Me: [Meekly] Hi, sorry to interrupt. I’m Michael with *organization*, just wanted to say hello and welcome.
Prospect: Oh, thank you. I’m Bob. Nice to meet you.
Me: Nice to meet you as well. [Semi-awkward pause] First time here?
Prospect: [Losing interest] First time in a long time.
Me: Oh, great! [Not sure what to say next] Well, enjoy the evening. Pleasure meeting you.
And then I walked away.
You think Bob returned my follow-up call a few days later? He didn’t.
This is the third and final post of a three-part series on small talk for fundraisers.
In our work, we don’t build rapport for the sake of being liked and having more friends. Although those things are great!
Our goals are to communicate effectively about our organizations, build trust relationships, and ultimately, solicit a gift.
A positive social interaction goes a long way toward establishing good rapport and makes it far more likely your prospect will respond to you in the future. Unlike my chat with Bob above.
We’ve already covered how to think about small talk and how to prepare for it. Today, I’m going to show you what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. I’ll even provide sample language you can use in conversation.
Let’s dive right in.
Your First Few Words
One great framework that’s been helpful to me is Dr. Carol Fleming’s “Anchor, Reveal, and Engage” method, A.R.E. for short. It’s a three-step process you can use getting a conversation up and running with just about anyone.
Thankfully you packed your toolbox and are prepared to say something meaningful about your “shared reality” with the prospect. There’s something very primal about using words to affirm that you are both present in the same place, at the same time. It lays a great foundation. Here are some examples:
- “Pretty good turnout tonight!”
- “[NAME] is a tremendous talent, isn’t she?”
- “This weather is just perfect.”
Next, connect the shared experience to yourself. And again, because you packed your toolbox, you’re ready to offer some personal thoughts in the reality you and your prospect share:
- “I remember being a little disappointed in the size of the crowd last year.”
- “I’m always impressed by someone who is able to _________.”
- “I’m hoping these temperatures hold steady through the weekend; I’d like to get out to the beach.”
Now, make a connection between yourself and your prospect. Ask a question related to what you just revealed. Don’t make it too complicated – you just met the person. Toss a softball she can answer in one or two words:
- “You been to this event before?”
- “Have you heard _______ speak/perform before?”
- “You going to get to enjoy the weather this weekend?”
If you’re worried all of this might be a bit too superficial, you can stop worrying. It absolutely is superficial! But it’s only the beginning.
There are things happening underneath the surface. You’re taking those first, very important steps, toward building trust. You’re showing interest in your prospect – people like this. And you’re being human.
You’re off to a great start. You’ve established basic rapport and you should have at least a few conversational threads you can continue to build off of. It’s time to go a little deeper.
Expand your questions, making them a little more open-ended. Some examples:
- “Tell me a little more about ______; that sounds really interesting.”
- “How did you feel about ______?”
- “How did you make the decision to ______?”
- “What was the best part of ______?”
This will give your prospect the option of telling you a little more about herself if she wants. It’s also a great “rapport check.” You’ll be able to gauge the strength of your rapport based on how deep she goes with her answers.
Since you’re asking her to take a small risk by answering your slightly deeper question, make sure you demonstrate understanding with your response. It will build trust. You can do this in several ways:
- Expand on the topic from your own knowledge (great for idea people)
- Relate it to your own experience (“I just love Puerto Vallarta”)
- Ask another follow-up question (great for people who like to talk about themselves)
- Empathize by acknowledging that you understand why the prospect feels/felt the way she does/did (great for connecting emotionally)
Make sure all of your follow-ups aren’t questions. Interrogating your prospect won’t get you what you want.
Setting Up Your Next Conversation
By this point, you’ve established a nice foundation of rapport. You’ve demonstrated interest in your prospect. She knows something about you, and you know something about her. You are more of a human being in her eyes than you were just a few minutes ago.
But, as fundraisers, we know it’s one thing to be friendly with someone and quite another to ask them for a gift. Since we’re in the business of the latter, it’s time to tee up a follow-up conversation.
Good thing you came prepared with a great “pivot question!” Use it now.
A good pivot question will lead to a little more back and forth, but don’t get carried away and talk too long about. Remember, you hope to use this topic to get more face time with your prospect later.
After asking your pivot question, here’s an idea on how to start wrapping things up:
“Well, it was so great meeting you, thanks for the thoughts about [refer to pivot question and indicate that you understood her main point]…”
See what’s happening here? You’re continuing to make your prospect feel good – you’re treating her like an expert. Most people like to feel this way!
Next, let your prospect know you’d like to continue the conversation. Most people won’t say no to either of the following:
“I’d love to pick your brain a little more about [pivot question topic] because I think it’s relevant to some things we’re working through right now. I’ll give you a call.”
“I get the sense you might be interested in hearing more about what we’re doing in [area related to pivot question]. I’ll send you some information.”
And then, do as you said you would! Call 2-3 business days after the initial meeting.
Or, if you promised follow-up materials by mail, send them right away and call in 4-5 business days to see if she received it. And, of course, request a follow-up visit over coffee/lunch.
Here are some other ideas for ending the conversation.
If the prospect merits a higher level of attention:
“Our Executive Director would be very interested in your thoughts on [area related to pivot question]. I’d love to find a time to get the two of you together.”
Or, if travel would be necessary to see the person again:
“I visit the _______ area pretty often. I’ll be sure to get in touch next time I’m coming through town.”
Notice in each instance, you’re using the tried-and-true sales technique called “keeping the initiative.” You’ve told your prospect what the next step is, but the ball is still in your court. You’re making it easy for her by planning to do all the work.
Very few people will say “no” to any of the above. They’re not really questions. Plus, your prospect will be in a positive frame of mind because of the great rapport you’ve built using small talk!
Most will say, “sounds good.” And that in itself is important because it’s a commitment – albeit a very soft one. They’ll remember it.
Small talk will become much more natural over time. If it’s an area you feel you can improve in, why not make the effort?
Take the time to be thoughtful. Write down your toolbox items and other conversation questions. Keep track of what works and what doesn’t. Practice. You’ll be glad you did.
That’s the end! Do three things for me:
- Pat yourself on the back. You just read a 1,300-word blog post!
- Leave a comment. I want to know your best line for getting prospects talking.
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