Owning a room is a quintessential skill when navigating both the professional and social worlds. It's more than looking someone in the eye, having a firm handshake and bringing enough business cards. These are the cornerstones of creating a rapport with others, but there's so much more to presenting the best version of yourself. When you're on your game, you'll project charisma, command attention, and inspire trust with your confidence, openness and versatility. It's about doing your homework, asserting leadership and connecting in a way that will leave an impression long after you've left.
Sound like you? If not, don't worry. These things can be learned. Follow these nine easy tips, and you’ll be prepared to walk into that room as if it always belonged to you.
1. Be prepared.
You've heard it over and over, because it's true -- knowledge is power. Who are you meeting, and what is important to them? What are their interests, and what do you have to offer that might catch their attention? Giving yourself the time to formulate a strategy that's targeted to your audience can make all the difference. To quote another aphorism, "by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."
2. Walk in with a firm (yet flexible) goal.
Know why you’re there and what you want. Bruce Lee once said, “a goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as something to aim at.” Think of your goal as a direction, rather than a destination, and you'll have a much easier time finding your way. And on the way, to take another suggestion from Lee, learn to be like water. There are no perfect fits, but combining adaptability with a clear sense of your goals will allow you to find common ground. Still, water doesn't mix with everything. In your search for common ground, know when you've hit a dead end. If your goals simply can’t align with who you’re talking to, don't waste your time -- or theirs. Walk with purpose.
3. Dress the part and enter strong.
British author Thomas Fuller said, “good clothes open all doors.” Dress to impress for a good first impression when you stride through that door. If you’re having trouble determining the dress code, go back to step one. Your research should provide you with a sense of what your audience will expect when they first see you. Then make sure that your ensemble is clean and pressed. This is the first impression you’ll be making, and you want to begin the race with a head start. That said, don’t be afraid to let a little personality show. Dressing professionally is all well and good, but think of it as a nice picture frame presenting you.
4. Put the phone down.
According to the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of people check their phone for messages or alerts, even without the prompt of a ring or vibration. Dividing your attention when it should be focused on the people in front of you is a major no-no. Unless you're using it in your presentation, keep your phone in your pocket. You are there for the people you’re meeting, and if you’re checking your phone, it communicates that you're not interested in them. Do yourself a favor, and turn the phone off. Your messages can wait. The people in front of you shouldn’t have to.
5. Smile and gesture.
If dressing the part is the cake, a good smile is the icing. Researchers at Harvard University and the University of California concluded that smiling is contagious. Your smile really can light up a room! Be the pleasant, friendly person they want to talk to. Make them want to engage. And gesticulate, using body language to draw others in. This magnifies your presence and joy, making you a bright personality that they won't want to look away from.
6. Pay attention to what they’re saying, and what they're not saying.
Like checking your rear view mirror, it's vital to take stock of what isn't in front of you in a conversation. What are they avoiding talking about? How are they holding themselves? Are they leaning forward? Are they drawing back or folding their arms and legs? Take these factors into account when you respond. And remember that this advice goes double for you. Like your expression and your gestures, your body language will communicate wordlessly with your audience.
7. Don’t commit until you're convinced.
Research published by the Journal of Consumer Research found that rejecting projects that conflict with your core wants and beliefs leads to more productivity. Don't say yes unless you can say it with confidence, because the people you bring into your life, and the projects that occupy your time, should be worthwhile. Networking and working for their own sake won't make you look impressive. In fact, you might end up looking desperate. Don’t overcommit, and don't accept just anything. Let them want to impress you.
8. Avoid complaining and criticizing.
“People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining,” says Stephen Hawking. Instead of looking for problems, find out what other people want and try to be their solution. Be that answer everyone has been looking for. Even if you don’t have a complete solution, look for ways to move toward one, as opposed to bashing the opposition. Presenting an understanding, positive viewpoint is better than being antagonistic.
9. Don’t just think it -- know it.
I can't stress it enough -- be prepared. It is essential to be able to talk the talk and walk the walk. Come off as an expert, speaking confidently and fluently about what your goals are, what you know about them and why you’re there. And don’t fake it! The point isn’t to pretend you know what you mean, but to effectively translate that you do know your stuff, and you’re not afraid to step up.
When applying these steps, it can be hard to know how well you did. Don’t succumb to doubt. Believe in yourself and what you have put forward. Follow this advice, and you won’t need a receipt to prove you owned the room. The messages waiting when you turn your phone back on will be enough.