NSA 15 Year Member National Speaker Association

Tag Archives: icebreakers

Posted on Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Say What? What To Say When You Don’t Know What To Say.

c950293184ce56f4a0962f3d5977664d

The human heart is a truly amazing mechanism; so hard working and tough under pressure, but oh so easily damaged.

We all have heartbreaks (I can’t even discuss my 7th grade boyfriend saga. A tragedy of epic proportions). Disappointments and suffering and grief and anguish are all part of life. Hooray for us!

We have all heard bad news and immediately gone to that big Rolodex in our head searching, desperately, for the right thing to say. Or we’ve skipped the search and blurted out something clichéd and trite before quickly excusing ourselves to privately negotiate our own foot into our mouth. Or — the worst crime of all — we’ve been faced with bad news and said absolutely nothing.

Neil Rosenthal writes a stellar column in The Denver Post appropriately titled “Relationships.” His January 29th piece highlights the importance of an empathetic response. As Rosenthal points out, a thoughtful response is certainly needed in times of tragedy, but even the day-to-day frustrations that affect us all would benefit from a kind and compassionate acknowledgement.

When dealing with a loss, phrases like: Time heals all wounds or It was his time to go are common. And sort of a cop out. Why? Because they don’t really mean anything to the person who is suffering. They are just words. Words that can leave the listener feeling worse than when they started. Because only words that “honor your feelings of loss and sorrow,” writes Rosenthal, truly honors the emotions around an issue that causes turmoil.

Rosenthal, referencing How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It
written by Pat Love (not kidding) and Steven Stosny, makes a case for how important it is to “step into the puddle” with others. Stepping into the puddle means offering our “heartfelt presence, caring concern and participation” when others need it most. And even when they don’t. By employing the puddle technique to everyday life, communication and connection are bound to improve.

So, how exactly does one ‘step into the puddle’ without getting drenched? By offering statements with a little more meat and a lot less fluff — like this:

When your spouse walks in after a long day of work, it’s temping to pull out the eye roll or the Ha! You think YOUR day was long, well let me just tell you about MY day… instead try saying:
I am so sorry about your day and I am so glad to have you home safe and sound. 

When someone is dealing with a death, resist the He’s in a better place or Call me if you need anything and try This must be really difficult; I can’t imagine what it feels like to lose a sibling. Your brother was one of the funniest men I’ve ever met — I still laugh at the fun we had skiing in Vail. How are you handling everything?

Whatever the situation — death, job loss, hard day at work, tough day at home with children or even the tragedy of a 7th grade break-up, by acknowledging, truly, the heartache of others, we can make a big impact and — just maybe — lessen the blow.

 

This blog was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

 

Posted on Friday, January 9th, 2015

One Minute Weight Loss: GUARANTEED!

image004

 

I had grand plans to stay on track over the holiday season, but people kept FORCING me to eat and drink and be merry. It’s rude to turn down a glass of champagne. And a cookie. And then another cookie. It is.

As I was trying to figure out my 2015 resolutions while sweating it out on the elliptical, I had an epiphany. I — anyone really — can lose five pounds immediately by doing one simple thing: putting down the devices.

By ridding ourselves of the laptop, and smartphone, and e-reader, and tablet, and ear buds, and Go Pro camera, and selfie stick and charger (and backup charger and solar charger) and whatever else may qualify we can experience instant weight loss. Like magic. Try it:

Hold all your devices and get on the scale.

Toss all your devices and get on the scale.

See? It works.

But we all know that when it comes to these hand-held handcuffs it’s really not about the physical weight, is it? It’s about how being constantly connected, in-touch, and interrupted can take a toll.

I talked to a handful of mothers who were in a quandary about gifting their children with smartphones or tablets. Why? Because they were afraid of losing their children to the ever-addictive world of electronics. One parent sighed, “I’m afraid I won’t see him after 9AM Christmas morning if I give him the iPhone 6 he’s been asking for since August.”

But electronic addiction doesn’t just affect the under-20 crowd. My friend’s father-in-law received a Fit Bit and was so enthralled by the constant feedback he actually fell off the curb while trying to amass his 10,000 steps. So much for a peaceful walk on a chilly morning. He’s currently chilling his swollen ankle with an ice pack.

