No matter how confident you may be, the experience of entering a room full of strangers can be nerve-racking and leave you grasping for something to say. I believe the best route is actually the easiest – we all know that people like talking about themselves, so why not ask questions designed to draw them out a little more than standard shop talk?
Here are a selection I have found to be useful in establishing a connection with someone who at first glance appears to have nothing in common with me at all.
1. How did you come to be in your line of work? Often people fall into their job through a chance encounter or a stroke of luck – these stories are often interesting, and recounting them will bring your new contact alive in a way that a straightforward discussion about current business never does.
2. Describe to me your dream customer. You will learn much about their motivation and goals by listening carefully to this.
3. What changes are happening, or can you predict happening, within your industry? Tap into a source of inside information here – it may well have implications for your own business or give you ideas on doing things differently. It is easy to get into habitual patterns of thought without realising it. A totally different perspective can really sharpen you up.
4. What do you regard as your greatest achievement in business to date? Another great way of breaking the ice and getting to know someone better.
5. What do you love about your work? Someone else’s business will come alive for you if you listen to them describing their favourite activities.
6. Are there things you wish you could change? A natural follow-on from the above.
7. How would you like people to describe your contribution to your industry? This gets away from day-to-day business and allows them to discuss their deeper aspirations if they wish.
Any of these questions will provide you with a more enjoyable and memorable encounter, and with luck will ensure you are remembered likewise.