Speaking is an art and therefore as speakers we must deliver a relevant, engaging, and entertaining talk to our audience. One mistake I see many speakers make is one I always strive to avoid. I arrive early, introduce myself and chat with the people in the room. By “working the room” prior to speaking, the sea of faces are no longer completely unfamiliar, I gain insight into what they need, and it helps lower any anxiety and nervousness I might have. What a fabulous idea, right?
Now the reality of what I just said…walk into a room, go up to complete strangers and begin talking. Is there anything scarier? According to the Stanford University of Shyness Clinic, 80% of adults identified themselves as shy in 1980. By 2011, this increased to 95%. Based on that statistic, I’d say most people are not comfortable striking up conversation with a stranger.
Working a room is a social skill that can enrich both our personal and business lives. It is a precursor to networking, vitally important to those who own their own businesses. Yet most of us do not have this skill. Fortunately, it’s a skill we can learn and develop. Here’s what I recommend to those brave enough to stretch:
First, we need to be aware of the obstacles that contribute to our discomfort. The experts agree there are 5 basic obstacles to overcome. Most of these are socially taught.
- Don’t talk to strangers. We learned this as a child and probably went on to teach the same lesson. But we aren’t children anymore. For an adult, the key factor to consider when speaking to a stranger is the environment. Striking up a conversation with someone in the grocery line is completely different than while taking the subway at midnight and not another soul is in sight.
- Wait to be properly introduced. It would be great to always have a host or greeting committee to make those introductions for us but it is not realistic.
- Don’t be pushy or aggressive. It’s impolite. Being direct does not necessarily mean being pushy. You can approach someone and introduce yourself in a friendly, non-obtrusive manner.
- Better safe than sorry. The old fear of rejection. We put our ego on the line when we approach a stranger. We are vulnerable. Not everyone is going to be open to chatting with us.
- Discomfort with small talk. We think to ourselves, “I don’t know what to say,so I’m better off saying nothing at all.”
Aware of the obstacles, you can now choose to do differently. In a world where face-to-face conversations are fewer and fewer due to technology, it is imperative we shed these old world beliefs. They no longer serve us.