As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, social prospecting is very similar to dating, try too hard and you scare people away. They think “there must be something wrong with him.” On the other hand, many of us are naturally shy.
The fact is, we want to be approached, not the one making the approach but we all fear rejection. If you want to raise your visibility in the community by attending local events, start by setting a goal of meeting six new people at each event.
You are making new friends, not cultivating business. At this point, there’s no urgency to offer or exchange business cards. There might be an exchange of contact information if you hit it off. There are many ways to do that.
Forming relationships at parties and events usually involves three activities, two having been covered in earlier articles:
• Learning about their interests and passions.
• Laying the groundwork for seeing them again.
How to Meet People
You know how to walk up to a stranger and make a connection. Now it’s time to focus on starting conversations without coming across as too curious.
FYI: There are risks you can’t imagine. A friend who worked on classified projects at a defense contractor mentioned he had protocols in place. If the friend was approached by a stranger who took an unusually enthusiastic interest in his work or asked certain leading questions, the employee needed to report the incident as a possible approach by an enemy agent! It happens.
Obviously, you don’t want to be hauled in by the FBI and questioned. Once you have initiated the conversation, what gentle questions can keep the conversation going? “Where do you live?” is the most obvious question. What are some others?
1. What’s is your connection to the organization? You are both attending the same event. It’s a hospital gala or museum exhibition opening. You ask how he is connected to the organization. He might be a donor or member. His firm might be providing sponsorship. He might be a collector who has loaned a painting for the exhibition.
2. How do you know the host? It’s a different type of event. You are at a holiday party at someone’s home. There are about 100 people spread across several rooms. What do they all have in common? Everyone has some connection to the person throwing the party. It’s natural to ask, “How do you know our host?” After she answers, you volunteer your connection.
3. Is your watch a family heirloom? Be observant about pins, watches, cufflinks, and other jewelry. It’s fine to admire something attractive. “That’s a beautiful broach. Is it a family piece?” She will likely be flattered. She might be an antique jewelry collector. Restrict your compliments to inanimate objects, like clothing and jewelry. Admiring body parts is off limits.
4. Do you like to travel? It’s a safe subject. Is he planning a summer or winter vacation? Has he been there before? Once he answers, consider your response. If you have been there previously, you might share travel rips. If you haven’t, draw him out concerning the reasons he chose that destination.
5. Have you tried the food? You are attending a wedding. There’s lots going on all around you. This involves the dÃ©cor, food, music, and flowers. Any of these are easy conversation starters. “Have you tried the crab cakes? They are great!”
6.Do you know a good plumber? People love to talk about real estate and the housing market. Draw them out about the conditions in their market. You aren’t a Realtor, so it’s a safe subject. Is he having work done on his home? You might be in the market for a good plumber. Can he recommend one?
7. Has the drought hurt your lawn at all? According to Statista, 117.2 million Americans have done gardening in the past 12 months. It’s hugely popular. Assuming you live in an area of detached homes, it’s a safe subject. Most homes have lawns, so instead of leading directly into gardening, you might start talking about the last drought and your problems keeping the lawn going.
8. How old are your children? People love talking about their children. “How old are they?” “Where do they go to school?” “Are they involved in sports?”
9. What do you like to do for fun? Golf is a popular pastime, so expect it as a likely answer. A good comeback is, “What do you do when it rains?” This may uncover a shared hobby.
10. What is your favorite restaurant? According to the US Commerce Department, 2015 was the first year Americans spent more money eating out compared to grocery shopping. Most people have favorite restaurants. Trip Advisor, which carries reviews on 3.8 million restaurants and hotels, has 96 million members. People love talking about their favorite restaurants. This can lead to wine, another possible shared interest.
It’s easy to engage strangers in conversation and identify shared interests. These can serve as the foundation for a friendship. Always remember to share information. When in doubt, volunteer some.
[Editor’s note: Visit Bryce’s article archive on AccountingWEB for more advice on social prospecting.]