At MSP-C, we appreciate the value of face-to-face meetings, whether we’re brainstorming content with our internal teams or presenting strategy ideas to clients. But let’s be real: With Slack, Messenger, email, texting and everything in between, no one needs to make as much eye contact anymore. Which doesn’t do much to enhance our communication skills.
As editor of Sky, I oversee content creation for our Delta Air Lines client. But my career started with news journalism. For years I worked for the Associated Press, first in Washington, D.C., (back during the Clinton administration) and then in the Wisconsin State Capitol, reporting on everything from natural disasters to the state budget process. I still love writing and talking to people for stories, so I try to pitch in whenever possible on Sky. That means not only travel stories, but also writing profiles of notable people.
I’ve been fortunate to interview many interesting people over the past 10 years, from President Jimmy Carter and Sheryl Sandberg to Denzel Washington and Claire Foy. The more interviews you do, the easier it becomes. But I’ve learned a few key takeaways that are applicable in any one-on-one situation, whether it’s talking to a celebrity, a subject matter expert (SME) or a prospective client.
Do your homework. Research the person to the extent that seems reasonable: Doing an exhaustive research dive on a celebrity or CEO for a story is expected, doing one on a client comes off as creepy. But for a meeting with a client or prospect, make sure you know what the objective of the meeting is and try to anticipate where they’ll be coming from.
Have questions prepared, just as you would for an interview. If it’s a preliminary meeting with clients or partners, spend the time to get a good sense of their company, its history and mission. Feeling prepared will make you more relaxed and open to conversation.
Find Common Ground
This might be intuitive, but people relax a little when they realize that you both share something in common. That doesn’t mean you want to open the conversation by talking only about yourself, but it gives you an opening to make a connection and move on to the real point of the discussion.
I recently interviewed the filmmaker/climber Jimmy Chin for Sky. We spent the first few minutes chatting about Minnesota, where we’re both from, and then I used that as a jumping-off point for the interview.
Maybe you have a personal connection to the organization being discussed—there’s nothing wrong with starting with that, as long as it’s sincere.
Be A Good Listener
We all need to be better listeners. You may be in the 1 percent of people who have truly mastered the art of listening, and if so, I’m truly envious. We know who the good listeners in our lives are. For the rest of us, it takes some effort.
In a meeting, conversation or interview, try to sit back and let the other person express themselves. Ask questions to draw them out. Rely on your homework but be willing to respond to whatever they say and go from there.
People generally like to talk, whether they’re a celebrity, SME or corporate marketing director. Allowing a few moments of silence might even get them to open up more, but that only works in the right context. You don’t want a room full of people eyeballing each other silently. Awkward! So sometimes you also need to be the one to keep the conversation moving.
Being nimble is not only a valuable quality in business but also in conversation.
Start the Conversation: Just Go
Feeling nervous about a situation? Dreading the act of picking up the phone and actually talking to the person on the other end? Bumping up against your introverted nature? Take a tip from Nike and Just Do It. Meaning, don’t overthink it.
I like to talk about how I had to holler a question to President Clinton in the middle of the impeachment scandal in the ‘90s. I think I was 23. It was highly uncomfortable. But just like closing your eyes and jumping into a lake, you can force yourself into forward momentum. And once you’re in the middle of a conversation, you might even find yourself enjoying it. In fact, you probably will.
That’s the beauty of us humans; we really are born to communicate.