Most blog posts like this are about networking, and how to meet very important people. After all, we all think it’s the next person up the ladder that can help us the most. But let me tell you about two unexpected types of people who can be far more important than anyone at the top:
1) The driver who picks you up.
2) The receptionist.
When I speak at events, or sometimes when I consult with a client, they send someone to pick me up at the airport. In most cases, it’s not a fancy limo, it’s someone on the staff. The other key person is the receptionist, and you know what they do.
So why are those two so important? I can tell you from decades of experience that they are usually talkative, happy to share everything they know, and have remarkably few filters. So I can find out far more during that drive to the office, or while I’m sitting in the waiting room than at any other time during my visit.
I’ve had drivers tell me about the best and worst speakers they’ve had to work with, and why some were jerks. I’ve had them tell me the real problems at an organization – the kinds of problems employees know but the boss doesn’t like outsiders to know. They’ve told me about the community’s perception of the church, ministry, or nonprofit – and why people feel that way. I’ve actually had receptionists tell me about a boss cheating on his wife, the fight the boss just had with his grown children (who work at the company), or a custody battle with the rest. I’ve had them tell me about competitors, their presentations, and what the boss thought about them.
As weird as it sounds, this isn’t about gossip or dishing dirt. It’s about homework – finding out key information that can help you discover what’s really wrong with an organization and how to fix it. It’s about research you need to know before a major presentation. It’s about getting the real story that will help you make the decision about working with that potential client.
Obviously, some staff members are disgruntled and angry, so you have to weigh what you’re hearing in the balance. Plus, you always should be discreet and appropriate with what you hear.
There are two important things to learn here:
- The next time you get picked up or sit in a waiting room, don’t just waste the experience. Start up a conversation. Those few moments may be the most productive of your visit.
- If you’re the pastor, boss, or other leader sending out that driver or hiring that receptionist, it might be worth a chat about what’s appropriate or inappropriate to discuss with guests!