Q&A with Susan RoAne

Susan RoAne, known as “The Mingling Maven®,” leads a double life as a bestselling author and a sought-after keynote speaker. She gives multi-generational audiences the required tools, techniques, and strategies they need to connect and communicate in today’s global business world. Her practical, informative, and very interactive presentations are known for what The San Francisco Chronicle calls her “dynamite sense of humor.”

Her groundbreaking best-seller, How to Work a Room®,is published in print, audio and digitally as an e-book. Over a million copies of her classic book have been sold worldwide. She also wrote The Secrets of Savvy Networking, What Do I Say Next? How To Create Your Own Luck and Face To Face: How To Reclaim The Personal Touch in A Digital World. Named as one of Forbes.com top 25 Networking Experts to Follow, RoAne is the perfect kickoff speaker to set the tone for any meeting or conference where making contacts, having conversations and creating connections count.

A former public-school teacher in both her hometown of Chicago and her current home in San Francisco, RoAne has been a guest lecturer at major universities nationwide and served as a keynote at many leading corporate events for Kraft Foods, Bank of America, Hershey Foods, Kaiser Health and Association of Healthcare Philanthropy, Oracle Users Groups, Office Depot, The US Air Force, and others.

A lifelong fan of deep-dish pizza, as well as the San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Giants, her hometown Cubs, and the Golden State Warriors, RoAne received her master’s degree from San Francisco State University and her bachelors from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. RoAne says she is forever a FIGHTING ILLINI.

Exclusive interview with The 420 Area Code

420AC: Let me immediately set the record straight, you are not endorsing the 420AC or cannabis use in any form. But for many years you have resided close to supposedly where the term “420” originated. 

Ms. RoAne: If you are a Grateful Dead fan, then one might consider April 20 (4/20) as a special day. I am a Motown fan more than rock n’ roll. Definitely not a fan of Dylan because his voice irritates me, or The Boss. But I do love Marvin, Smokey, Stevie, the Supremes, and other musicians of that era. And Jerry Garcia worked out with my personal trainers who were at his wedding. I used to see him in their office and found him to be shy. So that’s about as close as I came to 420.

420AC: Let us move on. Did you always envision a career as an author?

Ms. RoAne: I never thought I would be a published author, let alone having the success I have achieved. I would often envision myself being interviewed by Johnny Carson or Jay Leno. Sitting in that guest chair would have been awesome.

420AC: What has been your secret to keeping How to Work a Room fresh and relevant?

Ms. RoAne: Constant on-going promotion, saying yes to every interview, visiting bookstores in the SF Bay Area and every town I am speaking in, introducing myself, bringing my own autograph stickers. My speaking biz has helped sales. Saying yes to every radio interview and speaking gig. And I look back and am awed myself. It took such energy. Even the other day, I went into a bookstore, asked if they carried my book, and chatted with the bookseller. We talked about the book, how it is needed now more than ever and found out we were both educators in another life. I wrote three updates after the initial 1988 book release. It must be my teacher background. We always had to relate the content to the ‘audience’ or class. The last version has a chapter entitled, How To Work a Virtual Room, and that was so timely for our shelter in place lockdown life. I dubbed it – House Arrest without the Ankle Monitor. During the last 18 months I have been interviewed about staying connected, making connections and networking during these strange times we live in. One interview wanted information on a conversation that would ignore Covid. While it is an interesting premise, it is misguided. According to my research both in How To Work a Room and What Do I Say Next? people work hard to find common subjects and common bonds. That was the gift of Covid. We had a global conversation starter and then could segue from there.

420AC: Have you ever encountered writer’s block?

Ms. RoAne: Yes. My editor asked to write a book on networking. I had written a piece for a professional journal, Networking: Beyond The Buzzword, in 1990. Thanks to attending a San Francisco Giants game with a dear friend, and a runner stealing second base, I had the epiphany that broke the block.

420AC: Because in-person events were all but curtailed during the pandemic, could people have lost some of their conversation skills?

Ms. RoAne: People have said they are rusty on the social skills. I even had a very sophisticated friend say she was a nervous because she was not sure of how to behave. There have been quite a few professional and general articles about the great discomfort and the great return to social events. People found that having to mix and mingle and socialize to be daunting prior to the pandemic. Now, we add in the new questions. How close should be stand? Can I shake hands? Are people vaccinated? Do I use hand sanitizer after a handshake? And then there are still the mask issues. All quite unnerving. Convention and meeting attendance is still down at the end of 2021. That negatively impacts the speaking biz. I do not shake hands anymore. But I have apologized or explained with a quick and courteous explanation. People understand and that often prompts an easy conversation. 

420AC: You have been a sought-after keynote speaker for many years by numerous organizations.

Ms. RoAne: The meetings industry was coming back, then had a letdown with the Delta Variant. I am doing a couple of Zoom talks and did one hybrid. But people are going to in person events. In some states all precautions are taken. In others, it is different story.

420AC: If you could sit next to a famous person while flying, who would it be, and why?

Ms. RoAne: Golda Meir. I would love to know how she managed the best former teacher career change to Prime Minister of Israel. I want to know what it was like being the first female leader and how did she travel to Jordan and negotiate with King of Jordan.  I would remind her about being host to my mother and 12 other women as first guests of State of Israel. My second choice would be George Clooney, for obvious reasons.

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Sheldon Baker

Sheldon Baker, The 420 Area Code show host, possesses more than 30 years of creative and media experience. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications and broadcasting from Columbia College in Chicago, the premier marketing, media, and arts educational institution in the U.S., and has developed and directed a wide range of corporate marketing programs, celebrity promotion, and product branding for the natural products industry. More info here.

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