How To Work a Room with Susan RoAne
Susan RoAne talks about how to work a room, how to network and mingle without feeling awkward. She also teaches us how to remember important details about the people that we network with to better build a connection with them.
Today’s guest is Susan RoAne who is a keynote speaker, a bestselling author, and the Mingling Maven who for three decades has shared her message of connection and communication with audiences worldwide; on stage, in print and in the media. She is the author of the classic bestseller How To Work a Room®, which has sold over one million copies in thirteen countries, as well as The Secrets of Savvy Networking also a best seller. Susan was named by Forbes.com as one of the networking gurus of 2015.
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Susan, welcome to the show.
Thank you. I’m delighted to be here.
Susan, I would be really thrilled to hear about how the place that you live today and the significant city in your life influences the work that you do in the world.
I live outside of San Francisco so it influences me greatly. I live in the middle of one of the most beautiful and interesting places. I’m a former History major so I love to take people on tours in San Francisco and show them things.
How important is community in the neighbourhood that you live in Marin?
I live in a condo and on my floor in the condo, the people in them are what contribute to my overall happiness. We like each other. We watch out for each other. We give each other rides to the Airporter. We have dinner together. We sit outside together. I think liking that community that surrounds you and feeling comfortable and confident is important. Also, I live in this area called Marin County and right down the street from me about three quarters of a mile is the famous San Quentin Prison. We do everything we can not to have to go there and be incarcerated. We have something that I’m not sure where it is around the globe, but it’s called NextDoor.com. It’s also an online community. The person that thought of it thought of it for a good reason but it’s sad, people often don’t talk or know their neighbours. This allows you to go online and find out who needs a nanny, who has a bed for sale, who saw a feral cat that whatever, some of it are silly. I was able to score two tickets to a baseball game I wanted to go to because some guy was selling it. Here’s the neat part, when we met and transacted the exchange, he ended up buying my book How To Work a Room®. How good is that?
I think there’s community online but don’t forget your neighbours. Those are the people that we should be making sure that we say hello to, spend the time with. There’s the general community. I have a community of speaker friends that live here. I have a community of author friends. There are people that go to my health club. I see the walkers along the creek. There is a community that see each other. I think we are a part and parcel of so many communities but we need to be present when we’re there and be part of it.
How can somebody living in a large city who’s maybe feeling a little isolated, a bit lonely, perhaps they’re new in the neighbourhood or they’re shy, how does somebody like that, any of us in fact, find our community? What are some easy tips to start to build community and begin to network with our neighbours in a constructive way?
The first one is when you see them, smile and say hello. You’d be so surprised how many people especially people who live in buildings with elevators; they get in the elevator and they don’t talk to people. Be the initiator. I am going to brag a tad. There is something that I have said for years and it’s an old saying we hear, “Good things come to those who wait.” What I have said in my books and in my presentations and articles I’m quoted is, “Good things come to those who initiate.” I’m honoured to say that Sir Richard Branson quoted me in one of his articles of Quotes to Make Things Happen and I was number six, “Good things come to those who initiate.” Don’t wait for people to say hello to you. Say hello to them. Add another sentence, “How are you today?” the second time you see them. Notice something that they’re wearing or carrying and make a comment. It happens over time. It doesn’t happen overnight. I think when we’re in a community and we are shy and really 80% to 90% of us feel shy and now we have the 40% who say that they’re introverts. If you initiate and you are pleasant and you have the smile on your face that’s welcoming, you help people shier than you feel comfortable. Everyone’s waiting, “Who’s going to make the first move? I shouldn’t say anything. What if they reject me?” You’ll be that person that has the big smile.
