Saturday, December 12, 2009

5 conversation killers in a first-client meeting

Driving through the mountains east of Pittsburgh yesterday, I caught a fuzzy radio broadcast with a great tease: "After the break...the 7 worst types of small talk."

Alas, the actual segment wasn't as juicy as I'd hoped--the guest's verboten topics were the things you could probably guess if you've ever been to a cocktail party: Don't talk about your golf game (no one cares, even other golfers), wine (unless you're sure the other person is a oenophile), what route you took to the party (ZZZZ), kids (no one cares, even other parents), dreams (unless you want to be flagged as a flake), and stocks (you're probably either bragging or whining). The signal faded out before the final one, but I'm guessing it was religion, politics or sex.

But it did strike me that there's an analogy for freelancers headed into a meeting with a prospective client, when the inevitable lull in conversation comes around but the sale hasn't closed. The nervousness and excitement can cause us to blurt, blab or otherwise inject nonsense in ways that can be every bit as deadly as the items above:
  • Talking about how slow business has been (smells like eau de desperation)
  • Talking about being super busy (it's a fine line between being highly sought and overwhelmed)
  • Recounting a tale of bad or unruly clients (risky, though you might be able to get away with something that's funny and has a happy ending)
  • Penalty fees/rules/restrictions (e.g., number of rounds of revisions)
  • Talking too much, period (even if it's positive and upbeat stuff)
You need to know yourself and how you react under the pressure of the first meeting. Better to be armed with a bunch of good questions that can drive the conversation where you want it to go. Ask the client if it's OK to record the conversation, and then listen to it afterward to identify the weak points of your presentation. And for the love of all that's holy...please don't talk about the weather.


  1. I had an old boss who once told me: The first person who talks loses. Since I'm an inherent blabber mouth, I've adhered to that with great success. Interview people, get them to talk about themselves, and you will always be loved!

  2. Exactly, adchick.

    Funny enough, I just heard a news piece that *recommended* talking about the weather as an icebreaker at holiday parties. (Though I have to admit, most people that hear I've been in Canada want to know what the weather was like.) I guess conversation is in the ear of the beholder.