Are you a networker?
I think for some people, the gift of gab comes easily, while for others, it’s a chore. Plunged into a room full of business contacts, sometimes we don’t have a choice but to strike up a conversation with the person beside us. It’s better than standing over in the corner looking like a wall flower.
I attended a cocktail party in Ottawa once (sounds so glamorous!) and I noticed one man standing by himself for quite some time. Been there, done that, hate the unease of it all, so I went over and started a conversation. My journalism background probably makes it easier to jump into a conversation, but I wasn’t asking any probing questions — where are you from? What do you do? — that kind of stuff. Turns out he was a politician (Ottawa, go figure) from Atlantic Canada. When I made that link with him, we began to talk about bars that we hung out in during college years. We were likely in many of the same places at the same time, it turns out.
Finding that one nugget of shared commonality is the key, I think, to opening someone up in these kinds of sitations. Do you work in the same field? Have kids ths same age? Play similar sports? Vacation in the same places? Asking the other person about their job and their passions is always a good idea, giving you the chance to let them do the talking.
The worst thing you want to do is walk away feeling like it’s been a one-sided conversation and you’ve done all the talking.