A creative ice breaker to get people talking.

A creative ice breaker to get people talking.

It’s always interesting to observe the social dynamics at play when a group of strangers gather. When I am in business meetings, at parties, on planes and at the gym, I like to convert strangers into friends. Simple conversation is the key to this social alchemy. As the founder of the advertsing agency The Weaponry, I know how conversation and rappoire enhance creative ideation, customer service and networking. But getting strangers to talk (without waterboarding) isn’t always easy. But there’s a simple technique that works like magic. And I have been using it since college.

Gotta Go Back In Time.

When I was in school at the University of Wisconsin I lived with a really fun group of Badgers. Slosh, Boo, Hammer and Jacquer. We had a lot of great parties at 1117 Mound Street.  In fact, at our very first party we had the police come to our house at 4 o’clock in the norning (somewhere between night and morning). At another party we had to turn the music off for fear that the massive dance party in our living room was about to crash through the under-equipped floor, and become a deposit-erasing dance party in our basement. We knew how to have a great time.

One of our favorite party games involved name tags. We would hand out tags to all party-goers as they arrived, with just one simple rule:

Write anything you want on your name tag, except your name.

There is simply nothing better at getting people to talk to each other than an interesting, non-named name tag. It’s a fascinating study in psychology, sociology and creativity. The more fun you have with it the better it works. Be sure to tailor your non-name to the type of event you are attending. An interesting nickname, pick-up line, icon in pop culture, or the start of a joke can all work. Names like Knock Knock, Mime, My Little Friend (people always Say Hello to you) are proven, G-Rated winners. My great friend Betty Garrot, often reminds me that when we first met my name tag said, Person of Interest. 

I forgot to mention, I play this game at gatherings now, even when I am the only one playing. Because it works that well. In fact, if I was to open a new bar, I  would call the place, “Hello, My name is…” and implement this time-tested, conversation-sparking technique.

So buy a stack of name tags, have more fun and get more people talking at your next work party, social gathering, mixer, professional event, or wedding (I’m not encouraging you to have more than one wedding).  If you have a great ice breaker that I should know about, please share it in the comment section below. Or is it comments section? Or does it depend on how many comments there are? I don’t really know.

The simple way to make anyone feel like an insider.

The simple way to make anyone feel like an insider.

I want you to try an experiment. Over the next 24 hours note how many people you encounter that you don’t know. I warn you, it may freak you out. Most of us live anonymously in a sea of strangers. They are everywhere. Like minivans. Yet we have become immune to these strangers that surround us. It’s as if they disappear when we ignore them. Like reality TV stars.

I was reminded of my own anonimity recently at my gym. After I scanned my membership card, the guy who routinely works at the reception desk said, “Have a good day, man”. A normal person would have just done what they were told, and had a nice day. But instead, I had a flashback to college…

It was my freshman year at the University of Wisconsin. I was on the track team, and was lifting weights in the weight room (research indicates that’s the best place for such activities). One of the football players who I saw regularly walked through the room. When he passed by he said, “Hey! What’s up man?”  I replied with something like, “Hey, Man. What’s up?’ I thought nothing of it.

But then he stopped and asked, ‘What your name?’

I said, ‘Adam’ (that’s my go-to answer).

We shook hands.

He said “My name’s Aaron. Enough of this bullshit, saying, “Hey man.” or “What’s up bro?” F-that! I see you in here every day.  We should know each other’s names!’

Aaron ‘Scrappy’ Norvell was right. It was bullshit that we would repeatedly see each other, even greet each other, and not know each other’s names. After this introduction he was no longer a guy I saw. He was a guy I knew. The difference is profound.

I expect I wasn’t the only person Scrappy made an effort to get to know by name (he currently has 4,912 friends on Facebook).  He is  funny, outgoing and entertaining. We would see a lot of each other over the next few years in Madison. Today, he is an actor in Hollywood.  If you ever need to cast a police officer, Obama look-a-like, former college linebacker, or someone who can deliver the line, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’ he is your guy.

Now, back to the story…

With this random flashback playing in my head, I asked the guy working the counter at Elite Sports Club, “What’s your name?’  He replied, ‘Andrew’. I said, ‘My name is Adam’ (that’s my go to).  We shook hands. Now, every time I walk into the gym we greet each other by name. We have real conversations. Instead of an awkward, “Hey-Man” relationship.

Insiders vs Outsiders

Everyone we encounter in business, at social gatherings and at the grocery store are either Insiders or Outsiders.  The difference is whether or not we know each other by name.  That sense of familiarity and friendship that can only develop once you know a person’s name makes an enormous difference on this planet, where we are so often surrounded by John and Jane Does (that was supposed to be Doe-plural. But it looks like does, doesn’t it?).

