You don’t have to be the smartest, wittiest or most attractive person in the room to make your mark. While some people naturally exude qualities that help them stand out in a crowd, making an impact on someone is a learnable skill. From lightening the mood to knowing when to duck out of a conversation, these eight tips will bring your networking skills to another level.
1. Be pleasant and full of praise.
Whether you’re making connections at a conference or meeting colleagues from other departments, one of the best ways to get people to remember you is to turn on the charm. “When you make someone laugh, feel happy or admired, they naturally reciprocate those feelings towards you,” says psychologist Anne Demarais, founder of behavioral coaching company, First Impressions. For example, when you give someone you’ve just met a genuine compliment, they’ll likely internalize those positive feelings towards you. But it’s not enough to just be flattering, you need to exude an affable aura in order to be perceived as sincere. “To inject feel-good vibes into a room or conversation, just use your best positivity-relaying attribute,” says executive coach, Gina Rudan, president of Genuine Insights Inc., a professional development practice. “That could be your smile, innate optimism or sense of humor,” she adds. However, don’t force it and try to be something you’re not—including funny. “Nothing leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths like an accidentally insulting joke or string of bad puns,” she adds. And remember, even if the food is bad or the weather is poor, don’t complain—you’ll only end up killing the mood and appearing as a Debbie Downer.
2. Have a balanced conversation.
Anyone who’s been on the silent end of a one-sided conversation knows how unpleasant it is, so be sure not to monopolize things. “Avoid the data dump,” says Demarais. In other words, speak a little bit about yourself, then ask questions, being sure to give whoever you’re speaking to a chance to think and respond—without interrupting. The best conversations are a seamless back-and-forth banter because it creates the opportunity for mutual connections. “If someone wants to know more about your dog or exotic cooking habits, they can ask you questions,” Demarais notes.
3. Dress to make the right impression.
Though a person’s opinion of you isn’t cemented the first time they see you (that usually happens at the end of a first interaction), “the way you’re dressed or made up certainly tells a story about you,” Demarais says. If you want your impression to end with a happy ending, express yourself through your clothing while also adhering to what’s appropriate for the situation. After all, not only can a bit of personal flair (in the form of, say, a statement-making scarf) be a great conversation starter, but displaying a hint of style can also affect how you carry yourself. “When you feel good about what you’re wearing, you’re less self-monitoring, which allows you to focus on making connections with others,” Demarais says. If you’re ever uncertain about what attire is suitable for an occasion, do a little research (for example, you can call a restaurant to inquire about the dress code or ask the bride what type of wedding she’s having), so the room will peg you as smart, creative and savvy before you’ve even said a word.
4. Convey interest.
An effective way to leave a good impression on someone you’ve just met is to ask them about themselves during the course of the conversation. “When you’re interested, you’re interesting,” says Jill Spiegel, author of How to Talk to Anyone About Anything! Showing someone that you care about what they’re saying by asking questions as well as displaying subtle signs that you’re interested in the response, such as nodding or indicating agreement, makes them feel admired, which in turn makes them admire you. Even better? Making it a two-way street by finding a common ground and sharing your own interests. “Speaking about your own passions quite literally brings out the best in you,” says Demarais. ”It will make you smile and exude excitement—traits that are naturally appealing to others.”
5. Get real in your introduction.
The secret to a memorable introduction? Attach a “confessional-style” factoid when introducing yourself, suggests Spiegel, who explains that the admission should be something that conveys vulnerability. “The top quality that helps people connect with others is realness,” as it immediately wipes out any sense of competition, which can put people off, Spiegel explains. Something as simple as “Hi, I’m Liz—and I don’t know a single person here!” or “Hi, I’m Liz—have you tried the spinach dip? I can’t stop eating it” works because it relays to whomever you’re speaking that they, too, can be themselves. “Self-disclosure is a way of adding instant depth to a conversation,” says Demarais.
6. Contribute to the conversation.
“The goal is not to just be part of a room or conversation, but to add value to it,” says Rudan. When you take a conversation one step further—whether by adding an interesting factoid or elaborating on something that has already been touched upon—people will note that you truly understand the topic at hand, which signals that you are equals and that there is potential for you to learn from each other. “Think of every conversation as building something together,” Spiegel says. Another way to be of service is to actively try to make everybody around you more comfortable; try introducing people who haven’t previous met, or engage the person standing alone in the corner in a conversation. “Others will be in awe of your generosity and inspired by your leadership,” says Spiegel. Rudan adds: “This type of action pins you as a giver as opposed to a taker,” which is a quality most people appreciate.
7. Make eye contact.
No matter who you’re speaking to, eye contact is the key to keeping someone interested and engaged. “At least in American culture, research shows that making eye contact 70% to 80% of the time is considered normal and appropriate,” says Demarais, who also notes that going below that amount may make you appear insincere. This is especially relevant when giving a presentation, says speaking expert Lisa B. Marshall who suggests that, in this type of situation, you make eye contact at least 90% of the time. “Particularly at the beginning of a speech, many speakers are nervous so they tend to look for the reassuring faces—ones that are smiling, nodding and encouraging,” she says. Feel free to use this technique to ease your way in, but remember to include the entire audience as you move forward to avoid losing the room. If you have trouble making direct eye contact when speaking in public, Marshall suggests looking in between people. “The most important thing is that you face the crowd,” she says.
8. Know when the conversation is over.
Whether you’re mingling at a party or flirting with a new love interest, knowing when to call it a wrap is crucial to leaving a positive impression. “Each person should expose just enough that they’ll both feel satisfied and look forward to more,” Rudan says. The best way to make sure you know when it’s time to go is to stay present—keep appropriate eye contact, listen carefully—so that you can pick up on the signals that the other person is ready to wind down the conversation, she explains. “If they start eye-surfing or summarizing the chat, which can often be subconscious, it may be time to move on.” If you miss the signs that the conversation has come to an end? “It could make you seem self-serving and disrespectful of someone’s time,” Rudan says. Equally as important as finishing up at the right moment is ending the conversation on a positive note. “Think of your farewell as the last verse or chord of a song—it sticks with you,” says Spiegel, who suggests concluding with a compliment.