A Beginners Guide
Talking to strangers can be weird, especially for the English folk. However, as a Business Development Manager, talking to strangers is downright unavoidable most of the time. Thankfully, I actually enjoy it (well, most of the time) but I understand it’s not everyone’s “cup of tea” (or career for that matter).
So you walk into a room full of people you don’t know and you’re probably wondering, now what? Should I walk around in circles? Do I go to the bar? Do I look for the nearest exit?
Don’t let the anticipation kill you. Stop, breath, and strategise. Maybe look for someone to talk to before you get into the venue—the lift can be a good place for this. Perhaps plan to arrive late and avoid the pre-event small talk all together. When possible, arrange to meet an industry peer at the event (even if you haven’t actually met them in person before).
Worst-case scenario you end up standing there alone for a few minutes. As alien as this feels in the moment, we do this every single day waiting for the tube—and look, we’re still alive and well. Sometimes standing alone is better than forcing something that’s incredibly unnatural and insincere.
That being said, I’ve decided to share with you some of my (potentially cringey) American secrets. Let’s call this the art of talking to strangers: a beginner’s basic guide, shall we?
Tip 1: Ask a Genuine Question
People are full of wonder. Especially when you put them in an unfamiliar setting full of unfamiliar people. Maybe you’re questioning why you’re here or what you should do. Use this to your advantage—that internal dialogue shouldn’t go to waste. Go on, share it with the person nearest to you, chances are they’re wondering something similar. Or, better yet, they may be able to answer your question—two birds with one stone.
Call me crazy but this stuff works. In fact, I once asked a girl for directions at a bus stop in Copenhagen, which, a few years later, led me to this very job. Some other examples may include: “Do you know what time this thing starts?”, “Can you tell me where to find the bar?”, “I know I’ve met you before, but my memory is terrible. Can you remind me of your name?”. Remembering people’s names is hard, and it’s something individuals can relate to.
Whatever you do—don’t overthink it. The further you get yourself inside your own head the further you have to travel to get out of it.
Not sure who to ask your question to? This leads me to my next suggestion:
Tip 2: Get in a Queue for Something
Queues give us a sense of purpose and community (something hard to come by in a city as large as London). Just think, you must have already had some sort of serendipity that brought you both here together at said event, so you must really have something in common if you’re in the same queue (even if that “thing” is being deathly afraid of talking to each other). So, in theory, they should be somewhat relatable folk. Celebrate this sense of comradery and pair it with a genuine question and BAM—maybe you’ll even be able to exchange a business card. Just remember, stay genuine about it. People can sniff out insincerity a mile away, and if you’re in the same queue (let alone the same industry) you don’t want to reek.
I’ve met some notable people in line for the coat check (personal favourite queue of mine). But there are plenty of queues out there to find your own community in. Elevators, loos, drinks, food, entrances, taxis to name a few, but, again—don’t limit yourself. Where there’s a will there’s a way, or rather, where there’s a queue there’s a way.
Feeling a bit more creative?
Tip 3: Make it Weird (and Own It)
Let’s spice things up a bit. This is the design industry after all. But, no need to follow the RIBA stages here—rather follow your intuition and celebrate the essence of what makes you you (even if this comes from left-field). The name of the game is being memorable. Cringing with the fear just reading this? Don’t worry—the more bold the statement, the easier it is to spark interest and conversation. Creating a bit of vulnerability allows you to be relatable (and thus approachable).
Not sure what I mean by this? Well, I once walked onto a stage in front of an active audience. This wouldn’t have been so bad if I wasn’t fashionably late (and by fashionably late I mean over 30 minutes “tardy”). To make matters worse (or better?) the speaker happened to have a slide on his presentation that read “running late?”. Embarrassing as it was, I gave a wave as I carried on and had people coming up to me all night to laugh with me about the unplanned choreography. This doesn’t mean you need to go looking for ways to embarrass yourself, rather try wearing a bold top, or admit you don’t know someone’s name. It could even be as subtle as an impromptu “cheers” with someone you accidentally make eye contact with.
All jokes set aside (for at least a second), the point is: building new relationships with people is incredibly important. People do business with people, and these people are probably not going to fall from the sky. If you’re genuine about the way you meet people chances are likely the relationship will also grow into something genuine. As business is hard enough as it is, let’s at least be able to share a pint (or two) together along the way.