I’ve always felt very comfortable walking up to strangers and starting a conversation. Since I was very little, my CEO father took me to business meetings with him and forced me to walk up to his friends and say hello – most often, I had never met these people before.
Sometimes he would go with me, but usually he would just point to someone, and say “now I want you to go walk up to Mr. so and so and introduce yourself. Shake his hand and make sure to say your full name.” Memories of this go back to when I was five or six.
I remember being very nervous but it always ended well and made my dad happy, which was obviously why I kept doing it.
I hold on to a number of memories like this one, being in professional settings with my dad when I was younger. Whenever my dad introduced me to someone, he always followed the introduction with the detail of where they were from, and what they did for a living – sometimes he would even remember something about the person’s kids or recent news in the person’s life.
He has a notably exceptional ability to remember nearly everyone he’s met as well as a detail about them, and this was always well received by those he was introducing me to.
Over the years, meeting what seems like thousands of people when I was with my dad meant that I had many opportunities to sit back and observe my dad interact with someone, or watch someone before I met them.
Sometimes, my dad would tell me to watch someone from across the room, and “read” them. He would ask me later that day what I observed, and teach me things about that person’s personality from what I told him of their demeanor, body language, and sometimes attire.
I’m sure my dad wonders where all of that training went when I started dating, somehow early on in my dating life, those skills didn’t transfer.
What all of those experiences did do for me was make it feel natural to approach people, and be able to have a conversation with nearly anyone. It helped me to feel like everyone I met was a friend, with no pressure to accomplish anything during the conversation other than learn more about each other and have a good time.
I learned the value of humor and letting your own personality come through. People know when someone isn’t being genuine, is trying to put on a façade or is only saying things to get what they want.
This is my advice – be yourself, be interested in getting to know the person you’re talking to, not the reason they are at the meeting, conference, etc. Make your sales pitch or your business need second after getting to know the person, and you’ll find greater success.
Not sure how to start a conversation, or what to say to keep it going? Here are some tips from Fast Company