The other thing I would say and I do this all the time is I have offhanded comments, off-the-cuff comments, impromptu things. It doesn’t work for everyone but I’d love you try it. When you see something or you see someone that has an interesting pin, an interesting t-shirt; I’ve stopped people and said, “Your hat cracks me up,” because I have a hat that says, “Get over it.” Sometimes I see all the people with their dogs walking along the creek, and they stop and talk to each other. Notice someone’s children. Notice someone’s dog. Notice someone’s colourful scarf, making observations that are positive and give positive feedback. Sometimes I see parents walking their kids in this little baby stroller or Baby Joggers and I’ll look and the kid will be adorable and I’ll say, “Oh my gosh, how adorable.” It’s not going to be that I’m going to best friends with those people, but here’s the worst thing that could happen, you made them smile and said something nice about their child. If we practise being the person who initiates, who notice, who makes a positive comment and then show up. When someone invites you to the welcome wagon new neighbours get together, don’t say, “I have an online thing to go to. I’m going to stay in my place and do that.” Do what my mother always said. My mother grew up in Chicago. I’m going to channel her, “Go out. You’ll never meet anyone sitting at home.” Now, the truth is we can meet a lot of people sitting at home but I am going to promise all of our listeners, nothing replaces face to face in-person contact.
Talk us through why you believe that?
It’s not even me. It’s the research; all the social media medical research, the power of touch, even if it’s shaking someone’s hand, even if is someone’s in mourning, even when you’re there that you just touch their arm, even if you say nothing. It’s the power of touch. That doesn’t happen online. I love the fact and let’s say this that you and I did face to face where we saw each other so that set the tone for the two of us, and that’s great. Skype is wonderful or FaceTime is wonderful when you’re geographically separated but when you can, show up in person.
For somebody who is going to maybe a local freelancing networking event or a welcome wagon gathering for some new people to the neighbourhood, what are one or two maybe three of your top tips to help somebody mingle in a way that doesn’t feel icky or awkward? What might they be?
This is going to just sound totally strange. It’s hard for the person who’s shy and it’s hard for the person who thinks they’re an introvert. This is the one thing you do, go everywhere and your number one goal is to have a good time. When you go with the goal and the mindset of, “I wonder who I’m going to get to meet. I really am going to have a good time if I put on this much makeup to go anywhere. I better have a good time.” Go to have a good time because when you do that, you will be projecting that smile, that positive, you will radiate outward of that and that makes people more comfortable to come over to you because you will be approachable. Go to have a good time.
Second thing is no matter where you’re going, you’ll never go in cold not knowing things because right now, we have Google. We have Facebook. We have LinkedIn. We have websites. We can go and look up enough information that gives us ideas to make conversation. There is no reason to say, “I don’t know anything.” Do homework online to help your in-person. That’s the second tip. The third tip is before you go anywhere, I’m a big believer, I’m a former school teacher, read the paper. I don’t care if it’s a content curator however you do it. Know what’s going on in your community and in your profession. If you don’t, you won’t have as much to contribute to conversation. If you’re not aware of what’s going on in your community, your city, your country, the world, really then you’re not as interesting a conversationalist and it takes so little.
One of the things I subscribe to is something called The Week. Every day I get ten things I should know from around the world that would keep me informed. It’s a great little way to be able to make conversation across the pond, across the world, but do this, have your own self-introduction prepared. You’re going to go places and nobody’s going to go, “Look who’s coming in the room, Susan RoAne.” Clare, I’d love to have you introduce me everywhere, but that’s not how it works. Have your own self introduction. Do not believe these people that harp on networking that it’s your 30 second elevator spiel, it’s not. It’s a seven to nine second pleasantry. Number one, it’s seven to nine seconds.
Two, it’s key to the event, we introduce ourselves differently depending where we are to give people context for our being there.
The third is if it’s about business, don’t give your title. Give the benefit of what you do, especially for freelancers.
How can we handle the stranger at one of these social events who is really either distracted or just very monosyllabic that they’re just not giving very much back at all?
