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How To Start A Conversation With Someone You Don't Know

By Linda Coles

Networking conversation

OAR-ation is an acronym that I use for remembering how to start a conversation when I encounter a complete stranger at an event.

It’s small and not overly clever and complicated, which makes it very easy to remember. Following on from my recent posts about getting out more and talking to more people you don’t currently know, I thought I would share this easy method for starting a conversation. It is particularly useful if you are at a networking event where there are possibly many people you just don’t know.

When you’ve opened with your greeting and started with hello, think about OAR-ation:

. . O stands for occupation.

When you are at an event, nine times out of 10 the first question you will be asked is, ‘What do you do for a living?’ or ‘What is your occupation?’ so it makes sense to keep that consistent and not try to reinvent the wheel.

. . A stands for association.

How are you associated with the event? Are you a member, a guest of someone, the organiser? Find out what pulled you both to the same event. You may even have a mutual friend who invited you both so you have something in common straight off.

. . R stands for recreation.

Ask, ‘What do you do in your down time? Are you a cyclist, a dancer, a cake decorator?’ Find out what hobbies you may have in common that you can chat about. You don’t necessarily want to talk shop all night, and shop talk may not even be that interesting to either party, but in order to get to know one another and keep the conversation going, you need to focus on something.

If you don’t ask the question, you also risk not finding out about something that you both really have in common and that may well bond you immediately, so mention your interests and find out theirs. Having a common interest definitely boosts the chances of a lasting relationship between two people.

I once attended a wedding reception and found myself at a table that consisted of ‘others’. We were not part of either party’s family; we were the work colleagues and close acquaintances. After being seated, the lady on my right introduced herself by starting with hello, and promptly asked what I did for a living (Occupation).

Of course, our next question to each other was obvious: how did we know the bride or groom (Association)? Then, as we were at a lovely wedding on a Saturday afternoon, we skipped further shop talk and stayed with Recreation. A very short time later, we knew quite a few details about each other and as my wedding-guest neighbour had no idea of my OAR-ation acronym, it proved to me that the OAR-ation method was indeed a natural way to create a conversation with a new acquaintance — and easy to remember as well.

Your turn: Do you have a process you go through when you meet someone for the first time? Do you dive straight in?

Posted: Sunday 12 January 2014

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