One of the biggest lessons I learned when I was a professional bellydancer was how to read the room. For example, in the Middle Eastern restaurants that I performed in, it was traditional to go over to the tables, say hello, and invite the audience to come up and dance with me. It was also an opportunity to receive tips. Experience taught me to watch for expressions and body language when approaching the crowd. If someone isn't making eye contact with me, I leave that person alone. If I see a happy, smiling face, I know they want to join me on stage. I look for interactions between couples. If a woman is watching her significant other for any signs of interest in me, I purposely walk over to her. I smile and compliment her on her beautiful dress. I tell her I'm glad she's here and hope she's enjoying herself. I don't even glance at her partner. When I get a smile, I know I've put her at ease. The goal is to make the night a fun experience for everyone. This will give people a reason to return again and again.
Reading people also helped me when I sold wine and spirits. I remember walking into an account, and my buyer was obviously stressed out. I looked at her and said, "I have two options for you. I can open up this bottle of wine, and you can tell me what's upsetting you, or we can reschedule." She said, "How do you do that? You always seem to know what kind of mood I'm in before I say a word. Let's open the wine. You listen to me vent, and I'll place my order with you." This is how I was able to solidify my relationships with my clients. I let them know I cared about them as well as their business.
Whether it's a social or networking event, we tend to worry about how we're coming across, so much so that we're not paying attention to people in front of us. We're not picking up body language, and facial expressions that give us clues to how people feel. When I enter a room, I tend to take a quick scan and try to take in the energy of the place. Does the group seem to be in a good mood? Are they talking and laughing? If so, excellent. I know I'll have an enjoyable time.
On the other hand, is there a sense of a strained formality that has everyone feeling tense? Are they speaking low and reserved? I have to decide to keep myself upbeat and not get dragged down to having a miserable time.
I remember getting hired to do a show for a house party. I walked in, and it was quiet. People were sitting or standing against the wall, barely interacting with each other. The music was low, and I noticed the concern on the host's face. I reassured him that I was going to do my best. I made sure my music was loud and created excitement. By the end of my performance, I had everyone up and dancing. It felt great to be able to turn the party around and be successful.
Meeting someone for the first time in a group setting, I'm aware of eye contact. If they're glancing around the room while I'm speaking, I know they're looking for someone else. I tell them that it's fine with me to talk at a later time. I usually get a response like, "I apologize, but I need to speak with the person who just walked in. Thank you for understanding." I learned a long time ago not to take it personally. Everyone has an agenda and acknowledging that shows you're preceptive to others.
When I have someone's attention, I make sure the other person feels heard. First, I maintain eye contact and listen attentively. This helps build a natural rapport. Next, I watch for signs of understanding or misunderstanding by how the person raises or furrows their brows. Do they nod their head in agreement or disagree by slowly moving their head from side to side.
Communication encompasses more than what we say and how we say it. Our body language lets others know what we're thinking and how we're feeling. When we take the time to be present for the people we're with, we do away with feeling self-conscious. Instead, our focus is on others. As a result, we become more relatable and approachable.
Take a moment to read the room. Get a sense of the overall mood and radiate confidence with a smile. Decide that you're going to have an enjoyable time with everyone you meet. Stay present. Your fun energy may be just what the party needed.