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Shameless schmoozing 101: How to become a better conversationalist

Dec 6, 2015 | 4 comments

The thought of walking to an event to notify random strangers you exist and have them like you enough to feel they should do business with you in the future sound like a mission made for attention vampires and stuck-up people. Nobody wants to be portrayed like this ofcours, that’s why this mission sounds so awkward.

It is no secret that the good conversationalists have better chances striking more opportunities. The good news is that I have come to discover that becoming one is a skill that can be learned. And then forgotten. And then learned all over again.

I remember a time in high school when I suddenly changed. From being this shy girl I became  socially fearless. I went to rock concerts all by myself knowing i’ll make new friends once I’m there. A few years into my mid twenties, things have changed. You grow up, your heart breaks a few times and life does it’s thing as you face the challenges of handling stuff.  In the middle of design school I found myself feeling a lot different about myself. All of a sudden I wasn’t that confident. I was so concerned of what people thought about me. When I went someplace new, I didn’t feel comfortable at all striking a conversation. I felt socially awkward. I stopped myself at some point and asked me-What the hell happened to me? Where is that person I used to be? How do I get her back?

The short answer – therapy. My slightly longer answer is that events and process, if they happen to us or if we choose to hop on them have an impact on our personalities and confidence level. My bottom line in telling you all of this is that the saying that some people are just confident and some are doomed for social awkwardness is plain bullshit. With a little courage and a lot of work anyone can shift stuff within their weird oh so complex personalities.

Knowing how to carry a good conversation at a meetup/business event is not about  manipulatively making people like you so they give you work, it’s about learning how to communicate  outward all of your positive traits so people will like being around the person you are. Which is a politically correct way to phrase ‘making people like you so they give you work’. Let the schmoozing  begin . As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t always feeling confident approaching  people in conventions, ‘bragging’ about what I do, it was a learning curve.  Here is what I learned along the way.

Lower your expectations of people and events

Never expect a new person you meet to be your next lead and give you your next project tomorrow morning. It puts a pressure on the entire situation and that person will feel it. A past design teacher of mine  once told me that it took about 6 months of conversations and meetings with a client that ‘nothing came out of’ until the one meeting that actually had the project starting. I got offers from prospects I met  months ago. Stuff take time. By releasing any expectations of the future you gain a more powerful position and you are able to portray confidence and ease to the person in front of you.

You should Tell them about what you do, but don’t talk about business

This is the tale of the red and white stripy t-shirt, said to me by a friend while being stuck in a traffic jam. Say you are on the search for a specific type of a stripy red and white t- shirt ( just pretend it’s 1995) and you can’t find it in any store ( And you can’t search online, because it’s 1995). All of a sudden you notice across the street, a sketchy looking stand with an obnoxious looking salesperson. Nothing about it seems appealing but the fact that this stand sells red and white stripy t-shirts. You will definitely walk across the street and check out what they have to offer you because you are in need for what they are selling . Despite their obnoxiousness.

 Moral of this story is not to be obnoxious and sketchy looking, but to let go of the pressure to appear ‘needed’ and ‘appealing’. Find the nice shortest phrase that sums up what you do in a way the person in front of you will understand and relate to.

I tell business owners I make commercial videos with animations. I tell other designers I do motions graphics. I tell tech people I make videos for apps to help them lie about their product abilities before  all their features actually work. I tell other videographers I do after effects.

Once they know what is it that you are selling, if they are in need for it, or find it interesting, believe me, they will ask you further more questions, which you will gladly answer. If they respond with – ‘Oh that’s great’, You can ask them what they do, feel free to talk about anything else that doesn’t have to do with work. Show genuine interest in them and their thoughts. ‘Worst case scenario’, you’ll earn a new friend. Actually, that is the best case scenario. Having friends is awesome. Never underestimate anyone, or treat people differently according to what you feel ‘they can give you’. You never know who is it that you are talking to or who they will be two years from now. You don’t have to kiss anyone’s ass. Ever. You just have to treat people you meet kindly and with respect. That’s all there is to leaving a good first impression.

