Whether it’s an official professional networking event, a dinner party we’ve been invited to, or even a client meeting, sometimes we don’t deliver our messages the right way or at the right time. This can result in alienating, boring or even insulting someone unintentionally. And you may not even be aware you’ve done it.
No matter how excited you are to share your amazingly helpful message/solution/product with others, sometimes it’s just not received well. When that message is what drives you to get out of bed in the morning, what your great contribution to the world is, you can end up feeling confused, hurt or rejected.
An awkward encounter
I recently attended a group event where I witnessed just such an unfortunate occurrence. An invited guest, let’s call her Karin, had never attended any of the group’s activities before. At this first event, Karin firmly and confidently shared her beliefs about the ‘right’ way to achieve physical fitness and health with everyone she met. And Karin was very quick to tell her conversation partners how she thought they could improve their own situation.
As I watched Karin share her views, I realized that talking to her was a bit like being hit over the head with a ‘fitness and nutrition’ hammer about three minutes into each new conversation. As a result, her messages were falling on deaf ears and people were starting to avoid her.
For Karin, being aware of what was happening in her earlier conversations might have helped her salvage the rest of the evening. For me, it was a reminder that care must be taken when we are dealing with others, no matter the situation. And if we pay attention to the basics and develop these soft skills, we can be more successful, more often, no matter how you define that success.
So here are 5 ways to avoid killing a conversation before it even starts:
Engage in small talk.
Many people are uncomfortable with small talk for various reasons. Some even think small talk is a necessary evil that must be endured before the conversation can move on to more valuable topics. Engaging others in small talk will help you get to the next, deeper level in a relationship. So take the time to build trust by asking questions and really listening to the answers.
Establish your credibility.
We’ve just met, and you seem really nice. And I’m happy to get to know you more. So do just that. Share your experiences, talk about yourself, and let me get a better understanding of where you are coming from, and maybe even where you are going. Pick and choose what to share based on the situation, the environment and your own personal limits.
Avoid the ‘hard sell’ in the first 3 minutes.
Not everybody has a problem that needs fixing, and if they do, you may not be the person they want to share that problem with, especially at a social or business networking event. So trying to convince someone how your expertise can change their life or make their business more successful in the first three minutes usually goes over like a lead balloon. If you’re looking for a ‘way in’ for your message/solution/product, pay attention during your conversation and look for synergies between what they want and what you offer. Common interests will become obvious fairly quickly. From there, explore possibilities that lie in your area of expertise.
Consider their personal story.
Your great advice may be well-intentioned, but it could come across as insensitive. This is especially true if we’ve just met. You probably don’t know my story at this stage, and if you did, it would hopefully affect how and what advice you give me. That leads us back to asking questions, listening and adding in a good dose of humanity to the mix.
Know when to move on.
The purpose of these events may be to make business contacts, or that may even be your own agenda for attending the event. But you know when you are ‘clicking’ with someone, and when you aren’t. And when you aren’t, smile, be gracious, and move on.
Learn from the experience
If you are like our fitness and health guru Karin, with a feeling of only partial success after such an event, perform a self-assessment: What went well? What didn’t go well? Did your inner light brighten the room the whole evening, or were there a couple of missteps you can improve on next time?
Some people have a natural ability to be outgoing, energetic, and generous with their time and attention. For the rest of us, we are still getting our sea legs and learning this new communication skill. Don’t be discouraged. Soft skills take time to develop. Prepare yourself with a few new ideas like those listed here, and get out there and try again. Practice makes perfect!
Now it’s your turn. Share your best advice for successful communication in social and business networking situations. What has worked for you, and what have you learned?
P.S. Contact me today for your free 1 hour consultation on moving you forward with your communication goals.