Starting Conversations

Last week we were on vacation in Denali National Park. While the landscape and wildlife were spectacular, what stood out most to me was how easy it was to start a conversation and connect with other people.

Whether it was on the park bus or standing in line somewhere, it was so easy to start up a conversation with people by simply asking a question like:

  • Did you see any wildlife in the park today?
  • How long have you been in Alaska?
  • How long will you be in Alaska?
  • Where are you from?
  • What are you going to see next?

It was equally easy to start conversations with folks based on a sports team, a geographic location, or some other familiar identifier on a person’s clothing. (“Go Packers!” seems to be a good conversation starter with people wearing Green Bay gear.)

It got me wondering why we don’t start conversations with people around us when we’re not on vacation. When I look at my own life, it seems easy to avoid connecting with those around me, even though there are so many of the same conversation starters in everyday life.

Why not start initiating conversations with people around us, even when we’re not on vacation? We might be surprised with you many interesting and friendly people we cross paths with each day.

Taking Opportunities to Connect

This week I was in a 3-day workshop with 50 other folks on the topic of Data Display and Dashboard Design.  I’m sure this topic is causing most readers to yawn (but hopefully keep reading!).  For me however, this was an exciting workshop that I had been looking forward to for several weeks.  I’ve been struggling to find people in the data display field to interact with, so I was excited at the opportunity to “geek out” on this topic with other like-minded folks.

In the weeks prior to the workshop, I committed to making an effort to meet and connect with as many people as I could.  I decided I would take the initiative to introduce myself to others, initiate conversations, and invite folks who seemed to be on the periphery into conversations I was having with others.

I’m so glad I followed through with my commitment!  Just the connections and conversations I had with people at the workshop were worth the price of admission.  The actual content provided in the workshop was an added bonus.

By stepping out and deciding to connect with others I:

  • Was encouraged and motivated by what others in the field were doing.
  • Learned answers to a couple of significant data related questions I had been struggling with.
  • Made some great professional contacts.
  • Met some very nice people.

Connecting with others is not always easy and can sometimes be awkward, especially if you’re normally a shy person.  However, I’ve found that people I introduce myself to at a workshop or other event are usually glad to engage, and often thankful that someone has initiated conversation with them.  It feels like people are eager to connect, but often tentative about taking the first step.

The next time you’re at an event with people you may not know, take the initiative to connect with the other attendees.  Know in advance though, that it will require something from you.  It will require:

  • Getting your face out of the smart phone and actually talking to people.
  • Putting yourself out there by getting outside of your comfort zone and being the first to introducing yourself, or start a conversation.
  • Not running off at breaks or lunch to check your email, smart phone, or any other convenient distraction that normally keeps us from connecting with others.

Not connecting with others and keeping to yourself is easy, but it’s also unrewarding.  Being the one to initiate contact can be scary and makes you vulnerable, but it’s so much more rewarding than being alone in a room full of people you have so much in common with.

Be the one that goes first.  You’ll be rewarded for your efforts, and others will be blessed the interest you’re taking in them.