small talk

Peek a Boo! I See Me

Infants don't understand the concept of permanence. It is an essential stage of cognitive and sensory motor skill development. We have all done this with little kids. We hide our faces with our hands and then reveal our faces and say Peek a Boo! And the kids are astonished and amazed. Like a magic trick. They laugh uncontrollably because of the surprise.

And when toddlers cover their faces, they think they are invisible.

When we grow up we are still confused about what is real. We think we are invisible. As adults we hide our own faces and our feelings We become quite clever in masking our true selves. And the mask can become the face. Peekaboo

I meet many people at many points in their lives. Junctions, detours, shifts, inflection points, crossroads--all names for the same thing---Life! Every moment considering choices is about change. Anyway, I try to use these moments to see if I get clues about what they really want. Poker players call it the "tell". A sign given off by facial expression, body tics, and or inflection that gives away a truth.

I recently met with a younger man and he was babbling on about who he was and his impressive background ( I remember when I use to show up and throw up) He said, "I want to help people." (When I hear this it takes every ounce of my control not to say, "Yeah "people" that narrows your career choices!") Instead I said "Which people?" And after a series of these back and forths. He spoke eloquently about "helping people overcome what he had overcome." I stopped him and asked him to tell me how he felt. I told him how I felt. It was pretty emotional. His eyes, inflection and body language did all of the talking. And we built a small rhetorical campfire and sat down to explore this personal story. He thought I read his mind, but he opened his book and read from his heart. I was moved.

That honesty about what matters gives me a view of what I think is the soul. The true self who hides in the costume and mask department of our minds. It is a bit of a game of hide and seek I play with others and myself. To get the souls to come out and play and share.

It reminds me to be vulnerable and empathetic in the way I listen and think. It helps me immensely. And I know it has an impact on others and the dimensions of conversation that ensue.

I am convinced that we unconsciously let others and ourselves suppress so much of our potential and our soulfulness. The heavy blanket of expectations, political correctness, not looking stupid, not making other people uncomfortable, not being good enough etc etc.

Sheryl Turkle and her fascinating book, Reclaiming Conversation:

My research shows that we are too busy connecting to have the conversations that count, the kind of conversation in which we give each other our full attention, the kind where we allow an idea to develop, where we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Yet these are the kinds of conversations in which intimacy and empathy develop, collaboration grows, and creativity thrives. We move from conversation to mere connection. And I worry that sometimes we forget the difference. Or forget that this is a difference that matters.

In our daily conversations, it starts with so called small talk, exchanges where we move our lips and sounds tumble out of our pie holes. Classic example is "How are you?" and you reply reflexively, "Fine. You?" and a thousand unthinking variations. But our robotic chatter is not limited to these informal seemingly meaningless verbal transactions. They now consume most of our time. Like bad texting exchanges that say nothing. We partake in a lot of live face to face superficial texting through our mouths. 

We say words and others say words we neither listen to or fully comprehend what pablum spews back and forth. It is not that we are uncaring souls, but we have rehearsed our routines like inadequate amateur versions of Robin Williams' improv group of personalities. We pull something from our inner hard drive and it plays without much thought.

How do we disrupt this pattern if we want to have more interesting and meaningful conversations? How do we show our empathy and compassion for one another? Who starts the real conversation?

Do we have the time and patience? Do we?

And yet we want help. We crave and cry out for mentoring for guidance for support--on our terms, just in time, convenient, fast and simple to assemble. We want life and career advice that comes out of an IKEA box, or fits into a 3 minute YouTube. Not a revealing conversation.

Love Akuyoe Graham's advice to me about enjoying the taste of the words. Meaning that you take the time and thought to savor what you say. You sense the words you speak, their weight, their intention and you convey those thoughts with your face and your body.

Am I there, present, vulnerable, open, attentive, listening, more interested than interesting? That matters. And can make way to real conversations.

Theodore Zeldin from his book Conversation How talk can change our lives:

Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they just don't exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn't reshuffle the cards, it creates new cards. It's a spark that two minds create.