I think about names at work. At the advertising agency, The Weaponry, we encounter people when we visit our clients that we don’t have to know by name. The receptionists. The people who sit next to the conference rooms where we make too much noise.  The IT person who inevitably saves every presentation. But I want to meet them too. So I make a habit of introducing myself, by name. Suddenly we are not just people who see each other regularly. We become people who know each other, by name.

I encourage you to convert more of those people you see or say hello to regularly into people you really know by name. It’s easy. Introduce yourself, by name and ask for their name in return. Write the names down. Start a list with a description of who they are on your phone or in a notebook. Refer back to the list as neccesary. The rewards are profound.  Just ask Andrew from Elite. Or Norm from Cheers.

The one thing you need to know to effectively work a room.

The one thing you need to know to effectively work a room.

We’ve all been told not to talk to strangers. But I love strangers. The stranger the better. This may be because I have moved a lot. Which means I’ve often found myself amongst people I don’t know. But most people are less comfortable with total strangers than I am. This is probably a good human survival mechanism. A mechanism I lack.

As the Founder of The Weaponry, I know that the ability to talk to strangers is critical for entrepreneurs. If you don’t talk to strangers you are not growing your business. Or helping  anyone else grow theirs. When I meet a potential new client, it is our ability to connect as humans first that leads to us working together.

I believe in building on my strengths. So recently I listened to the audio book How To Work A Room by Susan RoAne.  I figured I would find a valuable new nugget or two.  And I did.

The most important thing I learned from the book is this:

When people find themselves with other people they don’t know, they adopt one of two behaviors:  1. A guest mindset. or 2. A host mindset.

The guest mindset adopts the attitude of the outsider, of the person who waits for others to make the first move. They wait to be introduced, or welcomed or fed. They wait to join or participate until they receive an invitation. If you have a party full of guest-mindsets, you don’t have a party.

The host mindset means you initiate. You welcome others, introduce them, offer them food or drink or a crack at catching the greased pig (depending on what kind of event you typically attend).  You activate the party. If you want to feel at home and enjoy any group of strangers, take on a host mindset.

This is what I do. I just didn’t have a name for it. I don’t wait for someone else to decide whether or not I am worthy to talk to (I probably am not).  I make the first move. I create the introduction. I act as if it were my job to make people feel welcomed.

I’ve found that when you don’t worry about rejection you don’t get rejected. Think of it like a Junior High dance. You just have to walk up to someone and say, ‘Stairway to Heaven is a sweet tune. Let’s dance. And let’s not worry about the fact that this song will gradually speed up, and we’re going to go from a slow dance into a full-on rock song, and we won’t know when we should stop holding on to each other.’ Remember the Stairway analogy. Because holding on to one person too long at a social gathering also becomes awkward.

If you want to enjoy a room full of strangers more, lose the Stranger Danger, and act like it’s your party, your wedding, your conference or luncheon.  Start by introducing yourself to others. Ask people about themselves. So, where are you from? What do you do for work? Where did you go to school?  How do you know the homeowner?  Why are your palms so sweaty?  Why the neck tatttoo?

There are people at every gathering who are just dying for someone else to make the first move. They don’t know they should be doing it. Because they never read this blog. Or How To Work A Room. Or danced with me in Junior High. Help them out. Be a host. They may be extremely interesting or valuable to you. They’re just not comfortable initiating. So you have to be. And you’ll enjoy the rewards.  You never know when that total stranger may have the kindness, connection or kidney you need.

An easy way to make a memorable impression in the next hour.

An easy way to make a memorable impression in the next hour.

 

I’m starting a new series called, “What are you doing with your blank?” I will pick a different blank for each post. You’re probably wondering, ‘What the blank is a blank?’ Blanks are the thousands of things in our lives that we could each make more interesting and distinct with a tiny bit of effort. Just ask athletes Ocho Cinco and Metta World Peace.

Today’s blank is: voicemail message. (So the question is ‘What are you doing with your voicemail message?’) Your voicemail message impacts your personal brand or your business (and probably both) whether you make an effort or not. Yet most people completely ignore these valuable messages. If you have chosen the default setting on your phone, you are hanging up on the opportunity to make a strong, favorable brand impression.

I’ve been having fun with my voicemail messages since they were called answering machine messages. Maybe too much fun. When I was in college, my roommates and I were recording an enthusiastic voicemail message at 4:00am, when Police Officer Buzzkill banged on our door to tell us they had received noise complaints ‘down at the Cop Shop.’

At The Perfect Agency Project we believe there is great value in unique, memorable or funny voicemail messages. Partially because they are so surprising. Our voicemail expectation are so low that it is easier to jump over the voicemail message bar than to limbo under it.

Last night I got a text from Monica Baer, a former coworker of mine from Cramer Krasselt.  The text read:

Hey, I’m going to call your vm so my kids can hear it :). Don’t pick up.

