SDN019: How I made $400,000 from a single conversation

One of the best things you can be in life and in business is more outgoing and more approachable when it comes to making new friends. I thought I’d use this time between us to talk about my history- how I’m more outgoing, more boisterous; how I make great connections, how I shake more hands, and how it’s benefited me in my life and in my business.

As far as I know, as a kid, I was always very outgoing. I never knew a stranger. Everybody was a friend. I don’t ever recall having a fear of speaking to strangers, but I know that a lot of people do. They are afraid of approaching people, talking to people, and making friends out of strangers.

How did I get here?

I thought about my history and what it took for me to get over that. At one point in time, I realized I was more outgoing than others. Even though it was never a fear of mine, I can still think of a couple of different milestones, or experiences I’ve had that helped me become as approachable as I am.

Like I said, as a kid, I was already very outgoing and very approachable. I didn’t see an enemy in every room. I would come up and talk to everybody probably to the point where it scared my mom because most parents like their kids to be afraid of strangers and I was never, ever afraid of a stranger.

In high school I joined the marching band where we did several public performances. It was part of the job to be boisterous and outgoing in order to attract the attention of the judges and others in the world of competition. I’m not sure if that ever really helped, but I’m sure it contributed to the evolvement of my personality.

Once I joined the military, a friend and I picked up a side job as disc jockeys. This meant we had to be on a microphone, talking to a large group of people, on a regular basis. Most of them sober, but a good chunk of them were also intoxicated. We always had to be entertaining. We always had to introduce events. We always had to basically make people enjoy their time with us, in between playing music. Everyone would come out to see us, to have a drink, and to get away from the stress of life. It was very important that we talked on a regular basis. I really got comfortable with speaking in public and realized that I wasn’t so much concerned about making mistakes as I was making sure people had a great time.

Later in life, as I embarked on a technology career, I realized I really enjoyed teaching and speaking in public. I would get involved in teaching classes at the different companies that I worked at. Most people would shy away from teaching classes, especially technology classes because you have a very rough crowd, but not me. I would always look forward to them, even jump at the opportunity. I would rather be standing up in front of a classroom, teaching what I know. And because technology can usually be a pretty boring topic, I’d teach in a way that was entertaining and fun.

Eventually, as I left my formal job and embarked on my own career in 1998, being able to speak to a group of people, whether it was 2 or 200 people, became essential in business. I was travelling all over the world, to different countries, speaking about technology and training people on the technology for the company that I was working for. I actually ended up as a consultant and as one of the better trainers because I was able to communicate ideas very well. On many occasions, people said that they really understood and liked the way that I taught the subject.

The $400,000 conversation

There is even one particular time I can remember standing in a airport line in Oklahoma City where being more outgoing and approachable landed me several hundred thousand dollars in business with the US government. This was post 9/11 and the lines were long and slow. I struck up a long conversation with a department manager for the Veterans’ Affairs. As we made our way through the airport line we talked about many topics, some of them work-related. Once we were on the other side of the metal detectors, we exchanged cards and parted ways. About a month later she called me asking if I could come in and do some IT analysis for her. That single conversation started a multi-year government contract that ended up in $400,000 of additional revenue. I’ve had many other scenarios like this where being a little outgoing was very beneficial for my business.

I thought I’d review some reasons why I think people aren’t as outgoing as I am. These aren’t really faults or problems; these are just my observations and why I think people just sometimes have a little bit more fear about being more outgoing.

The first reason is past experiences. One of the first places you have the opportunity to express yourself is ask a kid, in school. And kids are cruel. Let’s say you’re performing on stage- theatrically or musically. All your buddies are in the audience and they’re poking fun at you. They’re laughing at you. They’re throwing stuff at you. They’re not really the kind of people that encourage you. They are your peers and you really respect their opinions, and your peers are being cruel to you.

You may have had an experience similar to this or something else that has really dissuaded you from feeling safe enough to put yourself out there, to be more public or vocal with your opinions. Past experiences might also lead to my second point, which is, I think, people have a really high fear of making mistakes.

It’s one thing to make a mistake when you’re at your desk, by yourself, on a computer and there’s nobody around. But making a mistake while in front of a group of people can be mortifying for some. You may have the fear that this group of people is smarter or wiser than you or just understand the topic better. Maybe you voiced your opinion once and somebody beat you down by saying, “You know what? You made a huge mistake there. That’s not at all what’s going on.” Once that happens, it could be harmful psychologically and you may really want to turn back into an introvert and never speaking in public again. That goes along with my next point, which is fearing what people will think of you.

