, perhaps a handshake. Again, confident — not limp, not bone-crushing. The next step might be to ask where they’re from and what they do. A bit of chitchat just takes a moment, but is crucial because it builds an on-ramp to what you want to talk about. After these steps, I heard many times throughout the night:
So what’s this book about? And I would answer with my own questions:
What would happen if a white bigot from the Deep South was elected to the U.S. Senate in the 1960s, and during his first week in Washington fell in love with a woman of color? What if the woman knew he was married, but not about the crimes he’d committed as leader of the local Klan back home? And what if by the time she learned the truth, she was pregnant with his child?
Here are more tips that will help bolster your confidence and personal brand.
Before your event:
1 — Do some reconnaissance: You’ll feel more comfortable if you go early and become familiar with all aspects of the venue. Will you need a mic? Is your platform a stage, a sidewalk, or a patch of grass? What’s the best angle for photos?
2 — Make it easy: Of course you’re going to let everyone know where and when. Go the extra mile and be sociable on social media. What’s nearby? Where can they park? Is construction blocking the roads?
3 — Conquer stage fright: Relax by making new friends with people as they arrive. Think of a few neutral questions you can ask. As you make light conversation, you’ll stop obsessing about your pitch or presentation.
During the event:
4 — Be the wizard: Audiences love to know what’s going on behind the curtain. Be open and candid. Reveal a bit of yourself without dragging it out.
5 — Maintain contact and smile: We’ve discussed eye contact. Remember, too, that smiles beget smiles. Your audience, small or large, wants to see that you’re passionate, confident and approachable. Smiling helps.
After You’re Done:
6 — Make mom proud: Don’t forget to thank those who turned out, the person who introduced you, and any volunteers who helped. Also make sure to stick around after you’re done and answer questions from those who may be too shy to speak up in a crowd.
7 — Be the booth: Everyone these days is bombarded 24–7 with information. Create a piece of useful piece of marketing (bookmarks are popular) that sums up your pitch in one or two sentences.
8 — Pay it forward: It’s easy to think of everyone doing what you do as the competition. Don’t. Be friendly, share best practices, and offer help if you see a need. Being helpful pays dividends sooner or later, the largest being how positive you’ll feel about yourself.
On that last point, I’d love to hear what other tactics you use to calm your nerves, keep things fresh, or win over the crowd. What’s the best tool in your toolkit?