Number one, what we do is when we think someone is distracted and not giving much back, we’ll be very dismissive, how rude or whatever, but I’m going to give another way to look at it. That person might have just found out some difficult news about the family, about the job, about a client, and that distracted person, it has nothing to do with us. We’re not a bad conversationalist. They are just in a different place. What we do when we’re with that kind of person, and maybe we’ve all even been than person when we’ve been distracted about something, what we do is we excuse ourselves from that conversation by doing this. We don’t say, “It was lovely to meet you,” because we know it wasn’t. What we do is we still extend our hand for that personal touch handshake and say, “I hope you enjoy the rest of the confab, summit, the meeting, the party.” Big smile because the next time you meet that person, they might not be as distracted and they won’t remember that you just turned around and walked away, which would be insulting. Just give them their space. The other part is don’t waste your time. Someone who is really difficult, that maybe who they are. You’re not going to cheer them up. That’s not your job. Excusing yourself cheerfully and who knows the next time you see him, everything may be fine and it might be a nice connection, but always be respectful.
I think some people struggle with small talk and they find it unhelpful or tedious. What’s your perception or your take rather on a small talk?
Here’s what I’ve said and I have tweeted because I’m a big tweeter, “All those people complaining about small talk being insignificant, stop it immediately.” I’ll explain. Small talk is what leads to big talk. Small talk is how we establish common bonds and find out your son plays rugby and my son plays rugby. That’s how we find out if we both went to the same school or if you have relatives as you do, Clare, living near me here in the San Francisco area. That small talk leads to big talk. People don’t talk about the weather. They say, “I’m too important to talk about the weather.” That is a poppycock because the weather’s what’s happening to all of us. It’s our common bond. We have gone through hurricanes, earthquakes, bloody heat spells, cold spells and storms. Why wouldn’t you talk about that? That’s the start. The weather is the gift for those of us who are too shy to start other conversations. I wrote a conversation book that I actually have reread this weekend called What Do I Say Next? What I write in it is nobody who is good at small talk, nobody who is good at having the gift of gab ever done a great sit, only the people who are dismissive of it. Let me tell you, the people who are dismissive of small talk have other issues. It’s not that they want to get into the deep, important conversations, because you have to earn that deep conversation. You have to earn the right to ask the in-depth, personal, and professional questions. You start with small talk because it’s the light-hearted way to connect and then you segue and move because conversation’s organic. Dismissing small talk is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. I’ve said that for years and I’m adamant now that I’ve seen what small talk does to build bridges.
You can’t have a network for business and not one for life. Yet there are so many people, “I’m going to have a network. I’m going to go to a networking club. I’m going to exchange referrals and leads.” If you are not living a life of being connected, of helping other people, of responding to people, and that’s not who you are personally, I don’t care who you are professionally. You’re just doing strategies. The real networking person is the person who shares, supports, engages, embraces in real life. I can say this. Life is so much more interesting, valuable, and fun if you have multiple networks of people whom you enjoy, but if it’s only for business, you’re missing the boat. I don’t know where I’d be without my circle of friends. I have friends I go to baseball games with. I have friends I go to ballet with. There’s a different friend that likes to go to hamburger because we’re meat eaters. I have friends who would never go. I have a friend who will never eat sushi with me but I have a sushi network. If you like sushi, you have a sushi network. I’m from Chicago. I have a deep-dish pizza network.
One question that I’ve got for you, which is something that I know many of the people who are listening right now will be thinking about. How can we remember names of strangers that we meet in these social, professional settings? Because that can be really, really awkward and embarrassing when someone just introduced themselves to us, told us what their name is, and then for whatever reason, just completely forgotten it.
Here’s what’s even more embarrassing, when you forget your own name at these things. We are now meeting multiple times more people than our parents and grandparents met. We put on us the onus of remembering everyone’s name. You go to an event, you meet twenty people. That’s a very big expectation. Everyone now talks about bandwidth. Here’s what we do. If you want to remember names, engage as many senses as possible. When they say their name, repeat it so you hear yourself and then you’re exercising your own voice, etc. Repeat their name so you get the pronunciation correct. If they’re wearing a name tag, look at the name tag so you engage the visual sense. If you shake a hand, then you’re engaging your sense of touch. Do as many senses as you can.
