Need better conversations? Sign up for my email list to get a free chapter of my new book, More Than Just Talk.

“Hmmm,” she said, putting her index finger pensively to her lips and tilting her head as she considered my project. After what seemed like forever — but was likely only a few brief seconds — she looked at me knowingly over her reading glasses and said gently, “It needs a surprise. Something unexpected. Then it will be more interesting. More memorable.”

“She” was Ms. Zontelli, one of my college art professors; a quirky, brilliant, and unpredictable force of nature with pale, glowing skin and long, kinky, mismanaged hair.  I was continually amused by her endlessly surprising wardrobe of oddball, seemingly mismatched vintage items, usually combined with red cowboy boots.

French peasant meets Boho chic was her style.

I thought she was so cool.  Having professors like her in my life was one of the reasons I went to college. I had dreamed of going to art school, but Dad had said a firm “no” to that idea. Going to a “real college” was in the cards for me — and I was okay with that.   However, I majored in Clothing, Textiles & Design and minored in Art just to prove my point.

The photo you see here is what Ms. Z looks like now. (She’s still got it! And apparently is into hot pink.)

a4127984530_10But back to my story and my point.

I forget what the project was — as well as the little surprise I eventually added to it that shifted everything. Heck it’s been decades and I’ve cleaned out my portfolio a few time since then.  But I do remember getting an “A” on the project and in Ms. Zontelli’s classes. And I’ve never forgotten the lesson she shared with me.

“Whenever you can, add a little surprise, something unexpected.”

Think of the ways you can apply this!

And let’s be clear here: “surprise” doesn’t necessarily mean to startle, shock, or scare.  It means more to intrigue and delight. To not be too routine-y, predictable, or boring.   To engage genuinely and without predictability or pretense.

My friend Jill Griffin once said in a presentation on customer loyalty (one of her specialties) that to keep customers loyal, we have to continually offer something that delights them. This can mean constantly raising the bar and even giving away something of value, which isn’t easy. But it works.  For example, don’t you love it when someone sends you flowers for no reason? Or when you check into a hotel and they offer you a warm chocolate chip cookie at the front desk? Or when the barista at your local coffee shop asks you if you’d like a double shot in your expresso drink —on the house?

And then there’s the example set by my indoor cycling instructor, Ryon Talbot, who I’ve written about before. He keeps us engaged and working hard in his classes by continually changing up both the workout and the music that goes along with it. One day we are sweating to the Foo Fighters; the next we are cruising along to tunes from the 70s. You clip in and have no clue what the next 45 minutes will bring. I like that. It keeps me guessing — and coming back to his class again and again.

Finally there’s the lesson from my late friend Scott Robinson on what adding a little surprise to a conversation can do. He had met a woman at a networking event and had asked her the usual question: “So, what do you do….?”  (I know!  Boring Alert!) But here’s where Scott changed it up: after the woman answered the question with a few details about her current job, he came back with a zinger.  “Do you really love it?”   To which the woman replied, “Why no. I really don’t.” From there a rich, honest, and helpful conversation ensued.

And isn’t it interesting?  I have never forgotten my conversation with Scott about that conversation.

So, my question to you is: what will you do today to add a little surprise to your work, to your exchanges, and to what you say, write, do, wear, or create? How will you shake things up (just a bit —it doesn’t have to be earth-shattering) to gain more engagement? To be more unique, more authentic, more you, more memorable?
Want to learn some surprising — dare I say delightful — new ways to attract relationships, reputation, referrals and results in your life and career? Get your copy of The Intentional Networker today. Or contact me to learn more about my coaching, consulting and workshop opportunities.  You can reach me at patti[at]intentionalnetworker[dot]com.