By now we know that technology is not going away. And technology is not a bad thing. Just like cookies and champagne aren’t bad things (the exact opposite in my opinion, but I digress) especially if enjoyed responsibly. It’s just about a bit of moderation and employing some boundaries or, if that’s too strong a word for you, some flexible agreements.

Maybe 2015 COULD be about losing the weight of technology. Maybe it’s time to sit down as a family and determine when using devices is ok and when it is not. Not ok might be in the early morning hours before the first — or second or third — cup of coffee. Or at night in bed, considering that blue light is apparently Mr. Sandman’s archenemy. Perhaps dinner and the hour after school is tech-free, ensuring that you actually have a shot of seeing your child’s face instead of the top of his head. Together, create a framework for when it is ok — the hour before dinner or the 15 minutes before school as long as other tasks have been completed.

And how about workplace situations? Is it really necessary to place the smartphone on the conference room table? Probably not. The office is tech-heavy as it is so an hour without being attached to a device is like vacation! If you’re running the meeting, offer an empty basket at the entrance to the meeting with a note that simply states: Please silence phones and leave in this basket until the meeting adjourns. You will get some huffs and eye-rolls (after all, we are all a little childish when it comes to putting down a toy/gadget of any sort), but your colleagues might just thank you later for the free weight loss.

I recently came across this very same topic in a magazine article about graciously managing technology when entertaining guests. It was in a below-the-Mason-Dixon-Line publication I was leafing through while sitting in a lobby NOT on my phone (full disclosure: that’s because I had inadvertently left in the car — oh the horror!). But — and forgive me here for such an obnoxious blanket statement — many Southerners appreciate the finer points of entertaining, and the article made it clear that playing a video from YouTube while the Shrimp and Grits are being served is not considered a finer point.

So I am dedicating myself to some easy weight loss goals this year. I am limiting the times I am tethered to technology. After all, I wrote the book (for real) on The Fine Art of Small Talk. I am spending more time listening and less time scrolling because face-to-face time is more fulfilling than any face-to-screen time. If you look down too long, you’re likely to miss out on the good things – like friends and family and colleagues. And the curb. And cookies. And champagne. And maybe another cookie.

Are you attempting a tech diet? Tell me about it. And cheers to a happy, healthy 2015.

Posted on Friday, January 9th, 2015

Party Time? A Cheat Sheet To Help Break The Ice

coworkers-names-office-holiday-party-work-christmas-season-ecards-someecards

Of all the crazy things I’ve been asked about regarding The Fine Art of Small Talk (“Dear Debra, I know my boyfriend is going to propose but I don’t want to marry him” — ohhhhh.), it’s the everyday situations that can cause the most jitters.

We are in the thick of the holiday season, which means lots of parties, dinners, gift exchanges, cocktail events, company soirees and neighborhood gatherings. Here’s a short and sweet cheat sheet to get you through some of the stickiest situations.

There are some hard and fast rules: 
• Arrive with three topics to talk about; think of these as your safety net should you need them.
• Always be polite.
• Always be gracious.
• Always smile.
• Remember that you are likely harder on yourself than necessary.
• Remember that a lot of people get nervous, a lot of people are shy, a lot of people are uncomfortable — and those people are dealing with their own anxieties so they are not paying attention to yours.
• Alcohol or 22 cream puffs will not make the situation better. Ever.
• Steer away from foul language and sexual innuendos or starting any sentence with ‘I heard this joke that is SO funny. You are going to laugh SO hard. Now let me see if I remember it…’
• If you have that little voice that says ‘maybe I shouldn’t say this,’ listen to that voice. And listen good.
• It is not your responsibility to babysit other adults; but it is your responsibility to be a good guest or a good host by introducing yourself and participating in conversation.
• If someone, including you, thinks you’ve had too much to drink you probably have.
• You don’t have to answer every question — your weight, your income and your relationship can be off limits if you wish them to be.

If You’ve Met Someone Before But Have Forgotten Their Name — Again.
It’s so good to see you again. Forgive me; I’ve temporarily forgotten your name. Will you remind me?

If You’ve Met Someone 20 Times Before But Have Forgotten Their Name – Again.
Discreetly ask a friend to remind you and if that doesn’t work: It’s so good to see you again. Forgive me; I’ve temporarily forgotten your name. Will you be kind enough to remind me?

