March 29, 2022

Cultivating Relationships & Building Connections

How important is it to know your audience and to be able to read the room?

How can you make a connection with someone you do not know or with someone you may not be on the same page with? In today’s global world, you probably have worked with folks from all sides of the aisle and all walks of life. Further, cities host dignitaries and often recruit manufacturing and other types of international businesses to locate locally. Making people feel at ease is an important, often underrated skill. And the first step is being comfortable yourself.

Here are some helpful tidbits and tricks for you to put in your tool kit on how to work an unfamiliar room, make connections with strangers, and create and build lasting relationships.

Let me ask you: What makes you unique? What about you stands out? Perhaps it is something you are hesitant to embrace or could be embarrassed about. For me, it is my naturally curly red hair, my Southern accent, and where I am from, to name a few. Growing up, I was often bullied and made fun of for these things, and I was often embarrassed by them. But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to embrace them, and I even purposely draw more attention to them now, especially in my professional environment.

You may be like me and love to work a room and meet new people – you have never met a stranger. For others, it could be your worst nightmare come true!

What has worked for me is that I like to learn about someone on a personal level first – find that personal connection. You are probably wondering why in the world would I do this? By finding that personal thing in common, you immediately put them at ease and start to build trust, making them more comfortable around you. Having that comfort level immediately in the beginning makes it easier to get to know them professionally.

Whether or not this method of breaking the ice is up your alley, I highly recommend doing some research before attending a conference, meeting, etc. Read speaker bios in advance; Google search speakers, companies, and cities on the internet; check out any related news. When researching people, I look for the following: Do they have pets? Who is their favorite sports team? Where are they from? These are just a few things to help get the conversation flowing.

In my varied career, I’ve gotten the conversation going with a former U.S. Vice President by sharing that I am from Kentucky, finding out that his sister-in-law is from Owensboro, and learning that he loves Paducah, my hometown! I gave my most sincere condolences to the first female Secretary of the Air Force after her beloved Duke Blue Devils lost in the NCAA Tournament. I let her know I am a die-hard Kentucky Wildcats fan, which quickly put her at ease before getting up close and personal to attach a lapel microphone. And I told the shy, young daughter of a foreign prime minister just how much I loved her beautiful purple scarf because it is my favorite color. I asked if I could borrow it sometime, only to have her come out of her shell and find me later to bake cookies with her and her brothers to share with her parents.

Before I asked you what makes you unique? Now, what makes your city, business, or organization unique? What would draw in new businesses and more people to your community?

Before your next big work conference or social event, keep in mind what makes you and your city unique. I challenge you to use that information as a way to meet the person sitting next to you, make a new friend, and seek out that shy person in the corner of the room.

Just be the unique person you are and embrace it! 

Here are five tips to consider when connecting with people:

  1. Embrace the things that make you unique.
  2. Know your audience, and do a little research ahead of time.
  3. Make a personal connection first.
  4. Find a common interest or person that you know.
  5. Ask, “What makes your city (organization, etc.) unique?”