Talking to Strangers: strategies for connecting at parties, networking and cold calls.
Talking to Strangers
Sometimes we don’t even know how to begin talking to strangers, much less how to ask them for support.
It’s time to dust off your chit-chat! Summer’s over and the social calendar is back on track – dinners and parties, galas and conferences – you know the drill. Every year from September through June there’s always some sort of event we have to go to, at least to network and get our cause out to new people.
Sometimes it can be terrifying to walk into a room of influential strangers and just start talking.
You already walk the walk. We’ve put together a few strategies to help you talk the talk.
You know what the purpose or theme of the gathering is, so you have time to prepare beforehand a few things you can talk about that are related to the central idea of the event. Is it a professional summit? Great, you’re in the field and you know what you’re doing, so have at the ready an anecdote or two about how your work in the field has had a positive effect on someone or something in your organization.
Is this your own event? Well, you invited the guests, so you must know at least those on your list. Don’t be afraid to be informal. When you put others at ease, you’ll feel more relaxed, too. Find your friends and you’ll be fine.
Bring a cheat-sheet.
Keep a list of your organization’s talking points on an index card or a sticky-note in your bag or wallet. Feeling lost? Take out your “cheat-sheet” to refresh your memory. Take the time to breathe, too!
Ensure follow-up like a pro.
Are you a board member or volunteer at your organization? You should still have a business card made for you to hand out at events, even if you’re not an employee. Include your contact information along with your title at the organization and their logo.
Exchanging business cards at an event is a great way to promote the organization and get contact information with which to follow-up later.
It’s not about you.
Many people find it hard to talk about themselves. Well, you’re not there to talk about yourself. You’re there to talk about a cause you feel very passionately about. Let that passion guide you – people will pick up on your excitement about what you do. You know just how important your cause is, so don’t worry if you don’t introduce your own self fully. Just talk about your organization.
You always have something in common.
You’re at the same event, aren’t you? That’s a starting point right there. You know what brought you to this event, so you can use that to break the ice.
Ask questions if you don’t like talking.
Don’t know what to say? Ask a question and really listen to what the other person is saying. Chances are they’ll say something that resonates with you, or that makes you want to know more. This also works on the phone. If you’re at a loss for something to say, ask the person on the other end of the line, “What can we do for you?” or “What do you want to know?”
A call can only be cold once.
Making cold calls can be very difficult for many people. But once you’ve made the call, the next time you dial that number it won’t be a stranger on the other end anymore. Use your cold calls as an opportunity to create new, warm connections. Let yourself be the literal voice of your organization. You are speaking for your cause as a person who cares deeply about the mission. If someone rejects your request or introduction, they’re not rebuffing you personally. If you’re not rejected off the bat, then there’s a chance you can call again as someone they remember.
Tips: A Stand-Out Event
When events season comes around, we all hunker down for the flood of save-the-dates, cards, invitations & reminders. How can your event stand out?
Give me your number
Annual events often have themes, the simplest of which is the anniversary number – especially when it’s a big one.
Find out how long your supporters have been in your corner and make the celebration not just about how long you’ve been around but how long they’ve been with you.
Put the number of years they’ve contributed front-and-center in your long-term supporters’ invitations. You use a mail-merge to personalize invitees’ names and addresses, so add another merge element for the number of years of commitment, too.
Remind your supporters of their direct positive impact by letting them know you’ve been paying attention and are appreciative of their commitment.
Give your attendees a way to participate beyond just showing up. Make their participation part of the fun, and make the invitation more than just a way to RSVP.
Are you an arts organization? Have a poetry contest or drawing contest and display submissions at the event, giving guests the chance to vote on winners.
Are you a literary society? Ask an author in your network to donate signed copies of their newest work, or invite them to give a live reading. The first RSVPs will get the signed books!
Working with education? Get the students you serve to create theme-related center-pieces for your table and give them as prizes in a raffle, which will be drawn from RSVP cards.
Does your organization focus on children? Make your event kid-friendly so that guests can bring their families. Include some of the children you support; let them tell their stories, present their ideas or give a performance.