Bill’s choice of “flair” was bound to prompt some questions.

For some folks, starting a conversation with a stranger can be almost as painful as hitting their thumb with a hammer — though perhaps with a bit less cursing. How do you break the ice and go from two people just standing next to each other to being two people starting a long-term profitable relationship? My personal choice is the old stand-by, “Hello”, followed up with “What brings you here?” For those who aren’t up on that advanced technique, you can always look for things that will help you get started.

Watch for common points of interest, especially those about which you can ask questions. Here are a few ideas:

Flair. We’ve talked before about wearing our own flair — something distinctive and sure to prompt a question or two while still being appropriate for the venue. Now we just need to be observant enough to see the flair that other people are bringing to the party and be curious enough to ask about it. Someone wearing a Mickey Mouse lapel pin is hoping that you will ask him about being a fan of Disney.

Reading material. This is especially true for one-to-one meetings. If they have a book with them, be sure to ask them about it. What they are reading and how they react to it can tell you a lot about them. It can also lead into a great conversation about their other interests.

Location. Whether it’s part of a networking event or some other social situation. Asking someone what made them decide to attend today can lead to discussions about topics of interest or goals for themselves and their businesses. “Oh, you’re here having coffee while your son is taking his Karate class downstairs? What do you think of them? I’ve been thinking of signing up my daughter.”

Apparel. I guess this might kind of fall under the “flair” category. This is a bit less personal. Telling someone that you really love their jacket and asking where they purchased it might be the beginning of a conversation about the relative benefits of the various shops in the area.

Electronics. For many people, other than the people in their lives, there is almost nothing more personal than their choice of electronics — cell phones especially. If you happen to have the same brand as they, congratulations! You now share in the Secret Fraternal Order of Droid. If you are considering purchasing their brand, ask them about their experience. You’ve just made them the expert.

Not everyone is going to be comfortable talking about all of these areas. The important thing is to be aware of the people around you and watch for those little things that will make it easy to break the ice. It does require that you focus on them more than on yourself.

But that’s what truly great networkers do all the time.

Photo credit: William J Sisti