Can We Talk?
The line, made famous and used with such great effect by the late Joan Rivers, is basically an invitation to hear some inside information. “Can we talk?” hints that now we are going to hear the real story, the unvarnished truth, no BS, just the two of us (even if one of us is an entire audience) getting real.
Rivers used the line to make an immediate, intimate connection with her audience—“we”—established a joint interest in what was going to be said, assumed not just an honest speaker, but a willing listener, one who’s been asked permission (“Can we…?”) to be engaged and who has tacitly agreed to be open to receive the information about to be dispensed. It turned an impersonal connection—speaker in front of, and usually physically above, an audience—into something personal, a one-on-one, face-to-face, just-you-and-me conversation.
Sharing information has always come in one of two ways: personal or impersonal. The rule of thumb: the more personal the communication method, the more fully you will engage the attention of the listener.
The first paintings on a cave wall were a way to share (and save) information without the need for personal contact. Letters and, later, telegrams were ways to circumvent (or overcome the inability to make) a personal visit.
The telephone bridged the personal/impersonal gap to a degree. Now it was possible to engage in a very personal conversation with a listener—it has been said that a telephone call is like whispering in someone’s ear—without actually encountering him. It is a sort of disembodied personal interaction.
Answering machines and voice mail pulled the speaker and listener a little farther apart—now you could “speak to the person” without his being present in any physical way whatsoever, and without having to deal with his response to what you were saying.
Email and texting brought us back full circle to the letter. Yes, the communication is now instantaneous and the recipient can respond immediately, but no physical interaction occurs and, of course, the listener can “shut off” the sender whenever he wants.
When first approaching a new prospect, most people start with what they feel is the most polite, least intrusive approach: the letter or email, followed by the phone call, and only, finally, asking permission for the one-on-one interaction. But the farther apart you separate yourself from your listener, the least attention he must pay you and less effective your message.
If you want to truly engage the listener (or client, or prospect), start with the most personal form of communication: meeting him face-to-face.
This is what makes networking such a powerful tool. Attending a conference or meeting where you can speak with a person directly is a way to make your conversation personal and engage his full attention, even if only for a few moments. The next best thing: calling someone and speaking with him. An email or letter should be a last resort, not a first step.