The judgement of your peers brings fear which might be holding you back

From the moment you stand on a stage, or in front of a room of people, you are being judged and listened to. People are judging everything from the tone of your voice, your rate of speech, how your hair/makeup/clothes looks, to how you walk, use your hands, or how your slides look. There are 100 different things that people can judge about you once you are in front of a group of people speaking. Criticism of any of these factors could be a huge point of self-consciousness. This could be another reason you may have the fear of being more outgoing.

The last reason may be something as simple as you don’t feel you have anything to say. Often times when people approach me about going into a public speaking career, they’re like, “I love the idea of public speaking, but I have nothing to say.” Then we have to work with them through that and figure out, “What’s your business? What’s your message? Why do you enjoy public speaking, or why are you afraid of public speaking and how can we get you over that fear when you don’t think you have anything to say?”

Those are a few reasons why people come to me and say that they do not want to get involved in the world of being more outgoing, or specifically public speaking. I’m going to run through some benefits that I’ve had over the years by doing it and then maybe give you a list of things you can do next to get started yourself.

First of all, I can tell you that I’ve made more friends by being more outgoing, or for lack of a better term, exposing myself more. I wear my heart on my sleeve, put my opinion out there and am just generally more vocal about what I think. By doing this, I have made more friends. I could also tell you definitively that it has generated more business and better business for me whether it’s speaking to someone when I’m in a coffee shop line, or speaking at a conference or training event. Being more outgoing and willing to share my opinion in a very verbal fashion has helped my business tremendously.

If you want to run your own business, being outgoing and approachable is not optional

If you’re someone who is an entrepreneur, or wants to be one, this is going to be a skill that you’re going to have to have. One of the last benefits I’ve realized is that by being more outgoing and willing to speak up in public, you’re actually considered more of an expert. People will buy more from an expert than they will from an amateur. It’s not what’s in our brains or how much experience, or intelligence we have about a particular topic. The expert is the person that stands up and says something about a topic. It’s not the person who knows the most- it’s the person who says the most and markets the most.

If you’re someone, like I said, who’s going to be an entrepreneur, or you want to be an entrepreneur and you want to get your opinions heard and you want to be considered an expert, being a public speaker, being more outgoing with your thoughts, feelings, and opinions is going to be crucial.

How do you get started in this world? How do you get started being more outgoing and being more approachable? It takes practice. All good things take practice. You have to practice it on a daily basis.

How do you practice being more outgoing? You talk to strangers more. I don’t have any problem talking to strangers, whether it be at the bookstore or the coffee shop, I have no problem approaching someone, finding a common point of interest, and then maybe introducing myself and saying, “Hey, I noticed you’re drinking the same kind of coffee I do. What do you think about it? Have you tried this?” Or, when I’m looking at business books, or technology books, I’ll see if somebody has a book or they’re contemplating a book. I’ll find a common point of interest.

One of my best ways to introduce myself to a stranger has always been to find a common point of interest and then leapfrog it from there. Find people in random places, coffee shops, and bookstores are great places. Find a common point of interest and springboard from there. Also, I would encourage you to attend more public events where there are people that want to network. People attend networking events for the specific purpose of meeting new people. Everyone’s going there for the same reason you’re going there, but often times people that go there are really shy. There’s a lot of networking going on. In those particular cases, remember that you’re all there for a common purpose whether it’s you have a common love of scrapbooking, model cars, or video games- remember that you’re all there in the same place for the same purpose. You want to take advantage of that. You know what their common interest is. You don’t have to worry about finding one like I was talking about earlier in a coffee shop, or in a bookstore. You already know there’s a common interest there.

You use that common interest as a springboard to basically make a new friend and connect with that person off line and that in turn will beget new relationships after that. You’re going to have to be more outgoing yourself. You can’t wait for people to approach you. When you want to be more outgoing on a particular topic, you are going to have to proactively go out and talk to people. That’s how you’re going to build relationships. That’s how you’re going to become better and more comfortable at it.

Frequent public speaking will make you more comfortable

I promise you the more public speaking you do, the more networking you do, you will become comfortable with it and you will get better at it. There will always be a little bit of fear, but eventually it won’t be so bad. I don’t think that ever completely goes away. My interest in building my business, my genuine interest in other people’s stories and their lives overrides that fear and as a result, I’ve been able to make some great friends in this world. I’ve made some great business contacts and my personal growth has blossomed as has my business growth. I hope this has helped you maybe figure out how to be a more outgoing person. I’d love to hear your feedback on some other tips and tricks that you’ve done, or ways where you’ve seen your life or business transform by being a more outgoing person.

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