Meeting new people is not that bad. Try it!
This past weekend I attended a conference with a group of my friends. There were 11 of us. As we walked to the main ballroom where the event was to take place, I couldn’t help but think: “Man I really hope we all sit together.” Can you blame me? We drove 4 hours to get there, but in separate cars; we are all either graduate students or have already graduated from college, so we don’t get to hang out as often during the week as we would like; and many of us are moving out of town at the end of the semester. But sitting together? that was wishful thinking.
We opened the door to the ballroom and walked in to… round tables: The kind that highly attended dinners and weddings have; the kind that you RSVP for because you know there is absolutely no chance everyone in your party fits in one; the kind that if you are not lucky, or don’t take up a spot quickly, you’ll end up sitting next to a complete stranger, and sometimes, that is a gamble.
So, who doesn’t get to sit with the rest of the group? Let the game of musical chairs begin! …or should I say, may the odds be ever in your favor.
If you are cringing from the thought of this, or you have been in my shoes, you are not alone! Almost everyone in the world is scared to say hi to a stranger. Small talk and complimenting others…not everyone’s forte. I’m weird and I find this thrilling, but I understand two things: 1)I’m WEIRD, and 2) becoming a good (great!) communicator takes time and energy.
Maybe you find it daunting and straight up disarming, BUT, hear me out, it’s not as bad as it seems. I find this thrilling because I work at it. “Working a room” does not mean that you have to talk to EVERYONE. In fact, it doesn’t mean that you have to stay the entire time either. Here is what I learned from my experience this past weekend.
1. Find common ground.
This past weekend’s conference was a church event. Everyone there shared one thing in common. We all belong to the same denomination.
Here is what it means to you:
When you start a conversation with someone, think of what is common to you both. In my case, all of us drove some distance to attend the conference so my questions were related to that: 1) Where are you coming from, 2) How long did it take you to get here, 3) How many people came from your church, and 4) Are you a student? Graduated? Working?
From there, I picked up on things people told me and I asked follow up questions.
2. Have a clear goal.
Maybe you want to say hi and leave, maybe you are looking to network with individuals who share your interests, maybe you want to make new friends. No matter your motivation, have a clear goal.
Here is what it means to you:
When I attended a professional conference, I was intimidated by those who were there (lawyers!), but my goal was to find 3 really good contacts. Those contacts needed to be good enough to want them as my mentors and give me the incentive to reach out to them again.
The same goes to you. Having a clear goal challenges you to stay in the event until you have accomplished that goal, but it also helps you prioritize the energy you put into making these contacts.
If you start speaking with someone who you don’t find interesting or is talking about something completely unrelated to you or your interests, move on. MOVE ON. You are not rude if you leave the conversation (more on the next point), but rather you are on a mission, and getting stuck with someone who won’t stop talking about their cute cat won’t help you (unless you are there for that).
Start asking the same questions and make some minor changes to those as you jump from conversation to conversation. Soon you’ll be able to pick up on when the conversation is about to go south, and right before that happens…you bail!
3. Have an exit strategy.
Undoubtedly, there will be times when whoever you speak with is just rambling, on and on and on about whatever is interesting to them, but not to you. How do you bail?
Here are three exit strategies.
- “I need another drink” / “Need to get some food” / “Need to talk to my group” / “I think my group is getting together to discuss [fill in the blanks]”. Your reason doesn’t have to be complicated, simply say “hey listen, I need to…OR I’m going to …” excuse yourself and go.
- Tell them (whoever you are speaking with),”it’s been a pleasure chatting with you, I’m going to roam around a little more”. Remember you are there to make connections and to meet new people. Certainly, excusing yourself to go and meet others won’t be disrespectful.
- If nothing else works, simply excuse yourself and say “It’s been a pleasure, thank you, I have to go.”
Last, remember that strangers are just as nervous to meet you. They don’t know you, and certainly don’t know how you’ll react to their approach. So relax! We are all in the same boat.
I’m going to write this on its on line:
Smile! (It’s super powerful).
Maintain eye contact! (Not the kind where you are staring into their soul, but relax and look at others when they speak to you).
Now, go out and try this. It will be uncomfortable at first, but that’s ok. You’ll be fine. You’ll get better Go!
[and tell me if this helped you].