How to Start A Conversation with a Complete Stranger

BY Kathy Crosett
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When’s the last time your spoke with a stranger, face to face? That’s right. You had to look up from your phone, acknowledge the physical presence of another human being, and engage in small talk. The conversation might have been as simple as telling the time or giving directions to the nearest coffee shop. In Peter Gasca’s opinion, excelling at these kinds of conversations can bring more prospects and sales your way.

You could be missing key opportunities to connect with your next lead, because you’re too busy watching your phone. On a daily basis, you might ride the elevator, wait in the lobby of an office building for your next appointment, or hang out at the frequent flyers club at an airport. All these locations are frequented by business people who might just be in the market for what you’re selling.

Social etiquette plays a role in networking with strangers. You’ll want to start a conversation that is connected to the shared experience you’re having. Is the flight late again? Is the office building you’re in an example of outstanding architecture? Keep your tone light and friendly when you begin a conversation. Read the body language of your target. If she crosses her arms and scowls, she’s not interested in chatting, so move on to someone else. If she responds in a friendly tone, feel free to continue. Gasca recommends getting the other person to talk about herself as a way to build rapport.

You’ll get better at engaging in small talk by practicing and paying attention to the other person. For one thing, learn the boundaries. Most people are happy to respond to the question: "Where are you from?" It’s not appropriate, at first, to ask how old a stranger is or how much money they make. If you’re approaching a man or woman who is much older than you, be respectful and courteous during your conversation.

If you can smoothly find a way to turn your chat to what you do professionally, don’t engage in a hard sell. The point of these initial connections is to form a bond, exchange information, and set the groundwork for the next contact point.