Improve Your People Skills: Learn the Lost Art of the “Schmooze”

Outside of direct sales, the art of schmoozing appears on the verge of utter extinction. Not long ago, we were a society that placed importance on the ability to win people over and make friends. However, we now live in a world devoid of trust. As children, many of us are taught to “not talk to strangers.”

In an effort to protect us, our parents have left many of us going out into the world overly guarded – unable to outwardly-project openness, warmth, and show a genuine interest in our fellow man.

Don’t get me wrong, parents aren’t the only reason much of the population doesn’t know how to create lasting connections with other people. There are many environmental reasons, that include psychological scars left by embarrassing situations we had as a child (teasing, etc.)

Some of you may have grown up in a very tight-knit culture and just never quite learned how to feel comfortable around strangers, and thus, never learned how to make strangers feel comfortable around you.

Young businessman having a conversation

So how does this social dilemma relate to business, you ask?

The best “schmoozers” are those special people who gain trust immediately. They make you feel as if you’ve known them for decades, even though you just met. They listen intently, provide satisfying feedback at the most opportune times, and have that special knack for making you feel like they’re hanging on your every word.

A great schmoozer is a sales genius, a marketing maestro, and a true networking master in the business world.

Learning and honing the ability to win people over quickly and create a lasting relationship with them will transform and elevate your career or business overnight.

Schmoozing 101

1. Leave your ego at the door

Our ego has a way of hurting more than helping in most situations. To clarify: the ego is an outword projection of your level of confidence and/or insecurity. Either way, it has no place in a first meeting with anyone. Your ego can make you dismissive, defensive, non-trusting and just plain undesirable as a conversation partner (learn more about the effect ego can have on your career and relationships here).

Forget that you’re the most interesting person in the world, the best in your industry, or that you have a big zit on your forehead. Whether they approach you, or you them; learn to shut your pride off quickly. Put yourself into a humbled, Zen-like state. Like you’re entering a monastery to learn martial arts or gardening skills from a Buddhist monk!

2. Body language

Words only account for 7% of all successful human communication. Conversely, body language accounts for a whopping 55% (source).You have to open up your body language so you don’t give the other person any indication that you’re closed off, or that you’re only talking to them out of necessity: i.e., crossing your arms, leaning away from them, covering different points on your face with your hands (this faux-pas can, and will also be interpreted as dishonesty).

This realization should put an entirely new meaning to the phrase “you better get your game-face on.” Read through this blogpost to learn how to put out positive vibes to the people you meet through appropriate body language.

3. Eye contact (even if you’re a shy-baby!)

Notice we haven’t actually uttered a word yet at this point in our quest to be a better schmoozer. That’s because again, words account for 7% of the overall impression we’re making on one another when we meet. You don’t have to burn a hole into people’s eyes like you’re trying to activate Superman-like laser vision, but you must maintain eye contact. Don’t let your eyes wander unless you literally hear a bomb going off!

If eye contact makes you uncomfortable due to shyness or a bad vibe you’re sensing from the other person, focus on the bridge of their nose. Do not look at their mouth or other points on their face! While you might have heard this advice before, it can quickly be taken as a sign that you’re focusing on an obvious or even perceived flaw that person has.

Leil Lowndes, author of several books including “How to Instantly Connect With Anyone” recommends using what she calls “Sticky Eyes”: where you pretend your eyes are glued to the other persons. When and if you have to look away, she recommends doing it ever so slowly, with a sense of reluctance – stretching the invisible taffy as you turn your head or move your eyes.

Schmoozing in business meeting

4. Smile (like you mean it)

I’m going to quote another Leil Lowndes technique here, called the “Flooding Smile”. This little technique, when mastered, will convince those you seek to schmooze that you’re a truly genuine person who wants to engage with them, instead of a fake car-salesman-type just trying to disarm them.

After you’ve positioned your body toward the person in an open posture and glued your eyes to theirs, slowly open up your smile. It should take anywhere from 2 – 4 seconds for your mouth to open up fully. Imagine your closed mouth like a set of closed flood-gates: open your mouth ever so slightly to let a little water creep out of the reservoir, then flood the person with your kindness and warmth.

As your mouth is opening and your teeth begin to show, make the intensity of your gaze into their eyes more intense. Imagine this person is a family member or friend you haven’t seen in ages and you just can’t hold back your excitement. This type of controlled mouth/eye smiling technique is far better than flashing a massive toothy grin straight off, as it has the effect of making the person feel like your two souls have connected and you’re smiling at them due to a true sense of genuine kinship.

