How To Talk To Strangers  
April 4, 2012
Leena Sowambur in Networking, network, networking


Networking online or in person (eventually it is necessary to do in person) involves talking to complete random strangers. People you don’t know, people who might be untrustworthy, people who might have an agenda, people who might take from you, people who might steal from you, people who might harm you. We don’t like talking to strangers. Strangers are bad. Strangers will hurt you. Strangers have negative associations.

Yet we are all strangers to other people.

I’m not a shy person. I’m outgoing, chatty, and extroverted. I still don’t like talking to arbitrary unfamiliar, alien people. Why? I was always told not to talk to strangers as a child. As children our parents drum that rule into us, and it’s a good thing. We need to be aware of danger. However, we also need to be aware that the psychological tools that we needed to keep us safe as kids are not always appropriate in the varying situations we find ourselves in as adults.

I have a 3 year old niece, Laksha, who until recently was “shy”. Earlier this year we went on a huge family Caribbean cruise. My niece and I would take walks around the ship. In this environment, my adult self had no issue with greeting my fellow passengers even though they were all strangers. It was sunny, relaxed, and our spirits were high. I knew Laksha and I were safe on the ship and I was right in my own way. Laksha thought differently. She knew everyone was a stranger and therefore not to be trusted. Laksha was right in her own way. Passengers would frequently attempt to greet my beautiful little niece. Laksha avoided eye contact by hiding in my arms or rubbing her eyes. This was interpreted as shyness. Shyness in young children is a psychological defence mechanism against harm from strangers. The first part of the defense process is to be unapproachable. The next is to run away, scream, and cry for their parents. Following this, it is to defend themselves against other small children. My niece knew that I thought that these “strangers” were ok, but she needed the chance to make her own decisions and practice “sizing people up.” As adults, we make those decisions instantaneously - we’ve had more practice! Of course, following her many social experiences at such a young age, I’m proud to say that Laksha is now better than me at selecting and talking to new people!

Even though we regularly interact with strangers through work and social functions, these childhood rules still haunt us. However, when you’re trying to network as a grown up those rules just don’t help. So, how do you talk to a stranger at a networking event when you’re there on your own? I’m hoping this blog will help equip you with a few ideas at your next networking event so you can make the best of your time there.

The initial note to bear in mind is that you are allowed to talk to strangers at networking events - in fact, you’re meant to. I like to think of it like being on the cruise ship where it was almost impolite not to say hello to the passengers around you. Remember you have plenty in common with your fellow networkers:

1. You are all there to meet and talk to each other

2. You are all strangers to each other

3. You are there to network

4. You are all there to make the best of the event

5. You are all there to help your fellow networkers where you can

So the first hurdle is your approach and it starts with looking around for someone to meet, making eye contact, and then offering a smile.

Smiling is the easiest thing to do, but so hard for so many people. This is because of what we are thinking at the time. However, when breaking the ice in a networking event smiling is all-important. People mirror smiles. Test this for yourself. Generally, if you smile at people they will smile back even if they don’t mean to. It may help to remember the last time you felt truly hospitable - to be welcoming you have to smile! People mirror attitude so like The Law of Attraction a bad mood attracts bad vibes. People are less likely to want to talk to you.

When you have met someone to connect with, you may want to have a few opening lines ready for example:

1. Simply introduce yourself and what you do

2. Ask how they found the seminar, talk, workshop (some networking events contain these)

3. Ask how business is today

4. Ask the other person what they do

5. Ask what time the event ends (Even if you know)

6. Ask how the other person’s day has been

7. Offer introductions

8. Ask if the other person is enjoying the networking event and who have they met


Once you have broken the ice and in a good flow of conversation, remember the following:

1. Don’t have an agenda - and don’t let other people have an agenda either

2. Prepare for some skepticism - all this means is that more information is needed

3. No judgement

4. Prepare some questions that you don’t know the answer to

5. Take time to get to know the other person

6. Beware of BS e.g., I met someone who said that they had consulted to a major record label and that this major record label was not licensing any of its back catalogue. Licensing is, of course, staple revenue for a major record label.

