Want to really annoy your audience and turn them against you even before you begin your presentation? Start late.
This week I attended mandatory training that was scheduled for 7:00 pm, which meant that everyone who needed to be there had to figure out how to get to downtown Oakland after work and where they were going to be able to find some dinner. When I arrived 15 minutes early the huge room was almost half full and all of the seats were already taken. A few minutes later there were probably 150 people there, many were sitting on the floor, and the organizer lost my goodwill.
“We’re going to start 10 minutes late to give people a chance to get here,” she announced.
If you’re going to ask people to attend your meeting or presentation, don’t insult them by announcing that they matter less than the people who can’t be bothered to get there on time. What they’ll learn from this kind of training is that you aren’t serious and can’t be trusted. Why would they bother to show up for your next event on time (or at all)?
When 7:00 rolled around the room was full of about 200 people, and no more than 10 more showed up as we waited for our delayed start. Is alienating 95 percent of your audience in order to accommodate a few people who can’t be bother to be on time worth it? I sure don’t think so.
Occasionally you may need to start late because of technical difficulties or because someone you need for your meeting isn’t there, but never just announce that it was always your intention to start late and then just stand there ignoring people. Use the time to make smalltalk and build relationships or to take care of some business where you don’t need everyone to be present. Just make sure to keep your audience busy and entertained so they have more to do than stare at you and think about how rude you are.
I didn’t notice the slogan on this taxi receipt until I was home from Texas and figuring out my expenses last week. But I immediately knew which driver had handed it to me.
On its own the phrase “building relationships, not a client list,” wouldn’t even register with me. It’d be just another meaningless promise, like “Chevron Cares.” But this guy had made an impression on me. When you get a taxi driver who tries to engage you it’s usually awkward. They insert themselves into your conversations when it’s not appropriate or they make small talk about the weather or where you’re from when it’s clear that they really don’t care. It’s so obvious that they’re just trying to increase their tip that I generally try to look busy with my phone to avoid the chitchat.
This guy, however, made it look effortless. He didn’t trot out the standard conversation-makers and he didn’t interrupt when my business partner and I were talking. But he helpfully explained that the insane-building we were wondering about was the Perot Museum (of course!) and entertained us with a story about a previous passenger and why we were hauling her bag around in the car with us. He made the ride so easy that it actually seemed like we already had a relationship. When we arrived at the airport he handed me his card and said “call me next time you’re in town and need a ride.” And it actually seemed like a good idea to me.
I always tell people that they should treat all of their interactions like little informal presentations. Talk to people. Learn something about them and share something about yourself. See if there’s anything you can do to be helpful to them. And, above all, be genuine. Because as soon as people think you’re acting insincere or, worse, like a salesperson, they’ll do whatever they can to distance themselves from you.
In other words, build relationships. Because you never know when they’ll be useful.