At last! You’ve been thinking about going to a chamber of commerce meeting for three years and you’re finally doing it. The speaker will address a relevant topic. The weather forecast is good. You know where to park. The only downside is that you probably won’t know anyone in the room.
You’re not shy, but neither are you keen on ping-ponging around a roomful of strangers, in search of your next client, or at least someone to talk to. You have no fear of meet and greets, but wouldn’t it be great if you knew some conversation starters that can steer folks away from the usual sports talk and “how’s business?” Let’s learn how to sidestep mindless small-talk and get into conversations that can launch a relationship.
- What subject has your attention right now?
When you’re meeting someone and searching for ways to connect, this question can open the door to a discussion about business, family, extracurricular activities, a much-anticipated vacation, even home renovations. The person to whom you put this question will light up and be happy to talk and you’ll be on your way to building a relationship.
2. What are you looking forward to?
This question opens the door to the person’s hopes and plans for the future. Again, this makes it possible to start a real connection as the conversation progresses. You communicate your genuine interest in that person and what s/he feels is important.
3. What’s the best thing you’ve done this year?
Or what’s the smartest thing, or the luckiest? Here, the person gets to distinguish him/herself and has the pleasure of boasting a little bit. You’ll get to know what s/he values and what makes him/her proud. You’ll gain some insight into the person’s past in this question. You’ll get to know what makes him/her happy and also one of the sources of his/her self-esteem.
4. What’s your story?
I’m careful with how I pose this question, to avoid appearing as if I’m looking to invade boundaries. Maybe showing a bit of humor when you ask will make it go over well? Now you’ll give the person you’ve just met a chance to do what most of us adore—talking about ourselves! Here, you allow your new acquaintance to take center stage and discuss his/her past successes or challenges, reveal how s/he has overcome obstacles or taken advantage of opportunities and share his/her aspirations by shedding light on the road ahead.
5. What are you currently reading?
Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Edith Wharton, or Stephen King? Getting to know someone through his/her choice of books is wonderful. You’ll learn something important about your new acquaintance. It’s possible that s/he seldom read books and instead prefers business journals and blogs and watching a lot of movies. Whatever.
While in conversation, you may be pleased to learn that you both enjoy certain authors (and actors) and that opens the door to an engaging conversation and the perfect opportunity to build a relationship, business and/or personal.
6. How can I be most helpful to you right now?
An offer to help your new acquaintance to take a step closer to achieving a goal or objective is the highest compliment that you can extend and demonstrates that you trust him/her enough to put your reputation on the line on his/her behalf. The building blocks for a relationship are about to be put into place.
Thanks for reading,
Photograph: Rosalind Russell as party hostess extraordinaire Auntie Mame (1958). The film won Best Picture and Best Actress (Rosalind Russell) Academy Awards.