7. Keep the conversation alive with new questions

8. Offer ideas

9. Listen

You will come across people who may not be in the mood to converse. This isn’t personal, tell them to “Have a nice day/evening/week/weekend and take care.” Exchange cards so you can connect with them later. Let them go and move forward. Shake hands at the beginning or end of the interaction depending on what feels natural.


With practice, you will gain huge benefits from these networking exercises, for example:

1. It builds your social skills. You also enable another person to build theirs and after a while this just becomes a natural part of who you are

2. You learn new things

3. You get more opportunities

4. You will have the pleasure of creating opportunities for others

One last, but important note I would add to all this is you must bring something of value to the table. Too many of us go into networking situations with the idea of seeing what we can get from others and then wonder why our efforts don’t work out. Try going into networking with the mindset of offering something of real value. It could be any number of things so note the following tips:

  1. Make a list of all the things of value you might be able to offer and think of who you could partner with. (Not just your demo!) Think widely. Do you have a mailing list that you might be able to swap with someone else’s to expand your fanbase? Could you partner with someone in film or video who might need your type of music? Could you do a joint tour with another band? Could you bundle your music with a product to enhance their offer? Could you offer music workshops to a local community?
  2. Try at least to get rapport before anything else (see above)
  3. Make sure you arrange those 121 meetings to talk about your potential deal!
  4. Can you make any introductions for people?
  5. Can you offer any insights that might help others?

I hope this has helped you somewhat and if not then please let me know what you would like to know about if I can help you I will know someone who can - and you should totally network with me! Check the links below for contact information!

Good luck and Happy Networking!


Author Biography


Leena Sowambur is an established expert in digital music business. She has two music business degrees and ten years in digital marketing and PR. Leena has held roles within Sony, award winning digital marketing agency Outside Line and the pioneering music dotcom Peoplesound where her clients included Universal, EMI and Warner. Leena also has indie sector experience with clients such as Sanctuary, Echo/Chrysalis, Beggars Banquet and Ministry of Sound as well as boutique labels such as Tummy Touch, Warp and Wiiija and Telstar.
Some of the artist campaigns that Leena has worked on include:- Shakira, Longview, Chris Brown, Destiny’s Child, Darren Hayes, Take That, Angie Stone, John Legend, Rod Stewart, Luther Vandross, Paul Oakenfold, Pulp, Pink, 50 Cent, Eminem, Bon Jovi, Empire Magazine soundtrack compilation, The Total Music Mirror Premium CD Giveaway comprising of Pet Shop Boys, Cream, Kaci, Muse, BBMak, Zero 7, Beverley Knight, Cher, Depeche Mode, Oxide and Neutrino; Red Magazine Feel Good compilation including Moloko, Lisa Stansfield and Catatonia; Metro Life Live In London covermount CD including Suede, Basement Jaxx, Turin Brakes and Carl Cox; Instant Music Premium CD Giveaway comprising of Stereophonics, Travis, Marti Pellow, Stereo MCs, Feeder, Shaggy and Gabrielle; Eve Magazine compilation including Groove Armada and The Orb.

Leena speaks all over the country on the subject of digital music business. Events regularly include University of Chester, University of Westminster, The Manchester College, London Metropolitan University, Croydon Council, Southwark Council and Portobello Business Centre. Leena also currently lectures at the University of East London.

Leena’s business “Positively Music “is a coaching business that helps top music industry organisations create communities of raving fan customers. She is writing a new book called “The Fan Experience” focussed on the music fans’ growing role in the music business with the audio visual product and training courses to match.
You can get the first chapter of Leena’s new book here.


The Fan Experience Tip Sheet

The Fan Experience Tip Sheet contains 101 tips on creating better fan experience for music business, above you will see a sampler to get all 101 tips visit the link below:-

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Article originally appeared on Music Think Tank (
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