Treat your friends as you do your pictures, and place them in their best light.
-- JENNIE CHURCHILL
You've heard it said that "practice makes perfect." The truth is that imperfect practice makes perfect. You must be willing to make a few mistakes, and feel a bit awkward at times, if you are going to master any skill, especially the skill of charm. The rule is that anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.
To develop your charm quotient by bringing all your communication skills together, you should ask a friend to help you. Think of this person as your sparring partner, with whom you can make mistakes before you get into the actual ring of social and business communication. This type of practice can benefit both of you.
Begin by explaining what you are trying to do. Explain to your friend the importance of the various elements of listening in becoming a charming conversationalist.
During this exercise, your friend should be seated in front of you, as though you are having a cup of coffee together. You are going to try to react to your friend's conversation without talking back -- just by listening. Then you'll be asking your partner for feedback on how much you seemed to be involved. Ask your friend to avoid asking questions but rather to talk to you at length, about anything that comes to mind, rather like delivering a monologue.
Also point out, at the very start, that you are serious about learning these listening skills and it would help you a lot if there were no kidding around, no distractions, when practicing this exercise. Here's why.
Several years ago my wife studied to become a Sangoma in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. That's the Zulu equivalent of a shaman. Her training was long and arduous and took place over three years. Because we lived in San Diego for six months each year, she was given permission to divide her training into three-month sessions. The sole condition was that I would help her continue her training when she was absent from Africa.
The exercise that we used to train her was similar to "Twenty Questions," though much more serious. It was designed to teach her to trust her senses and intuition so that she could "see" with her mind's eye.
The similarity to the parlor game nonetheless struck some weird part of my funny bone. I began by asking, "Is it bigger than a bread box?" Nicky laughed and said, "That's funny, but please stop horsing around."
Taking no heed I then said, "Is it smaller than a bread-box?" I should have known better. I have never experienced a room where the temperature dropped so radically and rapidly. Talk about being frosted. But I learned this lesson: If you agree to help another person practice something remember that if it's serious for one, it should be serious for both of you.
With a friend, practice eye contact, eye flicks, head tilts, body inclines, head nods, and vocal and verbal reassurances. Try them one at a time, in stages (e.g., first, eye contact, flicks, and head nods and tilts; second, vocal and verbal reassurances; third, body inclines).
You may have to arrange a few practice sessions to run through each technique thoroughly, but once you feel you've got the hang of them individually, you can put them all together.
After three or four minutes, stop and ask your helper questions such as: Did I appear to be really listening?
Did I seem to be "in the moment"?
Did you feel as though I cared about what you were talking about?
Did I seem totally involved with you?
If the response is less than enthusiastic, try again until you get the hang of it. Eventually you will hone your ability to be an attentive listener and you'll have it for life. You will be able to make each person you meet feel good about him or herself, and feeling good is what charm is all about.