Making that first conversation happen

Someone once told me that the most common fear out there was the fear of talking in front of an audience.  I don’t know if that is talking to people in general, if it has to be a large audience or not, and if it really needs to be in person or not.  Some folks are just plain shy or do not have the interest in putting themselves out there in that way.  This is not a problem that stops me.

From an early age I was known for making friends easily.  At one point on a family vacation, my parents were not even out of the car yet and I was across the parking lot of some National Park and talking to the first kid that looked about my age.  Sometimes I was making plans to hang out before they found where I was.  My parents were both teachers and by the time I was in high school we had been in most of the states west of the Mississippi River!  My gregarious nature continued and I was always one for going up to complete strangers and opening a conversation.

Perhaps this is one reason I have enjoyed success as a recruiter.  Some call it the gift of gab.  I suppose others would say that I tend to build a clock instead of just telling them what time it is.  Okay, I can accept that as constructive criticism but on the other hand I think my ability to relate has always been a wonderful survival mechanism.

Growing up and through college I was a musician.  I guess once a musician always a musician – I can still sit at a piano or pick up a trumpet and make music.  As a musician I had the opportunity to perform in front of large audiences.  One time there were over 50,000 people in the stands of a marching band performance I played a solo in.  As a teacher I had to get up in front of a class of some of the most demanding critics around – teenagers!  Now, does the fact that I CAN get up in front of people and speak or perform mean that I am not nervous?  Not at all, in fact, anyone close to me knows that there is quite a lot of mental angst involved.  The bottom line here is that as an adult, I have needed to work past the uncomfortable feelings and push myself outside the comfort zone.  As a kid it was easy because I was literally unaware of the consequences.  As an adult there is potential risk in everything we attempt but without risk there is no reward.

Colleagues have utilized the Toastmasters organization to gain the skill to work past these fears but I continue to avoid call reluctance on the phone, walk into the group of strangers to introduce myself at conferences and generally live outside a comfort zone because I know without venturing out I will not be exposed to the opportunities that exist for me.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained?  I think so.  No slick techniques here, but I might suggest that you place genuine interest in meeting the new person – whether in person or over the phone.  If you can learn something about them and get them to talk about themselves they will feel good about your conversation.

Back in my Management Recruiters International days we called these tidbits of information bonding nuggets.  Remember those tidbits, because they are the things that will warm your next call.  This skill of relating to other people is one of the most valuable skills today.  My teenagers have heard me say it over and over.  More important than your grades, is the ability to relate to many different kinds of people and establish good dialogue with them.  Most of our greatest leaders today are excellent communicators, and it all starts with the first conversation.

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