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About This Episode
We’ve all been there.
You’ve done the pre-call planning. You have a game plan. You’re ready to rock.
Then, the client asks that question. Makes that comment.
Suddenly, you’re lost.
What do you do?
How do you get your message across, when your plans go out the window?
Andy is the Learning and Development Program Designer for Second City Works.
Second City Works is the B2B professional services arm of Second City, the nursery for all of your favorite improv comedians. If they’re on SNL, they’ve probably come through Second City. Like Tina Fey.
Second City Works helps people like us deliver a better performance in conference calls or client meetings.
Here’s what Andy had to say about improvising strategically.
Incorporate What You’re Hearing in the Moment
When you talk about improv, people think of something wild and free.
And for the most part, it is. But professional improvisers must balance a specific message with a delivery method that matches the audience.
Improvisers are constantly matching the message back to the audience.
What does that mean for you and me?
Well, if you have only one strident way of doing things, you are probably going to fail.
When Andy listens in on sales calls, one thing he notices is an unwillingness on the part of the sales rep to incorporate what they were actually hearing in the moment. In other words, do your pre-call planning. Make a game plan, but be willing to adapt in the moment. You need to balance the agenda you set at the start of the meeting with what the person actually needs to hear in the moment.
For example, if a client raises a certain question, don’t just keep responding with your planned messaging. You may have to step away from your key message in order to eventually get back to it. Surrender what you had planned.
When you’re with a client, constantly gather new information. Adjust your messaging. You can often land in the place you intended, but how you get there is often very different than what you had planned
View Unexpected Turns as Opportunities, Not Losses
When things don’t go exactly how we planned for them to, we often see that as a loss.
We want everything to be perfect. After all, isn’t that why we do our pre-call planning?
Your planning might be perfect, but then, you face some unexpected comments or questions during the call that throw off your stellar plan.
When the call doesn’t go perfectly we feel the loss, rather than the opportunity. We plan because we don’t want anything unexpected to come up. We want to be ready for any situation.
But if you’ve done your planning ahead of time, it becomes a matter of trust. You know what you’re talking about. You have to trust yourself.
The inability to be flexible in the moment comes from not trusting the one person you should trust the most — yourself.
Trust that you will get there. In these unexpected moments, the most important thing you can do is listen. Listen to what’s going on in the room, to what the client is saying. Watch for their little gestures. Are they looking at their watch? Sliding their chair a little farther away? You have to be able to flip what feels like an interruption into an opportunity. That takes practice.
An interruption in the moment suddenly refreshes the energy. So don’t fear it.
Look for the opportunities.
Start Practicing Now — Active Listening
So, what’s one thing you can start doing today to take that first step towards better performance?
Start listening to understand.
So often, when we’re actively listening, we’re actively pretending like we are listening. We look like we’re listening, but we are really just planning the next thing we’re going to say.
That comes from fear, or maybe the need to look good.
We may hear the first part of the other person’s response, but tune out the second part. And so often we miss the real human need, the real opportunity, or the question that’s there. Ironically, it’s the stuff that happens in the second half of someone’s statement that really gives you the opportunity to push the conversation forward.
So, really listen. Don’t just start planning your next response. Listen. Even if it means you’re going to have to pause for a second after they finish.
Andy says, in North American business culture, we’re terrified of a pause. We feel it’s going to undercut all our credibility. But think about all the great movies you’ve seen. Right before the great king or the magnificent leader says their most important line, they often pause. Great characters are always those that are willing to pause dramatically.
The more you practice on a daily basis — your spouse is a good place to start! — the more you’ll build that muscle to be a connected listener.
So, Start Listening … Now
So, start listening.
You may not say the perfect thing after truly listening to someone else’s response. But you’ll probably say the connected thing.
And isn’t that what we’re after anyway?