All Careers

Networking Tips for Events

July 30, 2015

Happy business colleagues greeting each other with a handshake

“Charisma is more about how you make the other person feel about themselves, than how they feel about you.” –Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth and coach to powerful CEO’s, politicians, and Ivy League business schools.

Most natural charismatics have learned charisma so early in life that it seems innate. But the rest of the population can learn it, too. Here’s how to be charismatic at Idaho business networking events.

Start by asking the question, “Why do people attend these events?” The answer: To relax, get away from the office, and have fun. Not to be sold to or asked for favors. Remember; keep it light, friendly, and fun when approaching others at events. But how do you do that and still accomplish your goal?

Banter is the key. Banter is creative, playful conversation the other person can join in to find humor or common ground with another person. It can be exaggerated, make believe, or edgy small talk, even good-natured teasing to spark an interest in a person or situation.

Here’s an example:
You stand next to a person you don’t know, facing in the same direction they are (let’s say you’re facing a punch bowl at the bar). You say with a playful smile and confident tone, “You look like you’re up to no good. Are you thinking about..tipping over that punch bowl?” (Simply insert something funny that is tied to whatever they are facing). Then wait for a response and mirror the amount of engagement they offer (so as not to come on too strong or appear needy). The key is to make sure your first words and body language are clearly playful so the other person knows you want them to play along and there is nothing at stake in their reply. You’re not asking for anything or implying you want their attention for more than a casual, light hearted remark. You’re also not asking boring questions like “do you come here often, what do you do?”

From here either they will play along and throw out something light and playful, too. Or they will act surprised and wonder what you mean. If they are playful, I like to continue the banter by responding with more light-hearted small talk related to their comment. Maybe they said, “Yes, I’m waiting until the host walks by for maximum effect.” Then you’d respond with, “If you need to pin the crime on someone else, I stole this name tag from a guy over at the bar (hold out your name tag).” Then smile big and put out your hand to introduce yourself.

If instead of engaging in the banter, they look puzzled and don’t play along, simply say, “Just joking,” then smile big and put out your hand to introduce yourself. Your actual spoken words are the least important part of opening banter to engage a stranger. Most important is confident body language (smile) and speaking loudly enough to be clearly heard.

At an event, always be prepared with an engaging answer for the question, “what do you do?” (Although it’s not a question you’d want to lead with because it’s so over used.) The answer is not your job title or work duties. It is something the other person will understand and find interesting, worth bantering about. You’re not yet at the rapport stage so banter is what it’s all about, and banter must be light and fun. A good answer to the question, “what do you do?” might be, “I run the human resources department for a large credit union. Which really means I hire a lot of people and try not to spend all our money on health care.” This response actually means something to the other person, doesn’t sound pretentious, and gives them a chance to make a light hearted comment about what I just said–to banter. It’s as simple as saying what you do in plain English, then saying something edgy or self-deprecating so it’s not interpreted as bragging, but keeps things light and fun.

The 3 most important components of charisma according to networking expert Olivia Fox Cabane are:

1.  Presence Charisma – being fully focused in the conversation so the speaker’s words and your reaction (your body language) are in sync. If you’re not truly focused on the other person, one sixteen of a second delay in your facial reaction is all it takes for them to perceive you as insincere or bored. She recommends an exercise to help with Presence Charisma—focus on the colors of the person’s irises, irises are beautiful and will help you stay in the moment. Another exercise is to cast the speaker as an action hero from a movie so you sincerely take interest in what they are saying. (Everyone is interesting; some people just have a hard time conveying that). These exercises help you avoid the #1 mistake people make—faking emotion. Faking interest won’t work because body language is so complex and only one sixteenth of a second delay in your appropriate reaction will make you appear insincere or inattentive. Facial expressions are universal to humans and even babies react to them because they are inherent in humans. These exercises help generate sincere Presence Charisma.

2.  Power Charisma – is your perceived ability to impact another person. It answers the inherently human, but subconscious question all people’s core animal brain asks when approached by another person; fight or flight? To fight or flee is the question our ancient brain immediately asks when we meet someone. There is no way to turn this off. It happens without our conscious mind thinking of it. To use this for good at a networking event, pay attention to how much space you take up with your body. Larger posture appears more confident than smaller posture. Directly facing a person is more threatening than standing beside someone, even if you are relatively close. Cabane recommends an exercise to create Power Charisma before entering an event. Stand like a 5 star general surveying a line of smaller troops. Put your hands behind the small of your back, elbows out, taking a wide stance. This generates testosterone and powerful hormones. When you are at the event, remember that dominant alphas will interject pauses within their sentences, to show that what they are saying is so important, that no one will dare interrupt them. Slow down and be in the moment. Enjoy the moment by slowing down your brain. Colin Powell is an example of Power Charisma.

3.  Warmth Charisma – is your perceived intent, i.e. friend or foe? When approached by another, human instinct always asks; are they friendly or intending harm? Warmth Charisma balances out Presence Charisma and Power Charisma by showing our good intent toward another, even though we are projecting confidence, power, and focus. Warmth Charisma comes from the 2 most important parts of body language (smile with the mouth and smile with the eyes). Studies show that humans most want complete acceptance, even more than love. Exercise: as you enter an event, immediately smile at and greet people, especially the help. Give positive value to everyone through sincere compliments and a warm smile. When approaching someone, balance this warmth by mirroring the amount of engagement the other person offers. Don’t move in face to face until invited, instead stand at an angle or side by side. Hold eye contact for 5 seconds, then look to the side briefly and back again for 5 more seconds. Touch their elbow to show warmth, but don’t over power someone by standing too close and directly in front of them until they warm up and mirror the same level of engagement.

In speaking of self confidence, sometimes called “High Value”, Jordan Harbinger says that most people set their own value “number” in high school. They think their value is determined by others, but the reverse is true. Others perceive our value based upon the signals we give off (body language, tone, confidence). Use these 3 elements of charisma (Presence , Power, and Warmth) to show your high value. You’re worth it and so are the people waiting to meet you or maybe even help you land your dream job.

Ben Davidson, VP of Human Resources, Idaho Central Credit Union