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Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

CHAPTER 32

Do Your Homework

Knowledge is pleasure as well as power.

  -- FRANCIS BACON

Anytime you are getting together with someone, socially or professionally, whom you particularly want to impress, do your homework. Learn what you can about that person before you actually meet. It's the best way to be charming and interesting to others. As Dale Carnegie once said, "You can make more friends in a day by being interested in others than you could in a year by trying to get them to be interested in you."

A Good Investment

The higher the value you place on a relationship, the more time you should invest in learning about the person before you meet. Find out as much as you can about her or his likes and dislikes, hobbies, educational background, business interests, and social activities. Armed with this information, you can lead the conversation in many different directions that you know the person will enjoy. The idea is to know more about these people than they know about you.

Brian on the Value of Preparation

Some years ago, I was building a national sales organization. I soon discovered that it was easier to take over an existing branch than it was to set up offices, recruit salespeople, and train from scratch. I learned of a successful business owner with a crack sales team who was discontented with the company he was representing. I decided to recruit him and all his people for my business.

In asking around, I discovered that he was heavily into numerology and made all his decisions based on the numbers of the birth dates of potential business partners, as well as the days of the month and week. I got a couple of books on numerology, read up on the significance of particular numbers, and then arranged to meet with him on the best day of the month, numerically speaking.

One of his first questions of me was my birthday. I was prepared. I told him that it was a certain day, month, and year that added up to a "lucky number" for business relationships. At the end of the meeting, he joined my organization and went on to be a highly productive member of my network. The preparation was the key.

Seek First to Understand

Sometimes it's not possible to obtain information, especially if you're meeting someone for the first time. In this type of situation, you must be completely focused on the other person.

When you first meet, talk about yourself as little as possible. There's a wise old saying: "You never learn anything when you're talking."

Think about that. You can't talk and listen to people at the same time. It is only when they talk and you listen that you will learn anything about them. If they seem reluctant to open the conversation, you take over with the intention of getting them to talk as soon as possible.

You can begin by talking about what's current or prominent in the news (avoid politics or religion until you know more about them), or by making reference to a recent hit movie or popular television program, books, sports, or fashion. If you've mentioned a movie, ask them what they have seen lately. Ask what kind of movies they prefer, and so on.

Find a Subject of Interest

Here's an example of how you can piggyback on what another person is talking about. Suppose the other person says, "I'm so frustrated by the way people drive nowadays. There's no consideration for anyone else. Nobody has patience anymore; they just want to get to wherever they're going as fast as they can and you'd better get out of the way."

Let's analyze the possibilities in this simple statement. It's safe to say that this person has a bee in his bonnet about something -- but what? About driving in general? Perhaps.

About inconsiderate behavior? Maybe. About other people's lack of patience? Possibly. There are three different directions you could take the conversation safely. You could reply with, "I agree," and then proceed to briefly talk about an incident that happened to you. That approach is particularly useful if the other person seems to be running out of conversation.

Always remember that the more you can learn about other people during a conversational exchange, the greater will be your potential influence on them. The more and better questions you can ask that piggyback on their background and interests, the more they will find you to be charming.

Your Tools for Charming Others

Remember, the person who asks questions has control. There are three powerful questions you can ask of any new acquaintance that will enable you to control the conversation and appear charming at the same time.

First, you ask, "What sort of work do you do?" Most people are deeply interested in their work. It plays a central role in their lives and is a major source of their identity. They love to talk about it and describe what they do to others.

Then, when they have told you what they do, you ask, with great interest and curiosity, "How did you get into that line of work, anyway?"

This question will invariably be answered with all kinds of details about the person's history, experiences, and background, all explained in the form of a life story. Sometimes the story can go on indefinitely. People usually feel that the story of their careers to this point is one of the most fascinating stories ever told.

The speaker may slow down periodically to determine if you are really interested or if you are just being polite. Whenever he pauses in his story, you ask, "And then what did you do?"

He will immediately expand on his last comment and continue telling you more of his story. Whenever he slows, ask "And then what did you do?" He will be completely charmed by you.

You can ask other, similar questions as well. "Tell me more about that." "How did you feel?" "And what did they do?" "What happened next?"

If you like, you can introduce your own thoughts. When you do say something about yourself, resist the temptation to become too talkative. To pass the ball back to the other person, end your comment about yourself with another question to get the other person talking again.

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