I have recently received a very interesting question and I would like to take some time to answer it here.
"Can you share with me on how to make small talks with people of higher authority? (for eg, after attending a talk, there are many people worth saying hi to. But how do I do that without feeling out of place? What do I say? How do I start? )"
There are two parts to the question: 1. How do I make small talk 2. How do I make small talk with people of higher authority?
To answer both questions, I would first like to introduce you to a concept called SCHMOOZING. Schmoozing is more than small talk. And I would like to borrow the definition from a very insightful book titled Vault Guide to Schmoozing.
Schmoozing is noticing people, connecting with them, keeping in touch with them — and benefiting from relationships with them.
Schmoozing is about connecting with people in a mutually productive and pleasurable way — a skill that has taken on new importance in our fragmented, harried, fiber-optic-laced world.
Schmoozing is the development of a support system, a web of people you know who you can call, and who can call you, for your mutual benefit and enjoyment.
Schmoozing is the art of semi-purposeful conversation: half chatter, half exploration.
Schmoozing is neither project nor process. It's a way of life.
Now that you have an idea of what schmoozing is, allow me to share with you three principles of schmoozing that will answer the above two questions.
You can't go wrong with that. Smile and the whole world smiles back at you. Nothing is as powerful as a sincere smile. It costs nothing yet it means so much. The next time you attend any function, just smile at people around you. You will be surprised how easy it is to make the first connection!
2. Be REALLY interested in whoever you are talking to
If you are out to get something out of everyone, it will show. Instead, try this. Go out and make a friend. Keep a “I want to know you better" mentality and creating small talks will be a piece of cake. In fact you will find yourself going beyond small talks and you will start enjoying every conversation you made.
3. Find a common ground
You smiled and made the first connection. You are really interested to know the other person. Now what? Simple. Find a common ground. You will never want to start a converation with a “So how old are you really?" or “I sell insurance, do you want to buy from me?" or “Are you Christian?" This is extreme but you get my point. So what are some topics you can talk about? If you are in a seminar, you can start with “What made you attend this seminar?" or “Who do know here?". If you are in a party, you can start with “How do you know the birthday boy?" or “How do you find the food?" Notice that these questions are open-ended. Avoid asking the “Do you . . . " questions which often lead to a yes, no or maybe. Hardly a great way to start a conversation!
Now that you have got the person talking. What do you do? SHUT UP and listen! Listen to what your new acquaintance has to say and paraphrase. Say he told you that he knew the birthday boy at another school party. You can continue by first paraphrasing “Oh so you went to that party with him. . . " and then proceed with “What party was that?" And make sure that you pay attention and really listen. Let him talk and you will have a chance to locate any common interests. Say he replied with “Oh yeah. . it was a party for my scuba diving club. . . " and if you like scuba diving, you can now delve deeper. “Really? I love to scuba dive too! Where was the last place you went. . . . " Got it?
5. Follow up
You have a wonderful time with the new acquaintance. And you both bid farewell. Ask for his number or business card. And when you get back home, send him an email or give him a phone call. Thank him for being so much fun. And you can proceed from there. We call that a follow up. And this is also the part where most people forget. In my opinion, it doesn't make sense. You spend so much time and energy to turn a stranger into an acquaintance. Surely you won't want to stop there. Besides you never know when you will need the person's help or his friend's help. So always be gracious and remember to follow up!
The above five tips apply to schmoozing with higher authorities as well. But I know what most people will say: “He is a big shot. . . what if he gives me a cold shoulder?" From my experience, seldom! In fact they love it when you take the proactive approach to get to know them. One thing that worked really well for me is this:
BONUS: DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
Before the big event, find out which big shots will be attending. You can usually find out via the event website or by asking the event organizer. Google for the big shot and very often you will find some information about him. Read it and memorize one important fact about him. For example, he recently organized a large technology conference in China. When you see him, ask him about it. This would be your “common ground" and he will be fairly impressed!
And I would like to emphasize this: ALWAYS FOLLOW UP! At the end of the conversation, thank the person and ask for his business card. They will usually not decline unless they run out of cards. Here's one tactic I use all the time. “John, if the next time I have any questions on this topic, can I ask you?" They cannot say no. And even if they say no, they will usually refer you to someone else.
Once you collect his business card, send him a thank you email (at the very least) at the end of the day or the next morning. Thank him for sharing with you x, y and z. (You gotta remember what he shared!!!). And if you have any more clarification/ questions, now would be the best time to ask. Without knowing, you have found yourself a mentor without really finding one!
There is really more to it so if you have any more questions, let me know.
Here's another book that I would strongly recommend: How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Philadelphia's Funniest Man - won the International Humor Contest at Division Level in 2005. A celebrated Toastmasters both in Singapore and Philadelphia. Writes regularly on public speaking topics. If you are keen to gain insightful and easy-to-apply tips on public speaking, check out his blog at Public Speaking for All