Let me start off by telling you two things about me:

First – I’ve never fished with an actual fishing pole.

Second – I hate sitting next to people on the airplane whose first question is “What do you do?”

Let’s tackle the topic of fishing first. I really have to blame my father for not teaching me how to fish with a fishing pole. I find it so ironic that I was born on an island where so many people earn a living by fishing and yet I was never taught how to use a fishing pole. When my father taught me how to fish we simply used a hook, bait, weight, and a line. It still amazes me how many red snappers we were always able to catch with what I used to call a “string” as a child.

Although I do not yet have any children of my own, I did make a promise to myself that I would teach them how to fish with a pole. Being the overachiever that I am, I started watching fishing TV shows to learn as much as I could. While watching an episode of “Wicked Tuna,” I came across two terms that I had never heard before. The first was chum, which is chopped up fish; and the second was chumming, which is the process of throwing chopped up fish overboard to attract other fish. It was fascinating watching fisherman use scrap fish to catch five hundred pound blue fin tuna worth thousands of dollars.

Hold that thought for a moment.

So let’s talk about the talkative people I always end up sitting next to on my flights. Because my job requires me to travel a good amount, I’ve racked up enough miles to earn status, so occasionally I am upgraded to first class. I assume that the other individuals in first class are there because they travel as much as I do or because they coughed up the extra cash to not be bothered by the people (like me) that tend to fly coach.

My normal routine is to pull out my newspaper, laptop, or Bose headphones to send that early signal that I do not want to be disturbed. However, it never fails that I end up sitting next to “Dave” who wants to know what I do. My goal is always to give as little information as possible in hopes that Dave will leave me be.

Below is a snippet of a conversation I actually had with a guy named Dave several years ago.

Dave: “So, what do you do?”

Did he really just tap me on the arm even though I am wearing noise-cancelling headphones?

Conrod: “I turn people into believers.”

That should be the end of the conversation right? Nope!

Dave: “Hmm, what does that mean?”

Wow! Really Dave?

Conrod: “I convince people that they can have the health outcomes they have always wanted.”

Dave: “That’s interesting! How do you convince people of this?”

Dave is not going to let me off the “hook.”

Conrod: “I am in marketing for a large pharmaceutical company.”

I’m pretty sure you can imagine how this story ends. Dave and I end up talking the entire flight and low and behold he is a physician heading to the same conference that I am. During our conversation we learn that we are staying at the same hotel so we decide to share a cab. After getting to the hotel, Dave and I agree to meet at the bar to watch the football game and have a drink. Dave also took it upon himself to invite a few of his friends to join us at the bar. Two of the gentlemen he introduced me to actually ended up being customers of mine a few years later. Believe it or not, Dave and I are still in touch to this day

So let me tie it all together.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, my attempt to discourage people from asking me questions about what I do was actually backfiring on me. My smart aleck comment was actually the bait and the hook. It was so different from anything he had probably heard in the past that he was instantly intrigued. My brevity was the line and the weight. Since Dave was expecting me to say more and I didn’t, my silence generated a plethora of questions in his mind and left him with no choice but to ask more questions to get a deeper understanding. Before getting off the plane I had already reeled him in, but what I didn’t realize was that the cab ride consisted of me chumming. The chumming eventually ended up helping me catch the big tuna, which were his friends that ultimately became my customers.

I accidentally stumbled into my version of the elevator pitch, which I now call chumming. People do not want to hear a pre-planned fifteen or thirty second pitch followed by the gibberish that comes at the end of a radio commercial for Labor Day Car Bonanza. They want to be intrigued. They want a conversation. By using the same items my father used when he taught me how to fish – bait, hook, weight, and line, you too can catch the big tuna.

I guess I owe my father an apology. And to my future children, you will not learn how to fish with a pole.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Chinese Proverb

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