In any work environment or organization, it is very easy to become complacent as the place and people become familiar. Many of us will interact more easily with those with whom we are familiar and most easily with those with whom we are in rapport, our friends. We like them and they like us. Some of us are shy and flee from human interaction. It can take deliberate, conscious effort to approach and get into rapport with new people.
In the Toastmasters context (if you are not a member of Toastmasters, use your own context), after you are among the familiar, we might innocently and inadvertently assume that guests (new people to the group) know their abilities, their goals, and how they will fit in to the group. While the new person might know themselves, they might have only a general idea of their goals, e.g. improve public speaking. They might be unaware of specific goals (steps) to achieve their general goal. A guest wanting to improve their pubic speaking might be unaware that to project their voice more fully, they need to aim for full modal voicing, breathe more deeply by engaging the diaphragm, relax their larynx, resonate in the thorax, and restrict their glottis enough to reduce or eliminate the breathy-voice phonation.
They need a guide. The more people you help, the more people will be willing, maybe even desire to help you. It is in your interest to become that guide. Make a point of approaching, getting into rapport with, and guiding new people.
Make a point of approaching new people. In Toastmasters, many clubs practice this skill with the role of Greeter, but what if you made yourself a greeter everywhere you went? Greet the familiar people; greet the unfamiliar people.
Be like Dorothy Harris. Dorothy Harris was a school bus driver, a character in the movie "Forrest Gump." On Forrest's first day of school, he approached the open school bus door, looked at the driver, and stopped. "Momma said not to be taking rides from strangers.
The bus driver replied, "This is the bus to school," matter-of-factly with cigarette dangling from her mouth."
"I'm Forrest Gump."
"I'm Dorothy Harris."
"Well now we ain't strangers anymore," declared Forrest as he marched onto the bus.
Be like Dorothy Harris. Open that door, and instead of waiting for your Forrest to answer, introduce yourself warmly. No need to slobber all over them. Just greet them with a smile.
Match them. If they are quiet, be softer, slower. If however the person grabs your hand and pulls you in to the shoulder, slap 'em on the back like you are their best friend.
Be attentive and listen. If the silence needs some help, ask questions and listen. Find areas that you personally have in common: interests, skills, past projects, past employers, university, college, school, charity, church, children (just kidding).
Hand out any information you have about your organization. Open it up and briefly guide them through it. Draw their attention to the information they asked for.
With basic information, introduce them to others. The person will feel honoured that you took the time to gather the information. Are you ever troubled to remember names? Introduce this person to several people and their name will stay with you. If you passively extend your hand our of social obligation and flitter on to many people, you increase the chance of forgetting.
Guide the person to a chair or hand-off to another person. In Toastmasters, the ideal hand-off is to the VP Membership. Some people will prefer to explore the meeting room/event on their own. All good. Don't run after them, "Hey, I have to either find you a seat or hand you off to a suitable person!"
Go easy. Be flexible.
Suggestions from a Mentor
I met Jeffrey Dale in 1988 while working at SHL Systemhouse, the IT system integration company, which through a succession of purchases (MCI, Worldcom, EDS), is now part of HP. Jeff's role was in client relations. We might have called it sales. I was always amazed at his ability to interact with people and be in the middle of influence.
He was President of the Ottawa Centre for Regional Innovation (OCRI) and is now Chairman of SnowyCloud Inc. In a long overdue conversation, he offered these insights on meeting people for the first time and getting in rapport.
First, be interesting or interested. Others need to know that you can add value to them or that they will add value to you.
We tend to gravitate to people and events that are similar to us. I like to meet people who are totally different from me. That is where you will find benefit. That is where you can introduce yourself and learn something completely new. My OCRI experience was a great lesson in this area, always dealing with people who were very different from me in personality, background, heritage etc. Differences make for good teams; with sameness we lose: less creativity and fewer new ideas.
At a dinner event, always go to a table with people I don't know. Never sit with people who you know.
You can ask someone to introduce you, which starts a three-way conversation.
If you tend to hover, waiting for an opening, rather than hover, introduce yourself. If they include you in the conversation, good; if they go back to their conversation, that's okay too. Excuse yourself, "Looks like you are deep in a conversation. I will come back in a few minutes."
Introduce yourself and seek an opinion. Ask a question about the event or the speaker. If you are one-on-one, ask an open question. What do you think about X? Tonight's speaker? The idea (specify)? If you are in a group, start a discussion. "I am interested here in everybody's opinion on X." Each person will feel that their opinion was heard and will feel enriched by knowing that there were many different opinions. By knowing many opinions, your perspective is softened, more open, more accepting of others.
Always respect their opinion!
Take the time to listen. Too many people ask a question and then drift off, looking over your shoulder, or interrupt when they are answering the question. Show your genuine interest by actively listening.
You want people to remember you as someone who they liked meeting and provided them with as much value as you received from meeting them.
At the next meeting you attend, make a point of interacting with somone new to you. If you are shy and this is painful, all the more important for you to do it. Do it. Approach a new person and try to get into rapport. Rather than trying to do interpersonal networking, make a point of giving and receiving value. Be interested or be interesting. Ask questions and listen. Notice what works each time and continue until being with people becomes fun.