If You’ve Been Given A Gift That You Hate:
Thank you for thinking of me.
If You’ve Been Given A Gift But Didn’t Give One to the Giver:
Thank you for thinking of me.

If You Were Expecting A Year-End Bonus and Received a Jelly Of The Month Membership:
Thank you for thinking of me.

If You Are Hosting A Dinner And Guests Are More Than An Hour Late:
Make sure nobody is stranded on the highway and then encourage your guests to begin dining. It appears John and Jane are running a bit late; let’s begin and they will join us when they arrive.

When John and Jane Do Finally Arrive:
We’re so glad you’re here! Let me take your coat and get you settled; we started dinner; please sit down and allow me to get you a plate.

When You Are Serving Alcohol But You Know a Particular Guest Doesn’t Drink:
May I offer you something to drink?

When Someone At Your Event Has Had Too Much To Drink And Is Being Obnoxious:
Wow — it’s getting late! Thank you for joining us. Let me get your coat.

When Someone At Your Event Has Had Too Much To Drink And Drove To The Party:
Wow — it’s getting late! I hired Uber for tonight’s party; your driver is outside. Let me get your coat and walk you out.

When Someone At Your Party Has Food Allergies or Sensitivities That You Were Not Aware Of Prior To Arrival:
My apologies for not being aware; the salad and dessert are both (fill in the blank: gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free) but the main coarse is not. May I offer you something else, such as a piece of chicken?

When Someone At Your Party Has Food Allergies or Sensitivities And Brought Their Own Food:
Thank you! Let me plate this for you and then we can sit down!

When Someone At Your Party Shares Big News That Is Not Necessarily Good News (divorce, job loss, illness, the latest Kardashian episode): I’m so sorry to hear this news, John. How can we be of support? 

When Someone At Your Party Shares Big News That Is Very Good News:
What wonderful news, John! May I offer a toast to celebrate (make a heartfelt toast.)?

When Someone At Your Party Is Intent On Talking About Things You Do Not Wish to Discuss (politics, religion, money, the Kardashians):
Gosh, I don’t think we have enough wine in the house to tackle this issue tonight! Speaking of wine, I was thinking back to the best gift I ever gave and it was the trip to Napa I surprised Steve with in 2008. What was a favorite gift you gave or received?

When You Are Stuck In A Conversation That You Want to End:
It was great catching up with you. Excuse me, I see Jane just walked in and I must say hello.

You’ve Insulted Someone By Mistake:
Forgive me! I did not mean to hurt you in any way (change the subject quickly).

You Are Tired and Want Everyone to Leave:
This was such a fun night (stand up, begin clearing dishes, do not open more wine.) – thank you all for being here. 
Whatever situation you are in, remember that being kind and generous usually solves most problems. If that doesn’t work, remember it will all be over soon.

Happy Holidays!

Follow Debra Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DebraFine

Posted on Friday, April 4th, 2014

Wrong Name Can Be A Venti Problem

 

coffee cup

 

Dear Debra:

I’ve been going to the same coffee shop every weekday for two years and the woman behind the counter knows me. She is always saying hello and asking about my dog and my fiancé and she is lovely. She sees me and says Jen! Love those shoes! Come on over here and let me see them! But my name is Nicole. I never corrected her — for two years! Now I don’t know what to do. Do I tell her my name is Nicole or just play along? Help!

Nicole/Jen In Chicago

Dear Nicole/Jen:

Well, you’ve gotten yourself into some hot water here and now the issue continues to percolate, hmm? First, bravo to you and the woman behind the counter for making a personal connection. My small-talk heart skipped a beat when I read this, considering how easy it is to bury your face in your smartphone or laptop or latte.

If I were you, I would correct her now and use humor to do so:
So, I’ve always wanted to be a ‘Jen’ which is the reason I answer to that name when you call — but my name is actually Nicole. I asked my parents to change it to Jen, as it sounds so much better, but they are sort of stuck on Nicole.

