This week’s travels kept me busy in Berlin at Interop and the Web 2.0 Expo. I try to make it a bit of an adventure when I am travelling alone. I try starting up conversations any time I’m stuck waiting, be it on a plane, in a slow moving queue or any moments where I can’t use the time productively.
As an extra challenge I try to get as many people involved in the conversation as possible. As a result I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of fascinating people I would never have talked to otherwise, and started the occasional party in an airport lounge.
Once you overcome the fear, starting a conversation isn’t too hard. Start with a comment or observation, ideally something positive – although that can be a challenge when you are stuck in Heathrow for the second time in as many days. It usually kicks things off.
I try to discover at least one interesting or unique thing about each person and let them talk about whatever they have a passion for. You might be thinking that people aren’t interesting or interested, but trust me, there is always something fascinating or unique. The only things that are boring are things that we already know or things that we don’t care about – simply avoid them. Trust me when I say that you can be exciting, and so can other people!
Be sensitive, there is no point in forcing the conversation. Let it close if that is the way it is headed. If the person doesn’t want to talk, don’t take it as a personal rejection. They may just be tired or need their space.
Keep the conversation rolling with this formula: disclose some information about yourself, listen to the response, then reflect back on what was said. Rinse and repeat. Over the years I have learnt more than a whole library of books could have taught me, by listening to strangers – as long as I remember to let the other person do most of the talking. Two ears, one mouth.
Don’t give up just because the person is a little shy, they are often the people with the most interesting stories to tell. Humble people always seem to have more knowledge and wisdom to share.
In the last few days, I have had the pleasure of talking to the lead of the band Lightspeed Champion, who was on a press tour for the launch of their new album, Falling Off the Lavender Bridge, due out later this year (really good stuff). I also learnt about pension fund management conferences, magazine photography and a long list of other subjects I didn’t even know existed.
See, you never know, you might be standing next to a rock star.