The Art of Talking to Strangers

Picture the scene. You are at a conference.

You want to be there; you want to learn, yet…

… the thought of talking to strangers brings you out in a cold sweat.

Maybe it’s the way you’re feeling on that particular day.

Maybe it’s the normal way of things for you.

You wait at the fringes, staring at your suddenly very interesting refreshments.

You avoid eye contact. You wait for the not-so-comfortable-comfort-break to come to its hellish end.

Sound like you?

Well, you are not alone.

You’d be surprised how many people feel like this when it comes to talking to people they don’t know.

Interacting with strangers, especially in contrived professional environments, can feel quite bizzare; regardless of your personal communication preferences.

So why does it feel weird? And if it does, why bother?!

Weird and wonderful

In an piece in Psychology Today, Paula Davis explains that interacting with strangers is more positive than most people expect. As well as being a potential mood-lifter, connecting with others helps boost learning and enables idea creation.

Experience has shown me time and again that this is true. Personally and for others too.

But if it is so wonderful why is it weird?

For some the weirdness stems from…

  • assuming starting a conversation will be difficult
  • not knowing what to say
  • uncertainty about others wanting to engage
  • uncertainty about how others will react
  • fear of rejection

For others the weirdness may be directly linked to…

  • talking not being their preferred communication style
  • feeling uncomfortable in large groups
  • being reserved about opening up to others
  • preferring to think and listen

All of these are valid contributors to the ‘weirdness’.

They are not, however, reasons to miss out on the ‘wonderful’.

So how do you go about embracing the weirdness and enjoying the wonderful benefits of being able to talk to strangers?

Conversations and connections

Having reflected back on a multitude of interactions and networking experiences, I’ve put together some tips, ideas and thoughts to help you with your conversations and connections.

It is definitely not a prescriptive process. After all, everyone is different and situations vary.

It is designed to give you food for thought, tips and ideas to enable you to shine when it’s time to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know.

So let’s dive in 🙂

APPRECIATE yourself and others

  1. Think about all you have achieved and let it empower you
  2. Use your nervous energy as a motivator – it shows you care
  3. Remember there are other people involved in the conversation equation… and they may be feeling the ‘weirdness’ too

PREPARE to interact

  1. Remember curiosity is your friend and a confidence booster
  2. Reflect on why you are attending the event. Your purpose will spur you on
  3. If you prefer to listen and think, be proud of these skills as they help you to build rapport
  4. If talking and crowds tire you, schedule time near the event to re-charge
  5. Be positive and open-minded, you never know where your conversations will lead

And why not say this fab mantra to yourself. I found it in a Forbes article by Christian Park…

Labels don’t define me. I’m an interesting person with a lot to contribute.

SPARK the conversation

  1. Don’t be dismissive of small talk. It helps you get to know each other
  2. Remember The Rule of the FISH. Be Friendly – Smile – Be Interested – Be Helpful
  3. Think of conversation starters that link to your shared situation
  4. Look for others on their own; say hello; ask them a simple question and…
  5. Find common ground or shared history… like thoughts on the keynote speech or…
  6. Be patient while you both get into the talking groove. The weirdness will wane

Here are a few questions to get you started…

  • How did you hear about the conference?
  • What has been interesting you recently?
  • Why have you come to the conference?
  • Where did you travel from to be here?
  • Which talks have you enjoyed and why?

BUILD the conversation

  1. Listen and build on what is being said
  2. Look out for hooks and cues that help you develop the conversation
  3. Ask questions in a friendly way – no interrogations 🙂
  4. Share some appropriate personal information in a professional way to help build trust
  5. Encourage others to speak and join in

MOVE on to the next conversation

  1. Don’t be afraid to say it’s time for you to move on
  2. It’s fine to move on; your chat doesn’t have to last for hours
  3. Say thank you and that you enjoyed the conversation
  4. Swap contact details with people you enjoy talking with
  5. For those you felt a connection with, say you’d like to stay in touch
  6. Set a reminder to encourage you to get in touch again later

REPEAT and …

…practice, practice, practice

Nobody knows everybody. Which means interacting with strangers is going to be part of everyone’s life in some shape or form.

Combining the tips in this article with your awesomeness, I know you’ll overcome any weirdness to have many wonderful conversations with people you don’t know.

Special thanks goes to Dr Baird (@PBBrachytherapy) for inspiring this blog article.

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