It wasn’t all that long ago I lived in Los Angeles, surrounded by an incredible energy of highly creative people. It’s a city that demands a certain amount of presence in order to even get your foot in the door.
But I saw it all the time… the people who seemed to have what it takes, and those that didn’t. Through the years I observed people rise to the top of their game, and it wasn’t always because they were the best writers or best actors. It had to do with presence, that special something that people exude when you first meet them, or even just walk into a room.
My late husband was a successful producer and writer for television and film, but in the beginning of his career, he was just as uncertain as everyone else. His eyes would dart around the room, he’d rub his hands together, and he’d avoid eye contact. As his confidence grew, so did his presence, and soon he was meeting with heads of studios without feeling awkward at all.
Together, David and I formed a production company that brought numerous projects to life, beginning with the seed of an idea, then the development of “the pitch” for the network and studio executives.
It took a few years before David mastered the art of “the pitch.” He’d practice with me, telling the story idea repeatedly until he got it right. Producers heard thousands of pitches every year, it was important to hone it until it came alive, and that meant creating a vivid, visual story within a few words. “Over” tell it, and the producer is bored. “Under” tell it and they don’t care enough to produce it.
But it all begins with the first impression.
After those first few seconds, it was up to David to hold the attention he earned from his first impression.
The first impression is the initial thought people have when they meet someone new, and shockingly, it’s often right.
Social Psychologist and Ted Talk speaker, Amy Cuddy concluded that first impressions are created by the fastest part of the brain, which is also the most primitive. In hunter-gatherer times, establishing trust was a critical decision that meant life or death. Friend or enemy? Fight or flight?
Within those few seconds people judge:
- Your social and economic level
- Level of education
- Degree of success
Cuddy says, “Trustworthiness is the most important quality. It accounts for about 65 percent of the overall variance in how we judge other people. And that’s because it does answer the most important question: Is this person friend or foe?”
First impressions are lasting. It’s important to get it right the first time.
People like to feel something from another person. That feeling comes from your ability to share who you are when you first meet. It’s not necessarily verbal, it’s a feeling someone gets when they meet you.
Remember the first time you made someone laugh or touched someone’s heart? Your personality is reflected through humor, awe, a twinkle in your eye, compassion, enthusiasm, intelligence, and genuinely revealing your truest self.
When someone has had a positive interaction, you’ll often hear about how special and wonderful that person made them feel.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Many people think they are what they do for a living, but your personality isn’t from what you do for a living, it comes from your entire life history. Over the years you developed a way of presenting yourself and it either works well… or not.
You may say, “I’m not good in new situations,” or “I’m not good with names.” But, you can learn how to change that!
Fascination is Reciprocal
One great trick I learned from Olivia Cabane, author of the Charisma Myth is to imagine that the person you’re speaking with is the star of the movie you’re watching. It helps to imagine them as fascinating, and in turn, they find you fascinating.
Cabane says, “Don’t try to impress people. Let them impress you, and they will love you for it.”
Consider these ideas for having charismatic conversations:
Begin a Conversation with Eye Contact
The first thing people notice is how accessible you are. A smile, a twinkle in your eye as you shake a hand, a projection of warmth… all contribute to good feelings people will have about you, but most important is keeping eye contact.
Have you ever talked to someone at an event, and suddenly their eyes veer away from you to the people behind you? Didn’t it make you feel worthless? At that moment, you probably changed your first impression about that person.
Let the Conversation Bounce
People love talking about themselves, so it’s best you don’t begin a conversation by talking about yourself. Instead, encourage the conversation to bounce back and forth by asking questions.
You then carry on the conversation by asking more questions.
Open-ended questions leave room for better conversations. It avoids awkward “yes” and “no” answers. Here are some examples:
- What brought you here tonight?
- Where are you from?
- What was it like growing up there?
- I’m new to the area, can you share some of your favorite restaurants?
- What do you like about the company you work for?
- What kinds of things do you like doing on your time off?
Keep It Positive
Drive the conversation in a positive direction. You don’t want to start out by complaining about the food or the parking.
There’s also no room for politics, gossip, or other controversial topics. Your goal is to make a positive connection by being upbeat and asking interactive questions. It cultivates good feelings. You’re planting the seeds of becoming memorable in their eyes.
Create Your Stories Ahead of Time
Craft 2 or 3 of your own stories that are good icebreakers you can use over and over again. Comedians have several sketches they know work well in front of audiences. They’ve tested them and knew they are audience pleasers.
Let People Know Who You Are
People aren’t labeled by what they do for a living, so experts advise you do not start a conversation by stating what you do for work. Nor do you ask them what they do.
Instead, their personal story is the beginning of a real connection. It’s the most compelling and powerful tool there is for identifying and relating to people. By encouraging them to share bits and pieces of their story, you lay the groundwork for you to share yours.
