Sales and Soundbites

I just got back from the Creative Chicago Expo at the Chicago Cultural Center. Now, I only found out about it by picking up a postcard at Gorilla Tango as I was waiting for a rehearsal to start, and I didn’t really prepare properly for it. I showed up tired and grumpy and my only real goal was to check it out.

I’m glad the event exists, and I’m glad I went. I wish I’d planned my goals for it better and gotten more up for it.

I almost missed most of it, though. There’s a big hall on the ground floor of the Cultural Center, and there were a bunch of tables there, so I buzzed the hall, as I call it. (I’ve covered enough exhibit halls in my day job and in day jobs past to have developed some terminology.)

Without a purpose, I don’t find much use for exhibit halls—I stopped at a few booths that might have resources that would be useful in the future, and popped in at the Nuns4Fun booth to reconnect with Vicki Quade, for whom I stage managed a pair of shows (Verbatim Verboten and Cast on a Hot Tin Roof, for completion’s sake) a few years ago. Or at least I would have, if she hadn’t stepped out at the time. (I did see her a bit later.)

All of that really didn’t take much time, though, so I had to decide if I would haul my lazy butt (I told you, I was tired) upstairs to check out the workshops or just turn around. Fortunately I did go upstairs, because there were a bunch more booths up there, and I picked up a few more potentially useful resources.

The workshop that I went to was on selling yourself, which is an obvious and massive flaw of mine. I’m of two minds about the workshop itself. On the one hand, I know that there’s useful information to take from it. On the other, the presenter talked in well-practiced soundbites, each one perfectly calculated to convey the right message.

I suppose that’s a valuable skill, particularly for a speaker like this, but my aversion is this: I’ve known a few people who had that skill, and worked with them, and they’ve all had the depth of a puddle that had evaporated and then been filled in with cement. When it comes to the actual doing of things, I don’t think it would be too harsh to call them incompetent. Speakers—and salespeople, I guess—are in the business of touching emotions in a positive way; actually learning a skill, even a skill like sales, is a much harder and even painful process.

That seems awfully negative, no? Let me take a more accurate tack: I’m going to share what he said that I think sounds useful. I’m going to try to incorporate those ideas into my life—in the places where they are absolutely necessary. I don’t want to be a full-time salesman, but I would like to be able to have the skill to fall back on.

– In selling yourself, you have to be specific. And the story you need to tell is not what you’ve done to meet requirements, it’s what you have done beyond what is required that will let you demonstrate initiative, passion, and resourcefulness.* Quantify your story with measures of time, money, quality, and quantity. Trace your passion; why, specifically, do you want to do what you want to do?

– In an informational interview, you should ask anything that is not factual. Get your subject’s opinion on anything related to their work.

– “Rejection is the universe’s way of saving you from a nightmare.”

* I fully see the truth of this statement. I’m also fully bugged by it. Demonstrating initiative, passion, and resourcefulness isn’t the same as having those things.


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