Lessons in Action, Part X: 7-Ways to Get Guests to Jump Up and Listen

Every day I think of Michael O’Grady and the creative ways he coached and mentored so many to new heights. In this new series, Lessons in Action, I share my insights, breakthroughs, tools, and techniques that honor Michael’s legacy of helping others grow.

Today’s guests are tired, wired, and distracted. And, when you’re speaking at 150 words a minute and the peanut gallery is thinking at 450, how do you hold your audience spellbound without a hefty arsenal of wake-up strategies?

1. Get yourself together. Professional appearance alone makes you a better salesperson. OK—the obvious—clean and pressed shirt, pants, matching socks, shiny shoes, minty-fresh breath, and not over-perfumed presence are just the price of togetherness entry. So, it’s not just about what you wear, but how you wear it. Think Brad Pitt.

2. Roll out the nonverbal red carpet. Another surefire way to start on the good foot is to invite guests warmly onto your stage. Sure, you want to smile and make eye contact. But go beyond. Escort guests to the table; assist them with their jackets and belongings. Pull out their chairs. Then, touch the table: rearrange the salt and pepper shakers. Slide the flowers away from your guests’ line of vision. Your efforts won’t go unnoticed.

3. Capitalize on cues. The underlying current of guests’ wants and needs are revealed in a vast sea of cues—in the 20,000 gestures in their body language vocabulary. From start to finish, read and respond with heightened sensitivity and precision. You have to field the galaxy of gestures, tones, and expressions that say everything from, “Cut the crap and take my order,” to “What red would you recommend with my bone-in rib-eye?”

4. Take command of the commander. Who’s this leader/buyer and why is he so important? He’s the guy who’s leaning in on your every word. He’s the dude who’s on your side—your assistant salesperson. He tells his buddies to shut up and gives you the floor. Make sure to stand across from him when delivering your presentations of the wine list, menu, and dessert offerings. Humans are, after all, herd animals. Guests always play follow the leader.

5. Engage—don’t drone. Sorry, but “Hi, my name is Johnny, and I’ll be your waiter tonight,” won’t cut it. You’ll get the as much attention as a flight attendant rattling off exit row instructions. Penetrate guests’ armor with a vocal performance of perfectly modulated tone, timbre, and volume: “Welcome. In addition to our full bar service, we are featuring a Belvedere Apple-Tini prepared by the visiting star mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim from the Fine Living Network.” Perk ‘em up.

6. Have a compelling stage presence. Grace, style and charm are the difference whether patrons tune in or blow you off. What kind of stage presence do you have? Are you quiet and efficient or flamboyant and funny? How about suave and charming? Or are you the nurturing type? Perhaps you’re a walking encyclopedia of truffle trivia. You might even be the dramatic and charismatic waiter who outsells everyone in the joint. And, though not all of us are Jack Nicholsons or Meryl Streeps, our job is to fine-tune the one-of-a-kind way we present ourselves to the world. Develop your own unique lines, routines, and gestures.

7. Be interesting. Make sure you are locked and loaded with entertaining information. Deliver your presentation of the menu with panache. Know that the St. Emilion was Nixon’s favorite sipping wine while listening in on Watergate. If you’re interesting, you’ve got a fighting chance. If you’re a boring order taker, you’re destined to be painted invisible.

Now you’re ready to face Gen Xers who spend seven minutes in personal conversation and seven hours in front of a variety of techno screens with a heaping help of attention-grabbing skills and tactics. Your expressive voice, infectious smile, and impeccable appearance naturally play a part. But the jump-out-and-grab-me magnetism essential to hook today’s over-stimulated, engagement-resistant audience can only be achieved with “beam me up Scotty” attention-getting strategies.

About the Author

Bob Brown, president of Bob Brown Service Solutions,, pioneered Marriott’s Service Excellence Program. He has worked with clients such as Disney, Hilton, Morton’s of Chicago, Nordstrom, Olive Garden, and Ritz Carlton and works internationally with the prestigious Burj Al Arab in Dubai. He has appeared on the Food Network and is author of the bestselling The Little Brown Book of Restaurant Success, selling over 100,000 copies worldwide. Contact Bob for keynotes, workshops, breakouts, and executive retreats at 571-246-2944 ©Bob Brown Service Solutions 2016.

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