What if what you know isn't that important?


I was just starting my career in sales. I was getting ready for a sales presentation and I had been working on my pitch for a week.  I had my slides prepared (short and sweet), my anecdotes and word pictures ready, and my research memorized.  I was doing a practice run for the EVP to get his blessing and input.  The anxiety level was on high because he was one of the smartest guys in our company, and he knew the product even better than I.

I wanted to do a good GREAT job.  I knew he would expect me to have my facts in order and my enthusiasm turned on high.

Fortunately, I had practiced and I knew I was ready.

During the meeting I felt that I brought my A game and was generally happy with my performance.  I explained the facts well and painted a beautiful face on the company.

However, when I finished the executive asked me a question which for which I wasn't prepared, "Why should I care?"

Excuse me?

He elaborated, "You haven't told me why I should care about what you're saying."

I was confused.

I had spent the previous 15 minutes describing all of the wonderful things about our product.  Who wouldn't care about that?

My confusion was evident through my babbling words and deer-in-headlight stare.

Fortunately, the executive didn't leave me in the dark for long.  He went onto explain how I failed the most important piece of the presentation in that I talked about my company's agenda without ever acknowledging the tensions of the audience.

Blah - blah - blah.  I really wasn't getting his point.

I was giving him facts in a concise and compelling way, what else was I supposed to do?

He wasn't getting through to me.  Finally, and with a little huff in his voice he said,

"You didn't ask me any questions Joy!  Don't you realize that what you know is less important than what you ask?"

Oh.   That punch landed.

I had made the great error in any conversation. I was more concerned about communicating my message than I was about learning from the person across the table.  Even in a presentation, there is room for connections, for learning about and addressing the needs of the audience.

Questions are always appropriate.

In a large-group presentation setting, rhetorical or reflective questions work best.   In those settings ask, "Have you ever?" or "Isn't it true?" or "What do you think of when .....?" to get the audience to put themselves in a position of caring about your next statement.

However, questions are even more critical in a small setting.

Someone has given me a part of their day; they have accepted AND attended a meeting with me; how am I helping them? How am I addressing their needs?  The only way to know for sure is to build an adequate understanding of those needs.  AND, here's the "duh," the only way to identify those needs is to ask and listen.

That's it. Ask. Listen.

Forget about whether you have the right answers and consider whether you're asking the right questions.