When I phrase it like that, it seems like something that should come standard in the toolkit for Being A Person (along with How To Breathe and How Not To Spill Water On Yourself While Drinking*). But it’s hard! People are scary, unknown entities. But the fact of the matter is than unless you’re resigning yourself to an unfashionably ascetic lifestyle, you are going to have to talk to people. This is the dread networking that no one wants to think about and everyone has to do.
But it is not that bad! A few strategies and you’re set. Let me, a newly-minted extrovert, give you all the hot tips. Listen up!
- Find a place. Every night, in every city, people are hanging out somewhere. Go on Reddit. Go on Twitter. Read email list hosts. Grab your city’s alt-weekly. Pick something appealing, pull on your bootstraps and go. Take a friend if you’re nervous.
- Actually talk. That means stop checking your phone, nursing your drink, hanging back in the corner. Be bold, take the plunge. Stuck for an opener? Try “Hi.” And tack on a question: “Who are you?” “What do you do?” “Why won’t that waiter give me more than one mini-quiche?” etc.
- Use a name tag. Well, if appropriate for the situation. Read people’s names off their chests and call them by it. Indicate your own. Try not to stare at boobs.
- Prepare some log lines. You can probably anticipate the kind of questions you’ll get asked (see above), so get your pithy responses ready ahead of time so you don’t have to flail verbally. And be aspirational! I say something like “I’m a writer and journalist who hosts my own podcast” because, well, I am and do. Bring up your student status later (if applicable) and watch people be impressed at your initiative. Get elevator pitches in shape for your novel/screenplay/fusion restaurant concept and then impress.
- Plant seeds. This is Actual Advice I think I got from “How To Win Friends and Influence People for Teen Girls” (which does exist, ahem). When you first arrive somewhere, do the proverbial making-of-the-rounds, visit each cluster of people, and give them a little remark to come back to later, like “Bourbon, straight up? Excellent choice” or “I love your TARDIS necklace!” or “Where did you guys get all those mini-quiches?!” Then, if you come back to talk to them later, you can riff on what you first said. It’s a conversational callback! People like those.
- Dutch courage. I never said I was a role model! But seriously, there is a reason that cocktail parties are the locus of so many socializing events. A sufficient amount of judiciously-applied booze makes talking easier. Don’t fight science (and don’t go overboard, for God’s sake. Eat a snack beforehand!)
- Ask more questions. People like talking about themselves and what they like doing (a-duh). So ask, nod, listen, ask more. Jump in if you’ve got something really cool to say, but the secret to good conversation is that you don’t do all the work.
- Promote. If you’ve got a project (like a blog! like a podcast!) and you’re talking to the kind of people who might dig it, by all means TELL THEM. If they don’t want to read/listen, they can ignore you, but if you never tell them in the first place, they will not know about it. I like to say things like “I’ve just started a podcast and I’d love to hear what you think about it,” because 1. flattery of their opinion! and 2. if they do end up listening, they’ll do it with an engaged and critical ear, which is a win-win.
- Corollary to the above: business cards. I don’t care if you think it’s dumb. It’s the easiest way to get your information to someone. Get fancy pretty ones if you like or just buy the freebies from Vistaprint. Name, email, twitter, website, and a joke for good measure. Boom. And then give them to people. Exhort them to stay in touch.
- Believe in yourself, ’cause that’s the place to start. And I say hey! But seriously. You’ve gotta muster some self-confidence one way or another because if you, as the person who spends the most time around you, do not think you are interesting and have something to say, you’re going to have a hell of a time convincing anyone else.
*Which, okay, not all of us have mastered
**I know you’re out there! I can hear you breathing on Google Analytics!!