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marauder76's avatar

How can I be a better shmoozer?

Asked by marauder76 (390points) February 7th, 2010

My job requires me to “work the room” at various banquets and ceremonies, start conversations with strangers, get people talking, etc., but I am not very good at small talk, and always feel uncomfortable in such situations. I am not at all nervous about walking up to someone and striking up a conversation, but I am often at a loss within a minute thereafter. I need advice from people who know how to shmooze. Any tips as to how to get people talking? How to move beyond small talk, and into meaningful or interesting conversation? Thanks.

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13 Answers

Darwin's avatar

Make sure to read the newspaper every day, and that will give you fodder for small talk. Just avoid politics and religion.

ETpro's avatar

You can cover a lot of schmoozing ground by just asking questions about someone else’s interests and listening intently. Of course, if you know something about what they are saying, and can ad some positive reinforcement here and there, so much the better. Best way to learn to do that is by reading widely and randomly on every topic you can get your hands on.

Then there is always the possibly easier alternative of changing jobs.

Dan_DeColumna's avatar

Practice. Everyday, all day long. Minimum wage workers are a good place to start. They are usually so bored, and so surprised that you were considerate enough to even acknowledge their existence, let alone actually talk to them, that they rarely give you a hard time in starting a conversation. (Note: This doesn’t hold true if they’re busy.) Many of the subtle cues and body language can only be learned by practice.
Just jump in.

ninjacolin's avatar

start with the “least” interesting people and work your way up to those who you really need to talk to. this way, you don’t miss anyone who you didn’t know was important, and you make the important (to you) ones feel that you aren’t targeting them directly, puts them at ease and possibly makes them wait anxiously for your audience.. makes you seem important, like you have soooo many people to talk to.

Judi's avatar

Ask a lot of questions, then actively listen. You won’t have to do much talking and everyone will think you’re the nicest person in the room because you listened to THEIR schmoozing!

SeventhSense's avatar

I’m a pro. I could charm the pants off Mother Teresa. Just start by noticing something at the party. Some food. “Hey did you try the shrimp?” A waiter with a funky hair do in a playful way. Talk about how you did catering when you were younger. When you open yourself up a little other people usually feel more comfortable and will share a story.
Move progressively from someone other than the two of you, to you, and then them. Puts them at ease.
If it’s a group table focus your conversation at the smilingest one and work the rest into the conversation. Don’t go after high status folks first. You need to give them deference and one of the best ways is to employ them in a conversation with another so they are completely at ease. And have them always at your side never head on. Again it’s disarmingly more chummy without being confrontational.

Buttonstc's avatar

Those who responded with the advice to ask questions of others rather than feeling like you have to do a lot of talking are spot on.

It also helps if you are a naturally curious person. Larry King is not one of the world’s great intellects but he has enough insight to realize that his biggest strength is his omnivorous curiosity. He has remarked about this often when people have asked him about his success.

The same applies to many other successful folks whether or not they are “professional” interviewers like Carson, Barbara Walters, Charlie Rose, etc.

But you really do need to be an active listener rather than just peppering someone with one question after another in a machine-gun style. Actually listen to what they’re saying rather than just having your mind on your next question or a joke you want to tell. That never fails to come off as artificial and people will pick up on it.

Also try to ease into asking more open-ended type of questions ( those which can’t be answered by a simple yes or no or biographical fact about themselves.

These are fine for the beginning to get to know someone a little better ( which college, how many kids, where lived while growing up, etc) initially.

But to sustain a conversation so it doesn’t run out of gas, you need questions geared more to their opinions on various topics.

You don’t really need to give your opinions unless asked. Just pick about half a dozen or more thought-provoking topics ahead of time and jot them down on a 3X5 card ahead of time. Just don’t let anyone see you referring to them as that also comes off as fakey. (Take a brief bathroom or fresh air break to do it if necessary. )

People are flattered to have someone consult them for their opinions or advice and will most likely take little notice if you don’t have much to say.

Just make sure you actually listen to them and you should do fine.

Even if you don’t normally watch them, try to spend a little time studying the pros.

Obviously the longer format ones like the hour shows of Larry King and Charlie Rose are better since they aren’t having to wrap everything up in five mins.

But even John Stewart is good. He really listens to people’s replies to his questions. Even tho a comedian who usually wants to get a laugh, he actively pays attention to what the guest is really saying. He’s quite good at this. Watch his technique. He’s skilled enough at it that it doesn’t appear that there’s a technique at all.

If you have willing and understanding family or friends, practice on them.

After awhile, you’ll find it coming more and more naturally to you.

SeventhSense's avatar

Look if you’re going to pick up hot chicks at a party….oh never mind my bad

wundayatta's avatar

@SeventhSense What interesting advice! I generally tend to be able to talk to folks, but usually one on one is better. I’m handicapped at a large round table because I can’t hear people—well, I can’t detect the words in the noise. Something, I believe, that happens as we age.

@marauder76 and @SeventhSense What kind of jobs require these skills?

Dr_C's avatar

The simplest and most effective secret requires no practice and can be applicable to any and all situations. All you need to do uppon entering a conversation is to ask the other person question after question about his/herself, their occupation, project, or whatever topic is relevant at the time… elaborate on these questions. It’s very important that you listen to what they are saying so you can get new questions from each response… if you don’t understand something so much the better; ask them to explain!

The effect of this kind of questioning is that the person feels satisfied as having been the center of your attention, feels like you did most of the talking, and comes away feeling like you really made a connection even after a short conversation.

Try it out with friends first and see what you think. It has served me well.

SeventhSense's avatar

See you just did it. It’s also disarming to be self effacing ( think Columbo or Rodney Dangerfield). You stroked my ego and my ego’s a sucker for a compliment. To work a room you can’t be timid though. A strong voice invokes confidence. If you’re afraid to be heard above the crowd, what does that say about the importance of your message or the speaker? When you walk in a room, own it.
Actually any type of job where networking is key. The lighter though the better. People who feel good are much more apt to be agreeable. Every good salesman, politician, charismatic person knows this instinctively. They sell a mood, an attitude a feeling and the product is secondary. The feeling is the key. Make someone feel and they can be influenced easily.
People like to buy but they don’t like to be sold.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Eye contact, stay awake, fake it.

Holden_Caulfield's avatar

Listening! Listen to what others have to say first and foremost and find a commonality between you… the conversation grows from there. You can also ask general questions to stimulate conversation… and from there… do the above!

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