A few weeks ago, I had the chance to emcee a large event. Hosted at Microsoft, this was the first time this popular conference was being held again post-pandemic and there were more than 400 attendees, the majority of whom had travelled to attend in person.
Over the course of the day (from breakfast to lunch and through happy hour), I was up and down on the stage ushering people through events and information and activities. That means that I was very visible to the group, who had a connection to me as the event host.
As I interacted with people individually throughout the day, they already had a familiarity with me, so I was looking for a way to connect back to them quickly. As a public speaker and someone who studies communication and psychology, I’ve had the chance to practice different approaches which came in handy during this packed day of people-ing.
The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that a few simple efforts can help turn a quick conversation into a connection.
The first idea is to share a compliment. For many people, it’s far easier to give a compliment than to receive one (stay tuned as I’ll likely do a future podcast on the art and science on how to receive positive words).
As a compliment giver, the art here is to make it short, specific, and sincere. Short makes it both memorable and more comfortable for the receiver. A rambling round-about compliment can make people confused and self-conscious. Specific makes it personal, such as commenting on something they said or did or something that you can see. This it more believable and easier from them to accept. Sincere makes it stick in their minds.
Praise activates the striatum, which is one of the reward centers of the brain. Researchers believe that one of the powers of the striatum is the learning imprint that occurs within it while you are sleeping. So when you give someone a compliment during the day, it activates their brain, which could then shift your comment into a stored memory.
Socially, compliments have a two-way lift. The receiver is given an unexpected positive outreach and the giver – that’s you – often gets a dopamine surge as well (similar to the mood boost that comes from volunteering or making a financial donation). So short, specific, and sincere.
Also in researching this podcast, I learned there is even a World Compliment Day on March 1. So start practicing those skills now.
The second tip to try is to pose a curious but comfortable question. Curious in that you’re genuine in asking it and comfortable in that they are likely to have a ready answer. It can be as simple as “Where are you from?” or targeted more for the occasion like “What inspired you to be here today?” or “What’s been your favorite session so far?”
The connection here is that you seek to learn something of them from them. Try coming up with 1-2 signature questions you can use in most situations so you can readily recall one in the moment. Based on their response, you can look for the next tool which is find common ground. If someone says they’re from Chicago (or actually any Midwestern US state), I quickly will comment that I lived there for 15 years. And off we go, easily exchanging a few commonalities.
The common ground makes you each more memorable to one another. If common ground isn’t readily apparent, use a quick open-ended follow up like “Tell me something about that area” or “What are you looking forward to the rest of the day?” If nothing else, they got to speak about themselves which is a rare treat in our disconnected digital world.
To recap: When you’re looking to connect with someone quickly, try paying them a compliment or asking them an easy-to-answer question. Both efforts don’t require an extensive exchange but may be the opening to a longer conversation or a future follow up.
On a related note, there is a psychological concept known as the Franklin Effect. Named after Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States Constitution, its premise is that asking someone to do you a favor increases the odds of them viewing you favorably. When asked to be of service, the person may then have a cognitive bias of you being worthy of their time and attention. Trying this approach requires more thought than a quick connection in the moment, but it’s definitely worth considering.
As you find yourself in situations where there is an opportunity to turn an interaction into a connection, never underestimate the big importance of small things. A sincere compliment or a curious question can help someone feel seen and heard.
In our busy, noisy world, a small gesture can leave a large imprint.
Thank you, sincerely, for your time with these words today.
Until next time, be sure to take good care.