you go to the Vietnam [Veterans] Memorial [in Washington, D.C.], there is the wall and there is a strip of sidewalk and then some grass, and there is a sign that typically says, “Keep Off the Grass,” but instead it says, “Honor Those Who Served, Please Keep Off the Grass.” Better form of enforcement with that little addition.
The chapter called “Pitch” is really interesting, especially the six alternatives to the classic elevator pitch that you suggest. The idea of a one-word elevator pitch, for example, sounds like a great possibility for conference theming.
That's interesting. I was thinking about the pitching not on the side of the convention and meeting planners, but [rather for] the sites, because they're going to pitch: “Have your convention in St. Louis.” “Have your convention in Milwaukee.” But it's a good discipline for conference themes. A lot of conference themes end up being anemic — they all sound alike. You can take something from a convention of rutabaga growers and a convention of arms dealers, and they might have the same theme of “growing through connections.” Allowing yourself to use all those words makes it a little bit more flaccid, so the discipline of having that one word might be useful.
Pitching also has implications for people who are interacting at a meeting, whether they're networking one-on-one or trying to close a deal on the show floor.
I think the most important thing there is not so much the pitches themselves but — and this was really useful to me personally — what is the purpose of the pitch. This research on Hollywood [cited in To Sell Is Human] shows that actually the purpose of a pitch and the effect of pitches is really [to extend] invitations. They're not things that we convert or not [to a sale] in that one moment. It's basically ways to invite people in, to begin a collaboration. Conventions can do that really well, because people are dealing with each other face-to-face. If you're attending a convention or a meeting, you have the opportunity to issue those kinds of invitations and bring people in as partners and collaborators and folks to talk to. If your initial pitch isn't that inviting, you blow the opportunity.
One of your tips when you're meeting someone for the first time is to switch from asking “What do you do?” to “Where are you from?”
I use that all the time. I think it's really profound, and it's a great icebreaker question in any kind of meeting or convention. The other thing is, it's a more expansive question, so if you're at a trade association conference for accountants and you see somebody standing in line in front of you, asking them what they do — they're probably an accountant. Asking people where they're from, what I like about that is it gives them a number of different ways to answer the question. I just think about how I would answer that question. It would really depend on the context. At some point I would say Washington, D.C., because that's where I live. In a certain context I might say Columbus, Ohio, because that's where I grew up. In another context, I would say I'm from Riverhead Publishing, because I might be at a book convention. Any one of those gives people room to build on.