At the kitchen table, where ideas started, I founded The Greenridge Gazette. I didn’t read other newspapers at the time; I was eight years old. Yet I liked the simplicity of gathering stories from people to print on a page — for a profit. It seemed a step beyond lemonade. So it began.
And so did the paradox of a journalist: I needed content, but the spatial configuration and social territories of my context limited me — namely: I was not yet allowed to cross the street. My narratives, therefore, lay within the boundaries of one small-town block. Thus, the burden on the people of that block were great.
I knew nothing of networking with busy people or how to ask questions. But for each interview I did, there was a rhythm. I sat with people in their living rooms, at pianos, in gardens, and gave them something in return — I listened. Sometimes, it was brief, on the porch for a few moments, a few words, then out. Each interviewee received “an issue” of the paper in return (GG was marginally profitable in the end; lemonade would have been a savvier route). In the end, I resolved my content; they were returned respect for their time and saw their name in print.
The people pattern
Whatever you think about reaching out to people, there’s a pattern. It’s not a pre-meditated or a cold one, but a people-centered pattern that when considered, can bring satisfaction to both sides.
We’re often in a position of asking strangers for things: speaking at our events, advice, customer support, exchange of services, lunch, counsel — the list is long. And the simple fact is: people want to be helpful. But they also demand value in return; some are extraordinarily pressed for time, others quite the opposite. But all want two simple things: to be listened to and to receive value.
When contacting any person for the first time, there’s a pattern, whether getting in touch by email, by phone, or in person:
1: Cite a familiar reference + What it is + Brief details
Start out giving a familiar reference (e.g., Max suggested I email you...) in the first five words of an email or a phone call. Make the person comfortable knowing there’s a familiar reference between you. Go on to mention, briefly, what it is you’re talking about with a point or two of detail. Nothing more.
2: Compliment + Ask
Why are you going out of your way to speak with a stranger (with only Max in common really)? Compliment this person by letting him or her know what skill, content, or talent has brought you to this point of communication. Then, swiftly and clearly: ask the question you need to ask (e.g., will you do me the honor of…).
3: Reference value, micro + macro
How will this person be compensated? Can you take him to lunch? Will you pay her for speaking at this event? Will you mention her on your next television spot? Whatever it is that’s of value to the other, offer that. And make it clear when, how, and how many. End by making it clear how this will benefit his or her profession at large.
4. Include a gracious closing
These communications, if in written format, should be kept to no more than 100-200 words — as if you weren’t invited past the porch. On the phone, the equivalent. If people want more, they’ll ask. But let them be the ones to instigate.
Eventually a pattern will fall into place.