This blog post is about talking to people you don’t know — about striking up a conversation with a stranger — like at a new job, a cocktail party or a business function. This one challenges us with “How do I get started?”, “What do I say first?”, “What would make a positive impression?”
So let’s explore what gets us scared and look at some new approaches that can smooth the way.
Here’s the scene: You’re going to a cocktail party relating to your business or profession and you want to connect. You walk into a room filled with people who know each other and you don’t. (The principles we’ll talk about are the same whether it’s social or otherwise).
Feeling different, left out, a little lost, you’re nervous about being awkward, pushy, sounding —- or being accepted. That’s the first obstacle. And here’s Principle 1: Accept your feelings! They’re natural, common to us all! Don’t fight them and lecture yourself. Just think, “Nervous? Sure. That’s OK. Now —”
Principle 2: Take a breath and Make A Move! Nothing will happen if you just stand there. You’re looking at people – motivated by the same systems you are. We all like to be noticed, made to feel important, selected, and yes— even asked for a little help! Makes us feel powerful, wise and useful. SO—walk up to whoever looks appealing to you and disarm them by telling the truth (a surprise to most everybody).
“Hello—I’m —– (name) , a stranger here, feeling a little outside of things. I don’t know anyone but I would surely like to. How are you connected to this organization?” There’s the secret! ASK A QUESTION. Why? You’ve given them all kinds of power— asked about their expertise, raised their status, showed interest in them and gotten them to talk to you. Connection!
Principle 3: Listen for clues! What they tell you presents hooks for how you can enter into their conversation and make your own little dent. Connect to what they say— find where you can fit into their statement. DON’T go off onto the wonders of you or try to top them. That’s threatening and too self-serving. You’re there to make a link or a friend. Let them lead—you’ll get your chance, I promise.
Bottom line: Rely on the things you know you’d like when you’re reaching out to others. No airs, no acting, no trite, clever little openers. Be honest. Open. Authentic. It disarms and surprises folks. And it makes you recognizable. Being yourself will give you the courage to step forward and start.
So- take a breath and just do it!