Pre-Meeting Jitters

Ever felt anxious  as you were  about to begin a sales conference or expo?  I don't know anybody here? Our booth is too small? It's not fancy enough?  Our products  aren't fully  developed?  Message not completely clear?  Company uniforms not as sharp as the other guys'?  I'm not experienced enough?

“I’m panicked.”

“What’s going on,” I asked?

I was dropping my daughter off for the World Scholar-Athlete Games, hosted this year at the University of Rhode Island. (More at  Hundreds of high school kids from around the world and many states in the U.S. are gathering for a week to participate in seminars, compete in sports, and discuss ideas presented by  world-level speakers like General Colin Powell.

“I don’t know anybody here.  They’re all bigger than me. I’m not as good a player as they are.  I don’t have anything to contribute.  I just want to be able the best volleyball player here so when I walk into the room everybody just, like, gets who I am.”

Yikes.   The familiar sound of pre-meeting jitters, feelings we’ve experienced as we’ve stepped into sales expos, or wedding receptions (except my own, where I knew at least one other person),  or any number of other business or social events.   How do I connect with people without looking stupid? How do I get prospects to like me?  How do I differentiate myself?  How do I work around the weak parts of my product line?  What do I do if my product isn’t clearly the best?

So,  back to Rhode Island.  After asking whether she wanted ideas (she said, “yes”), I first I tried “reality:”  True (you don’t know anybody). False (they aren’t all bigger than you). Partially true (you’re not as good as some). Utterly  false (you have LOTS to contribute).  And, good luck on that one (you’re not likely to be the best volleyball player here).

Bad strategy. No sale. Facts don’t count.  So I tried third party content from known entities.

From Gloria Estefan, I borrowed:  “Get on your feet. Stand up and take some action.”  So, I shared that and said, “This is a conference about meeting people.  How ‘bout you help be a connector?  Help the kids here find other kids to meet. If you focus on them rather than you, you will feel more confident and in control.” In other words, before you try to “sell” yourself to the “prospects” here, give some value by helping them deal with their challenges meeting people.

From Barbara Walters’ book, How to Talk with Practically Anybody about Practically Anything, I recalled,  “You can learn at least one thing from every person you meet.”  So I said, “See if you can learn one new thing from each person you meet. Ask questions and listen.  If you lead the conversation with questions, you can (1) learn something and (2) protect yourself if you feel vulnerable.”    In other words, rather than thinking you need to “pitch” how good you are or your products are, ask questions. Learn something.

So… She met a kid in line during registration.(Did she ask questions?  I don’t know.)  She texted me three hours later to say, ‘I’ve made some friends.”   … Six and a half more days to go.

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