“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."
– Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends & Influence People
Have you ever been standing alone in a room full of strangers?
You don’t recognize anyone. You’re not even sure you belong there, and you have no idea what to say. You think about darting for the door or at least jumping on your phone so you don’t look like a total loser. Or maybe just the thought kept you from showing up in the first place.
I’ve been there. More than once.
But I can also link almost all of my business and personal success back to the friends I’ve met – often at events that could have felt just like that.
In a couple days, a lot of the LYL community will be heading to Portland for the World Domination Summit – probably my favorite event of the the year for hanging around people doing the things you didn’t think could be done. (Join our LYL meetup here)
When I first went to WDS, I knew two people and Live Your Legend was just an idea. I left on Monday morning with dozens of new friends. Friends who not only understood me, but who showed me a new type of possibility – one that landed me right here.
It is experiences like this that have made environment and connection the heart of how LYL helps people find and do work that matters. It’s why we created our How to Connect with Anyone community and it’s why I decided to create today’s rather in-depth guide.
Because it all starts with connection.
And nothing beats showing up in the real world.
As long as it’s actually fun…
So this is meant to be a resource for you to return to before or during a live meetup of any kind – conference, event or just connecting with someone new at the cafe down the street. It’s all universal. If you’re headed to WDS, print this out for your flight and to refer to over the weekend – or for the next time you’ll be around a bunch of new faces.
Also, once you’re done, I’d love to hear your best in-person connection technique in the comments.
There’s a lot to cover, so I’ve broken things down into a few sections. Now, let’s make some friends…
32 Ways to Immediately Connect with Strangers at Live Events
I. Get Your Mind Right
None of this stuff works (or is any fun) if you aren’t coming from the right place…
1. See strangers as friends you haven’t met yet. Thinking about a room of strangers is often intimidating enough to keep you from ever showing up. It’s also usually not true. If you’ve picked an event that aligns with who you are, the people you’re about to meet are your people. Approach conversations knowing you have beliefs and ideas in common.
Reframing strangers as friends also makes it a lot easier to know what to do. With good friends, we listen, try to help, make introductions, remember names and talk about shared passions – all of which we’ll cover below. We do not try to dominate the conversation, shove our product or website down their throat or think about how we can use them to move up some ladder. Treat them as friends you’ve yet to meet and the rest of this stuff becomes pretty obvious.
2. Know that there’s possibility in every conversation. I’ve experienced enough serendipity to know that every new event or interaction has the potential to lead to a new friend, partner or idea. Approach new people that way and it starts to become self-fulfilling.
3. Realize everyone is as scared as you are. No matter how unknown or well known someone is, we all share fears of being in a room with no familiar faces, feeling lonely and not fitting in. That’s natural. Your situation is not special. It’s normal. As soon as you realize you’re in the same place as everyone around you, new faces start to feel a lot more welcoming.
4. Be there to help. Sure, you want to meet people to help build out whatever you’re working on, and that will come. But real connection is built from genuinely caring about serving the people around you. If that’s not your intention, then you’ve come to the wrong place and most of your efforts will backfire. Constantly come back to adding value. People will feel it and your conversations and results will be all the richer for it. Remember Carnegie’s quote above.
II. Make a Plan
Getting the most out of a live event starts long before you get there, so in the days or week leading up, lay out some groundwork…
5. Know and research people you want to meet. Some of the most important interactions often end up being the people you never saw coming. But you still want to create as much luck as possible. Write down the names and a few notes about the people you know will be there who you’d love to connect with. Do some research on their current projects and know what you want to say when you happen to connect. What idea could you share? What specific piece of their work could you sincerely and personally thank them for? Keep this on you during the event.
You could also make a Twitter list so you can follow and interact with them during the event. Thanks to my buddies at Fizzle for that one.
6. Reach out in advance. Go back through your list and send short notes of anticipation. Remind them who you are, let them know you’re excited to meet and how and when you hope to cross paths. Make it a super short email and follow with a couple tweets or other social mentions so they can associate your face with the name and note.
III. Show Up
Here’s what to do once you walk through the door…
7. Smile. I wish I didn’t have to mention it, but it’s too easy to forget when you’re immersed in new surroundings. Smiles are contagious. They show confidence. They make people want to be around you. Any smile is better than none, but also try not to grin like some connection-deprived clown.
8. Obey The 3-Second Rule. I first learned this from a professional pickup artist years ago, but it works magic with any new person. This is your 80/20 rule – it will lead to more interactions than anything else on this page. The rule is simple: When you see someone interesting to talk to, you have three seconds to walk up and say hello. Wait longer and you’ll either overthink it and screw it up or overthink it and never approach.
