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A conference is a huge opportunity to build relationships with extraordinary people, people who might have significant impact on your professional or personal success. To make sure that you maximize the return on your (and your organization’s) investment of time and money to attend, you can’t afford to be a conference commoner. You have to be a Conference Commando.
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By Henry DeVries, IMC USA Conference Chair
The most important element to include in a book or a speech that attracts clients are stories. But not just any type of story.
Consultants need to share success stories in which they are not the hero. The client needs to be the hero of the story. There needs to be a villain problem that is holding the client back. Finally, you need to be the wise mentor of the story that helps the client hero overcome the villain problem.
As my storytelling mentor Michael Hauge, author of Writing Screenplays that Sell and a screenwriting teacher and consultant to both Hollywood filmmakers like Will Smith and professional speakers, says: “The story must be true, but it does not have to be factual.” In other words, some literary license is allowed to condense the story down to its essence.
Hauge is the author of a new book, Storytelling Made Easy, and he will share the message of the book as the lunch speaker on Saturday, October 21 at the conference.
But why do consultants need to learn how to persuade with a story?
In September of 2008 Scientific American published an article on “The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn.” Please read the entire article, but here is a summary.
According to Jeremy Hsu in Scientific American, storytelling is a human universal, and common themes appear in tales throughout history and all over the world. The greatest stories—those retold through generations and translated into other languages—do more than simply present a believable picture. These tales captivate their audience, whose emotions can be inextricably tied to those of the story’s characters.
By studying narrative’s power to influence beliefs, researchers are discovering how we analyze information and accept new ideas. A 2007 study by marketing researcher Jennifer Edson Escalas of Vanderbilt University found that a test audience responded more positively to advertisements in narrative form as compared with straightforward ads that encouraged viewers to think about the arguments for a product. Similarly, Melanie Green of the University of North Carolina co-authored a 2006 study that showed that labeling information as “fact” increased critical analysis, whereas labeling information as “fiction” had the opposite effect. Studies such as these suggest people accept ideas more readily when their minds are in story mode as opposed to when they are in an analytical mind-set.
When Patricia Fripp speaks, consultants listen.
Fripp is a past president, and the first female president, of the over 3,600-member National Speakers Association. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance wrote that the 6th best investment in your career is to learn presentation skills from Patricia Fripp.
Fripp reminds her executive clients that in business, you are always in the spotlight.
“Outside your home, all speaking is public speaking,” says Fripp. “There is no such thing as private speaking.”
Fripp, the sister of English rock guitar legend Robert Fripp, is a rock star in the world of speaking and sales presentations.
What is Fripp’s advice on impromptu meetings and on-the-spot interaction? Here are three lessons from a legend:
- Focus on others. “In business and life as a basic rule most people, even VIPS, are more interested in themselves than you,” says Fripp. Know what is going on in your company so you can congratulate people on their achievements or refer to a previous conversation. For example, “How was last week’s presentation to the Board of Directors received?” Your sincere interest in people will make a lasting impression.
- Ask questions to start a conversation. “A bright but introverted friend of mine has a gregarious wife who often drags him to parties where he doesn’t know anyone,” relates Fripp. “He used to sit in a corner with a drink in his hand, inspecting the carpet, and was perfectly happy doing so! Then we discussed ‘the key to conversation is to ask questions’ technique. At the next gathering, he asked one of their hosts about her work. ‘I’m an emergency room nurse,’ she said. ‘What is your average day like?’ he responded. The host talked for an hour. As the couple prepared to leave, she told my friend’s astonished wife, ‘Your husband is the most scintillating conversationalist I’ve ever met.’ Moral: When you make people feel important, letting them talk about themselves and sharing what they know, you earn a reputation as a brilliant conversationalist, even if you’ve hardly said a word.”
- Overcome shyness. “When you find yourself in an elevator with a VIP, forget feeling comfortable,” says Fripp. Her advice is to be cordial, smile, breathe deeply, and take the initiative. Say, “Good morning Mr./Ms. Big Shot. We met briefly at the company January sales meeting. I am Patricia Fripp, and I have the privilege to be a new manager in your communications department.” Then congratulation them on a recent success – a speech, published article, award, or contract. “Your comments on community involvement inspired us to take action.” Then mention very briefly an achievement in your department: “Did you hear how we saved the company a quarter of a million dollars?” You’ve got seconds to connect, so don’t try to pin Big Shot down. Perhaps Big Shot will stop to continue the chat when you reach your floor, but more likely you’ve planted the seeds for future conversation.
Bottom line: “Many people are less intimidated when they prepare for a speech than when they must communicate off the cuff in a more informal setting,” says Fripp. “However, we have more frequent, unplanned conversations on the elevator, or at the water cooler, and when planned for, can do as much to boost your career as giving a formal presentation.”
To help consultants crack the code, pre-conference workshop presenters Henry DeVries and Mark LeBlanc will take the mystery out of business development with pragmatic advice in three areas: money, focus, and marketing.
“Follow the nine best practices in this trio of areas, and you will succeed,” advises LeBlanc.
Here is a quick overview of the book, Build Your Consulting Practice: How Successful Independent Consultants Grow their Business and Deliver Value to Clients, that every attendee at the pre-conference will receive:
- Track Your Numbers Properly. “There are many tips in this book; this is the only demandment,” says LeBlanc.
- Know Your Numbers. What gets measured gets managed. If you are unwilling to consider going on QuickBooks and reshaping your profit-and-loss statement, you should probably quit reading now.
- Create a Profile of Your Ideal Week. Good news, everybody. You don’t control much in life, but you do get to control your time. Isn’t that why you became an independent professional, solo consultant, or small business owner in the first place?
