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Create a Connection

How to use the 3 C's for powerful social interactions.

By John Kerwin


William Hung being interviewed by John Kerwin on TV setJohn Kerwin interviews fellow Toastmaster and American Idol alum William Hung at a District 1 event. Photography credit: Natalia Melnikova

There’s no greater feeling than truly connecting with another person. I do this in my job as a celebrity interviewer, but it’s no less gratifying when you connect with someone during everyday encounters.

Throughout my career, I’ve developed “The 3 C’s of Interviewing,” which can help you connect with anybody, anytime, anywhere. I call this technique Comfort, Connect, and Compel, and the tips apply to social settings, parties, and any place where you interact with others, including the online world.


Comfort

It’s hard to get people to open up and relax if they’re not at ease. If you find yourself chatting with someone who seems preoccupied or distracted, don’t push on. Stop the conversation and ask if everything is okay.

I once conducted an interview with someone who was clearly distracted and kept shifting in his seat. After failing to figure out what was wrong, I came right out and asked, “You seem uncomfortable—is everything okay?” He said, “To be honest, I have to go to the restroom.” So I said, “So do I,” and we took a break. After that, he was completely relaxed, and we had a successful interview. By addressing his distraction directly, rather than ignoring it and plowing forward, I helped him refocus and relax.

If you find yourself chatting with someone who seems preoccupied or distracted … stop the conversation and ask if everything is okay.

Another time, I was at a party talking with someone who suddenly realized she had lost her cellphone. Rather than force the conversation to continue, I helped her retrace her steps until we found it inside her jacket in the coat room. She was relieved, and I felt I had not only helped her feel more comfortable but had made a friend.

Sometimes a simple smile will make a person feel comfortable, as could telling someone who appears to be nervous, “I don’t know why these things make me nervous.” Now they have an ally. Search for something that will relax the other person, and you’ll be on your way to connecting with them.


Connect

Believe it or not, I’m naturally shy. But I’ve learned that finding a person’s “spark” is the key to connecting. The spark is whatever a person is most passionate about in life. It may be their new baby, their new career, a love for art, or maybe, like my Aunt Betty, a passion for origami elephants. If you find their spark and are curious about it, you’ve found the kindling that creates a connection.

I once interviewed a tough-guy actor who wasn’t connecting with me. He was stoic, giving me brief answers, and not making eye contact. I was going nowhere until I noticed a little airplane on his tie clip. I asked him if he flew. He answered, “It’s everything to me. When I’m flying, alone in the sky, it’s like I’m at one with God.” After that, the interview was a snap. I had found his spark.

Another time I interviewed a child celebrity who was the star of a television show. She was 10 years old and was giving me only one-word answers. “What’s it like starring on a show?” “Fine.” “Are your parents proud of you?” “Yes.” Most people have probably experienced this lack of connection with children or perhaps teenagers. Finally, I asked, “What would you do if you had a free day and could do anything?” She said, “Scrapbooking.” I asked if she could show me what that was, and we got some materials and started scrapbooking together. This led to her coming out of her shell. After that, she talked nonstop about her TV show, her friends, and her family. Scrapbooking was her spark.

When I’m in a social situation where I don’t know people, I like to use humor to break the ice: “I, myself, am a wedding crasher.” “I don’t normally dress up, but it’s laundry day and this suit was all I had left.” “Don’t tell anyone, but underneath this suit and tie, I’m Superman.” Another option is to ask open-ended questions: “How do you know the host?” “Which appetizers do you recommend?” “Is this your first wedding?”

Jose Angel Manaiza Jr., DTM, president of the District One Toastmasters Speakers Bureau in Southern California, always listens to others, asks questions, and often punctuates his responses with a big “Wow!” I love watching him connect and get people to share their stories. It reinforces my belief that being genuinely curious about people leads to strong connections.


Compel

The third way to connect is to be compelling—to say and do things that engage and interest the people you’re speaking with. I was at a college graduation ceremony, and as I was talking to some new graduates, they started complaining that the commencement speech was a disappointment. They felt the speaker was describing his own specific experience, which provided no value to their lives, and that the speech was self-congratulatory rather than useful.

Instead of nodding and agreeing, I asked what they would have done differently. This led to each one giving a mini speech, which they found harder to do than they had thought. Then they started critiquing each other, and soon they were laughing. I gained insight into what they had learned and, in turn, helped them feel better about their experience.

It helps if you arrive at an event with conversation starters to sprinkle into the conversation and make connecting with people easier. Sometimes I gather random fun facts or make note of a recent survey or international happening. I’ll find some wedding jokes if it’s a wedding. I used to bring a trick coin and do a magic trick if there were children at a party. Or I bring a small novelty toy that makes applauding or laughing sounds. When someone says something interesting, I push the button for applause or laughter. People are naturally compelled by party tricks.

Practice connecting with people whenever you can. It’s a skill that gets better with practice. At my Toastmasters club, Coachmasters, in Culver City, California, we have social nights preceding select meetings. This gives members a chance to mingle and connect with others, including guests.

When you talk to others at club meetings, be sure to be inclusive. If you see someone hovering, make it your mission to welcome them into your group and engage them in conversation using some of the techniques mentioned above. Leaders in particular have a powerful opportunity to help members and guests shed their nervousness and feel more connected.

Today’s technology makes it easy to stay home, surf the internet, and become isolated. There’s never been a time when it’s been more important to connect with others. It takes an effort, but the rewards are great. This is one reason why I love Toastmasters. It’s all about connecting: connecting with the audience when you speak, connecting with other members, and connecting with new visitors.

If you follow the 3 C’s—making sure the person you’re talking to is comfortable, connecting with them by finding their spark, and then compelling them and drawing them in—you will be able to connect with others like you rarely have before. You will also have mastered one of the most important skills of a celebrity interviewer. And you never know when that might come in handy.



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