Let me set the stage for you: You are about to walk into a high-pressure situation, and there’s a lot riding on the conversation that’s about to take place. This isn’t just any conversation, but one that requires you to find the courage to ask for something from someone. You feel vulnerable, and you feel anxious, so you decide not to leave this moment up to chance. You prepare meticulously for the dialogue that’s about to take place; your words are well thought out and you’ve practiced saying them several times. Unfortunately, far too often, our nerves get in the way so the words never come. The moment is lost.
For many of us, this kind of vocal paralysis starts at an early age. We nervously prepare the perfect the words to ask someone to the prom. We’re waiting for the perfect moment. That moment never seems to materialize so we never have the opportunity to use those words. Maybe we want to ask a favor of a friend, and we rehearse and role-play just how we are going to make that request. Sadly, the moment we are searching for never presents itself and the request is never made.
It might be an appeal for a raise, a call for support, or even asking a client for their business. More often than not, we swing and miss because at the moment of truth, the words are nowhere to be found. Is it the words that betray us?
It’s the words between the words that stand in our way.
The “words between the words” are the transitions from one topic to the next, and those crucial moments are often completely overlooked. For instance, when I teach a salesperson to ask someone for his or her business, I teach what’s called a “summary close.” Without it, the salesperson is stuck between finishing the explanation of the solution and the request for the person’s commitment. The words may sound something like this: “With what we’ve talked about, you’re going to get all the things you mentioned you were looking for. I’d love to work with you on this as we move forward.” In this case, the words between those words are these: “Don’t you agree…” Those three words between the words not only help connect the solution to the commitment, but those words also provide a perfect opportunity to move to that well rehearsed summary close. When the words between the words are well thought out, asking for a commitment becomes surprisingly easy.
How about asking a friend for a favor, or asking someone for help? The words might be something like this: “I’m going to approach a company I’ve never spoken to before, and I know you worked there a few years ago. Could you ask around and see if they’re hiring, and whom I should contact?” Unfortunately, getting to those words can be difficult. In this case, the words between the words might be as simple as, “Jim, I need your help.”
I’ll let you in on a little secret. When I prepare a presentation I have never delivered before, I spend surprisingly little time on the body of the presentation. All I really need are a few well-placed bullets on a PowerPoint slide, and perhaps a word outline in a place where I can sneak a peek while I’m speaking. I spend the majority of my time practicing and perfecting the words between the words, so I can transition seamlessly from topic to topic.
It’s amazing how much time we spend crafting words we never use because it’s just too darn awkward getting to them. By focusing on the words between the words, you’ll provide yourself with transitions that make connecting to the more challenging parts of any conversation a whole lot easier.