How to Suck Less at Your Personal Pitch

The number one thing people want to talk about is themselves. When you facilitate this, you’ll be remembered because they enjoyed the conversation. Just remember: A good question prompts people to tell a story about themselves, in turn creating a deeper connection.

i am uniqueWhen you meet someone for the first time, the question “What do you do?” inevitably makes its way to the conversation. I don’t know about you, but I am not a fan of this question. It is not a great question to ask, nor is it fun to answer.

Let’s explore some reasons for why this question is not so great. “What do you do?” implies you are asking what someone does for a living. This makes people define themselves by how they earn a paycheck. What if they are in transition? What if they hate their job?

So you can see how this simple and common question can quickly make someone uncomfortable. Plus, you are not really getting to know that person.

Here are some alternative questions to ask instead:

  1. If you won the lottery what would you do?
  2. What are you passionate about?
  3. What do you like to do?
  4. What is your favorite thing that you own?
  5. How do you spend your days?
  6. What are you most excited about right now?
  7. What are you working on?
  8. What are you most proud of?
  9. What’s the number one item on your bucket list?
  10. What gets you up in the morning?

The number one thing people want to talk about is themselves. When you facilitate this, you’ll be remembered because they enjoyed the conversation. Just remember: A good question prompts people to tell a story about themselves, in turn creating a deeper connection.

Now let’s examine some ways to answer “What do you do?” because you will undoubtedly get that question. Do you say, “I’m a marketing manager” or “I work for ACME Corporation”? My guess is 95 percent of you answer with something along those lines.

Don’t let your work define you. How would you answer that question if you are currently between jobs? You might feel a little deflated when someone asks you that, especially if you haven’t given much thought into what you should answer.

What if you designed a different way of answering that question? What if you told a story? For example, I might answer that question with, “Right now I am really excited to be launching a new product that will help marketers manage their personal brand in only two minutes a day.”

It’s not true, but if that sounded interesting to you, let me know, and I may just start working on that.

To start to tell your story, think about these three things:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. How do you serve them or provide value?
  3. What results are achieved?

Killer Content Strategy in 2 Hours

To efficiently get your team to a killer content strategy you need a common framework that can be applied to all your content decisions, as well as a simplified planning process that connects your approach to your audience and business goals.

MeetingTo efficiently get your team to a killer content strategy you need a common framework that can be applied to all your content decisions, as well as a simplified planning process that connects your approach to your audience and business goals.

The Conversation Framework

We often talk about digital content as a storytelling medium, but that assumes a one-sided relationship with one storyteller and one or many listeners.

I prefer to think of it as a conversation that may include stories. In a best case scenario, your content resembles an ongoing dialogue with your audiences that you can learn from over time, just as a good conversation requires listening and thoughtful reaction.

If you think about content planning in this context of a natural dialogue you will find there are certain elements that impact the direction and elements of the varied kinds of conversation that we all engage in day to day:

  • Depth of relationship: You talk about different things and in a different cadence and tone with strangers or new friends than with those you know well.
  • Frequency of touch point: Catching up with a long lost friend takes on a different flavor than conversing with another friend that you see more regularly.
  • Passion point: If you have something in common with someone that can often become the central theme of your interactions.
  • Attention: Is it a passing opportunity to chat or do you have uninterrupted hours to spend together?
  • One-to-one or one-to-many: Are you addressing a group or having a private conversation?
  • Utility: Is the focus on getting something specific accomplished?
  • Conversation initiation: Are you initiating the conversation? If so, you carry the burden of the setting the clear direction, pace and tone.
  • Intent: Are you trying to persuade? Entertain? Educate? All require different approaches and info.
  • Channel conventions: What’s accepted and commonplace in some channels may not be in others.
  • Format: Content can take many forms including visual, audio, interactive, etc… and the format will influence the structure and flow of the conversation.
  • Language or tone varies based on norms for the intended audience: Certainly age and other demographics but also take into account regional flavor, language preferences or degree of formality.
  • Investment: Depending on how important the interaction is to your goals you may invest your time or other resources more or less liberally, including using paid media to maximize reach.
  • Content authorship: Are you using your own stories and content or sharing something that someone else created?

You can quickly see how these and many other subtleties impact the flavor and flow of our conversations and how they could also influence your content choices. Once you have that conversational framework in mind you can get through the actual planning pretty swiftly.

Simplified Content Planning Process

Now to break down the two-hour planning process into managable 30-minute chunks.

Michael Della Penna’s Conversations: A Marketer’s 12-Step Program to Accepting Social Media

The rise of social media as a critical communication channel cannot be ignored. In fact, according to a 2009 Nielsen study, social media has overtaken email as the most popular online consumer activity. Yet it remains the most misunderstood and feared of any communication channel.

