Amsterdam Centraal
Last week I stood in the middle of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, yelling instructions at a group of 20 Nordic pharmaceutical managers. Then they put on goofy costumes and fanned out into the station, as instructed. Their mission: to get commuters and tourists to engage with them.

An hour later, it was all over.

It’s important to point out that I had been hired to do this; my objective for the hour was to get this group into the mindset where they could influence passers-by.

I’ve actually done this workshop a few times before for this same client, but last week, as I was drinking a cappuccino beforehand, and waiting for them to arrive, I devised a model for how this could work. I broke it down into a three-step process. Here are the steps

  • Awareness
  • Presence
  • Engagement

Whether approaching someone at a hotel bar, presenting to a group of regional sales managers, or stopping a commuter on their way to catch a train, the success or failure of your mission depends on moving yourself along this spectrum. Because only once you’re at Engagement can you make the leap to Influence.

Let’s break it down. The first one is simple: AWARENESS

This doesn’t involve doing anything; just look at what’s happening around you. Nothing more. See what’s in front of you. The smells, the sounds, the atmosphere, the decorations on the walls.. any of it. All of it. We spend so much time in a passive state: absorbed in our phones or watching TV. Enjoyable, yes. However, passive consumption is not an ideal state for exerting influence.

The next is PRESENCE.

Noticing isn’t enough. We need to be where we are. This is a heightened state of awareness. Not just noticing what’s happening, but actually taking it in and processing it as well. Note: being present for 15-second chunks doesn’t count. True presence is continuous.

Then there’s ENGAGEMENT.

This is the give-and-take, the listening and responding. Active engagement means adapting your behavior and attitude based on the input you receive. And never stopping. Once you’re doing this, you’re not only ready to influence, you’re actually already exerting influence. That’s how fluid the process is.

Anyone for tennis?

Think of it like a game of tennis. Awareness is seeing the net, the racquets, smelling the rubber, presence is being in your gear, shoes laced up, and bouncing balls on the racquet. Engagement is practicing your serve, and even volleying.

Influence is the point where you start being able to determine the game, serving aces, making your opponent run around the court, and earning points.

But the beautiful thing about learning to influence in real life is is that it isn’t or it very rarely is, a competition. But back to Centraal Station: it was actually a competition between these small teams. But that was hardly the point. the point was that they needed to go into a public space and encourage people to interact, and once they’d expanded their bubbles to include their surroundings, and then enage with those surroundings and the people who inhabit that broader sphere, they were able to do it.