How many conversations do we have like that? Wouldn't that be good?

In my analysis this real conversation is a meeting of the minds and a meeting of the souls. 

It takes both sides to make this happen.

Peek a boo (excerpt from my poem)

I see you

Then you’re gone

I see what you want to be, what you try to be

I see what you want me to see

I saw something

The glint of the sun through the clouds

I felt you

A warm breeze on a summer eve

Something real and fleeting

Like a poltergeist

The warmth and chill of presence

I feel you

Peek a boo

But just like that you disappear

From right in front to out of sight

Are you gone or just hiding?

What are you afraid of?

When will I see you again?

Maybe it’s me

Am I scaring you?

Peek a boo

I see me

Like a mirror image

That glimpse of you was a glimpse of me

I want what you want

And your words are the words I want

I hear me through you

Peek a boo

You are changing me

Am I changing you?

An open heart opens the mind

We are changed

We try to be invulnerable and see no flaw

We become vulnerable and see the light

Peek a boo

I learn from you

When I was teaching you

Peek a boo

You mentor me

When I was trying to mentor you

You helped me 

Did I help you?

Peek a boo

I saw you

And you see me

I need you

And you need me

Come out to play and let’s be                                                          John E. Kobara

 

We must help others and ourselves explore and share our truths, our souls. 

If we see it, acknowledge it, welcome it. And embrace it. 

Build a campfire and listen to each other's stories. We have so much to learn from one another. 

Thanks for reading. 


What's New? and Making Something from Nothing

Without the salutation of "Happy New Year", we return to our old rote greetings or conversation starters. "What's new?" is one of the most popular.

How we answer this question could change our life and the lives of others.  But instead we all tend to perpetuate an empty robotic exchange of nothingness. 

I know we are "busy" and short cuts and auto-responses expedite, streamline, and generally make our lives more efficient.

But what about the unintended consequences? What is lost in the these meaningless transactions?

A lot.

Everyday, we enter into many micro transactional conversations that involve these queries. Our brains are not engaged, we blurt out things in this short attention span edition of our ADDHD lives. 

So someone you know or don't know innocently and probably automatically says, "What's new?"

My unscientific survey reveals these most popular and ineffective answers:

  • Nothing
  • Not much
  • Keeping my head above water
  • Busy. Very busy
  • Same ole same ole
  • Nothing to complain about
  • Nada mucho, how about you?

You say you want conversations. You want want less "small talk" and more substance. And yet, your answers to this question often leads to a laughable script for the least substantive conversation possible.

What's new?

Nothing. Really busy.

Yeah me too. Nothing-to-say

Wow. Weird to be able to mouth the conversation as it happens, like a movie you have seen too many times. You know what the next line is so your interest and attention fall off.

Are you a network node that leads to other people, ideas and places or are you a predictable dead end street?

We have to stop these robotic meaningless, missed opportunities to connect! And it is not just the hollow responses. It is also the duty of the initiator to follow-up. A "nothing" response can't be accepted. The lack of sincerity and veracity have to be called on the carpet.

"Nothing!" And then you launch into a list of the things you have monitored and tracked because you are a master networker. You ask about their kids, their pets, their hobbies, their charities. You are following the updates of your network. And you know from FB, Linked-in, blog posts, and the media that--"Nothing" is simply not true.

So YOU ask about the new things that your colleague is too busy or lazy to mention, to resurrect their attention and the conversation.

Do you believe in the Law of Attraction?  You attract to yourself what you give your time, attention and words to---Negative or positive. 

So when you have nothing to say you attract nothing. 

So now change the setting to an interview.  Are your answers different? Of course.

How about when your boss' boss sees you in the elevator?

How about when you meet someone you do not know who will be your next boss?

How about to a head hunter? Or a prospective new client? 

The point is you may never know who you are talking to until you do. 

The challenge is your brain and your mouth get into bad habits. They start talking before you think.

Pause before you answer any question? Think then speak. Listen then respond. Awaken in the moment! 

Never say "nothing" or that "I'm busy". We are all busy!

