9 Ways to Master the Art of Intellectual Foreplay
No one is more interesting than a person passionate about what he does and what he believes. If you’ve ever responded to a question from a new acquaintance with a short, boring or one-word answer, you missed an opportunity to tell your story.
Say you’re introduced to someone new at a networking event. He or she may ask, “What do you do?” You could answer with something like “I’m the founder of such-and-such company,” but what does that really tell the other person about you, your business and your interests?
Instead, seduce the other person with your passion and intellect. Compare the first answer to this response: “My passion for interior design led me to start my own business. I create the perfect oasis based on your personality and style.”
Related: 6 Ways to Improve Your Conversations
In two sentences you’ll have not only piqued the interest of the other person, you’ll have provided ample information with which to continue the conversation. You only get one shot at a first impression, make sure yours conveys the professional image you want — someone capable, smart and interesting.
To become a master of intellectual foreplay, hone your conversation skills. Use the nine tips below to engage the interest of others and revolutionize the way you network.
1. Never miss an opportunity. It’s probably second-nature to pick up your cell phone when you have a moment of free time or find yourself alone at an event. Don’t sacrifice the opportunity to make a new connection because you want to check your email. When you attend events to network, leave your phone in your handbag, in your or pocket, or give yourself a break and leave it at home.
2. Stay current on world events, politics, art and science. Just like your body, your mind can atrophy if you don’t exercise it. Be curious about the world around you and constantly strive to learn more. Read fascinating books, pay attention to the news, go to a play or take a class at your local university. The best conversationalists are interesting, informative and thought provoking.
3. It’s not just about what you say, it’s how you say it. Use inflection and gesticulation to empower your words and bring them to life for your audience. Make eye contact with everyone in the group and smile as you speak. Your natural warmth and sincere approach will help others open up and enjoy themselves.
4. Be your authentic self. Don’t worry yourself with what others may think of you. Instead, just be you -- nobody does it better. Don’t overthink what you should or shouldn’t say — that kind of thought will only serve to make you doubt yourself. Instead, ask questions. Show interest. Express your genuine opinions in a thoughtful way.
5. View yourself as the host, not the guest. Gently guide the conversation toward topics in which you’re knowledgeable. If someone meanders toward your small group, say hello and invite her to join. Most of all, strive to make others comfortable. When you take this role, you’ll be amazed at the authority and confidence you feel.
6. Approach others and make connections. Believe it or not, but most people are self-conscious about networking. Look for individuals who are sitting alone, looking around, or are in line for refreshments. Make eye contact, smile and introduce yourself. Always say your first and last name and give a firm handshake.
7. Build on the conversation. It’s okay if the first thing you talk about is the weather or how the event is well attended. These topics are polite conversation starters. Use each exchange of pleasantries to encourage the conversation to grow. When you're at a loss for words, talk about food or travel. These two subjects appeal to most everyone.
8. Use the most powerful words in conversation: “Tell me.” When someone responds to a question with a short answer, ask a clarifying question. Start your sentences with phrases like “Tell me,” “How do you feel about,” and “What advice would you give.” These open-ended questions will help spur interesting conversation.
9. Pay attention and listen. Always give the person with whom you're speaker your full attention. Make regular eye contact, use the person’s name and smile. Listen more than you talk and you’ll make the other person feel valued and important.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).