Controlling the Room•
Posted on July 07 2011
“But will it do them any good?” I wondered aloud when I was asked to share some tips for how to take over a room. The fact is, you need to be awesome in the first place to show up and fill a room with your presence. These tips won't do you much good if you're a milquetoast conversation fumbler with broomstick legs and gingivitis breath. But OK, let's say we're all capable of learning a few tricks.
As you read these tips, I'd like you to meditate on Alec Baldwin's performance as Dr. Jed Hill in Malice. His words should inspire your behavior from today forward: "You ask me if I have a God complex. Let me tell you something: 'I am God.'" Go and do likewise.
-Show Up Last -- And Smiling-
Guess who never shows up first: the president of the United States of America. Why? Because there's nothing to do if you show up first. He has a full schedule of important meetings and appearances, none of which can be accomplished sitting alone waiting for some rube member of his staff to show up. Nobody ever reversed climate change showing up on time.
The first step toward taking over the room is to chill out and not be so eager to show up. Be a scientist about it. Start paying attention to when people arrive at parties. You'll want to show up three standard deviations to the right on the bell curve of arrival times. That means show up last without being late, and always smile like you just did something mischievous and there's no place you'd rather be. Now you've bought some mystique and the stage is yours to use it.
I'm in favor of unilateral military efforts (see the next section), but you still need a network of allies after the fireworks. At a party, walk around and greet people you know with their first name and a question that shows you were listening last time you spoke.
“Hey, Julia, nice to see you. How's training for the marathon going?”
“Mark, you son of gun, how's the chimney sweeping business?”
And try this phrase, “Gwen, I thought about you the other day while I was reading the short stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald.”
It's classic Dale Carnegie: People love the sound of their own names and they're thrilled to know you were thinking about them, especially in 2010 when rubes mostly hide behind Twitter handles and Facebook profiles.
Nut up, memorize some names and people will always want you around. Who knows? Maybe you will even become a decent person by accident.
Crossing the line: There's always one guy -- usually he has a girl's name like Shannon or Lindsey -- who makes uninterrupted eye contact and says your name in every sentence. Is that you, Kelly? Once it's clear that you know somebody's name, quit saying it. Hearing your name more than once or twice from the same person starts to take on nightmarish qualities.
-Seize The Conversation-
This is really the important piece. Anyone can show up late wearing a bright yellow pocket square and glad-hand a few folks, but it takes charisma and guts to bust out a turtle-shell rattle and lead everyone in song.
Remember that people are already on your side. Throw out an eccentric conversation starter or challenge a piece of conventional wisdom. For example, you're at a table and somebody mentions plastic surgery. Say something like, “Hey, you know I've been thinking about having my head enlarged. All successful people have really big heads. It needs to be at least 1/3 bigger.” Then you can all start talking about famous people with big heads. Or just tell a great story that shows how cool and smart you are without coming right out and saying it, like the time Alexander Hamilton quit the Washington Administration after George flipped out at him for “keeping him waiting.”
Crossing the line: Don't pull a Blake, Alec Baldwin's infamous role in Glengarry Glen Ross; that is, don't demand everyone's attention and tell them your watch cost more than their car, even if it's true.
-Make Everyone A Round-
The night's coming to a close, everyone is a little drunk and the bartender at your office holiday party is starting to clean up -- it's time to be the hero. Jump behind the bar and tell everyone that, luckily, there's time for one more round. Then line up the old-fashioned glasses and pour a round of your signature drink. I suggest you have a few of these in the arsenal for different crowds and different seasons, all of them named after you.
Crossing the line: Shots at the end of the night are a sign of desperation.
Crossing the line: Don't ever show up late to a dinner party or an important meeting. Instead of sending the message that you're an important guy with a busy schedule, it says you're an inconsiderate egomaniac.
-Wear Something That Makes You Nervous-
Get comfortable doing things that make you nervous, because other people will be intrigued. Fashion is a good place to start. Let's say you have a presentation at work, explaining some marketing data on snack cakes or whatever you do. You load the PowerPoint presentation, stand up, remove the jacket to your Savile Row suit, and reveal a set of vintage paisley suspenders.
“Uh, Stu, interesting choice of suspenders...”
“Wow, I forgot I put these on today. I got them at a vintage shop in East Berlin, before the wall came down.”
Now you're not just Stu the guy from marketing who knows a lot about prepackaged snack cake consumption among 18- to 36-year-old men; you're Stu who may have been a spy. Begin presentation.
Crossing the line: If you're dressed like a clown you'd better have a rubber nose and some magic tricks. Don't dress like a pickup artist.