Does that happen to you?  Probably not. Could it?  Absolutely. Offer a message that will put a smile on your caller’s face. Make them feel important, give them a great quote, a piece of trivia or useful information. If you do, they’ll be happy they called.  Maybe they will even be a little disappointed when they get you instead of your interesting recording.

A memorable voicemail message is also free. It costs no more to create a great, value-adding, entertaining message than to leave no message at all. You can also update messages to match the weather, holidays or major events. You can tout business awards and successes. You could even use your voicemail message to tell callers about an interesting blog post you read about voicemail messages.

I often offer a voicemail promotion, offering a faster call back if the caller performers a specific request, like yodeling. I’ve asked callers to sing their voicemail messages. Think,  The Voice: Voicemail Edition.

Don’t be afraid to try. The great thing about unique voicemail messages is that they can be changed at any point. So try different messages and learn what works well for you and your brand. Just keep it relatively brief.

If you would like to hear my voicemail message give me a call. You can always text me first to tell me you want to hear my VM, so I know not to pick up. My number is 614-256-2850. Don’t be afraid to say hi. I look forward to your message.

How Mark Zuckerberg helped me put my life back together.

How Mark Zuckerberg helped me put my life back together.

Some people live their entire lives in one nest. You know the type. You can see the hospital where they were born, their high school, their first job, their bowling alley and their nursing home all from the highest point in town. That’s not me. Life has been an exciting adventure of change from the jump. I lived in five states by the time I started 7th grade. I went to college 1000 miles from home. And I have traded license plates many times since graduation. #WitnessProtectionProgram.

I love my nomadic lifestyle. I have been exposed to traditions, foods, history, religion, weather and sports from a wide variety of angles. This has been a blessing for a creative professional. The one oddity, is that for a very long time, when I changed chapters, I would never see or hear from people in the previous chapter again.

But in 2007 that all changed. Because of Facebook. That thing that we so often take for granted as a silly time waster, quite literally changed my life. It allowed me to reconnect with childhood friends and neighbors from New Jersey, Wisconsin, Missouri, Vermont and New Hampshire.  Then I was able to find classmates from The University of Wisconsin. And coworkers from Cramer Krasselt, and Engauge. (Ohio, Georgia and Moxie/Publicis Groupe were added later).

I reconnected with clients and vendors. Neighbors and distant relatives. And people I’ve met at parties and on planes (I’ve met a lot of people on planes). Suddenly, I stopped losing track of people. As a people collector and connector I no longer have to box friends up and store them on a shelf every time I move or change jobs. Now I can play with them whenever I want.

Of course there is LinkedIn too. Which I love. The great Link-A-Roo has allowed me to reconnect and collect people in another, more quasi professional way. (The quasi is all me LinkedIn. You have been nothing but professional). I recently discovered that my friend Nissa Kubly (UW Track) and Cher Fesenmaier (cousin) both work at the same high school in Phoenix.  One of the craziest connections that I discovered through LinkedIn is that three of my friends, Neil Miklusak (college buddy from Wisconsin), Audrey Lowder (former co-worker at Engauge in Atlanta) and Erika O’Toole (we met on a flight to NYC) all work together, in the Empire State Building, at LinkedIn!

The simple fact is that if it were not for Facebook and other social platforms I would likely never see, or have any interactions with the majority of my friends and Linkys ever again. (I don’t know what you actually call a person on LinkedIn. Linkletters? Linkins? Linklings?

As I have started The Perfect Agency Project, my connections have become even more important. I am always looking for ideas, support and people to join the project.  Over the past few months, thanks to my online network, I have reconnected in person with dozens of people I hadn’t seen in 10 to 30 years. That’s cray.

So thank you to Mark Zuckerberg for allowing me to have my personal “This is your life’ moments every day. It is absolutely mind-blowing to think I may never lose a friend again. Except maybe Alex ‘Big Drawz’ Mautz, my college track teammate who moved to San Diego and must enjoy such perfect weather that he never needs to connect to the rest of us.

As a fun demonstration of the topic of this post, and to see who, if any of my people read this all the way to the end, I would love for you to share a word or a sentence about how we know each other. Thanks for playing.

Could you pass the Fender Bender Test?

Could you pass the Fender Bender Test?

Sunday afternoon I was in a fender bender. Boo. I was driving my daughter home from basketball practice. We were having a nice conversation about her practice and I was looking forward to making chili when we got home. Then I was going to bake a couple of pies with the apples we picked at a local orchard in the morning. Then Normal Rockwell was going to sue me for infringing on his schtick.

