I have laboured for several days over an article to encourage those finishing writing their doctoral theses at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Oxford University to my “Developing Influential Presentations” and “Developing Influential Networks” seminars. The Institute recognises that their doctoral students are likely to be movers and shakers in their countries and companies and has had the vision to support them in practical ways to achieve their potential.
I help those with a technical background develop communication skills to influence others. And people who’ve devoted their time from childhood to studying as many doctoral students have done can be unused to the outside world of work and business. After spending 3 years at the wonderful Central School of Speech and Drama, I took a job teaching in a secondary school of 2,300 pupils. I had been attempting to influence children from 11 – 18 years of age all day with varying degrees of success. No one prepared me for it. I often came home at night so exhausted and overwhelmed I fell asleep in the middle of eating supper. One particular day, I woke up with my head in the plate of food!
One of the many things study doesn’t equip you for is how form relationships and build them to persuade and influence others. Real life. The subject of study is a useful door opener. What happens when you get inside the room?
- Know where you’re going: It helps if you have a clear idea of where you’d like to get to, your goal. I always like to think about where I’m headed and then work back from there. It also means that you can identify the people who have the power to help you get there.
- Know where your decision makers are: Are they at conferences, events, trade shows, at their club, on the rugby pitch, at the school concert? Hang out where the ones you want to influence hang out.
- Know the etiquette: It may be bad manners and counter-productive to push yourself forward. Be adroit at ‘bumping into’ them and start casual conversation. You might be lucky enough to have an introduction – always a winner if your introducer is known and liked by a decision maker.
- Know what to say: Notice something about their appearance and comment on it. Or (since you have researched their Linked In profile, of course!) mention something you and they have in common. It can be powerfully influential to connect yourself with something they care about – their home town, their hobby, their choice of newspaper.
- Know how to listen: Be patient. You listen with your eyes as well as your ears. Be responsive to what the other is saying and reflect on it. Don’t barge in with your ideas and opinions too early. You want to establish rapport without being slavish and Uriah Heep-like.
- Know when to state your goal: Timing is all here. And it’s perfectly fine to be clear about your goal without getting too intense about it. In fact, I think it’s fine to make it a BHAG – a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal! You might get a smile from them. Unless they ask, this isn’t the moment to ask them what you want from them yet. Keep relaxed, keep breathing in a regular pattern!
- Know when to ask them for what you want: It can be very flattering for you to ask them for advice. You convey your respect for their experience, expertise and power. Again, you must wait until they’re asking you questions and seem engaged with what you are saying. Ask them for what you want in the form of advice, “If you were advising me how to ….. How would I go about it?”
Getting what you want from the decision maker may take several encounters – or it may happen in a few minutes. Throughout your encounter, you need to be aware, focused and alert to what’s happening. Keep listening, keep watching for your moment.