Starting a conversation with a stranger has always been harrowing for me. If I know in advance I’m going into a conversation with someone I don’t know, it’s almost worse.
But, mastering the art of conversation is crucial. The first impression you make on someone can shape your entire relationship, and the same is true with business clients.
Taking a meeting with a new or potential client no longer strikes fear into my heart, because I’ve found that there is a tried and true formula that leads me to the promised land of a strong, comfortable working relationship. And, as to not leave all of my fellow socially anxious people in the desert, I’m going to lay out a roadmap for you to get there as well.
Here’s what it looks like: (confidence + research + availability) – ego = path toward open communication
Now, you may be asking yourself, “This lady said she’s scared out of her wits to talk with new people, but the first piece of her formula is confidence?” And, that’s correct. People want to talk with (and respect) people who speak with confidence. And confidence doesn’t mean that you’re not nervous on the inside, but it does mean that you enter new client meetings with the full belief that you can help them achieve their goals. Really, this confidence should reassure them you’re the right person for the job.
Equally as important as confidence is coming in with research and prior knowledge of the person and business you’re meeting with. Knowledge is power, and coming into a conversation with a thorough understanding of the topic will keep you from stammering through a response to a question you couldn’t answer. This research should also build your confidence. You know this new client and you know you’re the person for the job! Demonstrating an understanding of a client’s business also builds trust. Without even meeting them, you took the time to learn about their industry, competitors and business. That’s an ego boost for them!
Next, set a precedent of availability. This part typically comes at the end of a meeting, when you share your business card and let them know you’re available for any additional questions. Hopefully, you’ve had such a thorough and fruitful conversation that they don’t have any questions. But, they’ll be additionally impressed that you’re so willing and open to providing help whenever it’s needed. Of course, you’ll need to keep your word and actually be available.
Finally, if you remember PEMDAS from algebra I, you’ll know that all three of the first qualities had to be added together first, and at the end, you should subtract ego. As a coping mechanism, many people who are socially nervous try to emphasize their value, which oftentimes comes across negatively. When you enter a meeting with ego, you’re more prone to commit conversation sins like interrupting, speaking over others, avoiding questions to get back to your own point, and not listening, among other things. While you think you’re knocking the introduction out of the park, you’re really leaving a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. Check your ego at the door.
Remember, you can lead the conversation down a path that creates healthy standards and fruitful business outcomes. Do your research, build confidence and become available. Most clients will respect this, and come to you with questions, ideas and account input.