Shortly after I graduated college I realized that my creativity, no matter how good it was, would only take mess far. I knew to be successful I was going to have to be able to find ways of being able to sell my ideas to strangers. The problem was that I had no idea how to do get started and at the time I was terrified to speak in public. I started to hang out with venture capitalists, sports agents, lecturers or anyone who had to communicate and sell through talking. I started to study the techniques they used, all the little things they did to help build connections with people and manipulate them into seeing things their way. I even went so far as to start reading booking on the techniques used by police when they approach a suspicious person or the psychological and behavior techniques used FBI behavioral unit. All of this studying combined with years of experience pitching new business, working with clients and selling ideas has led me to understand that there are 5 things anyone can do to be better working and pitching new clients. I teach these things to every senior member of my design studios and wanted to share them with everyone in the hopes that it might help.
1) Speak slowly and sell confidence
The first thing I think about when I meet with any client is that I need them to have confidence and trust in me and my team. At the end of the day having a clients trust and confidence positions my creative group to be able to succeed because it allows us to take risks, to be the subject matter experts and continue to get the kinds of jobs that make the team happy. It takes time to develop the expertise and inner confidence needed to be able to do with this any client but there is one small thing that you can do which will help get you started.
Any time you are working with any client make sure that you speak slowly, smoothly and with a tone that conveys authority. It may sound like a little thing but if you think about when you meet someone who is nervous, jumpy or mumbles you never perceive them as confident or in charge. Watch any TED talk or any great speaker and you will see that they speak slowly and with a self-assurance that gives their subject credibility and authority.
I would encourage you to practice for an upcoming client meeting and make you record it on your iPhone so you can watch it later. I have found that being able to go back and watch myself has been a real key to being able to improve how I deliver a pitch. It lets me do the pitch and then reflect on how I did but then I can see it from another perspective by watching the video. It is kind of like hearing your voice on an answering machine and realizing how different it sounds than the voice you hear in your head every day.
2) Suspend your ego
One key part of being a great leader is also part of being able to connect with people, which is your ability to just listen to what someone has to say without correcting, interrupting or just waiting to tell to your own story. People who constantly correct or interrupt others are perceived as insecure, needing to be right and one up everyone else. As we all know none of these perceptions will help build a rapport with anyone. The most common reason I’ve found why people are unable to do this is because they are unable to suspend their own ego long enough to put someone else’s wants, needs and perceptions ahead of their own.
So next time you are sitting with a client practice ego suspension by letting your client talk, listen to what they have to say and then ask them to elaborate on their point instead of immediately trying to make a counterpoint. Most creatives are in such a rush to be right that they don’t take the time to understand how that makes their clients feel and what it does to the interpersonal dynamic. People who are able to suspend their ego and keep the focus on someone besides themselves are often thought to be the best conversationalists. Those type of people are the most sought after when important decisions need to be made because everyone knows they are fair, they listen and all of that leads to lasting rapport.
3) Have someplace else you have to be
It isn’t as obvious as not interrupting or letting other people talk but there is one of the tricks that I use which is just as effective. A lot of times when I meet someone for the first time I will intro the conversation by saying something like “I’m on my way to meeting but I before it starts I wanted to ask you…”. The reason why I do this is because not everyone likes to meet new people and by putting this artificial time constraint in place I let them know that the conversation will be quick so they don’t feel trapped or awkward. It is a simple trick but it is really disarming and I can use the conversation to size up their social interactions and then plan how I will build rapport with them in the future.
4) Control your body Language
I am 6’4″ so I may be more aware of this than most people but I found that making sure that you understand how to align, control and use your words and body language is critical. Body language can have negative connotations like for me it’s because I have to be sure that I’m not standing to close to someone or standing next to someone who is sitting down because those physical juxtapositions can feel intimidating. Instead I make sure that anytime I meet new people my body language is relaxed, I smile a lot and use other non-verbal cues to look approachable. I also use body language with my team in my studio by doing something as simple as giving someone a high-five when I walk past them in the hall. You would be amazed at how something as simple as a high-five can make someone smile, cheer someone up or create a connection with someone you barely know.
5) Ask For Help
It is another small trick but I have found that for some people nothing builds rapport like asking them for help. I do it because we are all biologically conditioned to feel connected to someone who needs help because they are in a vulnerable position. I keep the requests for help small so they are something that can be done easily but the outcome is no less effective.
These are all simple things that I have learned over the years. I would encourage you to use them as a starting point because everyone is different and every client is different. Just make sure you understand that a lot of what goes into successfully working with clients has nothing to do with the design work alone.