It takes lots of courage to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. You occasionally find yourself in social situations and come across really great people. You genuinely want to know them. Perhaps they have business or career advancement potential, which is an added bonus. The opportunity presents itself and you must make the effort. “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Woody Allen famously said: “Showing up is 80% of life.” You get the idea.
What Makes a Stranger Interesting?
Talking with strangers gets complicated when there’s a significant age difference, they are a professional athlete, a journalist or maybe 100 (1,000?) times wealthier than you. If these folks are celebrities, corporate or otherwise, they are used to people trying to make connections. What makes a person interesting?
- Show interest in others -– You’ve seen people crash and burn in dating. They start a conversation by explaining how important they are and how the other person is so fortunate meeting them. You know how that ends. Instead, let them do the talking. Ask open ended questions. “You were the high bidder yesterday. How did you get interested in impressionist art?” Ideally drawing them out identifies interests in common.
- Demonstrate a diversity of knowledge -– If they are a generation (or more) older, they have friends whose children are airheads and coast through life. They might have some of their own.
Try to demonstrate a diversity of knowledge. Be able to back up your opinion with facts you can document if necessary. You want to come across as smart and well-rounded.
- Share common experiences -– Having a likeable personality seems to be a criteria for getting ahead. This often involves the ability to tell a good story and hold people’s attention. This is another opportunity to find common ground. Research beforehand told you they give back to the community. Mention a couple of your volunteer activities.
- Show some tact -– Your diversity of knowledge can come back to bite you. Of course you’ve heard not to discuss religion or politics. And Mark Twain said, “Never argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level then beat you with experience.” If you just met the person, you don’t know about their hot buttons yet. Have a point of view without pushing it. If you sense the temperature rising, change the subject and look for common ground elsewhere.
- Have a sense of humor (or at least try) –- Everyone knows at least one joke teller, but if that's not you, see the humor in everyday situations. Make fun at your own expense. You were making a flight connection and weren’t allowed to board your second flight because the airline’s computer said you already arrived home a couple of hours earlier.
- Keep it local –- The people you want to know better are either local influencers or they make their money in the local community. Major newspapers cover the national news, so keep current with local current events. Know the issues concerning the new highway bypass or zoning for new residential developments or industrial parks. They will realize you are a contributing member of the community.
Lots of people come across as superficial. Don't be like that. Being interesting takes effort.