The Art of the Ask
UPDATE: The winner of the tickets to Shmoozefest is Patti Church! Congrats!
Stay tuned – at the end of this post I have a great giveaway!!!
I am extremely fortunate to be involved in many amazing projects right now. In addition to my day jobs, which allow me to work with amazing people like Mark Saunders at Saunders Farm, film director Andrew Lavigne, and the awesome staff and students at Algonquin College, I also am privileged have numerous side projects on the go with fabulous folks at United Way/Centraide Ottawa, TEDx Ottawa, OttawaTonite.com, and SAW Video Co-op.
All of the projects are distinctly different, but they all require me to be able to do one thing well – ask for stuff. It might be someone’s time, it might be goods and services, or a favour – any way you slice it, it requires the ability to ask of others and do it well.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to ask – and it can really mean the difference between getting what you want and getting doors slammed in your face. Over time, I’ve learned that asking is an art. Here are a couple of the things I’ve learned.
Visibility is key. Everyone hates cold calling. I despise it. And, I don’t find it to be very effective, either. If the person I’m asking has no clue who I am, why would they even consider what I’m asking for, when they probably have 100 other people that they actually know asking for stuff? Unless it’s the deal of a lifetime, I probably don’t have a shot.
What does it take to get on someone’s radar? Well, it takes time, for starters. And, it also takes a good balance of not trying too hard with putting yourself out there as a real person.
Social media tools are a great way to sneak onto someone’s radar. The occasional retweet, promotion of that person’s stuff on your personal blog, or a few good recommendations of that person’s work can go a long way to start to build some visibility. Here’s the key though – it has to be 100% GENUINE. I’m never, ever going to promote someone’s book just to get noticed. I am doing it because I actually believe in the author’s message. There’s a big difference between a light tap on someone’s office door and barging in. Knock lightly. Ask politely. You may have to do it a few times. But in the end, it will get you noticed in positive way, rather than a negative one.
Short, sweet, and what’s in it for me. As this blog has become more popular, I’ve started to get more and more requests for my time. I get several emails per week now asking for me to review something, or write something, or meet someone in person. I appreciate all of the people reaching out to me. How do I determine what I’m going to pursue and what goes in the trash can? It’s all in the approach.
If someone sends an email that is short, succinct, gets to the point (i.e. the “ask”) right away then I will read on. But there’s something that’s key to a good “ask”. Tell me what is in it for me, right off the bat. If I can see how what you want jives with what I want, then I’m definitely going to take notice. If what you’re asking is all about you, then there’s no value for me. We’re not a fit.
When I ask someone for something, the FIRST thing I do is figure out how to make what I want about them. It sounds counter intuitive, but if you put some thought into it, it will work. Don’t suck up. Flattery, when it’s over the top, just makes people uncomfortable. State why you’re contacting the person, in two sentences or less. Then ask. Then tell them why this is a great opportunity for THEM. I guarantee you’ll at least get a reply if you stick to that formula.
The best way to get people to listen to your ask is to be real. Be gracious. And above all, be human. Connecting with people is not about kissing up, and it’s never contrived. Never have an ulterior motive. Connect with people first because you want to. Then figure out if there’s a way your goals can jive with theirs. Then, and only then, ask.
What about you? How do you ask?
In keeping with the theme of this post – I have two tickets (thanks to Stacey Diffin-Lafleu) to give away to the United Way’s Shmoozefest 2009 on October 21st. It’s a great event with all kinds of opportunities to connect with amazing people in the Ottawa business community. If you want to be entered to win, simply reply in the comments with “I wanna go to Shmoozefest, Suze!” and I’ll enter you in the draw. I’ll draw the winner on October 15th. Good luck!
I wanna go to Shmoozefest, Suze!
Kudos to you Sue for contributing so much to our community. I always knew you were busy, but didn’t know how many project you had ongoing!
Anyhow, I would like to enter for the draw so “I wanna go to Schmoozefest, Suze!”
I’d love to go – if they ever have a Shmoozefest in Boston…
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Great insight – thanks! I wanna go to Shmoozefest, Suze
when I was in the dating world, I always found the most successful “pick up line” was to walk up, introduce myself, mention that I thought they were interesting, thank them for their time and then leave.
Usually the woman I had just talked to was intrigued enough to come find me and strike up a conversation. And if they weren’t, well, at least I hadn’t wasted both our time trying to impress them with cheesy lines.
Sounds like you appreciate a similar approach for your “asks”.
“I wanna go to Shmoozefest, Suze!”
Excellent post, Suze. Hope to meet you finally meet you one day (I’m @cyclaw).. perhaps at Schmoozefest.
and… I wanna go to Shmoozefest, Suze! 🙂
“I wanna go to Schmozefest, Suze” Sounds like fun!
“I wanna go to Shmoozefest, Suze!”
Great post Sue. It always pays to be empathetic, and strike a fair bargain when asking for things. It is also good advice to allow people to get acquainted (or re-acquainted) with you before moving forward. It is easy to forget these little social rules that most people learn in kindergarten as we get older.
I have found social media to be an excellent way to initially connect with strangers and old acquaintances alike, but I have had trouble getting some people to transition from Facebook & Twitter to phone calls and actual meetings.
As you know each medium has it’s strengths and weaknesses, and that is where your last bit of advice comes in: I will try explain to people why I want to switch from email or chat to phone or personal meetings. If they won’t go for it then I will do my best in the medium(s) of their choice.
I find the former is excellent for conveying facts, and maintaining an “audit trail”. The latter is better for communicating nuance and tone, and if all parties stay on topic a phone call is much faster. Emoticons and texting just don’t cut it for a Socratic dialogue.