Not sure what to say? It doesn’t matter. Anything is better than nothing, because it takes you from being a no-name in a sea of faces to being an actual person with a story (who had the courage to say hello). If it’s someone you’ve always wanted to meet, you’ll at least be able to open by thanking them for their work and how it’s impacted you.
I shared this rule at my How to Connect With Anyone talk at WDS in 2012 and the next day, a woman named Erica wrote me an email. Here’s one sentence from it:
“I am a very nervous introvert but after finishing your workshop, I went on to meet roughly 70 people in one afternoon and 115 in one weekend!"
She included the list of people she’d met. This stuff works.
Here’s a little bonus video on The 3-Second Rule from Module 2 of our How to Connect With Anyone course on Overcoming Approach Anxiety & Creating Instant Physical Rapport.
Hope it helps…
9. Warm up. The 3-Second Rule isn’t just for people you recognize. Use it to talk to anyone who looks interesting. And in the beginning, apply it to everyone you see. It’s just like warming up for a race or big talk. You gotta get some reps in and build confidence. Do that by saying hello to anyone you can, when there’s nothing at stake.
10. Take notes. Write down names and memorable details immediately after meeting someone. I keep a list in my iPhone. You could even do this during your chat as long as you tell them what you’re doing – that you really care about remembering their name and following up about something cool they’ve mentioned. They’ll probably be flattered. Better to use a paper notebook than phone if doing this in person, so they don’t think you’re distracted. Notes will make you much more likely to remember them during the event and follow up with something meaningful once it’s over.
11. Know names. No excuses here. No one’s good with names unless they try. Repeat it back to them. Write it down. Introduce them to someone else. Picture a friend who has the same name. If you forget, just ask again. In a pinch, you could introduce them to a friend without mentioning the new person’s name, so hopefully they repeat it back (or ask your friend or spouse to always introduce themselves when they approach you and someone new, just in case you’ve forgotten). Then use it every time you see each other. Hearing your own name makes people feel on top of the world, especially from someone you wouldn’t expect to remember.
Also, don’t expect others to remember yours – make it easy for them by quickly mentioning your name the next time you meet, especially if you’ve only met once before or if it’s a distant acquaintance you haven’t seen in a long time. And definitely never say something like “so do you remember my name?" or “I bet you don’t remember me." I’m surprised by how often I hear this and all it does is make the person you’re talking to feel like an ass. People forget. Be nice.
12. Take pictures. I love taking pictures with people I’ve met. It’s a fun way to remember folks, get them to remember you and also great for follow-up. Have fun with it, but don’t be pushy.
13. Bring a small group together. Invite some new friends to dinner or drinks that night or for a little workout. Or with enough advance notice, set up a little party for folks you know and want to meet. That’s what we’re doing with our pre-party on Friday at WDS. I invited all of you, and usually also include a bunch of personal friends and people I’d love to meet.
14. Know your everyday elevator pitch. I don’t like the term, but everyone’s familiar with it. What’s your 30-second story of who you are, what you’re doing and why you care so much? Have something sharp and concise, but be ready to modify to fit the person you’re talking to. And share it with some excitement!
15. Know what you want to say to those you know you want to meet. Do your homework so you don’t get caught fumbling when you bump into your idol in the bathroom (best to wait until after you’re both done, though…). What do you want to thank them for? Who do you know in common? What idea do you want to share? How can it connect with and help their work?
16. Find common ground. Building rapport is all about finding things in common as fast as possible. This can be mutual friends, cities, travels, ideas, businesses, fears, whatever. Being at the same event means you’re already starting with something. Build from there.
17. Know your ABC stories. The more you know your experiences, the higher your odds of quickly finding similarities as you ask questions and learn their story. An easy exercise for this is to write a 1-2 sentence true story about yourself for every letter of the alphabet (My friend Tynan taught me this one). Ask a friend to help if need be. “A" for me might be that I went on a safari in Africa and we almost ran into an elephant in our 6-person motor boat. The point isn’t to tell everyone all your stories (definitely don’t do that) – it’s to have a refined lens for listening to theirs and seeing how you can relate. It also makes for much more memorable conversation.
18. Be interesting, ask interesting questions and become contagious. Do whatever you can to interrupt the usual small talk pattern. Share passions. Anything’s fair game (well, almost). Ask about fun things like recent adventures or what they’re most excited about right now. Tell them the same about you. Don’t ask, “So, um, what do you do?" There are much more entertaining ways to get to that question. One of my go-to questions is, “So, what are you building (or excited about right now)?"
