How do you handle those situations that totally embarrass you, but other people think are funny?
Maybe you said something in a sales meeting that was misunderstood that got a big laugh. Maybe you dropped a dessert in your lap at the company party and everyone laughed while you sat mortified, or you forgot how to open an MLS-locked door, with just your prospects watching.
How you respond when something happens to you can make or break the sale.
The two most embarrassing incidents of my career happened on same day in front of the same prospect, the Chairman and CEO of the largest lender in the southeast United States and four members of his senior management team.
I had been asked to make a presentation to become the exclusive marketing consultant for an unknown number of real estate developments they could or would soon own through foreclosure.
This was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I knew I was the man for the job. By the end of the day I wanted to foreclose on my own career.
In one day, I spilled a cup of coffee on my new white shirt right before my presentation, and my suede coat caught on fire at the lender’s Christmas party while talking to the chairman.
This opportunity was a huge one for a 43-year-old Realtor trying to survive in a world with fixed mortgage rates at 20 percent. I was dressed to the nines and poised to make a great first impression.
There was no doubt in my mind that I was the man for the job, and that I would get the business. I had the experience, track record, and wearing a new shirt with cuff links. ‘Confident’ does not begin to describe how I felt. At first.
I was seated on one side of the conference table drinking a cup of coffee waiting on the chairman’s arrival through the door facing me. As he walked in, I stood, leaned across the table, shook his hand and sat down.
Before everyone was seated, I happened notice a huge coffee stain on my shirt, which from my vantage point seem to spread from my shirt pocket to my belt and across my stomach.
I had dragged my tie through my coffee when I leaned across the table to shake the chairman’s hand!
Now, instead of listening to what he was saying, I was thinking to myself “How can I prove that I am not a complete and total slob?”
What would you have done?
Here is what I did.
I grabbed my stomach, faking an upset stomach and hurriedly excused myself as if going to the men’s room. What I really did was run across the street to a men’s store, purchase a new shirt and tie, put them on and run back to the meeting. It didn’t take five minutes.
I apologized, but explained I was feeling better, trying hard not to breathe too heavily. The meeting went well, but I was a wreck. The CEO and other executives couldn’t stop grinning at me during the meeting, which I assumed was their overwhelming approval of my presentation.
At the end of the meeting, the chairman asked if anyone had any questions. No one did, but he said he had one.
Turning to me he said, “Fletcher, how did you do that?”
“Do what?” I asked.
“How did you get the coffee stain off of your shirt?”
By this time the room was rolling with laughter, as I haltingly explained what I had done. It was by far the most embarrassing thing to ever happened to me in a business meeting. But that claim was about to be negated by what was about to happen in front of 400 people later that same day.
I had been invited by one of lender’s board members to the lender’s Christmas party that same night, which I haltingingly attended, because I did not want to replay the coffee saga with the CEO and his management team.
As we were standing around the buffet table enjoying our food and replaying the coffee stain saga, the executive vice president commented that he smelled smoke.
All of a sudden, the chairmant said, “Hey, Fletch, your coat is on fire.” It seems that I had my elbow in a candle flame as I held my food plate. My coat was not on fire, but it was seriously scorched.
They started laughing so hard tears were coming down their faces. I’m thinking, “There has got to be cave I can crawl into and never come out of around here somewhere.” The only thing I knew to do was smile sheepishly and go along with their fun as the other 400 people at the party joined the CEO and his staff wondering, then discovering what happened. The words “ crowd uproar” comes to mind.
On the way home I thought about quitting real estate altogether. When I got home I told my wife I had lost the business. There was no way they would hire someone who spilled coffee on their shirt and stuck his arm in a lighted candle. I was done.
I knew I would never get their business. I was wrong. One of the officers called the next day with the good news.
The result: I became the exclusive marketing consultant/or broker of record for marketing consultant 27 lender properties over the next 3 years and the source of laughter with the client every time we talked.
Looking back, I believe it was the very day I felt the most like quitting that my career took off.
The Lesson: Moments such as these that show the real you and how you respond to the unexpected. Laughing it off works in most cases.