Three Ways to Talk to Strangers & Improve Your Networking Skills

If you’re not exactly swift at working a room, no worries there. There’s a fine art to networking as a skill to be honed.

According to a new book by David Topus, there are several ways to make inroads in networking by connecting randomly with strangers.

His book, Talk to Strangers: How Everyday Random Encounters Can Expand Your Business, Career, Income, and Life, outlines an essential reminder. Anyone we encounter may be the owner of something we need or want whether it’s personally or professionally and vice versa, we may be able to offer something valuable to them as well.

As pointed out by a recent post on Brazen Careerist, there are a few ways to connect with people who are literally complete strangers. That said, talking to someone behind you on line at the grocery store or making small talk with the post office clerk may get you to feel more at ease when you’re in more hard core networking events like a holiday industry cocktail party.

1. Be aware of the other person’s openness (or lack thereof). If you’re on the bus and your neighbor is rocking out to their headphones, chances are they’re blocking you and the whole world off. If someone gets chatty after making eye contact, that of course is an invite to talk.

Keep in mind you may not be approachable either. Perhaps you’ve boarded a flight and sense your neighbor is going to be overly talkative the next few hours. You may give that “don’t talk to me” vibe as well. Since it goes both ways, be cognizant of the behaviors others are demonstrating in addition to your own.

2. Incorporate relevant topics as your introduction. “Come here often?” Okay, that sounds like such a cheesy line, doesn’t it? Maybe you’re in the produce department or waiting for your cup of Joe at Starbucks. You can always use an ice breaker like, “I hope they hurry up! How long have you been waiting on line?”

Keep in mind the purpose of your chat. It’s not like you’re going to become besties with a fellow customer or swap business cards every time but you never know when an exchange can lead to a business purpose (especially for coffee shops full of daytime freelancers).

3. Look for clues as to how this person can be helpful to you. Let’s be honest here: You’re not going to come right out and say you’re a social media guru looking for full-time employment.

You can start by simply asking what he or she does for a living and then take the conversation from there just like it’s meant to be: A fluid interaction of dialogue. Put on that journalist’s hat and ask specific questions to gather information you’re seeking. Find out why they’re at the airport; going on a business trip to visit a client perhaps? What line of work do they do? How long have they been in their job? You never know where it may lead and small talk can lead to big talk and that can lead to even bigger connections.