Friendships: The Key to Success

By Ann Hibbard

Two men, both brilliant. One holds the most powerful position in the world. The other faces four life sentences for sending bombs through the mail. Many factors influenced these two divergent destinies, but one seems patently obvious. The Unabomber is a man without a friend in the world. The President has won and maintained many friends over the years. Without that skill, he would not now sit in the Oval Office.

Your ability to develop and maintain friendships may well mean the difference between success and failure as a professional speaker. While content, delivery, and packaging all matter, friendships are often the key that unlocks the door to speaking and writing opportunities.

Seven years ago, after five books with newer publishing companies, I published with an established company. Together we produced a series of four books. I was not a household name, so they placed my books on their B-list. Considering my relatively low visibility, my books sold well. Five years after that initial contract, they offered me a contract for a major hardback book. They placed me on their A-list, meaning big dollars for a first-rate design job, placement in the front portion of the catalog, and a significant marketing commitment. This attention is usually reserved for celebrities.

How did I make the leap from the B-list to the A-list? A good track record helped. But the defining element was friendship. I attended the booksellers' conventions, spending my time hanging out with folks from my publishing company: sales reps, production staff, and the publicity people. Throughout the year, I chatted frequently on the phone with the publicity director and the media publicist. I showed interest in their personal as well as professional lives. We became friends. When I had the idea for my new book, I asked them for their input. They got behind my ideas, and their enthusiasm catapulted my book to the top of the publisher's agenda. Without their efforts, my book would be a B-list book and would not have sold over 13,000 copies in the first ten months.

Relationships Important to Your Success

Good relationships are essential to your sense of well being, your success, and most importantly, your role in making this world a better place. But your time and energy are limited. Where should you focus your relationship efforts? Here are six key relationships for speakers to cultivate:

Friendships with Other Speakers

At least 75% of my work comes from referrals from other speakers. These are speakers who are close friends, who know me well, know my work, and can recommend me without reservation. And I do the same for them. I like to help the client find just the right speaker for their event. You need to see other speakers not as rivals but as mutual career-boosters.

Besides, other speakers make fun friends. I encounter challenges and triumphs that only another speaker can fully appreciate. Not only can we empathize; we can learn from one another's experiences.

Relationships with Clients/Prospective Clients

Obviously you need to develop good relationships with those who hire you to speak. People give business to folks with whom they have good relationships. They want someone who is reliable, pleasant, and a known quantity. With good client relationships, you will enjoy repeat business and referrals.

Friendships with Audience Members

You can't become friends with everyone in your audience. But you do need to develop relationships with people who are typical of your audience. Why? The more you know about your audience's needs, fears, and desires, the more effective you will be as a speaker. Only through good relationships do you gain the knowledge you need to serve them.

Treasured Friends

Several years ago a busy speaking schedule compelled me to be on the road during a period of personal crisis. I never could have survived that crisis without the encouragement, support, and prayers of my friends. I count on my friends to believe in me and cheer me on when I lose faith in myself. Treasured friends love me whether I am a failure or a success. In this roller-coaster business, who doesn't need that kind of support to keep on going?

Good Family Relationships

That's a toughie. I find it easier to be thoughtful and kind to folks outside the family circle. The dynamics are more complex in these most intimate relationships. However, if my relationships are sour at home, I cannot function well outside the home. And how can I speak with integrity about enhanced relationships (or most other topics) if my primary relationships are hurting?

Positive family relationships energize us. They help us to be better speakers, leaders, citizens, friends. These relationships above all others need our time and attention. I tell audiences, "You are expendable at work, at church, in the community. You are not expendable at home. You are the only mother/father your children will have."

Those Who Serve You

Don't overlook those whose job is to serve you: your printer, your audio technician, your housekeeper, your letter carrier, etc. These people fill vital roles in your life. And they are human beings with great dignity and worth. If we show them respect, kindness, and appreciation, we too will reap a reward-a richer, more satisfying life.

How to Enhance Your Relationships

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "The only way to have a friend is to be one." If we want to enjoy the benefits of good relationships in our lives, we need to assess our own relationship skills. Here are Ten Be-Attitudes for Enhanced Relationships:

  1. Be open to unexpected friendships. One of my dearest friends I met on a nearby walking trail. We both traversed the path early each morning for exercise and decided to join forces. Our backgrounds and political views were as different as night and day, but as we walked and talked we began to find common ground. Today, four years later, we are soul mates, having supported each other through career transitions, family crises, and all the ups and downs of daily life. That unlikely friendship is one of my greatest treasures.

  2. Be generous. To paraphrase JFK, "Ask not what your friend can do for you; ask what you can do for your friend." Beginning with my loving parents, my life is richly blessed with people who have given generously to me without expecting something in return. I want to continue that legacy. I want to give something of value to each person I meet, whether a smile, a kind word, a helpful contact, or a helping hand.

  3. Be unselfish. This is paramount. People who focus on themselves make lousy friends. To be a true friend, you must set aside your own agenda and commit yourself to your friend's well-being. Pick up the phone and give your friend a call when your friend needs it, not just when you need it.

  4. Be a good listener. Few people have the patience to listen well, yet this is one of the most essential qualities of a good friend (and a successful businessperson.) Avoid interrupting, contradicting, offering solutions, stealing the spotlight, and "one-upping" your friend with a bigger-and-better story. Instead search for clues to what is important to your friend by paying attention to the extra information they volunteer. Rather than insisting on getting your own perspective across, simply try to understand your friend's thought process. As St. Francis prayed, "Grant that I may not so much seek.to be understood as to understand."

  5. Be an encouragement. A true friend says, "I'm on your team. I'm pulling for you." I need such friends - and my friends count on me for support, too. You can encourage a friend by telling him what you admire or appreciate about him. You can encourage a friend by remembering special days with a card, phone call, or little gift. (Don't forget the anniversary of a death of a loved one. That's a day when your friend needs extra support.) Find creative ways to show and tell your friends that you care and you believe in them.

  6. Be authentic. Forget about your image. Be real with people. If you're worried that people will find out you're not perfect, get over it. They've already figured that out. Your attempts at looking successful and flawless simply make them uncomfortable. When you are honest about your failures and can laugh at your own foibles, most people respond in kind.

  7. Be available. Recently I confided in my friend that I was struggling in one of my family relationships. At the end of our lengthy conversation, she volunteered, "Ann, if you ever need a break, my door is always open." Knowing that she is available to me when I need her gives me strength.

  8. Be trustworthy. Those whose lives are linked with ours need to know they can count on us. Whether keeping a secret or keeping a promise, be reliable. Do what you say you will do. Arnold Sanow, CSP, says, "Deliver more than you promise." This works in personal relationships as well as business.

  9. Be faithful. Faithfulness is an antiquated notion today. We treat relationships like paper towels. We use them for our own purposes, then discard them. If we want more than disposable relationships, we must develop this forgotten trait. My dictionary defines faithful as "steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant." This is hard to find in a culture of constant change, but the need for faithful friends is greater than ever.

  10. Be forgiving. You will never find the perfect friend. Nor will you ever be one. We are riddled with mixed motives, inconsistencies, and major flaws. We all disappoint one another from time to time. We need to cut each other slack in the little things and be ready and willing to forgive when the big hurts come.

Deep, satisfying, and long-lasting relationships take time, effort, perseverance. You don't have hours enough in the day to develop true friendships with everyone you meet. But to the extent you are able, become a better friend to those around you. Your investment will pay high dividends. You will never lack for riches if they come in the form of treasured friendships.

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