As you approach the holiday season you will find yourself in a variety of business and social settings. Each setting will give you the chance to meet both new and familiar faces and the opportunity to truly connect with others. Now connecting with those we know is easy, but what about with those we don't? And importantly, how do we make genuine connections with strangers?
Well, let's set the scene and find out:
You've been invited to a function. As you enter the room, you look around and are overwhelmed by a sea of unfamiliar faces. Your goal is to establish new relationships, but there’s only one problem – the thought of ‘connecting with strangers terrifies you! Well you can relax, because you're not alone. According to the Shyness Research Institute of America, 88% of professionals feel uncomfortable in business and social situations. The study goes on to show that nothing is more frightening to people than chatting with a stranger. So, apart from heading to the buffet table or hiding behind the tallest plant, how can you gain confidence in these situations? Quite simply - by being yourself and making people feel comfortable and at ease.
Here are 10 quick tips that will help you do that:
1. Be the first person to say hello. When introducing yourself to someone, smile first and always shake hands. Make an effort to remember people’s names and always remember to shake hands long enough to notice the colour of their eyes. You will leave a lasting impression and make a genuine connection.
2. Watch your body language: If you stand with open body language, others will likely see you as approachable. If you look uncomfortable and ill at ease, you will make others feel the same way. Act confident and comfortable, by standing tall, shoulders back and smile. People will mirror your body language and will want to engage you in conversation.
3. Become an active listener. Great conversationalists are always great listeners. Be other-focused and talk to others about themselves. Make genuine eye contact and refrain from glancing around the room. Engage others in conversation by asking, who, what, where, when, why, and tell me questions. You will not only cultivate respect, people will find you fascinating!
4. Search for common ground. Get others talking by leading with a common ground statement that pertains to the location or the event. For example, “They seem to have a great turnout this year, how many years have you been coming to this event? If it’s a social function, ask them how they know the host. General topics of interest always include: family, food,vacation, sports. By finding common ground you give people the opportunity to connect with you on a non-business level and it also gives you the chance to explore shared values. And remember, it's our shared values that allow us to forge new and strong relationships, quickly.
5. Come prepared. Prior to attending a function, think about three things to talk about as well as several generic questions, that will get others talking. Be aware of current events and avoid talking about anything that is too political, too personal and unprofessional. If you know the host, think about his or her interests or a charity that you are both involved in. This will serve as a springboard to further conversation.
6. Contribute something interesting. Great conversation builders begin with, “What do you think of?” “What is your take on?” or “Have you heard?” Always avoid gossip, controversial subjects and refrain from long-winded stories or giving too much detail in conversation.
7. Approach the right people. When working a room, it’s important to be sensitive to the conversations that others may be engaged in. As a general rule of thumb, always approach people in groups of three or someone who is standing on their own. Before entering a conversation that is in progress, observe and listen. You will want to avoid interrupting the dynamics with an inappropriate or ill-timed remark.
8. Make proper introductions. As a general rule of thumb, if you are introducing someone to someone else, always say the most important person's name first. ie. If you are introducing your President to someone you would say, John (President's name), I would like to introduce you to Mary English. Mary this is our President, John Smith. If your client is present, however, always remember that your client is the most important person in which case you would say his/her name first and follow with the introduction just as in the above example.
If there is someone you really want to meet, seek the help of someone who knows them and have them introduce you. If you meet someone you have met before and you are not sure the person will remember your name, introduce yourself first by saying " Hi John, Susan Smith. It's good to see you again." Take your time during introductions and maintain eye contact.
9. Handle business cards with respect. When receiving someone’s business card, accept it as you would a gift. Take a moment to read their card and make a positive comment like, “This is a great card or "Oh, you’re from England.” After you do, place their card in your breast pocket, purse or wallet to show that you value and appreciate it.
10. Exit gracefully. Get comfortable with some exit lines that will allow you to gracefully end a conversation. Begin by saying, “I really enjoyed meeting you and I hope we have a chance to speak again.” and/or “I didn’t get a chance to eat lunch today, so if you’ll excuse me I’m going to grab a bite." or I really enjoyed our conversation and I hope to see you again." May I have your card before I go and I'll be sure to follow up with you?” Shake hands, smile and move on.
To get ahead today, keep in mind that management is looking for leaders who possess excellent people skills and who can adapt to a variety of business and social situations. Knowing how to engage others in conversation will build self-confidence and ensure that your guests and clients feel comfortable and at ease. The ability to genuinely connect with others will strengthen your image and importantly, make people like you, remember you and ideally, want do business with you.
So as the holiday season approaches, remember, if you are genuine your conversations will help you build respect, rapport and relationships. By applying these ten key steps, you will lead with a difference, set yourself apart from the competition and importantly, leave a lasting and memorable impression.
So, here’s to making this holiday season the best one yet and to making genuine connections!
Kimberley is an inspirational speaker, seminar leader and executive coach. She inspires people to become genuine leaders and in turn, the kind of person others are inspired to emulate.