We all know a talker—that colleague who can walk into a room and quickly strike up a conversation or deliver a sales pitch with complete confidence. On the other end of the spectrum, most of us also know a person who is a patient and thoughtful listener. Both are redeeming qualities. And both are essential preparation skill sets for business success.
Do you know where your strengths lie?
Here are a few thoughts about why it’s worth your time to concentrate on both talking and listening to help you be well prepared for your next presentation, meeting, or pitch.
Talking vs. listening: Which is more important in business?
Being a good listener can help establish trust, create strong relationships, build knowledge and understanding, and prevent us from missing important information. An active, engaged listener is regarded as more invested in a conversation than the person simply waiting for their chance to make their point or pitch their idea.
On the other hand, being a thoughtful and intentional talker is equally as beneficial in business: By leading discussions that initiate back-and-forth dialogue, you’ll ensure the other person or people in the room feel comfortable joining the conversation, giving feedback, or buying into your idea.
At the extreme, being an over-talker can kill a sale. Talking too much does more than merely run the risk of annoying the buyer; it can also cost you missed opportunities that can help move the deal ahead. What’s more, you can risk coming across as tone-deaf and inconsiderate by talking too much in a sales meeting.
While both skill sets are important, listening first before speaking is critical. You don’t know what your customer needs until you listen. After you understand their needs or challenges, you can formulate a thoughtful solution, prepare your presentation, and make your pitch.
Why listening is a necessary preparation skill
To succeed in sales—or really, in any business—you need to build trust with your prospects and customers. And for the most part, people won’t like–or trust you—until they feel comfortable with you. The most authentic way to create that connection is to listen first.
Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People recounts a story in which a man leaves a party and shares with his wife that he had a great conversation with a young man at the event. The irony is that the young man barely said a word. Instead, he asked questions and got the man to open up and talk about himself.
Carnegie says that getting people to like you includes being genuinely interested and encouraging others to talk about themselves. Carnegie writes, “You make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” By asking your customers questions, you’ll learn about their needs or challenges. And then, you can open and engage in a productive conversation that allows you to present solutions from the vantage point of a trusted advisor.
Why talking should be part of your preparation
I’m a preparation fanatic. I prepare for everything—simple talks, difficult conversations, client presentations—and I always go in with a well-rehearsed game plan. When I prepare, I talk.
As an auditory learner, I need to do more than contemplate a solution: I have to talk it through. This way, I can hear myself actively working through my solution or pitch. It allows me to be more deliberate about the process and helps me commit essential points to memory. Talking is the preparation tool I use to sort things out in my mind.
Talking is an essential part of any presentation preparation. I like to develop a theme for the presentation and outline key points—and at least one dry run before a client meeting. And that means having each team member rehearse their part—not merely memorizing or reviewing their talking points. The value of a live walk-through is that it allows you to smooth out any rough edges, easing transitions and keeping you from tripping over each other during the presentation.
Even if you’ve got the gift of gab, preparing for your presentation by doing a dry run helps you stay on-point and keeps you from diluting your message. The problem with not being well-prepared is that you tend to ramble, straying from your essential talking points and losing focus of your pitch. On the other hand, by rehearsing and talking through your pitch in advance, you get to practice making your point—and then pausing to let it sink in.
One final thought about preparation
Talking and listening both play an essential role in preparing for meetings, presentations, discussions, or any business interaction. Your listening skills will help you know what to present—and then you better be ready to deliver. So, practice and refine your message. And remember: There will be questions. Prepare for rebuttals or questions by brainstorming those scenarios and talking through your responses in advance. You’ll be ready for whatever they throw at you.
There’s room for well-practiced talking and listening skill sets in business, particularly in sales. And regardless of how long we’ve been in business, there’s always room for improvement.