“Reading is a conversation. All books talk. But a good book listens as well.”
~ Mark Haddon
Congratulations! You’ve successfully broken into a group for the purpose of having a conversation. You just have to figure out how to kick it off.
I’m now going to share with you my ultimate, top-secret, never-fails opening line that took me years to discover. Now that I’ve started using it, though, it has kicked off numerous fantastic and often profitable relationships. Make sure no one is reading over your shoulder because we really don’t want this to get out. Are you ready for it? Here it is:
I’ve used variations such as, “Hi,” “Howdy,” and “Good Morning.” Yes, of course, I’m being serious. Honestly, this is conversation. All you have to do is act like a reasonable human being who is genuinely interested in meeting other people. The best way to convey this message is through a simple greeting.
I’ll then offer a handshake and say, “My name’s Greg.” Occasionally I’ll throw in my last name.
Silliness aside, the next step is where the conversation takes off and you might need to show finesse. Despite its reputation for being a boring and clichéd question to ask in a business setting, I like some variation on, “So what do you do?” Here’s where the finesse comes in, again, assuming you are in a business-oriented gathering.
First, look for their nametag. If it has a business name on it, you could start out with, “I see you work at Filbert Brothers. What do you do there?”
If they don’t have a nametag, then you want to be careful. Many people these days are networking because they’re between jobs. Several of them are uncomfortable with this fact. Coming out and asking them “What do you do for a living?” might underscore this situation and put them in a “not okay” state. Instead, you might go with, “What industry are you in?” or “What line of work are you in?” or my personal favorite, “What’s been keeping you busy lately?” Recognize their expertise. Don’t dwell on their current situation.
If all else fails, a good stand-by is, “What brings you here today?” Almost anything they say can be a springboard into a larger conversation.
In a more social situation such as a party or wedding reception where people sometimes frown on “shop talk,” you can use that last one, too. You might find out they’re related to the bride, or old friends of the family. Either way, it’s a start to the conversation.
What’s that? Yes, you have initiated a “conversation.” Don’t panic. We’re about to cover what to do next.