I’m an introvert. If I had my choice, I’d opt for smaller, more intimate gatherings over larger parties or events. Yet, I know how exceptionally valuable human relationships are and how crucial they are for personal and professional growth.
Many people feel some sort of nervousness when meeting new people. All too often, they end up crouching in a corner clinging to the one or two people they know well. It doesn’t have to be that way.
I suspect that many struggle with having new conversations with people they don’t know. It somehow seems a flaw. It’s not. You can become an expert schmoozer, even as an introvert.
1. GET PREPARED:
Go prepared with a few things to talk about. Brush up on current events, books, TV, movies, or sports. Come up with three to four topics as well as a mental list of generic questions that can help you move conversations along.
If you are going to attend a networking event, research the background of the people you want to meet. This will help you with asking the right questions as you get to know them.
Additionally, have a few non-standard answers to typical questions such as “How are you?”
Here’s the difference:
Q: “How are you?”
Q: “How are you?”
A: “I’m fantastic. I’m heading out for vacation so this time tomorrow night, I will be enjoying a glass of wine while taking in the sights and sounds of Paris.”
A: “Great! My (fill in the blank team) just won the super bowl / world series / NBA Championships. Couldn’t be better.”
Note: Avoid controversial issues, such as politics or religion, mean gossip, off-color jokes, or topics that can invoke a personal response.
2. BE APPROACHABLE
The wrong body language will give off signals that tell people to stay away. Having the right body language increases your approachability.
Keep your torso, chest, and abdomen open. Crossed arms, clutching a wine glass in front of your stomach, checking a phone in front of your chest or hugging a purse to your center are all ways we seem unapproachable.
Let People See Your Hands. Studies have found that when we can’t see people’s hands we have trouble trusting them. When you put your hands in your pockets, tuck them under the table or hide them behind a coat, you’re openness decreases.
Best body language for projecting openness is:
- Arms at sides, not crossed.
- Outward facing palms
- Adjusting to the body language of others; recognizing and reacting to the body language of others.
- Legs uncrossed
- Leaning forward while talking, being interested in what you are hearing
- Standing straight with no slouching
We make conversations harder than it needs to be. Researchers in Switzerland examined the relationship between attractiveness and smiling. Faces play a central role in human social relations. These first impressions ease the flow of dialogue.
Have you ever met someone who couldn’t look you in the eye? It probably made you suspicious and you didn’t have a great perception of them. Eye contact is also a great way to start conversations.
3. DRAW THE OTHER PERSON OUT:
When you focus your attention on someone else, you are making that person feel important.
Ask people about themselves. This takes the pressure off of you and people love to talk about themselves.
Ask open-ended questions, starting with ‘What, How, Why, and Where.’ A dialogue is a nice balance between speaking and listening. But, if you have a hard time with adding to the conversation, keep the other person talking by asking questions.
Start with some basics. “What brought you here? Where are you from? “What do you do?” “How do you know the host / hostess?”
Every answer gives you the ability to ask follow-up questions.
Listen Effectively. Don’t listen with the intent to respond but rather with the intent to understand. That facilitates the flow of conversations. If you spend time worrying about what to say next, you’ll lose focus on what is actually happening in the conversation.
4. AWKWARD PAUSES:
It’s okay to admit you don’t like large gatherings. You can say: “I tend to like smaller gatherings so when I am in a large group, I am a bit more quiet.” They may even feel the same way. If people know that you are feeling this way they will appreciate your candor, will understand it, and it may be a great icebreaker.
But if you hit a lull, know how to shift the conversation. One easy way to do this is to invite other people into the conversation. “Oh, there’s Michael Smythe. Do you know him?” If not, offer to introduce the two of them. When you introduce an additional person into the conversation, it once again takes all of the pressure off of you.
You can also shift the conversation by saying, “Earlier you said…” “Tell me more about…” “What keeps you busy when you are not working?” “How did you get into this line of work?”
5. CLOSING THE CONVERSATION:
You’re not going to have a great connection with everyone you meet. There are some people you will enjoy speaking with more than others, but be open to speaking with everyone.
Have a few exit lines ready so that you can both gracefully move on. For example, “I have a few clients that I need to speak with before I leave…” “I missed lunch today, so I am going to grab something to eat.”
Always close a conversation on a positive note. “It’s been great speaking with you. I really enjoyed hearing about…” “Do you have a business card? I’d love to stay in touch.”
Remember, make the person feel important even as you exit the conversation.
6. FOLLOW UP:
You never know how a relationship can be beneficial – even when you don’t think there is a connection. Send a follow-up email telling them that you enjoyed meeting them.
It’s usually helpful if you start off when a reminder of who you are and include something that you spoke about. People like to be remembered and this is a great way to build business relationships.
7. DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE FLOPS:
You probably won’t have a 100% success rate but so what? There are people who are simply not friendly or maybe you stumbled over your words a bit.
Welcome to the world of being normal. Don’t let it hold you back because you’ll make many more great connections than poor connections.
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