During this festive period, many people struggle to juggle a glass, a vol au vent and a conversation. They worry that they’ve got nothing to say; that they can’t contribute and that they will bore their ‘audience’. Well, here’s an early Christmas gift which I hope will help you shine on the outside and sparkle on the inside at your next event.
Being a good communicator is a skill which can be learned and improved (just like skiing or tennis). It’s as much about your mind set as it is about technique (Djokovic won Wimbledon with his mind as well as his racquet) so it’s important to try to change your mind set from defensive and negative to curious and optimistic. The key to this is feeling more in control of the situation. Control is at the heart of confidence and this comes from preparation. We’re following the example of some inspirational communicators such as Steve Jobs and Winston Churchill who were legendary for their meticulous preparation.
The audience should be at the heart of our preparation. We need to find out as much as we can about them – factual content (job, age, children, hobbies etc) and we also need to try to anticipate their ‘emotional’ state (anxious, jaded, ebullient) so that we can resonate with them.
Then we need to ‘pan for gold’ – seek out content which we can use during conversations. We find this gold in three places – R4 Today (no more than 15 minutes needed), The Week and your local daily paper eg The Standard. But, fear not, only superficial knowledge is required, of (a) serious news, (b) popular culture, (c) local issues, (d) seasonal events. It might also be useful to have some basic background intel on the company (if it’s a corporate event) and the venue (iconic building, famous architect?).
Many people are anxious about starting conversations. Your best tool is a question. If you follow the basic journalistic structure (What happened, Why, What next?), you won’t go far wrong. And don’t forget to actually listen to the answer (there’s a difference between listening and waiting to speak!).
As for the killer question: “And what do you do?” here’s where changing your mind set will enable you to respond more confidently. Crucial to this is the difference between ‘being interesting’ and ‘having an interest’. In your answer, you are not required to prove that you are an intrinsically interesting person (how many of us would pass that test??). Rather, it’s about sharing with the other person something which interests you (tennis, sky diving, art, films, cooking, bees). By focusing on your hobby/pastime/passion, rather than yourself, the pressure is off. And the chances are, the other person will want to know more, will ask a question, and before you know it, you’ll be having a pleasant conversation.
You might even start to enjoy yourself!