When you’ve only got 15 minutes to make a good impression, how do you do it? Chris St. Hilaire, co-author of 27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies, shares his tips with us in this guest post.
Small business owners are always looking for new clients and customers, which means they have to make a first impression that’s strong, positive and memorable. We all know the conventional wisdom about first impressions: smile, make eye contact, give a firm handshake. But that’s only part of the challenge. To persuade strangers to become clients, you need to connect instantly and emotionally. You need to inspire confidence and enthusiasm. And you probably don’t have much time to do it.
As a message strategist for CEOs, politicians, and corporate legal teams, I’ve met with hundreds of high-profile clients. Here’s how I quickly forge a personal bond that translates into lasting business relationships.
1. Find one thing to like about everyone in the room. If you’re going to persuade someone to buy your product or service, they have to believe in you as much as in what you’re selling. If they don’t like you, they won’t believe in you. The only control you have over that is to like them first—people will generally like you if you like them. So find one thing to like about everyone in the room. It could be their smile, their tie or the calendar they’ve chosen to hang on the wall. Mean it, and they will feel it.
2. Dress differently than your audience. The timeworn advice is to dress like the people who will be meeting with you. As an outside consultant, I’ve often found that the opposite is true. When you’re selling a service, you may not want to look exactly like your clients. If you’re just like them, why do they need you? Dressing in a slightly different manner—a bit more casually if they’re in suits, a little more dressy if they’re casual—can be a better approach. It tells them that you have something different to offer. Equally important, it signals to the other employees that you’re not competing with them, so you’re not a threat. (Keep in mind that even if you’re dressing causally, your clothing should never look cheap.)
3. Use the first few minutes to make people feel safe. When you first meet, your mission is not to impress prospective clients but to put them at ease. No matter who they are, they will be concerned about how you’re judging them (it’s true even of CEOs). So in addition to introducing yourself, say something to make them feel valued. Do a little research first, so you can reference their background (“I’ve Googled you—you’ve got quite a resume”) or their business. Thank them for taking time out of their busy day to meet with you. If they offer you something to drink, ask for water. People want to do something nice for you, but not too much. This lets them feel gracious without inconveniencing them. And turn off your cell phone! Be totally in the present and focused on your meeting. Don’t break the spell by answering your cell.
4. Use numbers. Numbers add credibility to your pitch and help burn your presentation into the minds of your listeners. You only need one or two, because people won’t remember more than that. Think about any positive numbers associated with your business. Did you receive 10 positive reviews on Yelp last month? Are 90 percent of your clients repeat customers? You can also use numbers that apply to your field in general. Does your service save people time or money? Does it make them safer? Does it increase business? How much? If your potential client remembers one thing about your presentation, it will probably be the number.
5. Use third-party validation. No one wants to be the first to take a risk, so let your listener know that someone else thinks you’re great. Third-party validation can be a satisfied client, an award or a reference in a local newspaper or on TV or radio: “The reason we’ve got so many good quotes on our website is…” “Your neighbor down the block said he was especially impressed with the way we…” “A highlight of the past year was the recognition we got from…” As with numbers, if you can’t find third-party validators for your own business, search the Internet for surveys, awards or experts who have vouched for the value of the type of service or product you provide.
Fifteen minutes isn’t much time, but it’s definitely enough to get your listener to like you and see the value in what you’re offering. At the very least, mastering these persuasion basics will win you the chance to make a second impression.