by Roger Reid

It’s Not Luck . . . It’s Still Who You Know (Or Meet!)

While pure luck may occasionally play a part in everyone’s life, there are definite actions anyone can take to improve the chances of success. There’s no hocus-pocus involved, just a few straightforward steps that can increase the number of “chance encounters” with those who may influence your thinking, help with a project, or refer you to a critical resource or individual.

Welcome strangers. We have a tendency to avoid those we don’t know, but strangers can be the very best source of new opportunities. Try breaking the ice with someone when standing in line, while in an elevator, seated at a concert, or wherever you encounter a stranger and innocent chit-chat is not objectionable.

You don’t know how to chit-chat? Here’s how it’s done. The key is to focus on the “C.” You’re A. The stranger is B. Your initial comment or question to get the conversation started is always about C, meaning you pick a subject that does not involve you or the stranger. It might be the food, a positive comment about the day, the weather, or the color of a shirt someone else is wearing. Try to choose something both of you might have in common, for example, forgetting an umbrella when it’s pouring outside, praising an actor’s or singer’s skills while standing in line for a movie or concert, or commenting about how calm the bride appears at a wedding. Get the idea? Just be yourself and if you receive a friendly response, continue the conversation with whatever the stranger wants to talk about. If you’re part of a group within the same industry or company, it’s okay to use that relationship as the “C.” For example, “How long have you been with Acme Corporation?” Or, “This is my first national convention. How about you?”

group of business people networking

Never start out by complimenting the stranger’s appearance. It not only sends up red flags, it can leave you without a comfortable transition in conversation.

Avoid trying to elicit comments by wearing something odd or unusual. It may influence or “taint” a stranger’s opinion of you before you can say a single word. And yes, men, this includes gaudy ties (I remember some guy wearing a bright yellow tie with a big red fish to an interview. Although that wasn’t the reason I didn’t hire him, I couldn’t stop thinking about the stupid tie.)

Quickly smile and say “Hi.” This is absolutely the easiest way to approach and completely disarm someone.  They’re not expecting it, and it opens a huge door that lets conversation flow. But timing is critical. You must smile and get the “hi” out of your mouth in the very first second of the encounter or it won’t have the impact and result you want. And only use the word “hi.” Hello, how are you, or some other form of greeting won’t work as well. Follow it up with a comment about something in the immediate vicinity, (use the A,B,C method), and in twenty seconds you’ll be talking like old friends.

Match eye contact. Many personal communication experts suggest looking directly into a stranger’s eyes when talking to them. But that can make them nervous or uncomfortable. The key is to match their eye-to-eye time. If they appear to have trouble looking directly at you, try glancing away now and then to give them an opportunity to evaluate you without pressure.

Listen. Be aware of what’s going on around you. People tend to reveal a great deal about themselves during their conversations with others. If you pick up on something interesting, simply approach the person and say, “I couldn’t help overhearing that you  . . . ” Then take it from there.

Don’t be afraid to try something new. This might be a new place to eat, a night class at the local college, or simply going out with a group of friends from the office. The more you put yourself out there, the more opportunities you’ll generate.

Volunteer your time and resources. Join a committee or help out at a local charity. You’ll meet others with common interests and, because there’s usually a group involved, you’ll improve your chances of connecting with others.

Remember, it’s a two-way street. Be ready to offer a referral, an opinion, or advice when asked. You may have experience and/or education in an area someone else wants to know about. So share when you can.