Start by bragging or complaining? No way! Start with something positive.

Personal or professional? Yes! Talk about what is new that is on your mind. Work, your kids, your hobby, the book you are reading--anything and everything is available to mention.

I try to put myself in the mindset of an ambassador. How am I representing my country, my people? Who am I trying to help? How can I be authentic but also diplomatic? How can I assert my ideas without offending? How can I engage people in my work in a mutually beneficial way?

You can't win with just defense. Responding to all inquiries is good but what do you think? What will you assert or advance? Who are you trying to help--besides yourself?!

Your reputation is built on your impressions. Listen to yourself. How are you doing? 

I have always asked my external teams, my sales reps, my fundraisers--anyone who interacts with the public as part of their jobs--How do you answer the question: "What's new?"

This is a softball pitch, right down the middle. You have to be ready to hit it out of the park.

I coach my teams to use this wonderful question to discuss something that is personally exciting to them about our organization. Something that is new, fresh and interesting. Something they know about. Not the elvevator pitch. Not the company line, or that last press release necessarily. Their genuine energy and enthusiasm will be contagious.

Nothing is never interesting or engaging. Nothing is worse than boring. Nothing is a lie. Nothing is not even possible.

What's new? A great question that deserves an answer. A fantastic conversation starter. Let's not waste it.

Adopting a lifestyle of mentoring and networking requires us to be the ones who put a stop to these meaningless conversations and help others make something from nothing.

Thanks for reading. John


My Top 10 posts

Here is my holiday weekend special, my top ten posts. These are the "best" of the 160+ posts I have made based upon an arbitrary, random and indefensible combination of my preferences, other people's comments and what continues to be the set of questions I receive. They are listed in chronological order. Enjoy!

  1. You Don't Know Who You are Sitting Next to. Contains a couple of my favorite stories about meeting people by getting to know the people around you.
  2. Weathering the Storm and Defining the Moment. How to convert serious challenges into opportunities to define your life and your next chapter.
  3. Networking with Top Management and Other Intimidating Species.Connecting and conversing with your boss' boss and other senior executives can be tough, but it's much easier than you think.
  4. Finding the Right Mentor. You need a mentor but want to find someone who can help you adapt and improve. How do I find that person?
  5. Telling My Story. All of our lives take twists and turns, but if we can not make sense out of our past and what it means to our future, no one else will. What is your story?
  6. Resumes that Get Interviews. A lot of conflicting and confusing info on this topic. How does your resume have the best chance to stand out from the pile?
  7. Starting the Conversation. You want to meet people, but just initiating the conversation can be hard. How can I make that process more natural, comfortable, and effective?
  8. The Art of Shaking Hands. In addition to what you say, the way you greet people says the most about you. No second chance to make a first impression.
  9. Ambitious without Ambition. We all want more in our lives and in our careers, but what do we want? Focusing your ambitiousness has to a goal.
  10. Amazing Who You Know But Don't Know. All of think "new "people will be key to our next opportunity. We all know so many people, but we don't KNOW them. Starting with your existing network is easier and more productive.

I continue to try and address what's on your mind and what's preventing you from moving ahead in your career and life. Let me know what other topics you want me to address.

All of these posts and much of what I discuss involves the following principles. The more you connect with others, learn about them and their needs, the more you learn about yourself. If you mentor others then you will be mentored. Making your network diverse in its points of view will give you new perspectives. Push yourself to reconnect with people you care about, people you work with and people that you see everyday but never talk to. The world becomes smaller and much more manageable!

