How to navigate any event with style and grace and not hide in the bathroom. Make a big impact for all of the right reasons and be a champion of small talk.
There are seven billion people on the planet and at some point you will need to socialise or network with friends you haven’t met yet i.e. strangers or people you don’t know very well. This can cause many people to avoid situations like parties, networking meetings, going on dates, team events, weddings etc as they have a fear of having nothing to say of interest or being left out. Here I want to share some hints that you can call upon when you need them most. Like all skills, talking to new people can be practised until you feel a level of competence that you can handle these previously awkward situations. You may even begin to like it and do more of it, building that confidence up knowing you have a tool you can rely on.
All is that is required is to remember the acronym FORD and let the conversation develop based on your active listening skills and friendly demeanour. The cool thing here is you don’t necessarily need to talk about you to have an interesting and memorable conversation, by asking curious questions you are putting the spotlight on your new buddy/contact and learning about them. This is about keeping things light and easy and not subjecting them to an FBI interview. People should not leave you exhausted from the chat, it should be friendly and easy going, and that they would happily speak with you again in the future. Hopefully you have had a least one amazing conversation in your life with a total stranger and it is likely they made you feel like the only person the room. If there was alcohol or a late night involved it still counts and shows the importance of how quickly a connection can be made. I would propose you at least try this technique alcohol free until you are a natural.
So the FORD technique gives you four topics to talk about which are suitable for all social and business situations and keeps things light. Comfort is very important here, don’t reel of a dozen questions at once unless you want someone to walk away. Enquire and listen to their response. Enquire further/again based on their answer, try to connect the dots so a conversations flows. The FORD technique can be used in any order, the importance is to keep a flow and connection based on what has been shared with you. A short pause or natural silence is very acceptable, do not panic. At the same time, avoid overly preparing your response and let the listening direct where you go. However if you get truly stuck, think FORD to recover and pick it up again. When asking questions you can share some information about yourself to build some trust. And people are likely to ask you reciprocal questions if they are interested in making a connection. Keep the conversation balanced.
Family – Not everyone will want to answer questions on their possible marital status or children. Family is a very broad topic and people have a variety of arrangements. This is not the time to share your views or judgements if you feel they would not be well received, we are enquiring to build rapport and make a new friend.
Where did they grow up (I’m from north London)? Where is their family now? Do they have any siblings? (Wow, what’s it like being one of four daughters?) Do they have any children? (I have two cats, do you have any fur babies?) Compare your similarities (I grew up with a large family too) and differences (having a sister would have been awesome to do things with). Now focus on their answers, really listen and enquire further.
Occupation – This doesn’t have to be only paid work, with the fluidity in the workforce people may be between jobs. So you could go for What keeps them busy these days? What do they do for a living? How
long have they been in that occupation? What was it about that occupation that interested you? What did they do before (you were a vet)? Getting people to share a story will give you a real insight and also make the conversation longer, as they will feel valued by the attention. This is not the time to check your mobile. Now focus on their answers, really listen and enquire further. I’m repeating this because it’s important.
Recreation – What do they do for fun (Have you seen the Black Panther movie?) Hobbies? Studies (what sparked your interest in astronomy?) Passions? Something they always wanted to try or do? Are their interests here connected to their family or occupation? (I’m training for a marathon to raise money for an animal charity). Now focus on their answers, really listen and enquire further.
© Nick Fewings
Dreams – People don’t often get to talk about what they dream of doing with any regularity, especially with strangers. This is one of the easiest areas to talk
about as there is so much creative scope of amazing scenarios. Open up the conversation with what you would do if you one the lottery or went back to university. Any plans for the summer? What are your favourite three countries? What is on your bucket list? (You want to visit Siberia, what is it about Siberia that attracts you?). Now focus on their answers, really listen and enquire further.
These speaking opportunities allow us to share who we are and give the other person the permission to do the same. And using this technique is 100% more interesting than talking about the weather our your evil commute. Enjoy the genuine connections you make, who knows where it could take you.