Social events can be enough to strike fear through the best of us but, as Max Foster has learnt over the years, there are a few techniques you can use to make a success of them...
People assume I am comfortable walking in to a room full of people I don't know because I am on TV but that's not true. In the studio, it's just me, the camera and couple of colleagues I know well. In my mind, I am just speaking to one viewer, not the millions who actually watch CNN International.
Appearing in front of a physical audience is very different. There's an element of performance to that which doesn't work on TV and I am not convinced anyone is ever entirely comfortable with it.
The higher the stakes, the more pressure you feel. Your heart starts pounding, butterflies in your stomach, dry mouth, sweating, blushing. You need the loo. You need the loo again...
I want to go home
That’s one option. The other is to stay and face your fear.
That’s a cliche
Maybe, but it's also true that cliches are often true.
So you're talking 'fight or flight'?
Exactly. Your body is reacting instinctively to a threat.
I’m also paranoid. It feels like everyone’s looking at me, judging me
You're not as interesting as you think. When people are networking, they are far more concerned about how they are coming across. Even if they do pick you out, your nervousness won't be as apparent to them as it is to you. What would it matter if they did notice you anyway?
I would look stupid, and weak
I'm not sure about that...
Would you judge someone who looked anxious?
I guess I would feel sorry for them, but that’s even worse
Showing some frailty is a sign of strength. It proves you're human and gives people someone to connect with. Nobody trusts a cold fish who slides in to the room without showing an ounce of personality. If someone is clearly nervous and cracks on with it then that's endearing more than anything.
So people are judging me...
Well, yes. They can’t help it but you’re assuming they’re judging you negatively when they don't even know you yet. If you throw yourself in and show some character then people will want to find out more and will be open to meeting you.
But I'm nervous
We've established that and it's perfectly normal. The secret is to re-imagine that nervousness as excitement. The symptoms of being scared are the same as those for excitement, it's just that one mindset gives you a negative outlook and the other sets you up for a positive outcome. It's a simple switch in thinking that works remarkably well. Don't worry about trying to relax. Use that nervous energy to throw passion in to your conversations and engage the people you are speaking to.
I am still standing at the entrance by the way, and it’s getting awkward
Take a walk.
I’ve already got a drink.
Find the host
Can't see them
Walk to the middle of the room then
Are you crazy?
No, you’re looking crazy for standing at entrance which is the one location has half an eye on in case someone interesting comes in. No offence.
None taken. I’m walking
Take in the room. Move slowly but surely. By focusing on your surroundings, you'll be distracted from your nerves and they will slip away.
Where do I look?
You’re killing me
See who’s there. Smile. If you appear approachable, someone might come up to you and introduce themselves but that's not going to happen if you are looking at the floor. I've met some great contacts this way.
I in the middle of the room.
That was quick.
This is excruciating. What now?
Have a look around. Recognise anyone?
Great. Go over to him.
He doesn't know me
But you know him and that’s all that matters. What do they do?
He’s a pop star, a massive best-selling pop star and he's going to think I am a stalker.
Prominent people like being approached in this sort of setting, everyone does. You'd be surprised how often people are left on their own because people are worried about approaching them.
Before you go, what are you going to talk about? Do you like his music?
It's awful. I will lie and tell him I love it
Never lie. He will be able to tell. What do you like about him?
He supports a charity a work with
Perfect. Go and tell him what a difference he is making.
What are you going to say if he asks you what you do?
Haven’t thought about it
Well you need a couple of lines that make you worth speaking to, something relevant to him.
OK. Got it. Shall I go now?
Now. Before you really do start looking like a stalker.
You left it too long. You’ve got to get in there. Anyone else you recognise?
No. Literally no one
You’ll have to go in cold.
Fight or flight?
I thought we were past this.
OK. Tell me how.
Anyone around you look lost or bored?
Introduce yourself and explain how you know the host. Then keep talking until you find something in common and pursue that. It might be someone you both know, a place, the weather... I was at drinks recently at the US embassy in London ...
We're talking about you now are we?
I'm trying to help. It's a spectacular building so I talked about that. The room you're in is literally common ground so, if the worst comes to the worst, use that.
The room is blisteringly hot
There's your common ground.
What if I am stuck talking to them when I see someone else more interesting?
Stop looking over their shoulder for a start. Continue to listen and engage. People love talking about themselves and hate it when you look over their shoulder. Then explain that you need to catch up with someone you have just seen. You will only offend them if you fail to give a reason for why you are moving on. You’re there to circulate and they will understand that. If anything, it's more socially unacceptable to linger for too long.
What if the person I want to speak to is speaking to someone else?
Then give them a few minutes before you butt-in. Be assertive. There’s nothing more awkward than a tentative approach. Introduce yourself to everyone in the huddle and include them all in the conversation.
OK. Wish me luck
You don’t need it. You’re just having a conversation and we have them all the time. You’re already an expert.
Show some personality and tell a good story. ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,’ as poet Maya Angelou put it. You're there to build contacts and you do that by developing a rapour that stays with people. Think of mingling as peppering the room with memories of you.
Now you're the poet
Thanks. Once you feel you've made a connection with the right people then get out of there.
But that's when you just start to have fun!
Well I'll let you judge that one. But if you're there to network then all you need is a connection and a way of following up the next day. If then get too personal or pushy then you could undo all your good work.
OK. See you
I thought I didn't need it?
Well you do but the point is you create your own luck which means putting yourself out there and making the most of what comes out of it.