Be brave and make the switch now because life is funny and it is more than likely that the moment you resolve to just become Jen forever, someone will walk up to you in that coffee shop, in front of that woman, and exclaim NICOLE! Hey — NICOLE! NICOLE? Is that you? And then you and the coffee-lady-with-the-big-heart-and-the-wrong-name are going to have to end your frothy friendship over something that was once a small order (“tall” in coffee speak) has now grown into a grande or even venti problem.

Posted on Friday, March 28th, 2014

Teaching Teens The Fine Art of Communication Could Save the World!

 

beyond texting book cover

Technology is a such a blessing… Until it becomes a curse. Or a crutch. Maybe it’s all three, actually, when you really stop to think about it. After all, it’s lovely to text a friend, letting her know you are running late for a get-together but being constantly tethered to a device and the never-ending beeping and ringing can be exhausting. Blessing vs. curse.

But it’s the crutch part that resonated with me to such a level that I wrote my third book, Beyond Texting: The Fine Art of Face-to-Face Communication for Teenagers. I didn’t go willingly, as they say.

The book was a result of being asked by my publishers, friends, and colleagues to please write a book for the younger generation. I didn’t want to do it. I texted and emailed and FaceTimed my publisher over and over again refusing. But by then my brain had been tuned into the teenagers and 20-somethings I encountered everywhere I went, and after watching so many of them, including my own, relying on their devices to make it in the world, I relented.

Seeing teenagers constantly head down, earbuds in and hunched over their smartphones really made a mark on me. I first considered going to chiropractic school, knowing that the future generation is going to have loads of neck problems (for all of you entrepreneurs out there, may I suggest considering this line of work because surely there is money to be made) but I am no spring chicken, and small talk is my gig.

So, the book and the blogs and the talks begin now. Not to blow my own horn, but I am basically singlehandedly saving the world. I know, I know — it’s a big job. But without face-to-face communication skills, the next generation will be unable to make conversation, ask for a date, propose to a mate and, thus, create the next generation. The entire human race could die off if we don’t start teaching our teens how to communicate! I don’t know about you, but I’d like some grandchildren one day. And someone to serve me tapioca in the home — when and if the time comes.

How do you teach your teen the proper way to build relationships and interact with others? While my book offers an in-depth approach, these three tips will help you both get started:

Exude Energy:
It’s normal to feel nervous and overwhelmed when entering an unfamiliar situation. Take a deep breath and relax. Can’t? Well, fake it if you can, and remind yourself that everybody else is feeling the same way. Put away your phone and look at others in the eye, smile and extend a firm handshake. It will feel awkward at first, and you will be itching to reach for your device as a way to curb your panic, but force yourself to engage on a human level because it gets easier. I promise. By appearing energetic, interested, engaged and friendly, people will be drawn to you, making the vibe in the room even more inviting and comfortable for you and others.

Break the Ice:
Initiating a conversation with a stranger is a gift that keeps on giving — to both you and the your conversation partner. Even after all these years of small talk, I always enter a room with at least three topics to talk about. Always. So, here are some conversation starters that work:

• How’d you do on the test? The essay part was the toughest for me!
• Have you met the new science teacher?
• Biology is killing me — can we study together?
• I was behind you at the assembly this morning. What did you think about the presentation?
• I love your (band) shirt. Did you know they are playing here this summer?

There is no ‘perfect’ conversation starter, but there is always an ‘A’ for effort, so saying hello first will earn you credit. Sure, you’re going to get rejected sometimes and that’s life. But by trying, and by being kind and genuine, you have a better shot of starting a meaningful exchange.

Introduce (and then Re-Introduce) Yourself:
This is so basic – but so often overlooked! Sometimes you’ve managed to actually start and carry on a great conversation and you walk away realizing that you have no idea what someone’s name is and they have no idea what yours is! Give someone the gift of your name, even if you think they may know you already:

John (to a professor): I was so happy with the B on the final

Professor: Yes, good work.

John: I’m John Smith – I am in your Tuesday/Thursday class and am registering for your course next semester.

Professor: Great, John. I’ll look forward to seeing you in class.

John: Thanks Professor Green; have a good summer.

John re-introduced himself to his professor and established a connection. Next semester, if John needs some additional help or is looking for a reference, he’s already set himself apart from the other hundreds of students Professor Green sees every week. One small exchange can result in big things.