Here’s the other thing. When you don’t focus on, “Oh my god, what I’m going to talk about? What am I going to say?” If you listen to what people say when they say their name, focus on it. If they give you a card, look at the card. Don’t just put it in your pocket because that will give you another visual clue. Don’t repeat their name ten times in the conversation because they’ll think you’re trying to help them remember their own name. Repeat it maybe two times. If you exchange cards, if they said something interesting, have your pen with you and just say, “Would you mind if I write that? That was so clever. That was so smart. That was so interesting.” You write a mnemonic device on their card and help remember.
Here’s what happens if you don’t remember a name. It’s not so much even at that event but you see them three months later. What you do instead of wasting a lot of time putting a cat in a hat with a bat, what you do is just say, “Please forgive me. It’s been one of those days. I know your face and I’ve seem to forgotten your name. Could you help me out?” That’s happened to all of us. People will generally tell you their name. What if they only say their first name? You can say, “Would you mind giving me your surname as well? I want to make sure I remember.” Here’s the other thing. When we meet people, first names and surnames. Give them both names. Don’t just say your first name, especially in a social setting.
Here’s another thing that we have seen on this side of the pond and I’m sure it’s there as well. We now have people who, “I live in the Silicon Valley area. I haven’t had a business card in eight years. We don’t use them. We just take a picture and we put you right in to our database.” I want to give this to all of our people. Have business cards. They are so easy to get now and much like calling cards of yesteryear. You meet someone at a charity event, it’s a foodie event, have a card. Even at social events, exchange cards because you’ll never know. Everyone heard someone, a great aunt, a grandmother, a grandfather say this, “You’ll never know.” If you have your card with whatever your handles are for Instagram and Twitter on it, you help people remember you. They may say, “I’ll just take a picture and then I’ll file it,” or whatever. Here’s what I’m going to tell you at least a lot of us have said about LinkedIn and I’ve been a member for it almost fourteen years. You get someone’s card, you put their information on LinkedIn, 90% of the time you don’t even remember you met them. You’re really not connected to them. When you have a card, you look at that card. If you’ve written on it a little mnemonic device and you live with that card a little bit, you will have a better chance of remembering the person and the event you met them at when you write it. That person is more in your network so when you do invite them, and you do maybe connect with them but don’t forget to just send them an individual email because that is part of conversation. The invite to LinkedIn is just accept and you may not start a relationship or a connection that way.
It’s quite an impersonal thing to just get a friend request on Facebook or LinkedIn request that’s maybe unsolicited. It can be a bit jarring I think.
If you’ve met someone, follow it up, whether they have a cell phone and send them a quick text, “Great meeting you.” Send a quick email, “Really enjoyed talking about the new food fads.” Something that connects you to people. You build a network and you build relationships by making those remarks that follow up what you’ve been talking about so the people know you are listening. By the way, the key to conversation is to listen to people when they’re talking, not planning what to say next.
I’m curious about life. I want to learn, learn, learn. I’ll tell you what has helped me: really going to Twitter and seeing URLs to articles I didn’t know, reading actual social research. I want to know how people communicate. I want to know what stops them. I consider my mission if I have the magic wand and I could wave it over everyone it would be so they can walk into any room, talk to anyone, have an interesting conversation that is enjoyable, informative, that sparks their curiosity. That’s my mission, whether it’s the shy person, the introvert. My curiosity is we’re living in quite interesting times here in the United States. How we can have conversations that when we disagree with people and not have them be outlandish arguments. I’m just curious about life. I want to know more about art. If I come go to any city, the first thing I want to do is go to their art museum and see what’s in art. I want to learn more about that. I want to learn more about what makes people happy. I’m mostly curious about what people are interested in. That’s how you make conversation.
Susan, tell us where we can find out more about you and your work.
You can find out more about me at SusanRoAne.com or if you go to HowToWorkARoom.com. You can even go to SecretsOfSavvyNetworking.com. They all point to me. If you have any questions from something that we said, I’m the former teacher that says, “Please let me know.” Email me. Susan@SusanRoAne.com.
Susan, thank you so much for being a guest today on the Urban Curiosity Podcast.
It’s been my pleasure. Thank you, Clare.