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Icebreaking Using Visual Cues (Observe & Connect but Don’t Creep!)

How do you strike up a conversation with someone you’ve never met before?

Whether you walk alone into a holiday party or networking event or have just been introduced to a potential customer or investor, talking to a total stranger is not always easy…and sometimes it just doesn’t feel natural. In fact, it often feels uncomfortable.

Why? Maybe because you aren’t sure how to start or where the conversation will go. Or, worse yet, that it may just stop and go nowhere at all. Awkward!

Let’s get started and please feel free to comment with your tips and techniques or how you’ve used the ones I share here.

What are visual cues?

Simply put, they are things you can easily observe. It could be as simple as asking someone at a cocktail party, “Hey…what are you eating? Which table did you find it at?” That could lead to a conversation about cheese (assuming that’s what he/she is eating), which leads to a discussion of your favorite cocktail snacks, which creates a bonding moment, which leads to rapport. Be cautious commenting on clothing or hairstyle unless you’re at a fashion event or in a super-safe environment. Breaking the ice by discussing personal appearance (especially with the opposite sex) may be perceived as creepy in a business setting.

True Story

A few weeks ago, I was flying to Austin to attend a tech start-up event. I noticed that the guy next to me was reading a tech article, so I said, “I couldn’t help but notice you were reading about Microsoft. Are you going to the conference tomorrow?” That tidbit broke the ice, which started a conversation, which led to an introduction to his co-worker, who’s an SVP at a company that I’m interested in.

In situations like this, you have what I call the proximity advantage. I’m not advocating that you read what’s on a person’s phone or tablet, but a picture or a news article can spur a conversation.

When you say, “I couldn’t help but notice…” it removes a bit of the creeper factor.

Visual cues can also be found in people’s workspaces or their public social media profiles. Pictures tell a lot about a person. If you see a PUBLIC picture of someone hiking, you can ask about her favorite trails. If he has a cool desk accessory, ask where he got it.

I challenge YOU to make an introduction this holiday season using a visual cue. Or, check out my profile and ask me some questions as a way of practicing. Whether you’re on an elevator, in a common area in your co-working space, or at one of those many holiday parties, you’ll be turning awkward silence into bonding moments in no time!