For many people meeting someone new can be an awkward experience. What do you say to break the ice and begin a conversation? The answer is simple: focus the conversation on them and remember that even the shortest conversation has a beginning, a middle, and a closing.

Let’s say that you are at a cocktail party for a convention. The first thing you need to do is make eye contact with the other person. Studies show that have up to 70 % of communication is non-verbal and most of that is done with eyes. Also, scientific experiments have confirmed that you less than four seconds to make a good first impression, so be ready. Add a smile to the eye contact and you will send a positive message that will be hard to refuse.

Next, say hello. If they have name tag, say the person’s name. You’ve probably heard the old saying that there is no sweeter sound to the human ear than the sound of one’s own name. Next say your name and something like “pleased to meet you”. Pretty simple so far isn’t it?

Now we come to the part that tends to trip people up. This is not a time to be overly clever or to start talking about you. Instead, find something that you both have in common. It could be the long line at the bar or the music in the background. The goal is to get the conversation started and all it takes is a simple observation or question about something shared. That shared experience can be all it takes to get the conversation going.

Current events make great conversation starters. It might be a headline news story or the keynote speaker’s comments. Remember to ask the other party how they feel about it. Ask their opinion first before you launch into a tirade or rant (on second thought don’t do the tirade or rant). You might offend or put off the other party with your position or opinion, so see how they feel first.

In professional settings, asking the other party about what they do for a living is a reasonable and easy question. Listen and act interested in them. Now you can say what you do, but don’t over do it. Try to flip the conversation back to their interests.

Look for a way to help them either personally or professionally. Who do you know that can help them? It could be a former boss or a friend from your country club. What resources do you have that could be useful to them professionally? Maybe it is a website that you frequent. Suggest that you might be able to help them and will follow up.

All good conversations come to end and it is often better to do so earlier than later. Offer your business card and the gesture will almost always be greeted with reciprocity. Suggest that you will be back to them later with that introduction or website. Say good-bye with a smile, with good eye contact and a firm handshake. Leave them wanting more.

Always follow up with a hand-written note card, an e-mail, or a phone call. It is best to do this within 48 hours or you will be forgotten. Deliver as you promised and you will have made a new friend.

Strangers are friends that you have yet to meet.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2007 All rights reserved

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