The life of the party. The king of the business lunch. The undisputed be-all-and-end-all. The networking ninja. We all want to be that person, right? The individual that everyone else is drawn to in social situations, in both our personal and professional spheres. Sadly, some of us are born with that innate ability to command a room and everyone in it. What can the rest of us do to compensate for our wallflowerness?
As it happens, we can do plenty. Those kings and queens of conversation might not possess magical abilities that we lack. They might just know the secrets to being the most interesting person in any situation. And you can learn them, too.
Stand out in a crowd of job applicants at a group interview. Work the room at a business or industry networking evening. Be remembered - positively and in glowing terms - by everyone. Be a social dynamo. It’s easier than you think it is…
Talk about Their Interests
The weather? Yawn. Local sports? Hit and miss. We all-too-often talk about generic things when networking with others, because we don’t necessarily know the other person or their specific likes. So here’s a groundbreaking trick...ask them.
Find out their hobbies, likes, and recent activities by simply asking. It sounds so ridiculously obvious, but few people put it into practice. Do it, and you immediately stand out. Then, talk about something the other person is actually interested or passionate about.
Have Several Interesting/Funny/Informative/Unusual Anecdotes
Think of all the times a shy, nervous character from a television show or film writes down “conversation ideas” before making a phone call or going to a big party. And we laugh at the very notion - planning their conversation in advance! - and likely consider it behaviour that no “normal” person would do.
But why not? When you have to give a speech, you plan it out. Why can’t you for a networking mixer? While I wouldn’t suggest writing out word-for-word, it does make sense to have a few quick anecdotes ready to be recalled. The trick is allowing the conversation to evolve from that point. Don’t just blurt them out and quickly excuse yourself from the group. Use them as a springboard. A starting point. An ice-breaker. Having something to talk about gives you a security blanket of sorts, and puts you at ease.
Be Upbeat and Succinct.
See what I did there? But seriously, you want to avoid being a Debbie Downer or Larry Longwinded. Studies save shown that by simply avoiding negative comments and criticism, others are left with a positive opinion of you. Easy. Avoid gossip, and as Monty Python once said, always look on the bright side of life.
Be an Active Listener
This does not mean waiting for a break in the conversation in order to jump in. Most people don’t really listen to others. They simply wait for their turn to talk. We are drawn to people who really listen, sometimes not even being able to articulate why.
Active listeners nod, smile, laugh, and give verbal cues that they are indeed listening to the speaker. It’s not a passive endeavour. Show your interest in them, and it will be reciprocated.
Everyone Loves Prince Charming
Some people are just naturally charismatic. It’s really not fair.
But charisma can be learned. It can be mastered.
Smile. But please, for the love of Pete, make it a real, sincere one, and not a creepy, fake one. Smiles go a long, long, long way to making us attractive and socially appealing in any situation. It’s an easy one to forget...especially if you’re someone usually uncomfortable in social settings. And not only does it work on those around us, but new studies show that simply smiling can actually affect our mood in positive ways. It helps alleviate the stress and nervousness.
Likewise for laughing. Laughs are contagious, and everyone wants to spend time around the gregarious, laughing group..
And last but not least, don’t be afraid to gesture and have some vocal variety while speaking. And by “don’t be afraid” I mean “do it”. Again, this is another example of “fake it until you make it” if you’re naturally shy or quiet. Gestures, body language, and vocal tonality are huge social indicators. An animated body, plenty of gestures, and appropriate tonality and variety denote a passionate, gregarious, and interesting person. Someone everyone will want to meet. Be that person.
Don’t Disagree (Unless Your Life Depends On It)
Disagreement is a part of life. But - and this is a big but - it doesn’t do much for a networking scenario. Disagreeable people are, well, disagreeable, and that’s probably not the impression you’re hoping to make. This does not mean you leave your values, scruples, and ethics at the door, but ask yourself whether letting someone know you disagree is really necessary. Does it serve any purpose? Probably not.
Remember Why You’re There
If you’re at a networking event, remember why. You’re there to meet people. Make new connections. Reconnect with old ones. And guess what? So is everyone else. That should take the pressure off. It’s not like trying to pick someone up at a club...the people there are professionals, and they want to meet you (the person at the end of the bar might not). So confidently introduce yourself. Approach people first, rather than waiting for others to approach you. Hand out your business card...but only after at least a brief conversation. And remember to take a moment to record names and important details about the people you do meet...but ideally not while talking to them.
Practice these tips, and become the networking ninja you were born to be.
Photo by schipul
Creative Commons License