What People Really Want From You

Just when I thought I couldn’t learn any more humility after my recent shenanigans (see my last post for just one example), another humbling lesson came my way this week.

I was asked to give a few opening keynote remarks at an evening conference. The coordinator wasn’t looking for some long, sweeping speech. Instead, a few words of inspiration would do.

The hope was to get people energized, to create excitement…and to avoid starting the conference off with a bored, sleepy crowd.

The plan was for dinner to begin at 6pm, with my keynote to come at about 6:10pm. She would then close with a few notes about the event. The whole thing would be neatly wrapped up by 6:30, in time for the first session.

When 6:10 came and nobody was seated, the coordinator began to panic. We finally got started at about 6:15 with her remarks, and then I stepped up to the podium.

Seven minutes or so later I was done and I stepped back down.

As the woman came back to the microphone she was beaming.

I was sure, of course, that she was basking in the light left by my inspiring, dynamic words. I waited for her to comment on the energy and excitement I’d created.

I told myself to be humble, just like all of those who’d come before me.

And then, with a huge grin and appearing a bit flushed, she said:

“Wow, Deirdre really knows how to be…brief!”

Not exactly the words I was expecting, but they turned out to be just as powerful.

Because they revealed, in all of their simplicity, what really matters to people.

Sure, she wanted me to give a great speech. But at that moment, as the timeline was slowly spiraling out of control, she wanted me to keep it short.

She wanted me to respect everyone’s time.

(The lesson doesn’t end here…a few more nuggets await you if you stick with me.)

We often labor over things we think matter to people…the words we write and the things we say and the materials we create.

And we often should. Because it matters.

But what we don’t think about is something else that matters just as much.

We must respect their time.

What does this mean?

  • We’ve talked in previous posts about keeping our stories and emails short. So do that.
  • It also means we ask people at the start of a meeting, a lunch, or a networking event, how much time they have. And then we end it sooner than that.
  • It also means that when we call someone for an unscheduled phone chat and actually get them, that the first question we ask is: “Do you have a few minutes to talk right now?” And if they do, we keep it brief.
  • And it means that when someone is clearly rushed, distracted or stressed, we don’t make our priorities their problem if we can help it. We don’t inundate them with our own needs or questions. We leave them alone…or perhaps help them out.

Here’s the thing…and great leaders know it…

Time is precious. It seems more and more we love to talk about how busy we are, how our work weeks have expanded to the very popular figure of 80 hours (am I the only one who is sick of hearing this statement, by the way?).

This perception is the reality for many of us. Whether or not we should allow our lives to be jammed up and speeding by isn’t the point of this post.

The point is that we’re constantly connected, which means we’re constantly working and communicating, which means time often flies.

Great leaders respect the time of others because they know how much it matters. They know that when they treat people in this way, they actually stand out…because so many people don’t do it.

Instead, many focus on what they need without asking if it’s the right time…and then go on too long about it.

It’s enough to make us wish we were kids again, just so we could say what’s on our mind.

Two more examples from my little conference trip this week:

  • I rented my car from Enterprise (am I the only one who loves them?!). I returned it a bit later than planned and told them I needed to make the process quick, as my departure time was growing near. They wrapped it up in less than a minute, then literally finished the paperwork while walking me to the shuttle.

I felt respected. And I made my plane. And I will use them again.

  • I got to the airport and made my way to Einstein’s Bagels. The line was long but, thanks to Enterprise, I had time. The servers were working the line to get peoples’ orders, and when I said I was just buying some pre-packaged stuff they cheerily said I could skip it and move to the front…if I wanted. Which I did.

I felt respected, and got some work done before the flight. And I will visit them again.

When we respect people’s time they will…

  • Take our calls
  • Read our emails
  • Partner with us again
  • Like us better…which makes the other three bullets occur even more

Want proof?

My break-out session after the little keynote was packed.


Perhaps because I inspired.

Perhaps because I created energy.

And…definitely…because the participants knew I wouldn’t waste their time.

And, perhaps, that’s what mattered most in the end.

This week…

Think about how you feel when you’re time is respected.

Think about how you can do it more for others.

Do it. And get ready to stand out.

Now, go do good…and do it well.

6 thoughts on “What People Really Want From You

  1. Love it! And, you’ll be interested in my blog post this week that is connected to last week’s conference and the idea of time but in a very different way.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jennie! While the opinions of every reader matters, yours is especially helpful because you were so closely involved in the event. I look forward to reading your post as well!

  2. Cheri Friedman says:

    I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’m doing the round of Rotary, etc., giving a short presentation at their meetings about one of our little know outreach programs. These programs are notorious to keeping it to 20 minutes maximum. I’ve developed the presentation (with powerpoint) that runs 10 minutes presentation and 10 minutes Q&A. The reception for this presentation is great. Attendees get a chuckle from a couple of the photos used of the kids. And I get to expand our reach out into the community.

    1. Completely hear that, Cheri! I’ve also done the Rotary circuit and know full well how critical it is to honor the timeframe and always, always have a shorter Plan B at the ready…thanks so much for your comment!

  3. Patricia Costa says:

    Thank you Deirdre for calling a spade a spade. I have been guilty on both counts. So I’m more aware today and actually find myself taking a different direction from people I know who mentally wear me down even in the social environment. I don’t want to be a victim.

    1. My pleasure – and thank YOU for your comments! Choosing to take a different direction is a wonderful, empowered decision and I applaud you!

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