Flirting with success: Lyndsay Russell meets an expert on 'what to do when someone takes your fancy'

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Watch any documentary by David Attenborough, and you'll know that when it comes to attracting a mate the animal kingdom has some very strange habits: bird tail-wagging, baboon bottom- baring and toad throat-bloating, to name but a few.

However, on spotting a potential partner it could be said that we humans behave the strangest of all. The majority of us turn bright red, shuffle our feet, develop a speech impediment and retreat to the furthest corner of the room.

Luckily, to help us do what should come naturally Sue Plumtree, communications facilitator, has designed a course entitled 'What to do when someone takes your fancy'. A fellow of the Institute of Personnel Management, Austrian-born Sue explains: 'I've been teaching top businessmen communication skills for 15 years. Many people excel in the work environment, but are hopeless in social situations. Time and time again someone would come up to me after a corporate seminar, and ask if I could give some tips on how to present themselves to a potential love partner.'

Her regular Saturday courses certainly sound more exciting than upping the sales of widgets, but what does she actually teach?

'I really don't want to give too much away, because it would spoil it. Basically, I divide the day into six stages, from what to do before approaching someone to how to make people feel great when they are with you.' Her eastern European accent conveys intelligence and warmth: she sounds like the love-child of Freud and Dr Ruth.

But, so elegantly dressed and supremely confident, could this paragon really identify with the social mortification some people suffer? 'Of course I do. I'm 49 now, but I was acutely shy right up to my mid-thirties. I'm a late blossomer. It can all be taught. That's why I'm passionate about the course.'

At this point, Simone Glass, her close friend and PR lady, interrupts with a gleeful clap of her hands. 'Let's call the book The DIY of Love.' Book? 'I'm writing a book about the course. For the last few months the two of us have had an on-going argument over the title,' laughs Sue. 'Can you think of a better name?'

Sure. If she will just confide the main secrets of the seminar, I'll try

to help, I volunteer - notepad poised with a trust-me-I'm-a-journalist expression. 'Well . . . OK,' she agrees reluctantly. 'One of the fun exercises involves getting people to give the 'I fancy you' look. People get it so wrong. Often the person at the receiving end doesn't recognise it at all. Not at all.'

Sensing she was about to change the subject, I tried out a look that said, 'Please tell me more secrets.' I got it right: 'Well, one man on the course raised an eyebrow thinking he was looking cool. The girl on the receiving end misinterpreted it, thinking the man was implying she was beneath him.'

Simone prompted enthusiastically: 'And what about that other chap?' 'Oh yes. I asked him to try 'the look' on me. At first I couldn't work out what was missing. Then I realised it. He wasn't smiling. That left him with a very direct, aggressive, objectifying expression. A smile would have warmed the whole thing up. So easy.'

Poor man. For years he probably messed up his chances. On the other hand, perhaps long ago a

woman had told him that he had bad teeth? 'That's also part of the course. How negative thoughts can sabotage.' Throwing in my own handful of negativity, I mention that surely learning to 'do' and 'say' the right things is calculating and manipulative. 'But why shouldn't we learn? Who was supposed to teach us? It's so important. Anyway, learning the moves is like driving a car. It's awkward at first, but eventually you don't even think about it. Anyway, if it helps you capture the love of your life . . .'

'That's it]' yelps Simone. 'Let's call the book How To Capture the Love of Your Life.' We all pause for thought. 'No, no,' vetoes Sue. 'We want to attract men as well. It's too girly.' She is well aware that more men are interested in her seminars than women. But what kind of man? For those of you mischievous enough to imagine anorak-clad trainspotters, Sue insists the opposite.

'In the year we've been operating, we've mainly attracted professionals in the middle to senior management bracket. I was surprised how attractive the people are. Many are divorced - we call them the 'newly singles' - all struggling with the change in today's social 'rules'.'

Sue likes to work with a maximum of 14 people each time, made up equally of men and women. 'The average age is somewhere between 35 and 50 years old, though we've had people in their early twenties and late sixties.'

Moving back on to more secrets, she continues: 'We also cover the importance of compliments and praise. Plus the power of touch. When you should, and when you shouldn't. This is vital. Another person we had on a course saw nothing wrong with hugging every woman he met. Not surprisingly, some females didn't welcome this behaviour.' To avoid such faux pas, Sue insists you must interpret the correct body language. 'You must read the situtation correctly,

and respond. I love the word 'flirting', but nothing as obvious as batting your eyelids. There are many subtle things you can do to show you're attracted to someone.'

At that point, Sue sweetly inquires: 'Has anyone ever told you what a wonderful voice you have? It's so beautiful. You should be on radio.' Taken aback, I feel flattered. Hold on . . . is this part of her technique? Whatever, her abundant social flair must have worked. The woman is a delight.

Sue Plumtree is inviting 14 Independent readers to take part in a free London seminar (normally pounds 85). If you wish to participate, and do not object to our reporter being present, please write stating age and sex and finish this sentence in no more than 10 words: 'I wish to do the course because . . . Participants' names can be changed if requested. Send entries to: Personal page, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.