So you’ve gotten into that awkward conversation and you can’t seem to get out. Now, let’s not place the blame entirely on the other person; an awkward conversation takes two. I think the wording of your questions can make all the difference.
Good questions cover a variety of subjects (not just “What are you…” “How are you…” “Why are you…”. They force the responder to think of the bigger picture, they challenge an idea, or they force a specific answer. Also, don’t be afraid to call someone out when they get into way too much jargon; it’s boring, and will help them form a better pitch. For example:
- “So, describe your project to me in 10 words.”
- This avoids long winded and empty descriptions. If the person says they can’t do that, or that’s stupid, please inform them that they clearly need to work on their pitch, that it’s their job to make you want to listen. Have a 10 word description of what you do ready, as an example.
- “Why are you passionate about this?”
- The term “passionate” frequently elicits an excitement from the responder, which can become contagious. It also (usually) forces them to get out of the nitty-gritty details and into the bigger issues they are trying to solve.
- “Who benefits from this product?”
- A number of companies have a solution without a problem. Even worse, they assume that by having a solution, the people will just come. Making them think about WHO will come and WHY frequently gets more personal and interesting responses than “What solution are you offering,” which incredibly inpersonal.
- ‘What challenges have you encountered?”
- This redirects the conversation to a common ground: I’m sure you and the person you are talking to share some common problems, especially if you are both founders. You can share ideas for solutions, funny stories, etc. If the person says, “Oh, it’s been smooth sailing; I don’t anticipate many problems.” Well, they’re a fool. And I’d say go back to trying to get away.
- “Who’s your competition?”
- If the answer is “We don’t have any,” then ask why they even think there is a market. If they know of competition, ask them to summarize what the competition does and why they are better. I find I can frequently follow this up with more prying questions.
And always keep in mind the following, when facing a new conversation:
- Assume Rapport. Don’t start the first five words assuming it will go badly. You’ve just damned the whole night. Everyone has a story; make it a quest to learn from everyones/
- Listen. Obvious, sure. But you’d be surprised how many of us don’t.
- Divert the conversation. Find a common ground:
- The event you are at and how you both got there.
- A person in the industry you both know.
- The art on the wall, etc.
- Get Out Of It. Sometimes you just need to be blunt. I don’t know that I could do this, but I’ve now had two people tell me they’ve encountered this. “You know, this isn’t really a problem I am interested in, so I don’t want to waste your time. But Good Luck!” Wow. Well, it works and its honest.