Rules of engagement


Lots of magicians earn their “stage time” at a young age by performing for neighbors or entertaining at children’s birthday parties. My path was a little different. By age 16, I was performing at local and regional trade shows and I learned quickly what worked and what didn’t with harried, jaded business people. I needed an approach that would immediately hook passersby to stop, or at least slow down, long enough to engage them. I would point to an imaginary spot just above my head, reach up and produce a real flame between my fingertips. At the same time I would say “Here’s something impossible and maybe a little dangerous!”

I didn’t look at the flame licking my fingers, but instead smiled and made eye contact with the individual. I tossed the flame toward my left hand and when it landed, the flame had become a gold coin. I handed the coin to the business person as I explained “This is my gift to you. You may keep it or try your luck to win one of these amazing prizes.” Nine times out of ten, the individual would laugh, then hand the coin to a salesperson in return for a spin of the prize wheel.
Shilling for companies as a teenager was my introduction to the art of engagement. I still use the same techniques today.

The steps to engagement are simple:
1. Be intriguing. You don’t have to pluck flames from the air to capture attention (although it couldn’t hurt). Simply engage the person with a smile and an intriguing comment or question, such as “Are you having an amazing day?” If they say yes, follow up with “Me, too! What amazing thing has happened to you today?” If they say no, state “Well, it’s not too late! Tell me about an amazing experience you’ve had recently.” People are drawn to those who find them fascinating, so be genuinely interested in others and you’ll never be at a loss for good conversation.

2. Give a gift. It could be the gift of your attention and a useful comment such as a compliment, a savvy observation or even a suggestion of a hot new restaurant, movie or book. Sharing insights and recommendations show that you’re really listening and that you’ve placed the other person’s needs front and center.

3. Offer choice. Let the person drive the conversation and let them choose the path. You can always give the topic a little nudge, but take your lead from the other person’s comments and interests. The best interviewers and conversationalists are those who listen intently and ask questions sparingly.

To be engaging means to be engaged. Enjoy meeting people, leave your ego and agendas at home, and be genuinely interested in others. You’ll quickly become engaged with everyone you meet and they will love you for it.

The Write Reasons

So, you have a burning desire to write a book? Great. But before you leap into the fray, ask yourself: Why am I writing this book? I asked this of several professional speakers recently and the answers were eerily similar: “To promote my business”. “To gain more credibility with my audience.” “To have product for back of room sales after my talk.”  “Because I’ve always wanted to call myself an author.” Let’s be clear – those are all great potential benefits of writing and publishing a book, but none of them are REASONS to write a book. The number one reason you should write a book is because the book addresses a NEED of a specific audience and in some way makes their lives better.
If you’re a fiction writer or a poet, the book’s main benefit could be to provide insight, entertainment, or a welcome escape from the mundane realities of life. If you’re writing a scientific treatise or a how-to book, it’s your expertise and guidance that is valuable to your readership. To my mind, the reader is the raison d’etere for writing anything. Period. I had no intention of writing a book for high school and college students on how to get the most out of college until my former students ASKED me to. This was in 2001, before social media and blogging. I had left my position as chair of the graphic design department at Bowling Green State University and was in the process of building a speaking career. My targeted audience was college kids. I spoke with dozens of former students about what I might talk about and they all told me that in four years of schooling they had kept one notebook, which they still referred to. It was from my senior seminar course, which I informally renamed “Reality 101″. I was stunned. It turns out that the simplest advice on writing a resume, learning how to interview, picking out a business wardrobe and managing their savings were the lessons students valued most. Not at the time, of course, but in retrospect. More importantly, they were willing, even insistent, on providing testimonials for a book I hadn’t even written yet! With their guidance and my fat course notebook as grist, I wrote and self-published Smarten Up! For College in just three months. It has sold briskly on ever since. The funny thing is, I rarely speak to high school or college students. My focus changed and I currently enjoy speaking to organizations and companies on the importance of opening their minds to change and recreating themselves at home and in the workplace. I will be asking this audience what they NEED from me and that will be the foundation of my next book. Not exactly rocket science, is it? So, if you have a desire to write a book, channel that energy by first finding your audience, asking them for guidance, and solving THEIR problems and meeting THEIR needs. You’ll not only have a built-in readership, you’ll be creating something of value that’s bigger than yourself and has lasting power. That’s a book worth writing.