If you're a child reading this post, don't take the advice I'm about to give you. Adults, this is for you. Talk to strangers. Stop being afraid of meeting new people. You will never grow your network by staying by yourself. If you have ever attended a networking event or a mixer, there are always people there by themselves. I can guarantee that anyone who attends a mixer is there to meet you. Why would anyone take the time to register and possibly pay to attend an event, travel to the event, wear a "Hello My Name Is" sticker, only to stand awkwardly alone in a corner for the duration of the event? No, if you're there, you are there to meet people.
If you want to grow your network, you need to talk to strangers. The next time you are attending an event and you see someone alone, introduce yourself. They will remember you as the nice person who actually had the gumption to speak to them. This person could very well be your best client or future business partner. You will never know without saying hello.
I believe that talking to strangers is as important in networking as it is in dating and job interviews. Nobody likes a job interview and few enjoy a first date. However, we must attend interviews in order to land a job. We also need to go out on dates if we want to meet someone special to grow old with. The same can be said for networking.
Dinner with Strangers
A couple of weeks ago, I went out on a blind date. No, not like that exactly. I'm happily married. Scott Oldford, a technology entrepreneur from Newfoundland, Canada, reached out to invite me to join a small group for dinner. He asked if we could chat by phone, so I gave him a call to learn more.
He explained that he was visiting Nashville for the first time to attend the GrowCo Conference. During his travels, he enjoys getting recommendations for people he can have dinner with. Scott books a reservation at a nice restaurant and invites a few other strangers to dinner. Scott learned about me from a mutual friend.
There was one gentleman from London who runs a social media marketing business, another from Miami with a logistics company. Scott brought along a colleague who lives in Hawaii, another gentleman with a video production business, and two talented marketing professionals (both friends I already knew) topped off the group.
It was a fun evening of conversation between the participants. Scott admitted it was a little larger than he had anticipated. He explained that six people is usually the maximum size you want, so that the group can all be a part of a single conversation.
I keenly observed several opportunities arise between the strangers. For example, the Londoner had a Nigerian connection. This excited the logistics person who wanted to expand his business there. I'm excited about the possibility of speaking at a future event in St. John's, Newfoundland. That's a destination I have always wanted to visit, but had no anticipation of until meeting Scott last night.
A Book Deal From a Stranger
I'll leave you one other example of how talking to strangers can really pay off. Last year, I was speaking at a conference. One of the sponsors was Que/Pearson Publishing, who had a table set up displaying their popular books.
I approached the table and spoke with a friendly woman there. I explained that I knew a few of the authors personally, and we talked about that a little. I then pitched an unprepared idea for a book I wanted to write about new business networking.
She loved the idea and within a few weeks, I landed a book deal. This never would have happened had I not approached the table to talk to a stranger.
The next time you're at an event, in an elevator, or meeting people for dinner, make it a point to talk to a stranger. Use an ice-breaker and listen well. You never know what will come from it.
Children reading this… listen to your parents. Don't talk to strangers.
This post originally appeared in the Tennessean newspaper.