Why You Should Talk to Strangers

I recently spoke at a national convention in St. Louis.  I was so excited to speak in St. Louis because it was a great convention and also the city where I lived until I was 9 years old.  While there, I visited my childhood friend (pictured above), my elementary school and even my childhood home.

The memories of leaving this safe place with my friends to move to Dallas came rushing back. I can remember the eyes on me as I walked into my new classroom in the middle of the year and not knowing who to sit with at lunch. I had been taught not to talk to strangers and here was a school full of them with stylish clothes and Texas accents. “Never talk to strangers” was a rule that stopped working for me in fourth grade.

When you are an adult it’s a good thing to talk to strangers. No other business skill is as valuable or provides a more lasting legacy than networking to help you reach your goals. In the process, you can build relationships that last a lifetime.

In the Passport to Success I coauthored with Peggy Collins called “Network Smart: Connect with Purpose for Knowledge, Help & Opportunity” we say that great connectors have these traits:

  • Outgoing but interested in others.

  • Positive about themselves and others.

  • Highly resourceful.

  • Open to adventure.

  • Proactive.

A few ways to strengthen your networking traits are:

  • Identify and participate in associations, social networks and industries that can provide important relationships. Some of my best connections are from my church network and from the National Speakers Association. By the way, the National Speakers Association also published an article I wrote in their Speaker Magazine.

  • Deliver your elevator speech. Many of you have heard this concept. It means that you should be able to describe your business or what you do in the 20-30 seconds it would take you to ride an elevator. How many times has someone asked you what you do and you just state your company’s name or your job title. Try this statement next time, “I help people/businesses to ______ so that they can ______.”

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Self-imposed obstacles to connecting with others include feeling shy, fear of rejection, not knowing what to say, thinking you are begging or bugging someone or not wanting to be indebted to others. Acknowledge the obstacle that is keeping you from connecting. Know that most people (including you) like to be helpful to other people.

  • Network internally. Remember to connect with people who work within your organization. Networking smart can help you become known as a resource and create more job security during reorganizations. Often when organizations downsize, the person placed on the elimination list is the person no one on the management team knows.

The next time you are resisting making a connection remember, when you are an adult, it is a good thing to talk to strangers.