With so much information to consume and process these days, it’s easy to lose touch with the idea that connecting face to face with people we hope to inspire, influence or educate is at the heart of professional success.
I sat down recently with three professionals whose businesses depend on their ability to connect with others.
Bobby: When you are reading a script—when you sit down with it for the first time—how can you tell if it is going to connect with an audience?
Lauren: You can’t. … First of all, you want to make sure that it’s well written. Sometimes, we’ve done some scripts with very skilled, professional, polished storytelling, and they still don’t connect with an audience. Sometimes we do a play that might not be as well written, might be a little more toward the entertainment value with absolutely no message whatsoever, and it connects a lot. So it really depends on word of mouth and what the world is going through at the time.
Bobby: When working with actors, how do you help them connect with their character?
Lauren: I feel like the analogy that I always give is that I’m on this big cruise line, and I’m the captain, and I’m the one running around pouring champagne in the actors’ glasses to fill them up with any choices that might provoke them into taking the initiative, the ownership and coming in with choices. It’s really important for me that an actor feels safe in the space, to know that before they find the right answer (if there is a right answer), before they find the best choice, that they explore as much as they can and feel okay to fall on their face … time … after time … after time … after time … after time again and that they don’t become inhibited about that or feel like a failure.
Bobby: You mentioned having a safe environment for your actors. Let’s talk a little bit about balancing that safety for the audience between challenging them with a concept or theme that may feel uncomfortable to them and yet having them feel safe enough in the room to maintain a level of connection and keep them engaged.
Lauren: Take an edgy show, for example, that might have a difficult plot to embrace by the audience. It’s really tricky because my responsibility is to tell the playwright’s story and to tell it with as much integrity as I can. My job is to provoke and to actually sort of introduce the other in life that you may not have considered to find out why we are so afraid of the other – whether it’s a different choice of lifestyle, a different color, race or religion. Why are we so afraid of the other? Sometimes those kinds of shows communicate to the audience that maybe there’s no reason to be afraid of the other.
Other times, it’s belly laughs, just to give somebody a chance just to forget about the news, their mortgage, and any sort of illness that they might be dealing with – to just come in and have a bloody-good time.
Bob Shrum is CEO of Shrum Networks, an independent consultant for Rodan + Fields Dermatologists and co-founder of the Gainesville Networking Challenge. He has brought an innovative format for professional networking to the area.
Bobby: What inspired you to make the art of networking a focal point of your career?
Bob: I attended a lot of networking events where people were always trying to sell each other, myself included. Then I realized nobody is out there teaching us the most “successful” way to network because what we were doing wasn’t working. I only refer business to people I have built a relationship with through networking, because I know them and trust them.There’s a slogan my wife, Jamie, and I like to use: “To know you is to trust you. To trust you is to refer you.”
Bobby: How do you make the most of a networking event?
Bob: I focus on making a few quality connections and then follow up by inviting the contact to a one-on-one meeting. When I follow up, I like to reference part of the conversation we had at the event. At the one-on-one, you have to be a good listener and really focus on what a good lead for them would be. That way, you’re building relationships that matter!
Bobby: What is it about our community that makes people understand the value of networking?
Bob: Being a college town, there’s a lot of people here eager to learn. Whether it is something innovative or a new system or product, I find the people of Gainesville are very open, very generous with their time and very giving of each other. The openness of business professionals in Gainesville has allowed me to create some great relationships and opened doors that I couldn’t have opened myself. I have met business entrepreneurs who have given me some great advice and who have also allowed me to use their facility for charities and networking events. I am grateful to each and every one of them.
Randi Elrad is a founder of Crime Prevention Security Systems, as well as its vice president of sales. Randi’s sense of humor helps her connect with customers who often are dealing with stressful situations.
Bobby: The security industry doesn’t naturally lend itself to humor. How do you strike a balance between the silly and the serious when you’re communicating with a prospective customer?
Randi: About 95 percent of the people who contact us for security have had a tragic experience. So, it’s very difficult to add humor to a tragedy. In those situations, empathy and sympathy take priority over levity, and it’s about doing what I can to make them feel comfortable living in their home again.
For the proactive customer, who just bought a new house or just feels like it’s the right time to install the system as a deterrent, having a more relaxed conversation is certainly more realistic. But it’s essential that you’ve taken the time to build rapport with the customer and that the relationship is grounded enough in trust to allow for a more lightweight style of conversation and, eventually, humor.
Bobby: What are some examples of how you use humor to connect with your potential customers?
Randi: Well, security is a serious matter, but people’s views on what is important to secure is often quite funny. For example, I’ve met with more than a few customers who agreed to install security only after making a large home entertainment purchase from us. Security wasn’t a priority until they added an HDTV to the man cave, then, all of a sudden, it’s motion detectors and sensors on every window and infrared cameras with live viewing from their smartphone.
Bobby: What would you suggest to someone new to the sales profession who is interested in learning how to use more humor in their presentations?
Randi: If you feel that you might offend someone in what you’re going to say, err on the side of caution, and don’t risk damaging the trust you’ve built, just for a joke. Take your cues from the customer; when they initiate the humor, chances are they will be more open to yours.
Bobby McAfee is the Marketing Director for Crime Prevention Security Systems and Custom Home Entertainment.