As far as houseguests go, the one we had this week was benign. No extra meals to cook, no extra housework, and really no disruption in our lives as usual. However, he was unnerving. He didn’t speak to us. He wasn’t mad. He just didn’t make conversation, and frankly, he’s been here before and I just wasn’t up for working that hard in my own home. So, I was pretty quiet, too. Very strange behavior because my personal brand banks on communication. Talking is right there with air and water when it comes to my survival instinct.
The young man came from New York City to attend a huge sporting event in Los Angeles, where he works in the media as a freelance sportscaster. He has a Clear Channel radio program for an hour each week and occasionally writes for the sports section of an important metropolitan newspaper. His personal brand is well established in his field, and there’s really no one in his field he can’t access: owners, trainers, athletes, pundits, analysts, and other members of the media.
He is a friend of a friend who is staying with us this month, a joyful, full of life young woman who is in the same field. She has an almost equally well-known personal brand, in the same sport, and she is at 24, a decade and a half younger than the man. She is confident, beautiful and most important to me, as a civilian not involved in their sport: she can create conversation with anyone. She makes you feel good when you speak to her. She’s interested in your life, your pets, your job, your clients, and your aspirations – at least as far as you know. You feel like you are a very important person when you talk to her.
I take her conversational generosity for granted because I know her very well. She’s the type of person I make time for, even on my busiest day. Nearly everyone I introduce her to, always wants to get more deeply connected to her. People fight for “networking” time with her, not because she’ll have a job or deal to recommend, but simply because she is so engaging. She turns down a whole lot of invitations simply because there is just so much time in her week.
Her brand “personality” comes across the same way in her social media communication. She has a ton of fans and friends. None of this interaction is hard for her, she says. She has a tremendous curiosity that drives her to find out more about anyone or anything, when she has the opportunity. It might not turn out to be important, nourishing, or even vaguely useful, but she doesn’t know until she engages.
She also values everyone she meets: the president of a professional sports league and my cleaning lady, for example. Our house was cleaner this week, because she was here (and not because she’s neat – she’s not).
Your ability to make conversation is critical, if you need to connect with other people in order to succeed in business or life. That should come as no surprise. But, the widespread inability to create conversation is surprising.
Your ability to smile and project positive energy is critical, if you are seeking work, clients, promotions, or people to come over to your point of view. A smile is your signal, like the beam from a lighthouse. It draws people to you.
Why? Because looking down into your phone, indulging your shy side or appearing aloof doesn’t generate: “Yes, I’d love to work with you!”
Dreamworks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg in Sunday’s NY Times says the quality he looks for most in a potential new hire is “somebody who believes in themselves. If you don’t have a strong sense of you are and what you have to offer, and a strong conviction about that, then you cannot expect somebody else to have that for you.”
The only thing I’d add to Katzenberg’s comment is this. If you can’t connect on anything other than your skill set, you may be very lucky to get something, but not get anything richer, broadening and more lucrative once you get in. The young man whom we hosteled this week has been doing the same thing for 15 years, and has not moved an inch forward in his chosen field. He finds his life both stable and depressing. It shows.
Here’s what to do now
1. Make a list of 5 questions you can ask anyone. Hint: with the job situation right now, switch from “what do you do?” to “what keeps you busy?”
2. Talk to 5 strangers a day. Remember, talking might just be: “Have you tried Starbucks’ ‘perfect’ oatmeal? I love oatmeal, so ‘perfect’ is a really high bar for me.”
3. Find your curiosity bone. If you have to connect it to your ability to get a job or build your personal brand, connect that wire in your brain. If it feels uncomfortable to approach people in a friendly manner and ask them questions, it’s a sign you’re doing something right.
Lastly, a plea from my sparkling young woman friend who looks over my shoulder right now. She says, “If you update your tanning color or your haircut – change your Facebook profile photo.” Otherwise, when she meets you in real life for the first time, she has no idea who you are. So, she’ll pose her signature newcomer questions, and miss the opportunity to greet you like the old friend you are. Believe me, that greeting makes your day. It’s an indelible part of her personal brand.
Nance Rosen is the author of Speak Up! & Succeed. She speaks to business audiences around the world and is a resource for press, including print, broadcast and online journalists and bloggers covering social media and careers. Read more at NanceRosenBlog. Twitter name: nancerosen.