Are these people on crack?
It was the first thought that came to mind as I read this Inc. article that advises you to take your glass of warm Yellowtail, roll up to a stranger at a networking event and all but murmur in their ear:
How can I help you?
The theory is that you'll get a better response by trying to be helpful than trying to be salesy—but in execution, this thinly veiled, “I'm here to help!” Pee-wee Herman of a sales pitch reeks of bad breath & manipulation…and can end up coming across far more forced than less. (If they aren't already suspecting you're a mental patient pervert, that is.)
This approach is nothing new: I remember going to networking event after painful networking event as a Philadelphia sales exec, being attacked by vampires trying to pretend they were just sooooooooo interested in me. (Useful if you haven't had a date in 3,481 years and need an ego boost; excruciating for every other reason.)
It's like everyone in the room is trying to sell everyone else their rubber ducky—except no one wants to admit that's what they're doing.
Instead, they waltz up to you with this face as if they've just soiled their diaper; then somewhere in between exchanging names, asking if you're from the area, and shifting their feet around sixteen times, they eventually reach into their pocket, finger around, and whip out their
sales pitch rubber ducky, pointing it at you like GOTCHA. (Except, we all knew it was coming. Kind of like watching a predictable scary movie in slow motion, except you're the one who's going to get stabbed.)
The bad news: These folks are a dime a dozen. The good news: You can do so much better when it's your turn to approach.
Normally, you might try to break the ice with the same old, same old things that everyone else is saying, over and over again:
“So what's your name?” or “So, what do you do?”, or god forbid, randomly walking up to someone and asking, “How can I help you, baby?”
But not only do you sound like an incredibly average broken record, the person you're talking to is probably tired of answering the same questions over and over, too. End result? No connection, just filler. No meaningful conversation, just monotony.
So here's a little trick I use when I want to introduce myself to someone:
Instead of doing the expected, I like to flip the script and start guessing instead of grilling.
For example, let's say I spot a woman that I'd like to talk to. I could walk up to her and make any of the same old, same old small talk, effectively making the statement that, yes, I'm just as average as I seem, and no, you shouldn't bother to remember me.
Or, I could walk up to her and say something like:
Loves dogs and miiiiiiiiiight even have more than one.
And she might say: “Who, me?”
And I might say: “Totally off?”
And she might say: “I wish I were in the Fashion industry! I'm actually in eCommerce.”
And I might say: “No kidding! You look like you stepped right off a darn movie set with those pearls.”
And she might say: “Thanks! I might not be in fashion, but you were right about the dogs.”
And I might say: “I knew it! Me, too. I love them so much, can you believe I actually started an entire business around 'em?”
And she might say: “Oh, really? What do you do?”
And then you're in a position to give your creative elevator pitch: “My job is so cool. I get to play with pooches all day in Central Park and make sure they're well-loved while their mamas are away at the office.”
And now you've struck up a natural, human conversation—one that's far more memorable, far less awkward, and lowers the other person's guard so you actually can connect…and not just pretend to.
It's not just about being human in your writing—it's about being a human, period.
Sometimes, through all the noise and the pressure and the expectations and the standard business practices, we just need a little help remembering what that is.