The secret to becoming confident at talking to strangers

Heather Townsend
Director
The Excedia Group
Columnist
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In my popular blog post on how to network when you don’t have time to network, I suggest that you treat queues and fellow passengers on trains and planes as a networking opportunity. Does the thought of this fill you with fear? If so, you are in very good company with me. In fact, I think I would prefer to have my teeth pulled out rather than talk to people in the queue in front of me at the airport. I’m shy and British. Do I need to say any more?

Interestingly, this blog post was inspired by some great tweets with Alison Coleman and Agnes Cserhati, who it transpires love chatting with random strangers on planes, trains and automobiles. I duly confessed to not being someone whom finds it easy to talk to strangers in queues. Perhaps it is something to do with my mother telling me not to talk to strangers? Then Alison mentioned the fact that I’m quite prepared and even happy to walk into a room full of strangers and do my ‘work the room’ thing. With the implication, of course, being what’s the difference in these two scenarios? I’m still talking to strangers, just in different surroundings and contexts.

So, what sense can we make of this?

Firstly, we all have a comfort zone when it comes to talking to strangers. For me, I have conditioned myself to love ‘working a room’. After all, I did write a book on business networking! My uncomfortable zone is talking to strangers outside of ‘formally’ recognized networking opportunities. The more times you experience being outside of your comfort zone, the likelihood that your comfort zone (over time) will expand to more situations and experiences.

Secondly, being happy and comfortable talking to strangers is all down to your mindset. Therefore, if I tell myself that ‘I can do this’ and ‘it’s just networking with strangers in a different place’, I will find it far easier to talk to strangers in queues. Co-incidentally, I’m very good at talking to strangers in queues at conferences, because after all, these are great networking opportunities. Plus, I know other people are also there to network.

I am also aware, that as an introvert, time on planes and trains is my time to re-energise and re-charge. Well, that’s one of my excuses and I’m sticking to it! Although I am very tempted to try out Agnes’s tried and tested technique, sent to me via twitter, to draw strangers into a conversation:

“Little glance to start with=>eye contact=>assess situation=>make your move…ps:they don’t know you are shy”

Anyone else, going to give this a go?

For more tips on working the room or getting more bang for your networking buck, how about buying my award winning, best selling UK book on business networking - The FT Guide To Business Networking? It's had 76 five star reviews on amazon.

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By Old Greying Accountant
25th Jun 2012 22:16

Sorry, but ...

... strike up a conversation with someone who turns out to be be a long lost relative of Norman Bates on a plane or train and you are stuck with them for the next (what seems like) 25 years!

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By chatman
26th Jun 2012 10:35

Long Advert

That's a very long advert. I feel like I have had my time stolen.

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