8218919_sI recently spent two days at the CIPD Learning and Development Show exhibiting Appraisal360. As always it was an exciting, stretching and exhausting experience. During the two days I must have spoken to literally hundreds of people, those interested in 360 feedback, those selling their own products and those wanting to discuss something shared at a presentation or seminar.

One of the things that these events always bring home is how we manage our professional presence – what impact we make, whether others remember us, and whether we truly create connection. Three things struck me about presence or the impact people have on others. These are three things that will help you with networking, with connecting at business meetings and to leave a positive impression on people you meet.

The three things are:

  1. Don’t Sell – people like to engage with you first.
  2. Be Yourself – it helps people to engage with you
  3. Have An Opinion – it drives engagement with the right people

Making an impact is about the engagement dance – is this person worth talking to; do I have anything to gain from spending time with them (this includes online); do I want to hear what they have to say; would I share my views, business needs and concerns with them?

If the answer is no, you have still made an impact, but not created engagement. The best you can expect is a brief exchange and a polite exit. There is nothing wrong with this outcome if these are not the people you want to connect with. If, however, they are then you have a problem.

If the answer is maybe or yes, then you have started engagement, otherwise known as connecting with people and creating a reason to continue a conversation. So lets look at how the three things above can help you to make the impression you want to.

Don’t Sell

Nobody likes to be sold at – we all know this, yet many of us still jump in and bombard the other person. At the show I saw the best and worst of engagement; for me, being able to meet people in their reality first is critical to making a positive impact.

Some people came on our stand to sell their own stuff – I could translate our 360 feedback into any language imaginable, I could print all sorts of materials and could choose a host of new venue offers to hold training – our banner clearly says “online 360 feedback”. These people hadn’t even read what we did before pitching, how do you think that went for them?

Walking around the exhibition I was accosted by reps asking if I was interested in xyz? Easy answer – “No, I’m on my way to the loo, thanks.”

The point here is to give people the chance to engage with you. Selling without selling is easy, ask them a few questions about themselves and listen carefully. They will tell you how, or if, you can help them; they will tell you where to go next with the ‘sales’ conversation; and they’ll enjoy the journey because you are interested in them. You will both discover whether this is a connection worth developing.

Be Yourself

Not only is keeping up a front exhausting, you will trip yourself up. Be the person you are, not the one you think others want you to be. If you are not being real the person you are trying to engage with will notice. They may not be able to put a finger on it, but at an unconscious level something won’t feel right, their deep instincts for safety will pick up on the incongruences between your words, behaviour and body language; as a  result they won’t quite trust you. Engagement is then much more difficult.

Look at the reasons you might be tempted to put on a front, most of them are about your inner world – don’t feel good enough, they might see through you, etc. Start by trusting yourself, you are uniquely qualified to be you. This is not to say we don’t have different personas in different environments and I’m not suggesting you bring your late night party self to work. What I am saying is your underlying values won’t change much and if someone doesn’t want to engage with you, or you with them, don’t force it.

Have An Opinion

Of course you have an opinion, don’t be afraid to share it in the right circumstances. This is how you deepen engagement, either because the other person shares your philosophies, or they are interested in your perspective and like a debate; either way you add value to the connection and have a reason to keep talking. It also helps you to sort out who you might WANT to build relationships with or do business with.

360 feedback can be a controversial subject, you don’t have to look far to find people with bad experiences, and there are many right and wrong ways to run 360 projects, having proper conversations with people enables both of us to decide if might want to work together – we do the engagement dance, before either is in too deep.

The thing with having an opinion is that it makes you more interesting, but only if you follow these principles.

  • It is your opinion, not everyone needs to agree.
  • You are not there to make the other person feel inferior, stupid or wrong.
  • You are entitled to your opinion whether or not others agree
  • The purpose of the conversation is to decide whether the connection is mutually beneficial, so don’t back yourself into an entrenched position.
  • People with similar views and opinions are likely to connect with you more easily

So next time you want to make a positive impression, be remembered and make connections, start by managing yourself. Resist the temptation to talk about yourself and your products; get you inner talk in order – you are good enough; and share your expertise and opinions as relevant to the conversation.

Last word – when you have made a connection remember to offer the other person a way to continue the conversation, contact details, a call, a meet up, an appropriate way of staying in touch.