When I look back on my teen years, I shudder at the memories. My hands shook during presentations. My mouth went dry when a boy talked to me. My heart pounded when I walked into a party alone. The tips I shared here — and the others in my book — are not earth-shattering but oh so necessary. Social media may be killing all of of our social skills. But by teaching our teens the basics, and helping them embrace face-to-face communication, we are saving the world! And we have a greater chance of having successful, self-supporting adult children! And grandchildren! And tapioca!

Posted on Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

How To Win The Gold Medal In Losing

Fine Showing at the Super BowlI don’t know if you heard, but the Denver Broncos lost the Super Bowl. I know, I know, I was shocked too; but at least I got to be shocked in person, because I was actually at the Super Bowl this year. You know that famous painting by Edvard Munch titled, appropriately, The Scream? Now you’ve got the visual of Debra Fine at the game, except I have way more hair and I was wearing way more orange.

I would like to say I handled the loss with grace and aplomb, but I was — you know — disappointed. All Broncos fans were disappointed. We (and, yes, I speak for every single Broncos fan here) never even considered a loss. No one told us. I considered blaming the loss on Joe Namath’s coat, but that seems immature. What did that coatever do to me?

I was with my husband and our children and, as usual, I was, impressed with the good sportsman like conduct we all managed to embody during what some (some = me) have called a bloodbath. You already know my view on booing; but let’s face it — losing is just not as much fun as winning.

So here I am, licking my wounds from the Super Bowl loss while already engrossed in the Olympic games and I am asking myself what, exactly, makes a good loser?

And no matter who you are and what you say, we have all been on the losing side of life. Perhaps you were not given a deserved promotion, asked to the prom by the one guy you actually wanted to go with instead of that Mr. Creepers from chem who asked you two years in a row, chosen for the schoolyard kickball team or voted asAmerica’s Next Top Model (I can’t answer to the last one, but the others, well, let’s just say I get it and leave it at that). How do you overcome the sting of losing? The bigger question — how do you overcome the loss and become a gracious loser?

Earlier this month
I watched the women snowboarders battle it out on the slopes of Sochi and my heart swelled with the obvious rapport between the competitors. Not only were they all engaged in each other’s attempts, they were hugging and high-fiving at the beginning and the end of each run. Even while standing at the bottom of the hill, realizing that the gold had just gone to American Jamie Anderson, Enni Rukajani of Finland and Jenny Jones of Great Britain, now taking home the silver and the bronze respectively, were congratulating Anderson — in a big way. Hugs, smiles, kisses and words of praise. When Sarka Pancochova managed to make her way down the mountain unattended after a major spill that resulted in a cracked helmet and what I can only assume what will be a screaming headache (and hopefully not more), the spectators and competitors alike were rooting her on. Everything was how it should be — kind, gracious and authentic.

It’s hard to know what to say and how to say it when you are in the tornado that comes with loss. Emotions are whirling, reality is setting in and your mind, body and soul are trying to comprehend what just happened.

I’ve had several people approach me over the years about this topic. And, like most parents, I’ve had to patch up the broken spirits of my children when things didn’t turn out the way they had hoped. So we all have experience in losing; but some of us need practice on how to handle it.

Here’s the good news: you are allowed to be totally and utterly disappointed at a loss. That’s normal. If you didn’t feel the pangs that come with defeat, you would not be human which would make you a robot or — worse — dead. So accept the fact that every single person has experienced loss and every single person, except maybe Ghandi, felt upset by that loss. You are free to go home and eat half a sheet cake, or rip out that ugly fireplace or make fun of Joe Namath’s coat, but in the meantime, you get to take this opportunity to congratulate someone else for his or her good fortune. Rule number one when it comes to being a good loser is to keep all negative comments out of the mix and be the first one to approach the winner. Do not hide out in the corner (eating sheet cake or mocking Joe Namath!), square your shoulders, take a breath and walk up to the winner with purpose and pride.

Sound impossible? It’s not. And like someone somewhere said sometime, you can do anything for a minute. Here’s how:

You and a colleague were up for the same promotion and it was just announced that your colleague was awarded the job:

What to say: “Pete! Wow! Congratulations on the promotion.”

What to do: Smile, shake Pete’s hand and excuse yourself. You don’t need to be a hero and soak in Pete’s success; you just need to be gracious and polite. You can go now. Go on. Go get that sheet cake. Skedaddle.

