Lessons in Influence from Key West

I travel a lot and, I admit it, I occasionally whine about airplanes, airports, rental cars, time zones, overhead space, other travelers — well, you get the drift.  But I knew better than to complain to anyone about my recent trip to Key West for the Public Affairs Council’s National Grassroots Conference.  In Key West the high was around 79 degrees.  In Washington, D.C. it was 45.  ’nuff said.

I tried to make it up to all my acquaintances by really working hard at the event.  I went to all the sessions and started cocktails before 5:00pm only once.  All that diligence paid off.  I learned a great deal, met many people and reinforced my relationships with others.  I even got to smoke a really good cigar at one of the post conference events.  And as we all know, the “net-playing” (note: faithful readers of the blog and the book will know I hate the term networking) can be as or more important than the actual session-going and note-taking itself.

That said, I did take notes.  And here are three important things I learned from D.C.-insider professionals about winning The Influence Game:

People like to feel special:  Almost every influence professional I spoke to highlighted a piece of their program designed to recognize the extraordinary efforts of their star advocates.  This included simple thank you notes, award programs, social media shout-outs and exclusive educational programs — both at conferences and online.  Heck, even a ribbon on a convention name badge can make a person feel special.  But not all “specialness” is equal.  The most successful efforts were sincere, not just part of a “we-have-to-have-a-VIP-program-so-here-it-is” approach.  True professionals don’t express thanks simply for the cynical purpose of getting more in the future.  Yet many of those they thank are willing to take it up a notch, mainly because being thanked is such a pleasant and rare experience.

Takeaway:  Ask yourself this question.  “In my own influence situation how can I honestly express my appreciation for those who help me along the way?”

People like to share success, not failure:  I just love telling people when I make horrific mistakes, don’t you?  In truth, I don’t even like admitting to myself when I’ve made one.  Sometimes I’ll tell my dog, but he’s pretty nonjudgmental.  I think there are two reasons we don’t like to talk about our failures.  First, we’re scared people will think we’re not all that bright.  I mean, who would want to hire / work with / buy from someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing?   Second, fixing our mistakes can be hard.  It takes an admission that something isn’t working, analysis as to what that is, brainstorming for solutions and then implementing a new approach.  It’s so much easier to sit back and watch Downton Abbey than it is to shake things up.  But believe it or not, you’re not the only person making mistakes!  It happens all the time.  Even I do it every once in a while.  With practice (full disclosure, I’m not quite there yet), these mistakes can be opportunities to help not just yourself, but an overall organization or other individual as well.

Takeaway:  Ask yourself this question: “What failure can I admit to and not only learn from myself, but use to help the person / people I’m trying to influence do something better?”

People like to have fun:  Hey, there’s a reason why the conference was in Key West in February.  People like to be in pleasant places surrounded by pleasant people.  We don’t really want to talk business all the time, even if we love what we do.  Human beings tend to gravitate toward other human beings, not just job titles.  If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re probably doing something wrong.

Takeaway:  Ask yourself this question:  “What can I do to make these ‘influence situations’ fun for all concerned, including myself?”

I can’t say I do all of this.  There are even times when I do none of this.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t see the value of it — and I hope you can as well.  Happy influencing!

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