by Kristy Amburgey
Imagine you are sitting in a conference, and a complete stranger sits down next to you. The person seems friendly and willing to talk. You make eye-contact and smile at each other. You feel like you should say something and may even want to start a conversation, but you don’t. The conference session is over, and you both walk away, never to know what could have been. You missed an opportunity to meet a person who could have, at the least, helped you to pass the time, or better yet, been a great connection.
How many chance encounters have you passed up because you were uncomfortable with the thought of talking to a stranger? Approaching a new person can be distressing and often brings to mind many doubts. Will they want to talk? Will they be receptive to personal questions? Will the person be friendly? Could they help me in any way? Here is the thing, an obvious answer really: you need to be able to initiate conversations with people who appear ready and willing any chance you get. Better yet, prepare yourself by having a batch of conversation starters, or pick-up lines, which could work in any professional or personal networking scenario.
Great networking opening lines are not too far away from the pick-up lines used by those looking for love. You could talk about the weather, the environment you are in, your passion for flying, her career path, his company-branded polo shirt, cheese steaks, the great speaker you just heard…the list could go on! Your list, though, should be geared towards your interests, personality and professional goals. Be well versed in industry news and developments but play to your strengths at the same time. You should select topics of conversation that you enjoy speaking about and are passionate for, and you want to identify any shared interests and use that common ground to build on your rapport.
Using common interests is a great way to pickup a new contact, and many people are naturally able to jump into any conversation. There are other people who need to prepare and practice in order to feel most comfortable. You don’t want to use canned responses, but you do want to sound confident and able to smoothly start the conversation. Again, utilize what you do best when you are connecting with others.
With great pick-up lines comes great risk, and you do need to read situations and people in order to know how best to make your approach. Eye contact and a smile often signal an invitation for further conversation. If someone is absorbed in their Smartphone or newspaper, it may not be the best time to start talking. Anyone who puts on headphones or has a Bluetooth in an ear is rarely ready to start a conversation. Don’t start a side conversation during a discussion or speaker; save it until after the meeting. Always identify the best time, environment and way to approach a person before starting a conversation.
Picture this scenario. You are sitting in a workshop. You make eye contact with someone who is from the company you truly want to work for, so you smile and remember one of your professional pick-up lines. You feel the situation is right, so you open with a, “I see you work for ABC Company. I have heard great things about that organization. What do you do there?” You and the person start talking about ABC Company, and your conversation leads to an invitation to attend an event the company is hosting later. You go to the session and meet the hiring manager for the department you have been targeting.
Let’s just say that I can see great things in your future.
Kristy Amburgey is the Associate Director of Career Services – Daytona Beach campus and currently manages marketing and employer relations for the department. She has been with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for approximately 10 years and with Career Services for nine years.