We speak approximately 16,000 words a day. Ideally, we want our words and ideas to make a difference–particularly in the workplace. And for that to happen, our ideas must lead to action. We need to end our conversations with a call to action.
Too often we hesitate when it comes to the “ask.” We let our words hang in the air–and hope that our listeners pursue the next steps.
Don’t assume your goals will be clear. You need to end every conversation (whether written or spoken) by spelling out the actions you want taken. As I explain in my book Impromptu, “the call to action gives legs to your message by transforming an idea into actionable steps. In so doing, it makes your script an act of motivational leadership.”
Whether you’re in a networking conversation, an exchange in the corridor, sales call, or email chat, here’s how to tell your listeners how you want your message to be acted upon.
Networking conversations are the “bread and butter” of getting ahead in business. So get them right. Begin with a clear message–and follow through to the “ask.” Suppose you’re at a business conference, and you’re talking to an executive whose firm has advertised a to-die-for job. Approach this executive and begin a conversation with a clear message: You are interested in the position.
Once you’ve shared your background, your credentials, and your interest in the job, come out with your call to action. Say, “I’d love to work in your company, and I’d be delighted if you could connect me with the department head who oversees this hire.”
Too pushy? Not at all. People are willing to help those who have the confidence to ask. If you end the networking conversation with such a request, you’ll be on your way to an interview with that decision maker.
2. Corridor chat
Another staple of business communications is the impromptu corridor chat. It can be a make or break situation–with much depending on the call to action. Let’s say your boss passes you in the corridor, and you glance at each other. Some of these encounters go nowhere. Your exchange could be: “How’s it going?” “Not Bad.”
But suppose your boss has just sat in on your presentation. As the two of you make eye contact in the corridor, say to her: “I know you heard my presentation, I’m very excited about the project.” That’s your message. But don’t stop there. Now that you have your boss’s ear, continue with a call to action. Say, “I’d like to talk with you about how we can bring more resources to this program. I have some ideas…. and would love to share them with you.” The boss replies, “Sure, set up the meeting.” Now you’re onto something bigger.
3. Sales call
Talking to prospective customers can be daunting–I built a business over 30 years and the most challenging conversations were with new clients. Often I’d make my pitch on the phone. If I was lucky, and had a referral, I’d meet with them face to face.
The opening was friendly and far ranging. My message was always upbeat and inviting (“I’m glad to have this opportunity to discuss how our communications training might support you or your team.”) I’d probe with tons of questions; getting the client to talk about themselves was key–it warmed them up and gave me insight.
But the information I gleaned would not translate into business unless I had a call to action. If I felt the executive was ready to commit, I’d say, “So when do we start?” That bold statement showed my confidence. If I was less sure, my call to action would sound like this: “I know our executive program will make you into the inspiring communicator you want to be.” This is the presumptive close: I’m assuming the client will agree. If I was still less sure, I’d say, “It’s been a great conversation. What’s our next step?” In all three cases, I’d be suggesting action, and none of those actions was a “no.”
4. Email conversation
Emails are also conversations that need to be handled with a clear message and call to action. Suppose you’ve written an email in which you outline a project–its scope, timelines, costs, and projected results. Your message is that this project will greatly help the recipient. But (unfortunately) you conclude “If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me.” How many times have we heard that call to action? Why introduce a negative in your call to action? Why presume your reader will have questions?
Instead, make your call to action positive and concrete. Say, “I’d like your approval to proceed.” Or, “I will move forward with the project, and keep you up to date on developments.” Remember: you won’t get buy-in, unless you ask for it clearly and strongly. So build a strong call to action into each e-mail you send. Say what you want–a meeting, approval, funding, a commitment of some kind. Don’t be shy.
Your “closing” should open doors, and move you onto the next step. Whatever your business conversation, your call to action is a key element in your communication. Make it positive and confident–if you do, your listeners and readers will feel more confident about you.