When You Have to Say No

We’ve all been there. We hear the “no” and then whatever the rejecter is saying, it sounds like “blah, blah, blah.” As speakers and trainers, we find ourselves in the position of saying no to speaking offers, individual coaching sessions, restrictive contracts, and engagements that do not fit in our calendars. In nearly all cases, there is a relationship to preserve. That should be the focus as you craft your message.

Let us say you are presenting on behalf of a company with whom you have a non-solicitation agreement. A seminar attendee approaches you about coaching her one-on-one after the session. She agrees to pay whatever your rate is and refer you to colleagues. Of course, you must refuse because of the agreement you have with the company you are representing. However, it may indeed be possible if she contacts the company to arrange it. You don’t even have to say, no, here. You can refer her to a contact at the company. Contact your contact, in advance of this person’s call, to explain the situation. In some cases, the company may choose to arrange the session for you. In others, they may connect you back to your attendee with permission to pursue the business. “No, I’m sorry, we’re not allowed to do that in these seminars” would have obviated both of these possibilities. (Since I’m addressing a professional group here, I’m sure I don’t need to extol the virtues of complying with a non-solicitation agreement. If you have any doubt, consider this: I’m always amazed how fast the news of a “stolen” lead travels among those who hire speakers and trainers. The speed is truly mind-boggling! Don’t do it!)

Perhaps you’ve been approached by an organization who offers you exposure to their hundreds of members, if you will speak for free at their next event. When your calendar is comfortably full already, it’s clear, at least to you, that a payment in exposure is not that enticing. Instead of, “No, I’m sorry, I don’t speak for free, my calendar is too full,” saying, “I would love to address your membership! I do offer complimentary services a few times a year for charitable causes. However, for this type of engagement, my fee would be $x.” If their experience is that they can get lots of speakers for free, then the conversation pretty much ends here. If their experience is that they can only get some speakers for free by offering exposure, first, you may find yourself with a paid engagement!

If your “no” is a no, with no room for a “yes with conditions,” as in the above situations, then be honest and kind in your response. “I would really like to be able to help you. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to do it. Thank you so much for asking!” sounds much better than, “No, I don’t do that sort of thing!” If the person is asking for something that you know someone else does, refer it! Whether you choose to refer it for a fee or not, you have maintained your credibility with the inquirer as a person “in the know” and preserved a cordial tone between you.

Thinking on your feet can take careful preparation. I know that sounds contradictory, but try this. Take some time to think of all of the awkward moments after seminars or conference speeches when you are approached an offer you must refuse. Write them down and craft relationship-preserving responses. Have a look at them before you start your engagement day.

I wish you great success!



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