I was very kindly invited to talk to a cohort of risk management students yesterday who were looking to develop their professional careers within the private security sector. I was asked to speak to the students about 'business networking', the students were very receptive to the session and towards the end of my talk, I invited questions. One particular student made a bold statement followed by what I thought was a great question too;
''I am not very comfortable with the concept of networking and how can I just go up to someone at an event or conference and start speaking to them?!''
I felt this was a very good question and I guess many people would have the same concern perhaps, so thought I would put together a short post on exactly this scenario. I completely agree that walking up to someone that you have never met and engaging with them in conversation could seem quite daunting and somewhat extremely uncomfortable. The key to good networking and starting conversations with strangers is 'to get comfortable with being uncomfortable'!
After lying in bed last night and thinking about the students question, I thought I would put together 5 ways to start a conversation with anyone. I hope you find them useful. Please also note that these tips can be used anywhere, both in your professional AND personal life.
1. Ask for Advice
Requesting advice, assistance or even a recommendation is a great way to start a conversation with someone. Automatically you are giving the person you wish to speak to the power to be helpful and feel important.
2. Ask for Their Opinion
One thing you will learn in life is everyone has an opinion and generally if you ask someone for theirs, they are more than happy to share their views on most subjects. Try to avoid 'taboo subjects' on the initial interaction such as sex, religion, politics etc, as they are often uncomfortable fields to discuss with someone you have not built a rapport with yet.
3. Compliment Them
Very much like opinions, every loves compliments. If you have just listened to a speaker that you enjoyed for example, well then go and tell him or her. If you like the clothes or accessories someone is wearing, politely inform them, I'm sure they will be delighted to know that their new shoes caught your eye.
4. Common Ground & Shared Experiences
Finding what I like to call 'common ground' with someone is one of the fastest ways to build a relationship. If you know someone's background or experience and you can relate to it, perhaps you both served in the military or attended the same college, then immediately you have common ground to engage in discussion from the outset.
5. Simply Introduce Yourself
This is perhaps the most daunting way for most, the thought of not knowing where the conversation will go or even if they will acknowledge you, sends shivers down peoples spines. I have found in my experience that regardless of someone's background, social status or job title that if you are polite, professional and do not come across in an intrusive manner then most human beings are receptive to a hand shake whilst looking them in the eye and introducing yourself.
''A good relationship starts with good communication'' - Jordan Wylie