When I joined the Financial Relations Board, then the world’s largest investor relations agency, one of my jobs was going to new business meetings with the VP of sales: Bill.

He would inundate the potential client with paper. For example, Bill would make a pronouncement: about how much the average company’s stock price improved after working with us. Then he slid a piece of paper across the table to the prospect to support that. A lot of trees died in vain.

Here’s what I didn’t know then that has helped me keep my own speaking and communication practice running for 26 years.

#1: Set a Clear Goal

Know what you want before you go in. Whether it’s new business or a job interview, this is the most powerful thing you can do.

You may have heard the acronym about SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Here’s an example I use for new business:

“In a 30-minute meeting with Jayne, I 1) listen more than I speak, 2) paraphrase to ensure I understand the pain, and 3) create a vision for the opportunity. Then Jayne invites me to submit a proposal.”

Writing this sends the goal to my subconscious mind: which wants me to get what I want (but I literally have to tell it). That not only helps me to remember my goal, but gives me access to the 14 million+ bits of information per second that my subconscious mind has access to (versus the 10-50 bits in my conscious mind). Why not get my whole mind working with me to get what I want?

#2: Create Three Main Messages

People’s short-term memories can hold three ideas. Making sure I walk in with only three forces me to focus on the most important messages. It also prevents me from overloading people (as Bill did with his papers).

My points fall into these three categories:

  • Their pain: No one hires you if everything is going well. Their pain can range from niggling to severe. I do my research to determine what this is. Then I ask questions and listen during the meeting to make sure I got it right, and tweak things on the spot if I didn’t.
  • My experience: If I can show I solved a similar problem for someone else, two good things happen. First, I reduce their perceived risk in working with me (because I know what I’m doing). Second, this shortens the time it takes for them to say “yes.” I make sure all examples relate to their situation. (See point #3.)
  • A shared vision: How would things look if we solved their problem together? What pain would disappear? What opportunities would materialize? I need to help them taste this.

#3: Develop Stories that Show You Know

Having been around a while, chances are good I’ve either worked in their industry or helped to solve a similar issue for another company or audience. That means I have a portfolio of stories to draw upon and can pull up a few that make them say, “She understands. That’s what we’re facing.”

Want to know more about the different types of strategic stories to tell? Check out “Is There a Point to This Story?” and “Is Your Story Worth Sticking to?

Think of It as a Conversation

I’ve walked into plenty of meetings thinking, “I really need this job!” There’s no greater client repellent than that!

It’s a whole lot easier to go in curious about the organization and the opportunity, and genuinely interested in seeing if I’m a good fit. My focus becomes just having a conversation. Plus I’m not trying to sell anybody anything. (Including myself on my own worthiness—or fear of unworthiness if it doesn’t work out).

When you do this, it takes the pressure off everyone and allows better things to happen.

Need to be more relaxed when you’re interviewing for a job or a client? Let’s talk.