For some of you reading this, having a conversation with strangers is a no brainer. You have the gift of gab and can talk about everything and anything. For others, what to say to people you don’t know can almost cause an anxiety attack! Yet, you are in sales or some form of business development, so you have to figure out a way to talk to strangers.
Recently, I was having a conversation with someone on a flight about how parents raise their children to not talk to strangers, yet when they grow up and become sales people, they must talk to strangers. Ironically, I grew up with strict instructions not to call boys…imagine how difficult it was to call men when I started in sales! Sometimes these childhood teachings create obstacles for us in our adult lives, but that’s for another article!
Here are a few ideas on how to engage in conversations with people you don’t already know at a networking event:
- Look for people who are standing by themselves. Generally they are feeling what you are feeling and it’s a starting point for a conversation.
- If it is a ‘formal’ networking event, ask them what brought them to the event, if they are a member, or if they have attended the event before.
- If it is a business networking event, ask them what they do for a living, how they got into the business, or what they are hoping to take away from the event.
- Sometimes you talk to people who are difficult to engage with. Ask about family, where they went to school or what they like to do for fun. The sooner you can find something in common, the easier future conversations become.
- Have you ever talked to someone for a while then felt like you didn’t know what to ask or say next? If you are being a good networker and taking a genuine interest in them, consider taking the conversation a little deeper. Ask what they do differently from their competition, who their strategic partners are, and what type of clients they work with.
The most important conversation you can have with people is asking how you can help them. When asking this question, you must be sincere. When you take an interest in others, they will generally be more engaging in a conversation. Using this strategy can be the greatest way to engage in a conversation with people and make new connections.
Remember, a networking event is not the place to make a sale, it is the place to meet people. Schedule a follow up meeting to see if there is an opportunity to do business together. Even if people don’t buy from you, they might become great strategic partners or referral sources.