We hate it when other people do it to us, but then we turn around and do the same thing to someone else:
“Hey, what’s your name?…Cool, so what brought you here today?…You know the host. Cool….So what do you do?…Oh okay…And where is that at?…That commute through the tunnel must be brutal”…
It’s basically a ping pong match of arbitrary questions and unenthusiastic short answers, and all you’re trying to do is not crash and burn into awkward silence.
So I decided to step away from this vicious cycle and try something different. It’s astonishingly simple. I’m going to give you one question to ask colleagues, coworkers, or strangers at any social event, that will instantly engage them into conversation, and most likely, make you the most memorable person in the room.
THE ONE QUESTION TO RULE THEM ALL:
Whether you are at a networking event or a BBQ — you walk up to the person or group, you do the introductions and get settled in, make eye contact with one person in the group (and I mean look into their optic stems), and warmly ask them this question:
So tell me, what made you happy this week?
The reactions to expect from them: They’re taken aback by the question — their eyes will widen for a second. They smile and look up as they recap their past week. Good signs! And I can GUARANTEE you that everyone else had a similar reaction and are thinking about their past week searching for that “moment” as well.
THE EASY PART:
You’ve dropped the bomb, they’re getting over the pleasant shock, and they’re now thinking of a statement that has a story behind it.
Note: There is ALWAYS a story behind it.
So now comes the easy part — you listen. And just so you know the ratio is about 90% listening/10% of questions. You’ll notice that when they tell their story, if it’s something that truly made them happy, their body language is different. They have a big smile on their face, they’re talking with their hands a lot, there’s fluctuations in their voice, their energy is amplified, and sometimes the phone gets pulled out so they can provide you with visuals.
They are fully engaged in telling their story — doing impressions and more. And it can be something small to you and the group, but it was a win for them.
With this one question, you were able to find out what excites them to the core — quickly! Now use that as your springboard.
They’re done telling you their story. You were LISTENING. Take a beat to make sure they’re done. Now ask questions about what you just heard.
Example (true story — group setting at a cocktail event. Don’t know these people.)
Them: What made me happy this week? I finally got a chance to put my first coat of stain on the boat I’m building. It’s looking beautiful. I’m finally going to have it ready to hit the water in a WEEK!
Me: Excuse me Ron Swanson, you built a boat?! That’s amazing! First, what kind of boat is it and second, where do you start?! Did you chop down a tree and then hollow it out? I need input sir.
This conversation went on for a while and others within the group jumped in with questions as well (how did you get into it? have you built others? I assume it’s for fishing, what do you fish?). He was excited to explain, because it’s obviously something he loves to do, and the group was curious because…he built a boat! Most people mow their lawn on the weekend. This guy built a boat!
The questions segue wayed into other aspects of his outdoor life that were relatable to others within the group — and candid conversation ensued. Hazzah!
Most people don’t get a chance to talk about the events in their lives that they are really passionate about. Give them the platform to revel in this opportunity.
You might make it to one other person within the group with the question before they throw it back on you candidly, “So what made you happy”?
Because it’s your question, you will have 2–3 stories ready to roll. And you will be just as enthusiastic about the story and ready for your Q&A as your colleagues when they told their story. You got this ace!
Note: If nothing made you happy that day or week (bummer!), don’t be afraid to go back to last week, or the week before that. If you have to go back further than that — you might want to think about some lifestyle changes.
Down the line, whether you bump into that person later on in the night or 6 months from now, even if they don’t remember your name, they’ll remember your story.
People can’t help but be drawn to the power of narrative and the positive association they had with you.
THE EXIT PLAN
You’ve talked to everyone, had a few laughs, and are ready to move on. Some ways to politely leave the group:
“Oh, excuse me. I see some (food) that’s calling my name.”
“I see someone over there I haven’t spoken to in while. You folks enjoy yourself, excuse me.”
“Oh, I see someone I have to introduce you to. Come on.”
THE WRAP UP
In the end, remember it’s about making a connection with other individuals. Step away from the small talk that is mundane, superficial, and overall awkward. This is your opportunity to meet new people, learn something new, make a fantastic first impression, and possibly make a new friend. With this in mind, keep it real, keep it authentic, and have some fun!
BONUS — LOW HANGING FRUIT
Who can you practice this technique on?
You walk into a room where you know nobody. Your partner in conversation leaves to go find drinks. As soon as they step away, that’s when you scan the room and look for the “low hanging fruit” — the person who looks the most uncomfortable in the room. It could be that they’re an introvert or wall flower, they don’t know what to say when they walk up to a person or group beyond “Hey! So what do you do?”, or a plethora of other reasons.
Go rescue them. They’ll be grateful.