I felt my cheeks burn. I opened my mouth to respond, but had no idea what she was talking about.
"Fifteen seconds and I am out the door!" she explained. "Ten seconds and I have already decided that you are a longwinded bore. Honey, if you can't tell me who you are and what you do in eight seconds or less, well, I'm going to think you don't know! Stand up, look me in the eye and try again."
Holy hush puppies! I looked around the room at the alert and amused members of the Home Based Businesses of the Ozarks. They looked back expectantly. Gulp. I looked for the door and saw a large Smitty's waitress blocking the exit. "OK. Here goes. Hi, I'm Ellen Rohr and I can help you make a living doing what you love!"
"Better!" Geraldine smiled and won me over with her dimpled grin. "Seven seconds, and I am interested in making money. Have a seat. You can stay." She and the rest of the group chuckled. I exhaled and accepted the hard-won praise like a puppy.
"You see, we must confidently - and briefly - announce our presence in the world, and tell of our good works," Geraldine enthused. "Nothing is worse than a mumbled, self-deprecating how-do-you-do. You have eight seconds, or less, to make a first impression." She commanded us to break into groups of six, and practice our introductions.
In my group I met Sandy, owner of a carpet-cleaning company. Ernest sold light fixtures. Emily grew and marketed organic produce. And Kay had just started her first business.
Kay looked at the floor and sighed. Then she mumbled, "I'm Kay, and I guess I'll call my business Kay's Lawns. Ummm, our lawn care prices are the lowest around."
Sandy was gentler than Geraldine but the message was clear, "Kay, that will not do. Head up, shoulders back, and no guessing this time. State your name and your business." Ernest chimed in, "Gotta speak up, Kay. Try again." I couldn't help helping, "Kay, don't mention the price. What else makes you special? Why did you want to start a lawn care company anyway?"
Kay went on to explain that after 25 years of working as a Missouri state employee she was only making $25,000 a year and was developing health problems. "I realized that my job was making me sick! I was tired of punching a time clock and doing meaningless work. I've always loved to garden. My yard is beautiful. I am especially good with flowers. So I thought, why not start a landscaping company?"
Sandy, Ernest and I coached and prodded Kay. We made her introduce herself over and over. Finally, Geraldine stopped by our group and Kay jumped up to greet her.
"I'm Kay of Kay's Landscaping. I'll care for your yard as if it were my own. And mine is beautiful."
Kay still spoke a bit too softly, but her introduction was so much better than only a few minutes before. We cheered for her and Geraldine gave her a high-five. Kay was very pleased with herself. Sandy, Ernest and I had the glow of knowing we had been really helpful. It was so much fun!
Geraldine continued to bark orders. "Switch group members. The person with the most hair will state their most pressing business problem. The rest of you solve it. You have 10 minutes. GO!"
And we went! Honest situations were presented, suggestions offered. We had fun, but stayed on topic. Nobody whined about anything. I suppose if they had, Geraldine would've tossed ‘em into the rain-pounded parking lot.
Serendipity. I came to the meeting arrogant and disdainful. Within the first few minutes I was exposed as a bore. A few minutes later, I helped improve the life of a fellow traveler. I listened and connected and offered advice - mostly about raising prices!
I left with three pages of suggestions for my own business. The seminar with Tom Peters was not nearly so powerful as the Home Based Businesses of the Ozarks association meeting. How about that? I am really looking forward to next month's meeting.
As you wander into your business pasture, recall these pearls of Ozarkian wisdom:
There is nothin' new under the sun.
Don't judge a man by his overalls.
You get what you give.
When you tell folks who you are and what you do, keep it plain and straight. And under eight seconds.