 Thannks for reading. John 


What's your BIT?---How you introduce yourself matters

I conducted workshops for employees of PepsiCo and Gavina Coffee on multicultural networking and mentoring last week. How to connect with different people, from different backgrounds. How to inform your path by actively seeking new perspectives from other cultures and demography. There is always a fascination with my exercises to develop your BIT, your Brief Introductory Talk.  Something I have written about several times. The process of obtaining those perspectives, of reconnecting with people you know but don't know, and meeting new and interesting folks, starts with a conversation. All relationships, new and ongoing are about the conversation. Continuing the conversation is the key to all great and fulfilling relationships.Could be e-mail, facebook postings, telephonic, or face-to-face. These exchanges of words and ideas build and deepen relationships. They all start or re-start at the beginning when you introduce yourself or re-introduce yourself.First-impression  
The the most fascinating of these routines is the self introduction. What you say in the first 10-15 seconds. Nothing can alter a conversation more than this. I call this your BIT, your Brief Introductory Talk. It is so surprising what people say in their robotic way. They are not thinking before and when they talk. Their introduction is not customized to the situation or context. They often use company or industry jargon outside of work. I was in my son's classroom during his school's open house. I was proudly watching my son interacting with his classmates. I noticed another dad. He was dressed in the full designer blue suit, decked out with the gold Rolex, those little initials on his cuffs, and the $600 shoes--you know the type. I decided to introduce myself to him. With an outstretched hand I said, "I'm John, Bobby's dad." I pointed at Bobby. Mr. super executive wheeled around with his auto-smile flashing and boomed, "Hi, Steve Williams Sr. VP of Sales and Business Development for XYZ Corporation." "Nice to meet you", I replied and added, "Is one of these your kid?" He was still in the fog of work. He suddenly snapped out of it and said, "Oh yeah, Eddie's my son, that's him right there." "Oh good, for a minute there you scared me Steve, you know it is a misdemeanor to loiter on a school campus?", I quipped. Mr. Sr VP chuckled but I am not sure he was very amused. At least Steve accompanied his BIT with a smile and a firm handshake. It is bizarre how many adult professionals do not smile, and apparently lie to me and say, "Nice to meet you" with no direct eye contact and a face that reflects indifference and what appears to be disgust. And how many cadaver handshakes I have endured, the cold dead lifeless excuse for a greeting. Nothing better than to meet someone with these off-putting impressions. :)
 
Most people need to improve their BITs. This is not only what you say to introduce yourself, but how you respond to an initial inquiry. You know, "What brings you here?" or "What do you do?" etc etc  Here's a few basic questions to freshen your tired and auto-pilot BIT:
  1. Is your BIT an invitation or a roadblock?
  2. Is your BIT jargony or industry or company specific?
  3. Is your BIT customized for the situation and the audience?
  4. Is it delivered with some enthusiasm and a smile?  

Listen to yourself. Do you know what you are saying and to whom you are saying it? Be focused and remember where you are and who you are at the moment. Like Mr. Williams in my story above, he is a father first and foremost when he is at the school. No one cares about his classification at work when he is visiting his son's school. We all take on multiple roles and identities in our lives and each one deserves a BIT.

My new favorite BIT, depending on who I am talking to, is "I help wealthy people give away their money?" Always starts a conversation!

Students of all ages are the worst. They erroneously think being a student is a weakness. Everyone wants to help a student. So declaring your quest for knowledge and experience is endearing and engaging. "I am just a student," says you lack confidence and self respect. Versus "I am a 2nd year student at (school) and I am thinking about becoming a teacher." That invites questions and interest.

Weave in your hobby, avocation, current professional development pursuit. "I work for Gavina Coffee and a new mother of twins."  or ...."sit on the board of (your charity)"..........

Stop, think and listen to what you say about yourself. It may surprise you. Your BIT is the start of a great conversation or not. It is a key part of your first or newest impression. If you are not listening to what you are saying and how you are saying it, then odds are your recipient is less interested too.

What's your BIT?

Thanks for reading. John


Truth and Candor: Key Ingredients in the Recipe of Mentoring and Networking

Remember in Liar Liar when Jim Carrey's character was only allowed to to tell the truth. "Do you like my new dress?"-- he was asked. "Whatever takes the focus off your head," he replies.

No need to put our truth tasers on the kill setting! Taser

The truth is, we are less than candid everyday. How we answer the question, "How are you?", for example.