People want to be around people who are excited about what they’re doing. Energy and passion are contagious. Let it rub off on the people you’re with. But don’t dominate the conversation. Let them do more talking than you. Then play your energy off the things you learn.
19. Meet on their level. If someone is quiet and reserved, you being your wild and crazy extroverted self will likely turn them off. Tone it down to where they are. Your goal is to make people feel welcome and safe. This creates rapport. You can still be contagious without making people feel like you’re crazy.
20. Be with them and only them. If you’re talking to someone then talk to them. Do not glance all around the room looking for more important people. That sucks. Encourage others to talk about themselves – then listen and actually hear what they’re saying. Make it a game to listen so intently that you pick up on how you can uniquely relate and help.
21. And while we’re on don’ts, DO NOT retreat to mindlessly checking your phone when you don’t have someone to talk to. Leave it in your pocket on “do not disturb". Anytime you notice yourself pulling it out because you feel alone, use it as a trigger to apply the 3-second rule.
22. Create a time limit. This is especially important for influential people who are constantly being bombarded. Open up by letting them know you’re headed to dinner in two minutes but just had to say… then offer a memorable thank you and quick idea. If natural rapport and conversation grows from there, go with it, but still only stay a few minutes. It’s much less awkward for you to decide to walk away than them trying to leave. Or if they’re talking to someone, you could just walk up, touch them on the shoulder, apologize for the interruption and say a quick thank you and goodbye, and maybe that you’ll try to catch them later in the weekend. Find a way to make contact, but be respectful of their space.
23. Change seats. Don’t sit in the same place during every session or eat or stand in the same area throughout the weekend. Most people do, so show up somewhere different and see who else you can bump into.
24. Take advantage of transitions. Walking into and out of a venue is a natural time to start up a chat. So is any transition. It usually feels less awkward than walking straight up to someone. Say hi to the people beside you. Who knows, the woman in the stairwell might be your future business partner.
25. Make and share introductions. Once you meet someone, think about who else you know who they’d have fun with. If you see a group of friends, introduce everyone to the new guy. Also make an agreement with a few friends that you’ll introduce each other to the people you meet.
26. Be the host. Act as if this is your party. If you see someone alone, go say hi. I don’t care if you don’t know anyone else. Make someone else feel welcome. And you’ll both have someone to talk to. Offer help, directions, introductions, whatever. If you’re headed to a meal, invite them to join. A few years ago, I was at an event where I saw one of my biggest mentors and hugely successful author wander around looking for a place to eat – so I invited him to join us. Made for a hell of a lunch. Remember, no one wants to feel alone. Always be welcoming.
IV. Follow Up
The event is just the beginning. What comes next is where the lasting friendships form…
28. Send a note and add some value. In your follow-up, thank them for something specific and find a way to offer an idea, article, talk, book, whatever that might help with something they mentioned when you met. Make each note unique and memorable. Do it within 24–48 hours, max. If you wait longer, you’ll probably never do it or it’ll get lost. Send an email as well as snail mail and maybe a tweet. If you have a fun picture, print it out and put it with the letter.
29. Thank speakers even if you didn’t meet. Send a note to the people who left an impression and tell them why.
31. Find a way to connect in real-time within a few weeks. If you care about keeping up, prove it.
32. Be You & Allow Others to Be Them
This is the blanket that covers the whole process.
When you’re around accomplished people, it’s easy to want to puff your chest out and be someone you’re not. The problem is that people see straight through the bull sh*t and it kills rapport. Be open, vulnerable and unapologetically you. This connects way better than some Superman story, and makes people actually enjoy being around you. Plus, you being uniquely you helps inspire the person you’re with to do the same. And that’s a rare gift.
Do that and you become unforgettable.
Stop worrying about what to say or what to do. Just show up and care about who you’re talking to.
We’re all coming from the same place. We’re all at least a little nervous. We all wonder where and how we’ll fit in.
And we all want to connect with people who believe in the same things we do.
See us as friends you haven’t met yet.
Then go say hello!
So what’s your favorite technique for meeting new people in the real world? Share in the comments!
Here Are a Few More Connection Resources:
1. We have a whole module on Building Your In-Person Community in our Connect With Anyone course. We only open enrollment once or twice a year – get on the wait list here.
2. My friends at Fizzle have a good podcast on meeting new people and it’s spot on. It inspired some of the ideas in this post. Very worth a listen.
3. Recently I’ve been rereading Keith Ferrazzi’s newly updated and expanded version of Never Eat Alone. The first time I read the book, it planted a seed that later became Connect With Anyone. I’m grateful for his ideas and mentorship.
Image credits: WDS 2013