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September 23, 2023

How to Meet a Stranger Without Being Awkward About It

Social prospecting operates along the same principles as dating.  Desperate people don’t get dates.  The person talking is the one having a good time.  Despite the fact you graduated top of your class, starting a conversation with a lone stranger across the room can be terrifying.  How do you do it?

The Scenario
You are at a wedding/cocktail party/chamber event.  You recognize a face across the room.  Maybe it’s a successful business owner who could be a great client or send referrals your way.  It could be a manager from that firm with far more prestige and benefits than your current job.  There are about 100 people in the room.  People are drinking.  There’s a decent food buffet nearby.  Everyone is standing because there are few seats.  How are you going to meet them?

Three Approaches
What now?  The first approach is pretty obvious.

  • Your Friend Who Knows Them –- Looking around the room you see a friend who might know this other person.  Dragging them aside, you ask:  “Do you know Mrs. Goldbricks?”  They respond:  “Sure.  We play tennis together.”  You ask for an introduction.  They walk you over, getting the process started by mentioning you share a lot of interests in common.  They mention your interests in traveling to tropical countries, bungee jumping and eating insects.  Conversation starts.
  • Friends in Common –- Your tennis buddy isn’t around, but that’s not a problem.  You approach the person you want to meet.  You start by mentioning your name, followed by: “You don’t know me, but we have a friend in common.” (FYI:  If a name doesn’t immediately spring to mind, some LinkedIn research beforehand should unearth a connection.)  You mention the friend’s name.  They acknowledge knowing them, asking about your connection.  You answer, then come back with: “How do you know them?”  The conversation is started. "But, wait!" you say. "This sounds so phony and contrived!  It will never work!"  Wrong.  Social prospecting and dating work similarly.  Everyone knows what everyone else is doing, yet there’s a ritual people follow to get to the desired result.
  • The Compliment -– Reality splashes you in the face like cold water.  This other person is a billionaire.  None of your friends know them.  You don’t run in the same circles.  You are on your own.  Walk up, start with the “You don’t know me” intro and offer a compliment.  They may be the overall sponsor for the golf outing earlier in the day.  Their company may have just announced a major acquisition.  They sponsored the concert. It’s very difficult to be offended by a compliment.  You have your opening.  Now go to an open ended question related to the compliment.  If they sponsored the concert, you ask:  “When did you get interested in classical music?”  They answer and the conversation is started. There’s one minefield to avoid when giving a compliment.  It’s fine to admire a watch, scarf or piece of jewelry. “That’s a stunning necklace.  Is it a family piece?”  Commenting on body parts is off limits.  “You have a great nose.  Where did you have the work done?”  This will not endear you to the other person.

Social prospecting is very similar to dating.  The rules are almost interchangeable.

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