You are sitting at a very expensive fundraising dinner because you are a finalist in a philanthropic award pool; and your name is not called:

What to say: “Beth — congratulations on the win. Your efforts this year have been amazing and it was an honor to be nominated along with you.”

What to do: Send Beth a note later in the week. Send the award committee/event host a note later in the week. Send yourself some flowers.

You are sitting with a bunch of other parents at the Homecoming game when they announce the queen and instead of your daughter, it is that spray-tanned obnoxious cheerleader who, by the way, had lice in the fourth grade.

What to say: “Congratulations, Ann. Jessica must be thrilled.”

What to do: Go find your daughter, hug her, tell her that high school is almost over, and remind her that she never had lice.

Your son does not make the baseball team:

What to say: “I’m sorry, buddy. How are you feeling? I’m proud of you for going out for the team and trying your best.”

What to do: Hug him, tell him that grade school is almost over and soon he’ll be in high school where the homecoming queen won’t give him the time of day and then have a job with the possibility of a promotion and then he will do a lot for the community and will be up for a non-profit award that he won’t get and this loss will just be one of many!! Ok — delete everything after “hug him.” Add in a Dairy Queen run. Call it a day.

In 99 percent of losing scenarios, this recipe stays the same: Be first on the scene, offer a quick but sincere congratulations along with a handshake or hug when appropriate, and move on. To lose is inevitable, but to be a good loser is achievable. So go out there and be the best good loser you can be — gold medal or not — you’ll be happy you did.

 

 

Posted on Monday, January 13th, 2014

How To Accept A Compliment – Without Complicating It.

compliments

 

Most of us are out there in there in the world giving it our all. Looking good, working hard, being a true friend, an attentive parent, a dedicated employee and a contributing member to society takes a lot time and energy. I mean, just drying my hair takes a solid 43 minutes. It’s not easy being me, you know? And wouldn’t it be nice if just once, someone noticed?

Yet when someone DOES notice, and they do, many of us either freeze up or immediately disregard the kind words coming at us. Why?

According to Robin Abrahams, columnist for the Boston Globe, people feel that when they acknowledge a compliment, they are validating it and, thus, patting themselves on the back. “Gosh, yes, drying my hair DOES take in inordinate amount of time and upper body strength!” seems, oh I don’t know, ridiculous.

But, according to Abrahams, deflecting a compliment is not modest or unpretentious; it’s actually a bit rude. After all, someone has taken the time to not only notice you and your efforts, but has gone a step further and actually acknowledged it. That’s nice, right?

You’d think hearing nice things about yourself would be easy, but in fact negativity weighs heavy. Aaron Ben-Zeev, a Ph.D quoted in Psychology Today, simplifies it: “To sum up, negative emotions are more noticeable than positive ones since attending to negative events is more important for our survival than attending to positive events.”

Is that why accepting a compliment is tough, because we are built with the fight or flight mechanism that saves us from something scary and, therefore, we are gravitate toward something negative versus positive? To put it simply: Is running from a bear easier than accepting a heartfelt compliment?

Let’s hope not. I’ve never run from a bear, but that sounds sort of hard.

Here’s the good news: I do know the secret to accepting a compliment. Are you ready? Here it comes:

Say “Thank you.”

Yep, that’s it. Just say thank you. Resist the urge to discount yourself and, in doing so, the complimenter (let’s pretend that’s a real word just for today, okay?). Resist the “Oh, this old head of hair?! I’ve had it forever! It’s nothing, really,” comeback and be a gracious complimentee (let’s pretend that’s another word, just for today).

Here are some responses to get your through what should be a great small talk exchange but could, in fact, cause you to panic as if you are, well, running from a bear. Remember, you can accept a compliment and still gently lead the conversation in another direction which is the sign of the true small talk pro that you are — here’s how:

Is that a new car? I like the color!
Thank you! I’ve never had a red car before and I am enjoying it.

I loved your speech.
Thank you. I am so glad you liked it.

Dinner was delicious.
Thank you. My sister made it years ago and it’s become a family favorite. What’s your go-to recipe?

Your children are so polite.
Thank you. That’s a really lovely thing to say.