Sometimes being vague, evasive and telling a little fib is the only thing to do to avoid a fight or an unnecessary confrontation. We all have friends where we have to avoid certain political, religious, and parenting conversations, because we just have to agree to disagree.

There is always a time and a place to be the diplomat, the nice person. You know, the person who couches things in lovely and euphemistic ways. Where between the lines is a vast and cavernous space where the truth lives comfortably and invisibly.

George Bernard Shaw once said, "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place."

I am talking about candor, frankness, and directness in conversations.

Candor: Unreserved, honest, or sincere expression 

I am more focused on the sincere side of this ledger. Less on the brutal portion.

We have all experienced the broad gamut of styles from the flame thrower who uses the truth to burn everyone and everything. Then there are the “happy” people who smile and even giggle during a challenging moment and will do anything to not ruffle feathers or make anyone uncomfortable. Like all things we need to use the middle lanes of these communication freeways.

But if the truth was a more common currency in our everyday exchanges and transaction, we would be better off. Candor of the sincere type, would speed up so many things in our lives. Getting people to contribute their ideas and real thoughts frequently would facilitate change, improvement, and greater outcomes in our personal and professional worlds. Having people get to what's bothering them and complimenting the good would be so efficient not to mention pleasant.

Truth begets truth.

As a friendly reminder to myself and you good readers, the truth also includes the good and the praiseworthy. Sometimes, we hear "tell the truth" and we think give the bad news or make a confession.

Scales So many candid truthful good things go unsaid. How much we love, care about, appreciate the people and things around us too often remain unexpressed thoughts.

For those of you following along, mentoring and networking require a few extra scoops of candor if the recipe is to work. Both mentee and mentor need to get to a place of truth telling as fast as they can. Otherwise great time and effort can be wasted and misunderstood if it remains a polite game of mutual admiration.

Party manners are in order at the beginning of any relationship. We all know that this period is not real, later we will share ourselves with greater transparency.

Office politics is the most brutal and most challenging of all worlds. More than 2 people in an office and controversy, petty thoughts and behaviors can ensue. Getting beyond the rumor mill, the conspiracy theories, and the repetitive whining is a challenge in every office I have occupied. Part human nature, part management, and part culture.

Not speaking up. Not saying what you think. Not being an active contributor to your organizations’ development and evolution is a cardinal sin if you want to grow into a more effective manager/leader. The higher up the food chain you go, the more truth based on evidence and judgment is demanded. Less time for nuance, interpretation, and just plain waiting.

Sure it would be nicer and better if your boss, the work culture, your friends, your family all modeled this behavior more. And if they did it you would do it. What?!! There you go again, sounds like a whiny person who is not in control of their life and actions. Why not be first to model the behavior you want to see. Request more candid feedback and answers in your conversations. Seek and tell the truth.

Remember in Alice in Wonderland when the March Hare says to Alice, "Then you should say what you mean." And mean what you say.  200px-MarchHare

Thanks for reading. John


BEYOND small talk ---- engaging in conversation that matters

Just got back from Phoenix where I attended a Board meeting for Walden University. For-profit online university that is enjoying great success. As you probably know education is one of the businesses that grows in hard times. Walden is enjoying record growth from working adults who want to re-tool and re-position themselves. Pursuing your education , degree or not, is one of the most powerful ways of strengthening your network. Meeting and working with people who are serious about their career trajectories always opens up new ways of viewing oneself and one’s opportunities.

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When people talk about small talk, they usually mean superficial, meaningless banter. You know, the lines about the weather, or the local sports team—“How about those Lakers?” Or worse, making comments about people’s clothing, “Love that dress.”  C’mon nobody likes saying or hearing these comments.  Take some comfort in the universal disdain for this process. And to a certain extent everyone struggles with the opening line moment.  However, the art of conversation is a skill that speaks volumes about you and your brand.  A Stanford University study of MBAs 10 years after they graduated showed conversation skills were far more important to their career success than the grades earned. The most successful grads were those proficient at talking to anyone—from assistants to bosses. So the art of “small talk” is not just a nice to have talent, it is essential.