- Maintain Your Daily Focus. Mighty castles are built one brick at a time. All we ask is nine minutes a day to make a call, send an email, and mail a card. One a day, one a day, one a day.
- Develop Your Will-Do List. Scrap those traditional “to-do” lists. Instead, what three accomplishments will you complete in thirty days, ninety days, in one year, in five years, and in ten years? These are the stars you guide your ship by.
- Execute a Mix of New Contact Strategies. There are no bad marketing strategies. Everyone is unique, and everyone needs a mix that works for him or her. “One size fits all” is one of the world’s three great lies (the other two are “This won’t hurt as much as you think,” and “I’m from the government, and I am here to help.”)
- Leverage Your Database. Next to cash, this is the biggest asset your business has. The time has come to whip your lazy database into shape.
- Navigate Your Internet Game Plan. It is a brave new digital world. Beware: does your web presence make you look old and outdated?
- Listen Carefully, Respond Appropriately. At last, you are having a meaningful conversation with a prospect. Most independent professionals and solo consultants can increase their closing rates by 50 to 100 percent based on how they ask and answer questions.
“The more prospects you inform how to solve their problems in general, the more will hire you for the specifics,” says DeVries. “In the words of the late motivational speaker Zig Ziglar: ‘You can get whatever you want in life if you just help enough people get what they want.’”
The opening and closing minutes of your presentation are your greatest opportunities to create an impact for the audience, advises conference Sunday morning October 22 kick off speaker Kathy McAfee.
“These minutes can make or break your outcome,” says McAfee, author of the new book Stop Global Boring: How to Create Engaging Presentations that Motivate Audiences to Action.
McAfee is a professional speaker, executive presentation coach, and the owner of Kmc Brand Innovation, LLC, which helps executives and entrepreneurs improve presentation and networking skills.
“You must grab the audience immediately with your opening and, when you leave them, change the audience in some way,” says McAfee. “Your opening and closing are so important to your outcome that it is critical you spend time crafting them.”
Here are her five keys to ensure your opening and closing are as powerful as they can be:
- Avoid palaver or idle chatter. Resist the temptation to waste precious minutes of your opening with a general greeting such as, “Good morning, everyone. I hope you all slept well and you are as excited as I am to be here for this meeting.” While civil and polite, such an opening is boring, seen as meaningless chatter, and a waste of your time and theirs. They know it is morning. It’s up to you to make it a good one. I advise my clients to know the first words they’ll say. The first sounds out of your mouth should not be “Umm” or “So” or “Thanks for that great introduction.”
- Move the good stuff up front. In reality, you have little time to capture and hold your audience’s attention. Don’t bore them with logistics or the agenda. Don’t save the most important information for slide fifty-eight in your PowerPoint deck. Figure out what is mission-critical and put that information at the beginning. By doing so, you won’t risk that it might get lost and never heard. Opening with the word imagine is a powerful way to begin a presentation because it triggers the visual senses of your audience. Try it.
- Begin and end without PowerPoint slides. Even if you are using some slides during your presentation, you should always start and end “naked.” That is, it’s just you and the audience. You don’t need a title slide to open your presentation. You are the title slide. You are the closing slide. Your live presence in the room is all they need to see, hear, feel, and experience. Take center stage and fill the room with your energy, ideas, and passion. Develop a short and compelling speaker introduction. Hand this to the person who will introduce you and let them position you for success.
- Avoid the weak wind-down. The close is the second most important section in your presentation. Because it’s at the end, many presenters forget to think about how they’re going to close their presentation. They simply let it happen by running out of time or asking a throwaway question such as, “Are there any questions?” Don’t let your presentation close by itself. End solidly and with purposeful intent. Demonstrate one more time that you are an expert in your field and clearly in charge of your presentation. I share some possible closings at the end of this chapter.
- Your energy will make the difference. There is no substitute for genuine enthusiasm and belief in your topic. The energy you bring through your voice, your movement, your passion, and your creativity will go a long way toward creating a more powerful, lasting impact for your audience. You control the volume of that energy by choosing the intensity level based on the response you want and your preferred presentation style.
“I also recommend that you commit your opening and closing remarks to memory,” says McAfee. “Never wing it. Practice your opening and closing remarks over and over. Starting and ending strong will enhance your presentation performance.”
Consultant marketing authors Henry DeVries and Mark LeBlanc will return to offer a no-cost pre-conference workshop from 12:30 to 4:30 pm on Friday, October 20 titled “Accelerating Your Growth from Top Line to Bottom Line.”
Everyone in attendance will receive a copy of the pair’s new book: Build Your Consulting Practice: How Successful Independent Consultants Grow their Business and Deliver Value to Clients. This book is a how-to guide that takes the mystery out of business development with pragmatic advice and case studies in three areas: money, focus, and marketing.
“Based on our research, the code has been cracked,” says DeVries, the chair of the IMC USA Conference for the second year in a row. “There is a group of successful independent consultants who no longer struggles with the ups and downs of the revenue roller coaster.”
Much of the book’s content will be highlighted at the four-hour workshop.
“Getting the Money Right: Menus, Models, and Margins” and “The Nine Best Practices for Growing a Practice” will be covered by LeBlanc, author of Growing Your Business and Never Be the Same, and past president of the National Speakers Association.
“Persuading Prospects with a Well-Crafted Defining Story” and “The Secrets of Goldilocks Pricing for Consultants,” will be covered by DeVries, CEO of Indie Books International, continuing education dean emeritus at the University of California San Diego, and author of Persuade with a Story! and How to Close a Deal Like Warren Buffett.
Conference Begins In
For the last decade, this conference has been a time just for me – to reconnect to colleagues, to meet new people, to listen to top-notch speakers, to learn about trends – it’s a perfect way to recharge my practice!Loraine Huchler
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