Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How to Evangelize without Making Strangers Walk in the Other Direction

When I was in kindergarten, our class has a Tasting Party.

Every student had to eat one of everything. Everything. Even if they didn’t like it – they had to try it.

I remember putting a green olive in mouth.

Then I remember immediately gagging and vomiting.

It was the worst thing I’d ever tasted in my five short years on this planet.

I never ate another green olive again. Ever. And now, twenty-five years later, I still refuse to eat them. I just can’t escape the taste of that traumatic childhood experience.

Nothing personal against olives. I’m sure they’re delicious. And it’s not their fault I don’t like them.

THE (REAL) PROBLEM IS: Force fed truth almost always tastes terrible.

But we’re not talking about olives anymore.

When you try to evangelize by cramming things down people’s throats – without consideration or consent – you lose. And so do they.

Now, by “they,’ I’m referring to the people you’re currently evangelizing:

Employees.
Customers.
Coworkers.
Strangers.
Guests.
Perspective members.
New recruits.

Now, I understand the word “evangelize” typically defaults to the religious arena. But the strategies you’re about to read have been democratized for your secular enjoyment. Feel free to plug yourself into the equations as you see fit.

Let’s explore a compendium of practices for sharing your gospel (that is, the “good news” about your organization, idea, group, whatever) in a more approachable way.

1. Take the first step. My friend Jim Henderson, author of Jim & Casper Go to Church, takes a counterintuitive stance on evangelism:

“Are you getting people to join you, or are you trying to join them first?” he asks. In this instance, proactivity is the secret. Sticking yourself out there is the way. After all, approachability is a two-way street. Your mission is to give people permission. Who is just waiting to be joined first?

2. Indulge in your humanity. Personality typing is overrated. Here’s the reality: All of us are Type H – Human. That’s the only label that matters. Treat people accordingly. My suggestion: Volunteer to be mortal. Even if that means something simple like taking a breathe between moments of gushing about your organization.

It’s okay to let people hear you breathe. Evangelism without inhaling fails. Create more space in the conversation, and everything changes. Are you a master of the pause?

3. Assess and disclose your vulnerabilities. By being more open about your failures and sins; maybe your critics would be more apt to listen to you. Like Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, the man who set up “confessional booths” at college campuses across the country.

Check this out: When curious students walked in, he apologized to them for being a crappy Christian. Interestingly, his reverse approach diffused the situation and helped strangers open up about their own shortcomings. How are you leveraging your vulnerability to earn people’s trust?

4. Love makes things easier. In Rob Bell’s tremendous book, Velvet Elvis, he said, “You rarely defend the things you love. You enjoy them, tell others about them and invite others to enjoy with you.” Evangelism is that easy: Show people the picture of what you love – then give them the opportunity to see what you see. No need to spit scripture or force-feed statistics. Just transfer emotion.

Infect people with your passion by allowing it to overflow into the conversation. Allow expression to flow unhindered and unencumbered. But, stay away from proclamational evangelism (crying out publicly, wearing a sandwich board around your neck).

And steer clear of confrontational evangelism (creating conflict interpersonally, scaring people into hiding). Instead, shoot for incarnational evangelism (embodying your truth, consistently and lovingly). Are you defending or infecting?

5. Maintain a posture of grace. Let’s say you’re faced with a few Doubting Thomases. No problem. The secret is to accommodate their unbelief, without running after people begging and pleading to reconsider. Act with propriety. Present your message – your gospel – in a way that’s (just) challenging enough to disqualify the disinterested, yet provoke the desirous.

And if you still sense that it’s a lost cause, let them go. Stop chasing after the disinterested. Spend time with people who want to be with you. Remember: You can’t make someone believe – all you can do is give her the option. Are your fingers pointing or clenched in a fist?

6. Pinpoint the influences. In the book Gentle Persuasion, author Dr. Joe Aldrich shares a helpful list of factors that influence a person’s receptivity. Adjust your evangelism efforts accordingly:

• The existing loyalties of this person. Where else are they affiliated?
• The transitions facing the individual. What changes are they going through?
• The condition of the soil of this person’s soul. What is their heart leaning heavily toward?
• The nature and stability of this person’s relationships. Whom do they love, and who loves them?
• The previous attempts to approach or invite this person. Who burned, scared or scarred them in the past?
• The caricatures that distort someone’s grasp of something. What existing prejudices do they hold?
• The nature and frequency of past contacts with this person. How many times have they already been bugged?
• The circumstances under which someone learned something. Do they believe what they believe because they actually believe, or because someone told them to believe and they mindlessly followed?
• The people this person has known and their influence upon him. Who are they hanging with?
• The degree of satisfaction or lack thereof with this person’s life. Are they happy?
• The spot this person sits on the continuum between opposition and acceptance of something. What are they resisting?

