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Book review: Good in a room

Good in a Room: How to Sell Yourself (and Your Ideas) and Win Over Any Audience

By Stephanie Palmer

Doubleday, $27.95

I’ll let you in on a secret from the other side of the interview table.

Within a minute of walking into an interview, we know if you’re the one. The one we can’t wait to hire. The one we can’t wait to have join our team. The one we’ll be calling first thing tomorrow morning. The next 40 minutes are a formality. You had us at hello.

At the same time, we know in under 60 seconds if you’re not the one. The one we’re not going to hire. The one we’ll call at the end of the week and say that while you impressed the hiring committee, another candidate had more of the skills we were looking for. And we’ll be running through our 12 interview questions as a formality because you can’t scrub an interview just a minute in.

This isn’t about your looks. What you’re wearing. Or who put in a good word for you before the interview.

It’s about whether we like you. Whether we can see ourselves working together and getting along. Whether you’re someone we want to take back to the office and introduce to the boss.

And we can pretty much figure that out by how someone walks into a room and breaks the ice within the first 60 seconds.

A surprising number of job candidates enter the room with all the enthusiasm of a dead man walking. Or they seem annoyed at having to take time out of their day and prove they’re as brilliant as they appear on their resume.

Either way, there’s no smile. No eye contact. No personality shines through. No warmth. No small talk that brings welcome relief from the monotony of having to ask the same questions for the whole day in a windowless room while the e-mails, phone calls and deadlines pile up back at the office. No attempt to stand out from the previous four candidates who failed to impress and called into question the screening process used by HR.

So bring a little sunshine into this room. Make us forget about the work we’ll have to do tonight to get caught up. And the job is pretty much yours.

In short, be good in a room. In Hollywood, good in a room is a term used by agents and managers to describe clients who know how to pitch a project.

In a job interview, you’re not pitching the next Hollywood blockbuster or surprise hit at the Sundance Film Festival. You’re pitching yourself and angling for a bigger paycheque and a better challenge. So you’d better be good in a room and a notch above the other candidates vying for the same job.

Author Stephanie Palmer was on the executive team at MGM for six years before setting up a consulting practice. She supervised 20 films with multimillion-dollar budgets. She sat through more than 3,000 pitch meetings with writers, directors, actors and producers all angling for a green light. And Palmer paid close attention to how these folks made or broke their deals.

"When I was at MGM, the hardest part of my job was not cutthroat studio politics or gruelling production schedules," says Palmer. "The toughest part of my job was whenever I had to say no to an idea that was almost there.

"I had to say no a lot. Every buyer does. The buyer’s work is to say yes to projects that are ready, not almost ready. And no matter how good the idea is, if the seller can’t pitch it in a compelling way, how can the buyer see the potential? How can he get his colleagues on board? How can he recommend the seller to his supervisors? The fact is that poor pitches doom good projects."

"Whether you’re a screenwriter, a journalist with an idea for a story, an entrepreneur with a business plan, an inventor with a blueprint or a manager with an innovative solution, if you want other people to invest their time, energy and money in your idea, you face an uphill battle," says Palmer.

You win that battle by being likable. Buyers prefer to do business with sellers they like. They buy from people they like. They hire people they like. They promote people they like. And they tend to like people who are a lot like them.

"The ideas, products and services that are pitched more effectively win," says Palmer. "That’s just how the game is played. No sense getting upset over it. Instead, let’s accept the challenge and learn the strategies and tactics that allow us and our ideas to succeed."

According to Palmer, the key to success and your most important asset is your ability to bond with other people.

"When you have rapport with someone, they are paying attention to what you have to say. Without rapport, they are not. Developing rapport quickly is the first and most important ingredient of being good in a room."

The key to being likable? Be empathetic and interested.

"Empathy means that you care. You can step into the other person’s shoes, understand her feelings and share her perspective. Interest means that you’re curious about her; you want to get to know her better. If it is clear to the other person that you care about her and that you are intrigued by her, she will want to spend time with you and will have an easier time trusting you."

Palmer also shows that you have how to master the five stages of any successful meeting and effectively answer the questions every Hollywood exec and interview panel will be sure to ask. Best to figure out the answers before stepping into the room.

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