Do you find yourself stuck in awkward silences with members of your own family? Whether you want to improve your social skills in your business or personal life, Susan RoAne, keynote speaker and best-selling author of the newly revised How to Work a Room (Collins, 2007), can help. In this LifeScript exclusive, RoAne gives the low-down on how to feel at ease, meet new people and form new relationships – no matter what social situation you find yourself in.
Savvy social skills are essential for business executive women who attend conferences and high-powered meetings. But those in the workforce aren’t the only ones who can benefit from networking know-how. Whether you’re at a wedding, birthday party or casual barbeque, working a room with charm and pizzazz will ensure everyone remembers you. You’ll have a blast meeting new people, and you’ll make new friends and contacts along the way.
Think of it as studying for a test: Your work begins before you show up to the class. You’ll ace the next event with this study guide:
1. If you’re dreading your second cousin’s niece’s graduation or your office’s dull company picnic, change your mindset. “Instead of thinking ‘I don’t want to waste time,’ think ‘I wonder who I’m going to meet,’” RoAne says. “Think of it as an opportunity.”
2. Practice introducing yourself. Keep the introduction around seven to nine seconds, and tailor it to the event. For example, if you’re taking a Spanish class, mention why you’re interested in the language: “Hi, I’m Vanessa Taylor. I’m visiting Mexico in six months, and I want to make sure I’m prepared.” At a social party, start with something funny, like this suggestion from RoAne’s book: “Don’t these desserts look decadent? Hi, I’m George Costanza; chocoholic.” (Check out susanroan.com for more tips like this.)
3. No matter the credentials or accomplishments of those in the room, remember that you too have something to offer. To boost your confidence, brainstorm your assets pre-party. What are you interested in? What are your skills? Reminding yourself of your good points will make you feel more at ease, even when you’re introduced to big-shots and CEOs.
4. Research online; if you’re going to a professional trade show, look for relevant facts about the organization. If it’s a social event, look for interesting trivia about the venue.
5. Follow the dress-code, but be creative. “Help people talk to you,” RoAne suggests. An interesting hat, a colorful blouse or an exotic necklace are all great conversation starters.
1. Just say yes. If your friends invite you to a concert but you’ve never heard of the band, go with them anyway. New experiences make you a more interesting person, and will give you a new story to bring up in conversation.
2. Build a bank of conversation starters by reading the newspaper every day. “A good conversationalist is well read, well-versed and well-rounded,” RoAne explains in How to Work a Room. “He or she knows what is going on in the world and can talk about it.” Catching up on current events and being knowledgeable in a variety of general topics will help you make meaningful contributions to conversations.
At the Event
1. Don’t arrive later than 15 minutes after the posted time. If you get there early, the room will walk into you. If you come late, people will already be mid-conversation when you arrive.
2. What happens if everyone is already in groups when you get there? Sometimes the event’s host will introduce you to others – but don’t rely on this. Find a group of at least three or four people who are animated and having fun, and stand in the periphery. When the opportunity arises, nod and make a pleasantry. Another tip: Be honest and don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know anyone there. RoAne remembers a friend who approached groups with a big smile on her face and simply asked “May I join you?” No one ever replied, “No, we don’t want you.”
3. Have no idea how to start a conversation? If you’re in the same room, you already have something in common. Inquire as to how they know the host, comment on the food or ask if they traveled far to get there. Identify some common ground: Maybe you both like to swim or have a daughter who’s engaged.
4. Talk to strangers. Yes, you’re putting your ego on the line every time you approach someone new, but this is the best way to create social and business opportunities. “The rewards in life go to the risk-takers,” RoAne says. If your prospect doesn’t seem interested in the conversation, politely excuse yourself and move on. The person you think is “rejecting” you may just be preoccupied with his or her personal life.
5. Really listen. Make an effort to remember the person’s name, as well as what you discuss during the conversation. “The hint to remembering isn’t having a great memory,” RoAne says. “It’s about listening when people speak.” And don’t forget the other basics of good listening, like making eye contact and using receptive body language.
6. Be sincere. Working a room can yield tremendous personal and professional gains. But whatever your goals are, keep in mind that “The people who are ultimately the most successful at working a room are those who genuinely like, respect and trust other people,” RoAne explains in her book.
Work the World
Even if you don’t have a social or business event coming up, there are still plenty of potential friends and business contacts in your life. You were born into a network; just look around you. You have neighbors, family friends, classmates, and coworkers. Even familiar faces at the gym and video store count as your network.
Your social skills will help you wherever you are, even if you’re not in a typical room. Use them to make new friends at a park, a bank, a baseball game, a bookstore, or on a plane. Everything – even running to the grocery store for a quart of milk – is an opportunity to meet someone new. If you have to go somewhere anyway, you might as well go with the intention of having a good time.
“Woody Allen said that 80 percent of success is showing up, but showing up is not enough,” RoAne says. “You have to participate.”
Reprint from LifeScript.com.
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