I was driving within the notorious Five Mile Circle of Doom: that 5 mile radius that surrounds your home. Statistically, this is where the majority of accidents happen. As I passed into the invisible circle I slowed down because a tanker truck was stopping at a railroad crossing in front of me. Then I heard it. That telltale crunchy metallic BANG of a car slamming into another car. A moment later I heard another BANG. But this time I felt it too. I had been hit from behind. And suddenly the chili, apple pie and Norman Rockwell lay in shattered fragments on the pavement. Now Danica Patrick was going to sue me for stealing her schtick.

I pulled my car off the main drag and onto a side street. I got out of the car. And that’s when I realized what had happened. I had been part of a 3 car pileup. I was the third and final ball in a Newton’s Cradle fender bender.

Back on the main road there were two cars still intimately engaged like two dogs getting it on in public. Which is always such an awkward thing to see. Even for dogs.

After a moment the two cars disengaged and gingerly limped off the main road and onto the side street with me. We got out of our cars and remembered to first ask if everyone was okay. Then we introduced ourselves. This is one of the all-time oddest ways to meet someone new. Hey, crash here often?  How about this crashing inducing weather we’re having?

First I met the woman who hit me. I’ll call her Laura (because that is her first name, and her last name is too difficult to spell). She was driving a new grey Honda Oddessy mini van. She had a car full of humans and was finally heading home from a long day of volleyball at the high school.

The person driving the car that created the crash was a tall goofy boy who was college-dropout aged. He was odd. And he raised an eyebrow of the responding police officer who said, “I’m going to talk to him first. He’s acting pretty shifty.’ But I don’t think he was acting. That was just him being himself.

This left me, Laura, her kids, and soon her husband John (who came to help) to talk amongst ourselves as we waited. And the more we talked the more I liked them. They were nice people. Laura asked my daughter how her basketball practice was. Which was a very nice thing to ask a kid who had just been in her first accident. And it demonstrated Laura’s ability to think beyond herself, even though her brand new minivan has just been dented, gashed and bruised. And her engine was now wheezing like a junkyard conversion van. John was friendly, composed and funny. He said, ‘Well at least it didn’t happen during the Packer game.’ I laughed.

But as we talked we realized we had more in common. Laura and I had both gone to the University of Wisconsin. We quickly found several people we knew in common. And then we realized that we both work in (and love) advertising.

So there we were. Our cars dented and saddened by recent events. Yet Laura was cool, collected, considerate and humorous. Which are the traits you need to have to be successful in advertising. Because in this industry fender benders and traffic jams and last minute surprises are routine. After this surprise-round of speed networking we decided that we should meet again to talk about doing business together.

While we at The Perfect Agency Project don’t recommend getting in an accident, it does provide a valuable look at how people respond to the negative. It gives you a good look at who they really are under pressure. And if you like them then, you will probably like working with them too. Laura passed The Fender Bender Test with flying colors. Would you? I encourage you to think about it. But I hope you never know.

Let’s stop TGIFing around.

Let’s stop TGIFing around.

Welcome to the second post in my Days Of The Week Series (my gut says this will be one of the seven best). Today we’re talking about Friday. Which is really more like Friday! It’s one of the most popular days of all time (see what I did there?) Everyone loves Friday. But I don’t love the way we often think about the day.

We all know the phrase TGIF.  The thing I dislike about this is that Thank God It’s Friday is really saying, ‘OMG! I am so thankful I have reached the end of my week of suffering!’

But on Fridays at the Perfect Agency Project we want to: Make the most. Not just coast. So we are rebranding the day as Phone a Friend Friday. Or Fone a Friend Friday. Or Phone A Phriend Phriday. Your choice.

Relationships are really, really important in business. I’ve made a genuine effort to develop, maintain and grow mine. In fact, people are one of my favorite things about this planet. And they were an important factor in me choosing to live on Earth.

Today we use lots of ways to keep in touch. We text, email, tweet, snap, chat, IM, Link and stalk people. But Fridays were made for phone calls. Because schedules free up and the pace slows down at the end of the week. So instead of using that lighter load at the end of the week to knock off early, or hang out at either the real or the proverbial water cooler, I encourage you to call someone in your network that you haven’t talked to in a while.

At a minimum, my Phone a Friend Friday calls are always a highly enjoyable end to the week. But they routinely provide great insights, advice and learning opportunities. They help strengthen my relationships. They often shine a light on another friend or contact that could use a call, a hand or a word of encouragement. And these calls regularly lead to new opportunities for me to work with some of my favorite people again.

So don’t start mailing it in just yet my friends. Pick up the phone today and end the week on a high note. Your Friday calls may prove to be the most valuable part of your week on both a personal and professional level. If you don’t know who to call, call me (614-256-2850). Even if I can’t talk at the time I’m sure to call you back. And my voicemail messages alone are usually  worth the call. Have a great day. And I look forward to catching up soon.