Cocktails with Elephants

Unless you are someone quite unusual, you will have some fears or concerns walking into a room at either a social or business event particularly if you don’t know anyone. It’s natural; after all what did our mothers tell us about talking to strangers!

How do you eat an elephant?

Many people know the answer to this and if you don’t here’s the obvious, silly, answer. One bite at a time!

And if I ask you how to overcome your fears when working the room the answer will be similar.

One person / group at a time.

Every room you have been into and every room you will ever go into again will never have more than 6 formats.

When you accept and understand this fact you will walk into a room and feel comfortable in its surroundings knowing you’ve been there before. My secret is I hate walking into a room full of strangers so never do it- I aim to always get there early. Here are those 6 formats.

1. The Single Person

This person stands by the wall because, generally, they know no-one and don’t know how to break the ice. Approach them slowly as they’re literally praying for someone to talk to. Below is your ice-breaker. Smile, shake hands firmly but not too firmly and have good eye contact. Exchange names and listen carefully for their name that way you’ll hear it! What

next? Think what you have in common and start asking questions.

2. & 3.  Couples

As you are surveying the room, you will see couples.  They will either be standing side by side or face to face.

Unless you know one or both of them, I suggest you don’t approach a couple standing face-to-face. The body language is telling you that they are having a private and confidential, even intimate, conversation.  It might be business or social – who knows? What they have done is put an invisible barrier around themselves and asked everyone else to keep out.  I assure you, if you spend a little time before going up to a couple, your natural senses will tell you whether it’s safe or not. If you know one or both and you’re polite that should be fine.

4. & 5. Threesomes

When you see groups of three, they stand in an open or closed format.

The former will be standing in a semi- circle, the latter in a triangular shape.  Approaching open groups is brave but if you don’t approach that group or a single you can often spend your whole time at an event either chatting to the people you already know – or no-one at all! Using eye contact with all three in the group, gently and quietly ask if you may join them.  999 times out of 1000 their body language becomes open and they’ll welcome you in. You will get a responding smile, “Of course, come in,”

6. Groups of 4+

These are the big challenge for most people; whether it’s the approaching, the entering or the leaving.  Let me say here and now, until you’ve got your ‘L’ plates off, don’t start approaching groups, particularly when you don’t know anyone.  Needless to say, it’s not so bad when there is at least one member of the group whom you know, but, even then, it can be a bit daunting.

The group to approach is the one you feel most comfortable with.  Firstly, I’d like to suggest that you aim for groups of three; groups of four or more, even for me, are a big challenge.  Sticking with this group of three, decide whether you are more comfortable with males, females or a mix. At the same time, decide whether you feel at ease with small, medium or tall people.

Personally, at 5’ 6”, I would never approach three dark-suited men who are 6’ tall; talk about being out of my comfort zone!

As a general rule, the easiest, and what I mean by that, the friendliest type of group is one with a mix of men and women.

How do you leave the various formats? That’s for another day.

Fear of Rejection

This is our basic fear. ‘No-one will talk to me’; ‘Will I be taken seriously?’; ‘What happens if people just walk off?’ the list covered by the title is long and arduous. Fear is an acronym meaning false expectations appearing real. Accept the vast majority of people will be friendly courteous and welcoming. Focus on them and not the tiny percentage who may be rude. Remember you’re as good as anyone else in that room and people will always include you when you show interest in them and their situation.

How do you eat an elephant = How to work the room!

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