A Simple Framework for Connecting with People
Meeting new people can sometimes feel awkward. I have stumbled over my words and outright fell flat on my face on many occasions, especially early on.
I recall when I was in my last couple semesters of my business education starting a company with a fellow Commerce grad, Steve Pomroy and Ron Collins, who took a year or two off from teaching to chase the entrepreneurial dream with us. This was 1995 and we decided to start a web site design company. 99% of the population at that time had no clue what a web site was. I don’t think I did prior to incorporating. Steve suggested we start a business and I said “OK!”.
I had zero technical expertise so it was decided that I was in charge of finance and business development. I am not sure why as I had no experience in those either. Come to think of it I am not really sure why Steve and Ron decided to even partner with me. :)
After we got the initial business setup out of the way, my two partners looked at me and said... ‘ok Spurv go out and get some customers’. I had no idea what to do. How do you get customers for something you do not even understand? How do you get customers when your only network are childhood and university friends and family?
So, the first thing I did was pay a couple of hundred dollars and got a membership in the St. John’s Board of Trade. It was at lunches where I fell down and picked myself up many times. I would meet people and ask them if they had a web site within 20 seconds of the conversation starting. I would follow up by dropping in to my new connections place of business. When I drove up to the building there was an open sign in the window. When I got out of my 1986 Honda Civic with a trail of rust behind me the sign turned to closed! At 2:30 in the afternoon! :)
I had no clue how to generate conversation.
I then stumbled upon a framework called FORM. The framework gave me some guidance. Along with the framework came the mindset that I need to be a better listener and do less talking. I had nothing to lose so I tried it out.
F - Family. Learn about your acquaintances family, spouse and children. Learn about where they live. In big cities this is an easy one as a topic of conversation is always the long commute.
O - Occupation. Learn about your acquaintances occupation. What do you do? How did you get into your occupation? What school did you go to?
R - Recreation. What do you do in your spare time?
M - Motivation. How long have you been a member of the Board of Trade? Do you find it has a positive impact on your business?
With my new framework in hand I went off to lunches and dinners with only one agenda... meet some people and get to know them. By focussing the conversation on building a relationship and not selling my service I was able to make some lasting connections.
I did notice one additional thing about using the FORM framework... when I asked people about them in a genuine way they in turn asked me about my family, occupation, recreation and motivation. This was all I needed.
I can hear you now... Spurvey I cannot see myself asking a pile of questions like that!
From my experience after you break the ice things move into a conversation and you do not feel like a game show host.
So, if you find yourself with sweaty palms walking into a Christmas function that your company made you attend and where you will encounter people you do not know, focus on FORM’ing them and see what happens. I cannot guarantee you will not get sweaty palms as I still do. But, I think you will find yourself making stronger, more meaningful connections.
I welcome you to comment on what you use to get over the same hurdles in the comments below.
"If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk." --Robert Baden-Powell