5. Handshake

The handshake can fall just before or just after you smile, but your eyes definitely should have connected. Preferably, you will have wooed the person with your flooding smile, to make this handshaking-technique have maximum impact.

Not everyone will be able to master this technique, but it’s very powerful. It does require practise and just a bit of timing to get right. Try to find a partner; a friend, spouse, coworker to rehearse with.

  • Extend your hand and lightly push the web area of your thumb and forefinger into the same area on the other person’s hand (see this pic). Don’t squeeze yet!
  • Before squeezing the other person’s hand “try” to touch the vein on their wrist. This is the same place you’d touch to take their pulse. Do it ever so slightly…
  • Keeping your finger in place on the “pulse vein” and with your “webs” making firm contact, squeeze their hand firmly. AVOID trying to come like your Arnold Schwarzenegger, unless the other person’s challenging you to a grip-strength competition!
  • Wait for them to start releasing their grip before your grip loosens.

Hopefully it now makes sense why it’s important to practice this handshaking-technique. The connected feeling that both you and the recipient will feel is profound. You’ll feel a sense of emotional euphoria and one-ness with the person that’s quite similar to how family members feel about each other.

Use this technique with the opposite sex and those who share the same gender as you. The emotional connection described isn’t sexual or inappropriate. In fact, the other person isn’t likely to even realize what you’ve done to them!

6. Listen & Talk (in that order)

Though you may be the first person to talk in the conversation, a great schmoozer will always let the other participant(s) of a conversation do the majority of the talking. This is easier for introverts to do than extroverted types.

Follow these rules for more effective listening and talking:

  • Ask their name – Make sure you repeat it immediately after they’ve introduced themselves. “Hi Jim/Julie, it’s nice to meet you.” Then use it frequently, every other sentence or two. Using a person’s name is the ultimate show of respect, and repeating it frequently as you talk will help you remember it for your next meeting.
  • Provide feedback/Ask for clarification – You have to be an active listener. When the other person pauses for more than 2 seconds and they’re looking directly at you, they’re expecting you to provide feedback on what they’ve said. Do so by relating your own experiences as they tie in to the topic, or ask questions like “I’m not sure I understand what you meant by…” or “If I’ve heard you right, you mean ____. Is that right?”
  • Never interrupt or change the subject – This is toughest for salespeople and promoters to learn. But to be a schmoozer, you have to show a genuine interest in what the other person is saying. Doing either of these no-no’s can show: disinterest, impatience, or that you have an ulterior motive for speaking with them. It’s just plain rude in any social interaction.
  • Keep every question you ask open-ended and inviting – Jacqueline Whitmore, author of the “Etiquette Expert” recommends training yourself to use the phrase “Tell me” before every question, to make the other participant feel like you’re truly interested in what they have to say (see #2 on this page).

Business schmoozing

Time to Practice!

None of the preceeding tips will be of any use to you if you don’t go out and practice them. Regardless of your personality type (introverted or extroverted), each of you will have specific weaknesses that need to be overcome on your road to becoming a world-class schmoozer.

Introverts may have no issues with leaving their ego at the door (#1) or actively listening (#6) to the people they speak with, but will likely find tips 2 – 5 to be utterly excruciating at first. Extroverts on the other hand, tend to be the exact opposite, with egos that can overshadow a conversation, alienating the very people they’re trying to “schmooze”.

I highly recommend reading anything written by Leil Lowndes. Her books delve into both the perceptible and imperceptible things that go on in every meeting between human beings. She describes herself as a former closed in tech-geek-type, who had no idea how to start or maintain a conversation, or develop a rapport with people. She became a student of human interaction and is now a leading expert in that field.

If you’re new to the art of schmoozing, start out slowly. Make every meeting between you and that other person really count.

Perhaps you’ll fall flat on your face and make the first person you practise with think that you “stare” too intently into their eyes, like a lost puppy, or make them feel as if you’re hitting on them. Maybe your first attempt at a Flooding Smile will be too long or too short, and make the other person feel creeped out.

The key to schmoozing isn’t being the most beautiful/handsome person in the room. You don’t need to be the smartest or most interesting person in the room either. By using the techniques detailed on this page, you’ll instantly connect with (almost) everyone you encounter, making them feel like they’re the most desireable and interesting person in the room. That’s the real key to schmoozing folks!

Remember: practice, practice, practice!