There I was eating dinner. A popular activity in my house. This evening was more involved as my wife had a friend in from out of town; this results in the whole event being more structured than the normal goat rope that passes for a meal. Ribs. Check. Mac n Cheese (homemade you clowns, not that box stuff). Check. Corn on the cob. Check.
Sit down, make some small talk while dishing stuff up. Our guest had a strap-hanger so I am trying to be nice (Yes, me, being nice. And no Matilda, hell did not freeze over). Eventually you get past weather, drive times, fashion, weather (again), and food; the conversation needs to address larger items in life like “…and what do you do?”
When that question comes up, and it ALWAYS does, are you prepared? Actually, there are several levels to this question. The first is the concept of “initial impressions” which unfortunately for some of us makes and breaks things. Sometimes there is simply no getting over that first impression. My econ prof used to say “corporate America does not hire Beavis and Butthead” – and while I think that needs to be modified for portions of the west coast, that statement is mostly true. I encourage reflection on how you present yourself and how that presentation might be affecting your life. OK, back to dinner.
Remember that we are chowing down on some good eats, generally having a great time. Do you really know who is who in your initial circle, and possibly the next few layers out? Do you understand the concept of six degrees of separation (and here also)? I will wait right here for you to read up on that.
We are at the moment of truth; out comes The Question. Communications Engineer says I. I get the expected response which is “what is that” and I get to give my little spiel about helping companies envision, design, architect, and implement collaboration solutions [Note: not a word about Microsoft or Cisco, or whoever at this point]. This gets me several questions about the difference between design and architecture; how long have you been doing this, et cetera. Around this point in time I start wondering whether or not this person is simply bright, engaging, and well-rounded, or is simply great at small talk.
Or it could be the OTHER ANSWER. In MY house and at MY dinner table. I will wait while you go back and re-read the six degrees thing up there.
Now it is MY turn to ask The Question. Oh my. It was the OTHER ANSWER. Sitting at my table was the executive admin to a notable international private investment firm. Oh man. I sure hope I did not do anything. This person has the private ear of the entire executive staff – you know, those folks who make business decisions. For like 16 years. Clearly this person swings a big bat. What I did and said might well result in either a welcome reception or locked doors for our sales team.
Let’s review the bidding. Initial impressions count more than you think. Maybe not fair, but it is what it is. You need to have an “elevator pitch” prepared (and practiced!). You need to be thinking through follow-on questions. You may need several versions to cover various life situations. I have the social version and the 9-5 version. You can guess as to which one I used at dinner.
Everything we do counts. We are all in sales at one point in time or another. Everyone we meet and communicate with (any medium) forms an opinion about you, your work, family, and overall value. Bottom line? Be prepared. I learned long ago (1975) that you are always on, and that you can never tell when you might need to turn it up a notch.