The truth is that everyone loves to be heard and people are often willing to talk about themselves to anyone who would listen. These admired colleagues are not an exception. You just have to start the right way and maintain the right tempo. As the year continues to unfold, there will be several strategy meetings/conferences in and out of your office and there is a high chance of meeting, at least, one of your revered colleagues there. It would be a slap on our faces to be face-to-face with them and not ask the right questions or not know how to start a conversation.
Sometime in May 2019, I attended an event and one of the speakers was a lady I was much inspired by. What an opportunity! The event had about 70 to 100 participants present, so I figured talking to her after the event would not be so difficult.
After her session, it was time for the lunch break. While a lot of the participants went for lunch, a few of us stayed back to have a chat with her. Lunch could wait. In her graceful self, she answered us one after the other. I had tactically positioned myself to chat her up last so she could be more at ease.
Let me mention that because of the introduction all the participants did at the beginning of the event, I knew the quota of participants in this speaker’s session was few. Anyway, she ended up answering all my questions, we walked to the restaurant for lunch, and we exchanged numbers.
Here’s how you can do the same at meetings and start a fascinating conversation with an admired senior colleague/panelist:
Ask Follow-up Questions
For speakers, time is always a constraint, so identify gray areas the speaker did not elaborate so well on while speaking. It shows the speaker you paid attention and this would make him/her feel valued. If it is a senior colleague, find out what project they are currently working on or has recently worked on. LinkedIn is an excellent place to check. It shows your interest in what they represent.
Don’t Hesitate to Show That You Have Researched
Going on LinkedIn and other social platforms to get acquainted with someone’s project is some form of research that you put some effort and time into, and you did because you are interested in knowing more. You should let them see that. You can say something like, “I read on XYZ platform that you recently worked on a financial inclusion project with the World Bank, how has that been for you?” After their response, you can mention any related work or findings you have in that area as well.
Ask Direct and Close-ended Questions
Now that you have established that “soft-landing”, ask your questions and make them direct, specific and close-ended. Don’t ask questions like “how did you get here?” I can guarantee you that no valuable response will come from that. For example, you could say “I read that you were once shy, how did you overcome that to be a sought-after speaker on public finance?” Asking these questions means that you have communicated the areas you what his/her response to address.
Anyone would be more willing to talk and be vulnerable with a reasonable person. Do not come pretending to be who you are not. To get actual responses and build lifetime connections, let your goal, vision, and your personality be real.
Be Articulate and Prepared
Often times, the unsatisfied reactions we get from the people we admire so much isn’t because of their unwillingness to respond better but because of their inability to comprehend our line of thoughts. If you must get the best out of any conversation, you must articulate your thoughts well to minimize misunderstandings and maximize the time. Personally, I struggle to keep up in a conversation where the other person’s words are all over the place. Being articulate is a lubricant every good conversation must have.
So guys, I hope you now know how to start the right conversation when an opportunity to meet an admired one in your industry presents itself.