Next time you go to a traditional networking event, a cocktail party, or a dinner, do us all a favor: Lose the elevator pitch. That approach is quickly losing relevancy in making authentic connections that could open doors for you.
Instead, your first order of priority is to take the attention off yourself and put it squarely on the other person sitting or standing across from you. You start by asking the right questions and listening more than you speak (more on that below). And, of course, always be conscious of having open and positive body language.
Try any of these tactics to keep yourself on track to having exceptional conversations. Now you're off to the races.
1. Become genuinely interested in the other person.
George Mason University psychologist Todd Kashdan, author of Curious?, determined that being interested in others is more important than being interesting yourself. "It's the secret juice of relationships," stated Kashdan. So, whatever you do, talk in terms of the other person's interest. You'll be surprised by the outcome.
2. Show those pearly whites.
According to Psychology Today, research has determined that smiling can make us appear more attractive to others. It also lifts our mood as well as the moods of those around us. Most of us aren't fully aware of when we're not smiling. Make smiling a habit.
3. Give the gift of a "five-minute favor."
Five-minute favors are giving acts, without asking for anything in return from the person whom you're offering help. Examples of five-minute favors include sharing knowledge; making an introduction; serving as a reference for a person, product, or service; or recommending someone on LinkedIn, Yelp, or another social place.
4. Listen more. Speak less.
Want to create a great first impression? Let the other person speak without interruption. Yes, I'm talking about parking your thoughts and avoiding jumping in and finishing the other person's sentence or waiting impatiently for your chance to respond. When you actively listen, it will draw the other person to you with equal or greater interest. So go ahead, give the other person your full attention. What you're communicating is "I am interested in what you have to say."
5. Make the other person feel important--and do it sincerely.
The best conversations with someone you just met are initiated by wanting to learn about the other person: what they do, how they do it, and why they do it. This goes back to having a high curiosity quotient. By wanting to learn from someone -- even someone younger and less experienced than you -- you will garner an immediate positive first impression.
6. Tell a good story.
So now that you've captivated the person you're talking to, they probably want to know about you, so it's your turn to shine. Rather than boring them with work or with business-related lingo (that will come later), it's good to have a few go-to stories you can pull out of your hat to keep the momentum going. Have stories you can share that have been tested with other audiences and found to be reliably funny, entertaining, informative, or engaging. Scott Adams, author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, suggests putting your focus on stories about other people rather than things, because most of us find human behavior fascinating.
If you haven't caught on yet, the key for your new social approach is this: You take the initiative and make the conversation about the other person. People love to talk about themselves--if they have something worth talking about that adds value to the conversation. Once they know you're not a wacko, if you ask a genuine question first (try "what's your story?"), they'll appreciate your showing interest. This selfless act of putting the spotlight on someone else makes you the more interesting person in the room.