With conference season in full swing, you may soon find yourself in a room full of strangers with absolutely nothing to say. Experts suggest breaking that awkward silence by schmoozing to develop and maintain mutually positive and powerful professional relationships. It’s really about networking, building rapport and making connections. “When you enter a conversation with people, you want to be thinking about, What are they working on? What do I know about that? How can I add value?” says Michelle Tillis Lederman, author of The 11 Laws of Likability: Relationship Networking…Because People Do Business With People They Like (Amacom). Clear communication and witty anecdotes will help you win over the crowd. Here’s how to get started:
1. IDENTIFY THE RIGHT TALE TO TELL. “In social and business circles, you can tell a story to entertain, to show off your energy level and your social position, and to increase trust and find common ground,” says Nicholas Boothman, author of Convince Them in 90 Seconds* or Less: Make Instant Connections That Pay Off in Business and in Life (Workman Publishing Company). In fact, doing this provides a platform to engage and reach people, and gives you a chance to ignite leadership opportunities.
2. MAKE YOUR POINT. The success of the tale lies in its cause and effect. When you use an anecdote to teach a lesson or modify behavior, state your point at the start, then move on to the details.
3. TIME YOUR STORY. Sense the tone of the conversation. “You want to listen to the other person with your eyes and your ears,” says Lederman. Defining the moment involves listening, accessing what’s being heard and looking for points of connection. Bring your full personality to the exchange, search for common ground and then go for it.
4. USE DESCRIPTIVE LANGUAGE. When told in “color,” or using sensory-rich wording, the account could enhance the imagination of both the storyteller and the listener. Aspiring narrators need to practice privately at first, describing an experience in black-and-white terms, and then take a few minutes to relate the story in color, talking about what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste. If you match the right feeling with powerful words, the yarn will unfold on its own.
5. KEEP IT SHORT AND SWEET. Boothman discourages a professional from arriving at work or events “loaded up with stories.” As a basic rule, however, experts encourage him or her to have a clear meaning, be concise and include who, where and when.
6. DON’T BORE. Brevity, relevance and presentations given in color are fundamental to entertaining narratives. “Human beings are energy systems. We thrive on the quality and the quantity of the energy we get from other people,” says Boothman. “Imbue your audience with enthusiasm, curiosity, feedback, empathy and imagination.” But don’t share convoluted stories that miss major punch lines. If you can’t deliver the tale with power and punch, don’t tell it.
7. ADD VALUE. “Schmoozing adds a level of comfort, of validation, and as a result people are more apt to go above and beyond to provide a service to you or fulfill a need they desire,” says Leslie Jones, employee relations manager at Brevard County Government Center in Viera, Florida. “Individuals adept at chitchat take advantage of these networking opportunities to improve business relationships because people do business with those they like and trust.”