Your new book is great!
Thank you; hearing that makes the hard work worth it. What else are you reading these days?

I can tell you worked hard on that report.
Thank you. It’s nice of you to notice.

Your hair looks fabulous.
Thank you. Now, check out my arms!

Posted on Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Get OUT! How To End A Nice Conversation Nicely

 

get out

I am guessing you, like me, are decompressing from a holiday season full of social gatherings. Dinners and cocktail parties and brunches and school programs seem to quadruple in size during the months of November and December. Some are fancier than others. I mean, some of us even had soirees at The White House. I won’t mention any names, no reason to brag.

Okay — it was ME! Yes, I was in the nation’s capital last month and had the pleasure of rubbing elbows with President and Mrs. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, my sister Naomi, and Governor Bill Ritter. Not necessarily in that order. Naomi still gets my vote.

This year’s Holiday Collection of blogs included how to start a conversation and how to break into a group who is already happily conversing, so by now you are feeling good, yes? You small-talked away with a previous stranger or enagaged in a lively discussion with a group. But then you want to…

Get. Out.

Yes, you’ve thoroughly enjoyed the chatting and you’ve used your skills to shine, but all good things must come to an end. Even a lively interchange that you, in fact, initiated. Here’s where honesty and maybe a little humor go hand-in-hand. If you are kind and to the point, you should be able to extricate yourself from the conversation without damaging the relationship or, more importantly, the other person’s ego.

In my book, The Fine Art of Small Talk, I dedicate an entire chapter to this very topic, but it’s the holiday season and there is no time for chapters — only short cuts. First, find a natural break in the conversation, whether it is someone else joining the group or the ending of a funny story. Then, smile, offer your hand, and use a direct, kind approach to disengage. Here are a few one-liners to help you on your way out:

The key is to be authentic. Do not lie. I have heard too many stories of people saying they had to go call the babysitter only to be caught minutes later by the conversation dumpee yukking it up on the other side of the room. So do what you say you are going to do and do not make false excuses. When it comes to conversational clout, you’ve got to take your oath seriously, White House or not.

Posted on Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

The Holiday Collection: Breaking In Without Breaking Out in a Cold Sweat

Debra with The Bidens!

 

So by now you know that I recently spent a few days and nights gallivanting around DC with elected officials.

Wait. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? Gallivant may be the wrong word as I am not — and will never be — Rielle Hunter.

But I did spend time at The White House and at Vice President Joe Biden’s private residence and it was and still is unforgettable. Being in the small talk business is a benefit for me because I usually don’t have the panic that others often experience when walking into an unfamiliar room with unfamiliar faces and starting a conversation. For those of you who suffer — and I know many of you do — I remember your pain. Last week’s blog included four simple steps to starting a conversation with a stranger; a little pre-holiday gift to keep you merry and bright. But what happens if you don’t find a singleton in the room? What if everyone is already grouped together and chatting merrily while you are standing alone, feeling foolish?

Breaking in is hard to do, especially when it comes to conversation. You don’t want to continue to stick out like the Lone Ranger without Tonto. You also don’t want to start lurking around like…well…I was going to say Rielle Hunter but that would be in poor taste. So, let’s just say you don’t want to start lurking around.

Not to fret my fellow small-talkers! There are simple, non-lurky ways to find your way into a group conversation. Here’s how:

Fake a seizure.

Kidding — here’s how to do it:

If there is someone specific in the room that you have been hoping to meet and he is engaged in a conversation with another person, wait patiently and then approach the OTHER person, your target’s conversation partner. Politely, ask for the other person’s permission to interrupt:

Hi, I’m Debra Fine. Excuse me for intruding, but I’ve been trying to connect with Bob for weeks. Would you mind if interrupted you both for just a moment?

Most people are gracious enough to agree.

The other option is to tap the shoulder of your intended conversation cohort and state your wishes:

Hi, I am Debra Fine. Excuse me for intruding, but I promised myself to connect with you, Bob, before the evening ends. Please look for me when you have a free moment.

At this point you will either be invited to join the conversation or Bob’s partner will excuse himself and move on (he may have been ready for greener pastures anyway, so double kudos). If neither of these things happens, Bob will know you made an effort and will likely seek you out later.