The rise of social media as a critical communication channel cannot be ignored. In fact, according to a 2009 Nielsen study, social media has overtaken email as the most popular online consumer activity. Yet it remains the most misunderstood and feared of any communication channel.

While the proliferation of social networks, social shopping and the corresponding tools needed to facilitate these connections is new and exciting, social media can also be overwhelming to marketers as they struggle to learn the new skills necessary to reach and engage key audiences across the social web.

Consequently, the thought of engaging customers and the fear that those conversations may not go as intended often cause the most experienced marketers to cling to the traditional marketing channels they’ve become most dependent upon. So, how to break free of old habits? Like any good rehab, it starts with a solid 12-step program.

1. Admit you’re an addict. Advertising, direct mail and, yes, even email are seen as comfort food. While still useful, they remain, for the most part, one-way communication channels. Recognizing this and embracing the need to change and be “open” to truly creating dialogues with customers is the first step.

2. Get wet.
Use social networking in your personal life to familiarize yourself with the tools. Don’t be shy because you’re new to the party — you’re not the last one in the pool.

3. Learn some history. Find case studies in your industry, as they’ll often help you identify new opportunities, best practices, cautionary tales and potential business models. Two dozen good ones can be found on my association’s (PMN) website.

4. Evangelize and find an advocate.
Often, embracing social media requires a sea of change, and support is critical. Find an executive sponsor to help push your program through, and continue to evangelize.

5. Get to work. I love starting with Forrester Research’s POST methodology. Take the time to understand your customers, set some objectives, build a strategy and search for the technologies you need to embrace the medium. You may also want to start by socializing some of your traditional channels to test the waters. For example, try adding sharing capabilities within your emails.

6. Build incrementally and listen. Ultimately, you want to be everywhere your customers are. But you need to start somewhere; take small steps. I always recommend starting narrow, but going deep. Take the time to understand each channel, and listen and learn before adding additional networks into the mix.

7. Take chances. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Be open to the possibilities of the social web, but keep customers’ needs front and center.

8. Create value. Take the time to understand the value of each channel and how each channel and program can add value to your customers’ experiences with your brand.

9. Be honest, transparent and responsive. Anything otherwise will be quickly noticed in a social environment.

10. Be a team player. Create cross-functional teams to brainstorm and share learnings.

11. Measure success. Review and track activity, measure programs against your business objectives, and calculate ROI. And don’t lose sight of how your programs impact customer satisfaction, as well as customers’ likelihood to recommend and purchase more products.

12. Communicate success. After all, it’s about creating conversations. Share your insights and create excitement for your efforts both internally and externally so others can learn from your experience.

Building conversations and relationships is hard, but when it’s done right and with the best of intentions it can be very rewarding. Welcome to the Age of Conversations.

Michael Della Penna is co-founder and executive chairman of the Participatory Marketing Network, an industry association dedicated to helping marketers transition from push and permission marketing to participatory marketing. He’s also the founder and CEO of Conversa Marketing, which helps brands build social and email marketing programs. Reach Michael at info@thepmn.org.

How Dell Leverages Social Media Across the Company

While attending the eTail East conference in Baltimore this week,  I was pleasantly surprised at what seems to be a pattern in online retail shows this year. While the show was small, all the sessions were packed. And everyone seemed to be in generally good spirits — despite the economic situation.

While attending the eTail East conference in Baltimore this week, I was pleasantly surprised at what seems to be a pattern in online retail shows this year. While the show was small, all the sessions were packed. And everyone seemed to be in generally good spirits — despite the economic situation.

One session I attended on Aug. 5 featured Liana Frey, the director of communities and conversations at Dell. Her session, “Community 2.0 — Lessons Learned From Engaging in Conversations With Customers,” focused on the success of the Round Rock, Texas-based firm’s use of social media.

Dell’s successful use of social media has been well documented. Dell Outlet, for example, has attributed $3 million in revenue to its presence on Twitter, where the division posts its latest offers.

What’s more, Dell Outlet has almost 1 million Twitter followers and is a “recommended” presence to follow by Twitter. It also occasionally makes “Twitter-only” offers available to followers.

Dell has put a concerted effort into its social media programs, according to Frey. It started them through a small group that was part of its corporate communications department. Today, however, social media is embedded throughout the entire organization.

“We’ve changed our organizational structure so that our tech department can answer specific technical questions through Twitter, and our customer service department can answer customer service questions,” she said.

While Frey admitted there’s some risk to this approach — where someone may say something that’s inappropriate, despite the social training, and damage the brand — she added that using this approach was worth the risk.

“We had enough confidence in our employees’ expertise that we felt it was important to make them transparent,” she said.

At lunch later that day, many folks agreed with Frey’s comments. Almost all of my tablemates said that for social media to work, it has to be part of a corporation’s culture. And, most importantly, there has to be buy-in from the top of the corporate structure — the CEO or president.

Do you agree? Let me know by leaving a comment here.