Yes, it is a numbers game when it comes to how many events you attend, but not when it comes to how many conversations you strike per event. It is better to have 1-2  genuine conversations then introducing yourself to million of people and giving away your card to whoever will agree to take it. Don’t feel pressured to befriend everybody.When you attend more of these and you are starting to feel comfortable, every new person you meet feels like a pathway that is opened to you and you can never tell when or how one will meet you down the road. And that’s make you feel confident. And that’s why when you talk to more and more people you are getting better and better at it and slowly becoming this person everybody feels they should stay in touch with.

Only attend events and meetups under a topic you find interesting

Following this simple rule will help you carry better conversations and help you express yourself in a way that will portray you as professional, passionate, interesting person without having to ‘brag’ about work. Because you feel for the subject, it will just come easily, and you casually mentioning what you do when your’e asked will be just part of the entire package of this cool intelligent friendly person you are. Moreover, it’s way easier starting a new conversation this way with complete strangers.

This is how to strike a conversation with a complete stranger 

Well, there isn’t one way to do it. But if you are feeling socially awkward these day like I used to when I just started with this, here is my recipe that always work. 3 situation to say hi to a complete stranger

  1. You managed to make eye contact
  2. You are sitting next to them while waiting for a talk to start
  3. The coffee/beer table. Coffee is the greatest conversation starter

Here you are, you are standing near that stranger. Any mistake you make will be held against you and you are running the risk of being labeled weird and stupid. Don’t fuck it up! Just kidding. No need to feel pressured. Your next task is rather simple. Smile and say “Hi”. This is a basic conversation start- You: hi Person: hi You: so what brings you here? Ramble ramble about the event’s topic. Two things can happen from here. Either the conversation flows which is great. Or this person might not be into talking with you so much, that’s why he/she will only answer short answers and not with questions rolling the ball at your court. If that’s the case just pleasantly end the conversation with an ‘ Alright cool, enjoy’ and continue on your merry way until you find someone else to talk to. Once you practice this more and more you’ll get better at it. It’s just those first few times that are nerve wracking.

How to be ‘likable and impressive’?

You mean without that part where you have to talk and talk about yourself until no one stands you and suck people’s ass? Yeah, that’s tricky. Here is what I discovered- It’s not about finding the right thing to say, it’s about finding the right way to feel about yourself from the inside, professionally. Here is how I defy a likable person in the business world (and in general)

  • You can be trusted – You say what you mean and you mean what you say.
  • You know how to listen – So you understand people, what they want, and need.  
  • You know how to do your work – You sell good s***t.

If you are ALL of these, and you feel that you are all of these, you shouldn’t have a problem appearing that way naturally because you are confident enough that people will want to hire you. Do you think that you are all of these but from some reason you feel people don’t get it? Take a closer look in the mirror because this definitely reflects something on you, some more work that you need to do.

The more you work on bettering yourself in those areas outside these events, when no one else is watching, that’s when you actually become this. The more work you do, the more experiences you take upon yourself, the better you get. With all that, here comes your confidence. And then it’s effortless to portray yourself to other people the way you feel they should get you.

The business card exchange done elegantly

I always feared coming out weird shoving people my business card. To overcome that I set myself a goal in my first convention. Exchange at least one business card with someone. Just one. It’s important you make the effort to design the card that you’ll REALLY love because it can really boost your confidence level. Your first exchange doesn’t have to be done elegantly, nothing has to come out if it, even if it’s done horribly and awkward, just do it. Just give away one. Worst case scenario, one person on earth thinks of you bad stuff, eventually you will realize it’s not that hard. 

Schmoozing is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s part of your profession as a freelancer. It’s an art. I’m schmoozing you right now. Are you schmoozed yet 🙂 ?

Never mind, I’ll just casually go on my merry way and finish this post already. Enjoy your next meetup, happy schmoozing !

The star of this post’s gif header is little kitty Bounty. She has her own technique attracting positive attention when she enters the middle of the room. She lies on her back and stretch. But that works just for cats.  


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Post by Sivan Sa’ar

I’m a freelance Videographer and motion designer. I love to tell stories and I dream big, just like you.  

I would love to hear your thoughts! Leave me a comment or feel free to email me at: saar.sivan@gmail.com


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