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Prospecting Tips: Conversation vs. Lecture

Mar, 13 2019

This article was originally published on Q4intelligence Crushing Mediocrity blog.

Some people love to talk. They talk so much that other people can’t get away from them fast enough – and sometimes they just can’t get away! Often times these talkers are drawn to sales, where they believe their job is to espouse all their knowledge on their captive audience.  

Even when your audience knows nothing about your product or service, talking for extended periods of time is just not a good idea. That’s a lecture, not a conversation.  And unless you’re in a lecture hall, nobody wants to listen that long, especially CEOs, CFOs, and HR managers. They want to be active participants as well.  

Lecturing, or just  taking up more than your share of the air time, is a terrible way to start off a relationship, especially in a sales environment. You’re there to engage with people about what’s happening in their worlds and see if your product or service would be a good fit for them. And you can’t come to that conclusion if all you do is talk at the buyer. 

Overtalking your welcome 

I read an article about talking vs. attention spans in Harvard Business Review several years ago, and hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about the ideas I learned. It resonated with me so strongly because I spend a lot of time talking with people, and too often I find myself watching the minutes tick by on the clock as people talk and talk and take a breath and talk some more. Never a pause long enough for anyone to ask a question or give someone else a few minutes to share their thoughts.  

And, honestly, it’s exhausting as a listener.  

I’ve been told I have the patience of a saint (not intended to be a compliment), and I am way more tolerant than the average listener. I’m curious and genuinely interested in what people have to say and what’s on their minds.  

However, sometimes the listening is just too much, even for me. I’ve had to learn techniques to be able to simply tolerate the amount of talking-at that people do, while not showing the utter exhaustion outwardly. No small feat for someone as expressive I am!  

Most people will not tell you, “For the love of Pete, just STOP TALKING so I can say something!” Instead, they sit silently and politely and wait until you’re finished, say something nice about the interesting information, promise to follow up in an effort to get you out of their office. And have zero intention of ever “talking” with you again.

Being ghosted by a prospect is a sales person’s nightmare.   

Too often, the things we fear are the things we obsess about, and where our attention goes, our energy flows. So we end up creating the very scenarios that lead to the outcomes we most fear. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.  

If you find yourself getting first meetings, but they go cold after that, this may be a legitimate reason for the radio silence. Do everything you can to improve your listening and communication skills to improve your sales outcomes.  

Test yourself and see how much you tend to talk in a single session. If you’re exceeding recommended listening limits, you can learn new habits. 

According to the author of the article in HBR, Mark Goulston, “Some people are long-winded…because they’re trying to impress their conversational counterpart with how smart they are, often because they don’t actually feel that way underneath.” 

And some people who talk too much “may not have a sense of the passage of time,” in which case it’s a matter of learning how long you’re actually talking. 

Find a new habit 

Sales communication skills are critical to earning new business, and I cannot stress enough the need to pay attention to your own talking and listening patterns. 

To learn a sense of timing for good conversation habits, practice the Traffic Light Rule that Goulston explains in the article:

  • “In the first 20 seconds of talking, your light is GREEN: your listener is liking you, as long as your statement is relevant to the conversation and hopefully in service of the other person.”
  • Next, the light turns YELLOW for about 20 seconds, which is where the risk increases that the other person is losing interest and/or thinks you’re long-winded.
  • At about 40 seconds, the light turns RED and people are done. They’re tuning you out, they’re irritated, they looking for ways to kick you out of their office.  

Think this is too tight of a timeframe and not realistic? Start paying attention to others talking to/at you and see how long your own attention span is. Pull out your phone, start the timer, and start a conversation with a friend, co-worker, or family member. Test it out. See where you tend to fall on talking side of the conversation. And see where your attention tends to wane and where the frustration kicks in as a listener.  

If you’re running right on through the red light, yet just getting started, it’s time to get a new habit. I’ve watched the clock tick past 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 25 minutes listening to people wax on about things they feel are critical for their audience to know and never slowing down enough to let anyone else participate.  

It’s rude. It’s disrespectful. And if you think you’re filling them with so many good ideas, you just can’t stop until you exhaust every single detail, you're shooting yourself in the foot. After those first couple of minutes, you may as well be talking to an empty room because your audience isn’t actually absorbing what you are saying.  

If you truly want your listeners to hear what you have to share, then you better stop talking and allow your listeners to participate as well. Engaging in a dialogue leads to much better memory and appreciation of the conversation than simply being lectured at.  

Ask questions of your audience and request that they chime in as well. And when you’re ready to share some key information, be sure you get it out in the first 20 seconds when it’s your turn to talk again. 


Wendy is a passionate thinker, idea generator, and planner. She understands the impact of business strategy across an organization and develops communications, systems, and initiatives that drive organizational value and increase company awareness.

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