First and foremost you have to minimize the fear and discomfort factor. I recently met a fundraiser who told me, “I never talk to people on planes.” I asked her why. She told me that she relishes her privacy. Okay, I can respect that, but if you subscribe to my point of view, networking is a lifestyle means you are open to connecting most of the time. I learn something from everyone I meet. Everyone is entitled to private time, down time, and quiet time. But when you choose a job where interacting with others is vital or you have a burning desire to advance your career then you have to network.  Being open to reaching out and introducing yourself is the first step. Please be sure to read my earlier post about how you introduce yourself.

Second, start with people you know but you don’t know. Colleagues at work you just see in the hallways, a family you see at church every Sunday, a fellow board member at your favorite non-profit, a parent at your kid’s school, a neighbor at the end of the block. Strike up conversations with these people who are in front of your face, may help you broaden network and sharpen your skills. It’s not always about meeting strangers.

Here are some basic tips on how to make this introductory moment easier:

1.       Be yourself: Don’t employ any lines or techniques with which you are not comfortable.  That’s  where the disconnect happens. You try to be someone you are not. So work within your personality and your strengths.

2.       Acknowledge others:  Seek eye contact. Greet people with a simple “hello” or “how are you?” It is a lost courtesy. And if you smile then you will invariably receive a pleasant response.  I found this to be the best and easiest opener. Then I listen. People say things on their minds. And then the conversation is off and running. If it stalls you move to step #3.

3.       Be aware of your environment: Current context is your key.  Where are you at the moment, what are your surroundings?What are you observing? What clues about the people are in  front of you?  Let’s say you are at a conference or a class—a place where you have things in common with the others there.  Let your curiosity guide you. Why are these people here? What are they hoping to gain? What did they think of the speaker or the teacher? So many angles to start a conversation.  You sit next to someone on a plane, or at a meeting, you notice they are carrying a book or the company logo on their briefcase or you overhear them mention their alma mater. These all are possible conversation starters. For those you know but don’t know. The focus  of the initial conversation is basic stuff, what your neighbor thinks about the recent development in the community, what the parents at the school think about the leadership etc etc Start the conversation about what is important at the moment.

4.       Let others lead the conversation:  There is a myth that these tips and techniques are making you the Larry King, Charlie Rose, or Oprah. Clearly, if you are adept at facilitating, moderating, or  interviewing then you have a big advantage. I was pushed into hosting 450 live radio shows when I was younger. I learned the hard way to listen carefully and to let the guest lead. The listeners did not want me to dominate the airwaves—just like a conversation. Sure you have questions and maybe an agenda, but conversations always digress and some of the digressions are the most revealing and insightful. If you want to be a 60 Minutes investigative reporter then you will keep the” interviewees” on track, but you will not be invited back to any events! It is much more interesting if you actually are interested in the people you meet rather than just your needs.

5.       Never say “yeah but”: After someone else speaks we have a tendency to try and top the story or tell our story without building on what has been said. Often, we are thinking, “please stop talking because I have a better story.” Instead acknowledge what has been said by commenting on what is funny or impressive about the story. Then, say “yes and” to build on what has been said. This is a classic method of improv theatre actors. To take the last line and not negate it but use it positively to advance the conversation. If you say “yeah but” then you block the conversation, as improvers would say.

The art of conversation and even “small talk” is an invaluable building block of networking.  Small talk can lead to big ideas. If you are curious, observant, open to meeting people, acknowledge what people say by listening—you will meet people who will change your life, the lives of your network, and like Stanford MBAs you will find greater success.

Thanks for reading. John


Context, Lies, and Audiotape............

Say what you mean and mean what you say.  March Hare, Alice in Wonderland


What you say, how you start the conversation, how you introduce yourself--really matters. Most people have a bunch of auto-pilot, semi-Pavlovian responses and routines. They say things that may or may not be relevant to the situation or worse, may not be something they even believe! 