All relationships are about connections whether it’s business or personal. By attaching your story to your work or your business, you’re connecting with your client, audience, or customer in a more intimate way. They have a chance to get to know you and trust you. You’ve created rapport.
Pepper your stories with emotion-rich content. Use metaphors and images. Include the other person by saying things like, “have you ever had an experience like that?”
It gives them the opportunity to reveal themselves, forming an even deeper bond.
The Gift of a Name
It’s said that the sweetest sound is that of your own name spoken by another. Think about it. Doesn’t it give you a little thrill when people you’ve just met begin using your name within the conversation?
Learn to repeat someone’s name the moment they are introduced and use it two or three times within the conversation.
The most important secret ingredient to a compelling conversation between two people…
Stay focused on the person telling their story, often asking questions so they dive deeper into their conversation with you. And listen.
Don’t let your mind wander; chances are they will ask you a question and you’ll not have the slightest idea of what they were talking about. It leaves a bad first impression.
Listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone… a client, a lover, a friend, a child. Listen with all your heart.
Parents know they often get asked about children, but the truth is, that’s the hardest question in the world for me. I still stumble over the question, “how many children do you have?” I have to determine whether I bring the conversation down by revealing I lost my 16-year old son, or I lie and say I have only 3 children. I talk about it in my article on Huffington Post, “I Still Stumble Over The Question, How Many Children Do You Have?”
If someone reveals something painful, please don’t ignore it. A simple, “I’m so sorry, that must be very hard” is one compassionate way of acknowledging. Then, I usually reply, “Thank you, I appreciate your compassion,” and then continue the conversation.
The Age Old Question… What to Wear
Do you try to fit in or stand out in a crowd? Cabane in her book, The Charisma Myth, says it depends on your goals. If you want people to feel comfortable, you dress in a similar way to the people you are speaking to. If you want to be an authority, you might consider elevating what you wear.
Cabane says, “If you’re going to a party, call the host: if you’re going on a job interview, go by the office a few days before to see what people coming in and out are wearing.”
Don’t Be a Close Talker
Respect personal space. People don’t want to feel trapped. Children sometimes develop this habit early on because mothers and fathers like being close and cuddly. Some children never grow out of it.
Have you ever experienced a “close talker” and taken a step back? Then, they take another step toward you? Uncomfortable, right?
In movies and television, you’ll see a lot of “close talking,” but it’s not normal. As an actress, any time I had a scene with another actor, the director always put me closer than I (or the other actor in the scene) felt comfortable. That’s why they call it the “close up.” It’s necessary for the intimacy of the camera. The director wants the audience to feel that close intensity. But in real life, we don’t talk to each other so close you can feel their breath.
If you suspect you might be a close talker, start monitoring it. It’s the same respect of personal space and distance we should give people in bank lines or the post office.
Reduce Phone Distractions
I admit it… I look at my phone constantly. I wish I didn’t, but I’m working on it. It hit me one day several months ago when I was involved in an emotional conversation, and the other person picked up her phone to see what came through with the “ding.” My heart dropped and I felt as though my conversation was no longer important.
I began that day to address my phone addiction.
I’ve discovered if I put my phone inside my purse instead of in my hand or on the table, I reduce the temptation to see what pops up every few seconds. I also turned off “notifications” and put my phone on silent when I’m with someone else.
My family will tell you I’m always on the phone… it’s my business, but I discovered by answering the phone whenever it rings, it controls me. I’m living a reactive life. Time for me to evaluate how to change that.
End Conversations Gracefully
Never let the conversation die uncomfortably; it becomes no longer memorable. Author Cabane says to strategize an exit plan that includes value. It can be offering a useful piece of information, a person they should meet, or something they said that really sparked you. Here’s an example:
“I’ve really enjoyed connecting with you, Sarah! I read a great article in the New York Times related to what we just discussed. If you’d like, I’ll send it to you. (ask for her business card).
The Secret of the Final Lasting Impression
Never under-estimate the value of a handwritten note. Even if you could email Sarah the article, I suggest printing it out and inserting it in an envelope with a personal handwritten note. I promise you it will make your first impression last forever.
“There are a thousand ways for you to get noticed, but there’s only one way to really touch someone. And that’s to give them a reason to care…” – Bernadette Jiwa, author of Marketing, A Love Story
Stretch your comfort level and employ these behavioral practices to develop a style that is uniquely your own. Gradually it will become more natural and feel increasingly positive. You’ll become that person who enters the room and heads turn… not because of how you’re dressed or styled… it’s the confidence, personal power, and warmth you exude that comes from knowing who you are and how to be authentic even in the most awkward situations.
In a world of choices, people will do business and connect with people they like. Remember what Maya Angelou says,
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Practice how to make a person feel good by giving them your whole-hearted attention. When you do, your business elevates from a product or service to something that really matters…. a genuine and honest connection. And personally?… it opens life to a whole new realm of possibility.
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