Attempting to break into a larger group? Try this:

Stand slightly away from the group, but show interest in the speaker while waiting for the group to acknowledge you. They will likely physically shift a bit to allow you into the inner circle.

Ease your way into the conversation by acknowledging that you have been listening. You can do this by nodding your head, smiling, or chuckling at a funny quip that’s been shared.

Look for visual cues that some or all of the group has warmed to you. At that point, you know you’ve been officially welcomed to use your small talk skills like the pro you are. No Rielle Hunter or fake seizures necessary.

Posted on Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Small Talk at The White House (yes – that White House)

White house 1

 

 

I’m going to a cocktail party at The White House next week. Yes, Debra Fine will be drinking champagne at The White House. Do I sound like I am bragging? I’m not. Well, maybe a smidge. But I am, in a word, thrilled. I have a feeling that Mrs. Obama and I will become lifelong friends and share workout tips, but I digress.

Back to business. While I am elated to be attending two VIP cocktail receptions in the nation’s capital (yes, I will also be at a little soiree with Vice President Joe Biden but didn’t want to rub it in), I know that the holiday cocktail party, whether at the White House or at your neighbor’s house, can cause distress for many of you. How do I know? From you! You’ve told me on Facebook, in Q&A sessions following a keynote speech, in personal emails, even in line at the grocery store! Not to fret, fellow small-talkers, navigating a cocktail reception is not as tough as you think.

Like everything else, there is a beginning, middle, and end.  It makes sense to start with the beginning, and get to the middle and end of a good cocktail party conversation in parts two and three of this series, respectively.

Let’s assume that you’ve got your icebreakers and three or four topics in mind for when a conversation starts happening. You’ve practiced your most winning smile in the privacy of your bathroom mirror, you don’t have any food in your teeth and you still remember your own name. All good things. So you arrive at an event where you know nobody and you wait for someone to approach you, right?

No, no, no. Remember, the holidays are all about giving — so give yourself and someone else the gift of conversation. When you enter a room, look around for others that are standing on their own. You can usually find these folks hovering around the buffet or obsessively checking their phone or standing much too close to a potted plant. These people are nervous and feeling awkward and, because of that, will be your very best listeners because you, savvy small talker that you are, are about to relieve them from feeling completely panicked and self-conscious.  Go you.

Be the first to make eye contact and smile at a stranger.  And if they don’t smile back, I will send you a paperweight from the president’s desk. Don’t ask me how I got it.

Once you’ve established eye contact, introduce yourself and offer a handshake.

Hello, I’m Debra Fine.

If the other person speaks your language, and you don’t receive a handshake and a name in return, I will send you a paperweight from Mrs. Obama’s desk (I believe she uses hers for bicep curls because wow, those arms, but I digress — again.).

Once you receive a name and a handshake, use the other person’s name and one of your icebreakers to get the conversation going. I find a statement/question combination to be the best bet:

It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ken. This is my first visit to the White House inner sanctum and it’s more than I imagined! What’s your history with visiting the White House?

Notice I did not pose a yes or no question, because then Ken and I might hit a roadblock. Instead Ken has the chance to either tell me he has never been to the White House, and then we can talk about being newbies to the whole experience; or Ken can tell me he has attended several functions, and then I can ask him about some of the highlights; or Ken can tell me he took his children on the standard White House tour and now I have some insight that Ken is a father and I can take the conversation in that direction. No matter what Ken’s response, the conversational path is lit for me. Let’s pretend that Ken is new, like me:

Isn’t this exciting, Ken? What surprises you most about being here?

The statement/question pattern is effective for starting and continuing conversation, especially if you keep the question open-ended (not a yes/no question). Now Ken and I are on our way to a meaningful exchange and Ken and I are not both standing alone in the middle of what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be wined and dined at the White House.

See? It’s as easy as that.

It is.

At the end of the day, there are really four short steps to starting a conversation: • Find an approachable person • Make eye contact • Smile • Offer your name to them and use their name in conversation
Giving the gift of conversation is worthwhile to everyone. True success comes from taking the first step and saying hello. The topic is not nearly as important as the effort. So exercise your conversational muscle and do some heavy lifting when it comes to making small talk, because connecting with another person is even more important than sporting rock-hard biceps. I promise.