Years ago, I learned one of my most powerful customer engagement tools when I was about to pass out on stage in front of 300 people.

I have no stage fright whatsoever, speaking 40-50 times a year, but I do have nasal allergies. And on this warm, humid day in Chicago, as I was giving my opening warm-up for a conference speech, I suddenly realized that I was talking faster than I was breathing and starting to hyperventilate. So, now what?

Realizing that “Excuse me, I have to sit down for a minute” is a pretty lousy way to open a keynote, I had another thought. How about asking the audience a question and giving them the floor? Thinking quickly, I said, “I just described a really tough customer situation. So now, I’d like you to turn to the person next to you and talk about how you would handle it! Have fun!”  

As I stood up there with a broad smile on my face, silently catching my breath, the room exploded with the loud energy of 300 engaged voices. A minute or so later, I started wandering around the audience with my cordless mike, Phil Donahue-style, asking people what they thought about the situation – and their answers and my humorous responses got everyone roaring with laughter. It was a great start to a speech that ultimately rocked and led to over a dozen repeat engagements all over North America.

Nowadays, I always start a talk by getting the audience interacting with each other. But, there is an even more important lesson for your business here:

Instead of thinking about what you can say to a client or prospect, start thinking about what you can ask.

Think about what would happen if you turned your sales pitch into a dialogue about what things are like for your prospects… Or how your customers would feel if you invited them to share their feedback and experiences… Or how quickly your network would grow if you started showing a genuine interest in other people… When you hand the microphone over to your audience, great things start to happen.

My own experience turned out to be much more than a great speaking technique. Asking other people what they do, how they feel, and what they believe has become the linchpin of a lot of great connections. I enjoy these connections unto themselves and my business, in turn, succeeds on the wings of many of them.

So, as I once asked my audience back then, what do you think?