Starting a conversation with people you don’t know.
By Jeff Hagen – President of Grafton Staffing
I recently celebrated my nine year Rotary anniversary. I remember going to the first meeting and feeling isolated and alone. Picture me walking into a room full of nearly 70 other people I didn’t know. Starting a conversation with people you don’t know can be an intimidating experience. It’s still a fear of mine, but here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.
1. Always ask about them.
Generally, people like to talk about themselves and they’re an expert on the subject!
2. Find something about the situation you’re both in to comment on.
One of my most successful introductions had to do with a parking situation. A few times a year, there’s a big meeting of business leaders in downtown Kansas City. It was a cold, windy, wintry day, and I had to walk a block or so from the parking garage to event location. A gentleman was walking next to me. I turned to him and said, “I wish we were back in the suburbs today where we could park close to the building!” That conversation eventually lead to a couple of civic opportunities I wanted.
3. Always find someone to sit next to.
“Is this seat taken?” is probably the easiest way to start a conversation with someone. After that, it’s easy to ask about the speaker or event you are attending or the banquette chicken being served.
4. Hang out by the food or beverage area.
This works in situations where everybody seems to know everyone else. However, many people go get a beverage by themselves… so it’s a little easier to start a conversation. You don’t have to interrupt a conversation happening in a group. You can meet people quickly over something as simple as getting a drink.
5. Always keep your eyes up.
You aren’t the only one in the room looking for someone to talk to.
6. Use a wing man.
If you know one person in the group, approach them and say hi. They will introduce you to the person they’re talking with. Your wing man goes to get a beverage by themselves while you continue the conversation with the person you were introduced to. After your conversation is over, go find your wing man. Odds are they will make another introduction for you.
Always try to follow up with people after you meet them. Starting the conversation is just the first opportunity to get to know someone. Not everyone is going to end up being a great friend or business contact, but that isn’t the only objective. Most people I meet will become great resources for other people in my network.