I’m spending the next three days at the Heartland Fall Forum (we’re broadcasting live from there at noon!). It’s the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association/Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association trade show, with several hundred publishers, authors and independent booksellers…aka the people who are NOT banning books and who are off their phones (unless there’s a book on it) and talking about ideas and giving voice to multiple perspectives.
With so many fascinating people you would think conversation and networking would be a piece of cake.
And for many it is. But for others (even the most gregarious and extroverted), breaking into a new community can be daunting and trigger long lost body memories of trying to fit in on the school playground.
There’s the pressure of wanting to get as much as you can out of a time delineated gathering and knowing that relationship building takes time.
So for you (and me, as I dash out the door for the morning sessions), here are reminders/tips on how to calm down and “prepare” for “natural” conversations. The first one takes planning ahead. The latter two, combined with a deep breath, can be implemented any time!
Get an “official role.”
Offer to volunteer for the first shift or for set-up before an event begins. One, you’ll get the ‘lay of the land’ in advance, plus you’ll get a chance to feel comfortable in the space before the event starts. An added bonus is that you’ll appear as someone ‘in the know’ to others—you’ll know who’s in charge, the schedule of activities, if and perhaps why the guest speaker is running late, and, the most important tidbit…where the bathrooms are!
Come with a few “event-related” questions/conversation starters in hand.
What’s your connection to the event? How did you hear about it, or what interested you in attending? Have you heard this speaker before? Oh, wait, hold off on that last question…why? Be sure to phrase questions so they are not answerable with “yes” or ‘no.’ The better phrasing to start a conversation is “what have you heard/do you know about this speaker?”
Have a couple of stand-by ‘outs’ at the ready
Even if you are getting the hang of it, you might feel a need for a break. Getting a beverage (although be careful with anything with alcohol if you tend to sip more frequently when nervous), checking out the buffet, going to find the restroom…all are easy and convenient ways to say “Excuse me, I’m enjoying speaking with you, but I just want to run and find x before the program starts.
Or, maybe there’s something in the room that can be a conversation piece…stand near it and make an observation to get things started.
And, when in doubt, remember that people like to talk about themselves. Ask a question and let them go.
In college a go to at parties was “are good and evil subjective or objective?” That’s likely a little too abstract for a business conference. But you never know.
What’s a conversation starter you like to use?