What's Your BIT?
The the most fascinating of these routines is the self introduction. What you say in the first 10-15 seconds. Nothing can alter a conversation more than this. I call this your BIT, your Brief Introductory Talk. It is so surprising what people say in their robotic way. They are not thinking before and when they talk. Their introduction is not customized to the situation or context. They often use company or industry jargon outside of work. I was in my son's classroom during his school's open house. I was proudly watching my son interacting with his classmates. I noticed another dad. He was dressed in the full designer blue suit, decked out with the gold Rolex, those little initials on his cuffs, and the $600 shoes--you know the type. I decided to introduce myself to him. With an outstretched hand I said, "I'm John, Bobby's dad." I pointed at Bobby. Mr. super executive wheeled around with his auto-smile flashing and boomed, "Hi, Steve Williams Sr. VP of Sales and Business Development for XYZ Corporation." "Nice to meet you", I replied and added, "Is one of these your kid?" He was still in the fog of work. He suddenly snapped out of it and said, "Oh yeah, Eddie's my son, that's him right there." "Oh good, for a minute there you scared me Steve, you know it is a misdemeanor to loiter on a school campus?", I quipped. Mr. Sr VP chuckled but I am not sure he was very amused. At least Steve accompanied his BIT with a smile and a firm handshake. It is bizarre how many adult professionals do not smile, and apparently lie to me and say, "Nice to meet you" with no direct eye contact and a face that reflects indifference and what appears to be disgust. And how many cadaver handshakes I have endured, the cold dead lifeless excuse for a greeting. Nothing better than to meet someone with these off-putting impressions. :)

Ups and Downs of Elevators
The LA Social Venture Partnership held a contest for the best "elevator pitch" from a non-profit. Non-profits were trained in the business art of delivering a compelling investment message about their work in 180 seconds. The winners received $20000 and all of the participating orgs received invaluable insight into how to articulate what they do and why it deserves support.

While non-profits are learning their pitches. We all have something to learn about making a concise and compelling pitch about our business idea or why someone should hire us. Intuitive as this is, it is no simple task. 

David Rose, the serial entrepreneur, gives in 10 things to know before you pitch a VC for money He discusses how you convey Integrity, Passion, Experience/Knowledge/Skill, Leadership, Commitment and Vision. These are essential qualities for any investment including the hiring decision. What is your elevator pitch for yourself? How do you convey these qualities in the answers to the interview questions? In other words, how are you expressing your qualifications, differentiating yourself from others AND conveying a great sense of comfort that you will fit in. Like a VC pitch, this take work, practice, and feedback. Being brief and concise is much harder to do. It is far easier to babble, ramble and make it up on the fly. :) Mark Twain said, "Sorry I have written such a long letter, I did not have time to write a short one." 

The personal elevator pitch is used when you are asked the hardest and easiest question in the world, "Tell me about yourself." This is where you can shine. You can't rely on your ability to improvise or ad lib. You are ready for this question with your prepared story that is relevant to this context, this job, this pitch. You get to communicate what led you to this moment and opportunity. You are given the chance to highlight your progression and what you learned. A career without failings and therefore learnings is one that is surreal and pretentious. All brag and no fact. So be prepared to talk about your mistakes as well as your successes. One of my most memorable interviews was with the legendary Vinod Kholsa, he asked my to "review my greatest failures in reverse chron order and do not tell me the lesson learned." Never had that one before, he was trying to see if I could reflect on mistakes and whether my mistakes were big enough. In the end, your story gives some clues as to who you are and what makes you tick. Your story can be 2-3 minutes long and it will lead to follow-up questions and your interview will turn into a conversation. This wiki-how page has a good summary Personal Elevator Pitch As recommended, write it down, practice in front of a mirror, make an audio recording of your pitch, work on it to make it feel and sound natural. You can only do that with real preparation and practice. And get feedback from your mentors. They will tell you if your story is believable and engaging.  You can only do that with real preparation and practice. 

Everyone can use a little or a lot of work on their story and their pitch. The buildings where these elevators reside are much shorter today. So stop the audiotape answers, smile, be conscious of the context and tell your story! 

Thanks for reading. John