Whomever your current interpersonal situation involves, I challenge you to connect those people to these factors. Establish a profile of perfect receptivity. Map out a few of the answers to clarify the true nature of people’s reluctance.

Remember: There's nothing you can do unless someone invites the challenge. There’s no magic pill you can slip in a customer’s cocktail to guarantee they’ll say, “I’ll meet you in the bathroom in five minutes.” Ascertain fit first. What barriers to communicating freely and openly exist between you and this person?

7. Reverse the approach. Don’t finagle a way to steer the conversation toward your agenda. Don’t unnaturally sneak your idea into every conversation. And don’t telegraph an attitude of “finish up and finish telling me your problem so I can give you the solution I already thought of.”

Be the opposite of every evangelist you’ve ever met. Practice nonprescriptiveness. Loosen your arrogance clamp. And know that if your feet are too firmly planted, you won’t be able to walk. After all, most people are tired of the “told, sold and scold” approach. They prefer to be invited, inspired and included. Which path are your evangelism efforts taking?

8. Reprogram people’s experience banks. Once you’ve seen a ghost, you’re always afraid of the dark. That’s the problem with traditional evangelism: Force-fed truth causes people to develop allergies toward that truth. Which means the bodily reaction anytime that truth is encountered will be rejection. Yikes.

Lesson learned: If you force-feed people once, and they may never swallow again.

As I mentioned, I’ve haven’t eaten a green olive since I was five years old. Who knows if I’ll ever eat one again? Your reprogramming challenge is two fold: (1) Watch for psychologically negative experiences, then, (2) Provide consistent, positive examples to help shift people’s attitude about your organization, product or idea. Are you aggressively investing in making remarkable moments that move customers?

9. Miracles capture attention.As I become president of my local chapter of National Speakers Association, I plan to introduce a program called, “Without NSA.” It was simple: At the beginning of every meeting, one member is selected to share a “miracle,” aka, something that never would have been possible without the organization’s assistance. Call it a testimony. Call it a story. Call it the price of admission. Whatever.

The point is: We invited people to share their personal experience. The benefit of the benefit of the benefit of membership. The kind of stuff you can’t find on the website or in the brochure. The kind of stuff that makes first-timers and guests think, “And where, exactly, is this many-splendored thing they sing about?” How are you soliciting, sharing and capturing the miracles of being part of your organization?

10. Don’t inform – form. Surprise creates anxiety in the air, which is the best time to give someone new ideas. So, anything that makes people pause – that is, to consider your idea and become a little more conscious – is always worth the time.

Try this: Ask people to remember a time in their life when they sad, “I’d never do that!” Then ask them to tell you the story about when they did it. You’ll find people to be significantly more receptive to your ideas once they’ve just proven to themselves that they’re (clearly) willing to explore new things. How could you make the whole song a chorus?

11. Orthopraxy, not orthodoxy. Focus your efforts on the right practices – not the right beliefs. Instead of practicing what you preach; try preaching what you practice. Be good news before you share it. Make sure the message you’re preaching is the dominant reality of your life.

Note any gaps between your onstage performance and your backstage reality. Announce your intentions through your actions. That way your evangelism efforts will be a function of insinuation, not imposition. Remember: people respond to people who have been there. Are you smoking what you’re selling?

12. Caring (actually) works. But not as a technique. You can’t bastardize caring into a strategy. There’s no formula. There’s no handbook. There’s no seven-step system. It’s not about doing it the right way – it’s more about your willingness to care, you awareness of caring, and consistency with which you do care.

Consider these two ideas: First, people who feel unnecessary won’t give you their attention. It all depends on what you see when you see people. You have to make them feel essential. Not just important, valued, special and heard – but essential.

Secondly, people won’t to respond to a voice that doesn’t care. Especially if you only care about looking like you care. That doesn’t count. If your motivations for spreading the gospel are misguided, something isn’t better than nothing. In fact, nothing might be better than anything. Caring has a smell, and people know when it’s missing. Will you dare to care?

REMEMBER: Evangelism is a contact sport. No contact = No impact.

As Novelist John Lecarre once said, “A desk is a dangerous place to watch the world.”

So, get out there.

Stop force-feeding truth.
Leave behind your arsenal of deception.
Give clear direction of what you want people to follow.
Get across what you want to say in the most direct way possible.

And know that cramming something down people’s throats – whether it’s an idea, a product, a business, a belief system or a green olive – simply doesn’t work.

Which reminds me: Maybe I’ll send this blog post my kindergarten teacher.

LET ME ASK YA THIS…
How do you evangelize?

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* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

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