By Alice Heiman
It doesn’t matter if I’m walking through an airport, the grocery store or a coffee shop. Complete strangers walk up to me for directions or to ask questions about the establishment. The reason? I have a high approachability ratio, exuding an unthreatening and welcoming presence, which draws people in.
Not everyone desires this trait. Some of us would rather be observers who stand back and stay on the sidelines. But in the meetings industry, where networking is a key component to doing business, you may need to increase your approachability. Whether you’re planning an event or attending one for continuing education purposes, you’ll be meeting new people, seeing business partners, connecting with referral sources or forming a business relationship. Any of those things will be difficult if you are not approachable.
If you are naturally introverted or an observer, take some initiative and make yourself more inviting to being approached. Here are some simple steps to practice when you go to a restaurant or to the store, and they will become refined and natural in no time.
1. Smile. In a recent Forbes article, “The Untapped Power of Smiling,” writer and TEDxSilicon Valley Curator Rob Gutman discusses the power that smiling has on yourself and others. A smile represents happiness, fun, and less stress; it also prompts those feelings in others when we do it. In addition to feeling better, we are more attractive to others when we smile. Humans are attracted to others that smile for two reasons. First, we want to be around people who are happy and attractive. Second, we want to be happy and attractive ourselves. The best way to feel better and look better is to be around others who exhibit those qualities. Smiles are contagious and desirable. People who smile are much more approachable than those who don’t.
2. Be aware of your body language. What does your body language say? Come over, stay away? Some clear signs that you are not interested in talking with people: a frown, crossed arms, back turned to the crowd and avoiding eye contact. Approachable signs include a smile and laughter, arms to your side, eyes at eye level, mixed in with other people. If you are not yet ready to approach others, make yourself an easy target for those who are.
3. Be confident. People are drawn to confidence. If you try to hide in the shadows, you don’t come across confident. Stand near the door where people are entering. Smile at them as they arrive and say hello. People will walk toward you and start conversing. Walk in like you own the place: Make that your motto when going to events and you will draw the attention of others.
4. Maintain a pleasing look. This does not imply you must wear a three-piece suit or cocktail dress; it implies that you should have a style. Here are a couple rules for dressing for an event: First, be comfortable. Be yourself and be able to stand for hours in your shoes. Discomfort will show and make your experience less enjoyable. Second, follow the formality of the event. Being too flashy is as negative as being underdressed. Err on the side of professionalism; don’t wear clothes that are too revealing or dress trousers with sneakers. Think about where you are going and who else is attending, and present a style that will allow others to approach you with ease.
5. Wear a nametag. A nametag makes you instantly more approachable. It says to others, “I want you to know my name.” (This isn’t necessary when you’re practicing these new traits at the local grocery store.) A simple badge with your name and your company name will suffice. Place it near your collarbone and shoulder on your right-hand side; a hanging badge usually falls too low to be effective.
If these are new methods to you, slowly incorporate them into your outings. Practice smiling and eye contact with strangers first. Think about what makes you want to approach someone and use that as a guide. Once you begin to notice a difference and feel comfortable with the first step, take on another until that, too, feels natural. You will get to the point where networking events and corporate meetings will become pressure free and you find yourself approaching others with ease.
Ron Gutman with TEDxSilicon Valley has studied the power of smiling extensively during his career. His research unveiled a few surprising things, including the results of a Wayne State University study that looked at the baseball cards of Major League Baseball players from 1952. The players’ smiles actually helped predict the length of their lives. Players who were not smiling in their pictures lived an average of 72.9 years, but players who smiled for their trading card pictures lived to be an average of 79.9 years old. Read more from Gutman’s studies at collaboratemeetings.com/power-of-smiling.