How To Engage With Strangers at Community and Cultural Events

You want HNW individuals as clients. You have figured out you need to add them as friends first. You have joined the right organizations. This can be everything from the art museum to the chamber of commerce and the alumni association. What next?

Your objective is to meet new people, identify interests in common and utilize those to establish the rationale for keeping in touch. Once you get to know them, you can determine is there is a need presenting business potential or if these new folks will simply remain new friends.

Let us consider the art museum as our example. Why? Because they have member previews every couple of months. A crowd turns up, since free food and drink is usually on offer. Wealthy donors attend to be recognized during the program or to simply see how their money is getting spent. You should not feel awkward because you were not an art history major in college. Neither were most of the people in this room! When you get to a certain level of wealth and influence in the community, you tend to get involved in the cultural scene.

So how do you engage with strangers in this setting? Let us assume you know to dress well. I recall years ago, someone ran and ad in GQ (Gentleman’s Quarterly) magazine making the case, “It’s a lot easier to get to where you want to be if you dress like you are already there.”

  1. Do research beforehand. Who might be in attendance? Who would you want to meet? This would include board members and exhibition sponsors. Do you know what they look like?

  2. Arrive early, ready to work. This is like worknight at the office, only you are prospecting on your feet. Your aim is to meet at least six new people in the crowd of a couple of hundred. You want to say hello to people you met the last time you were here.

  3. Do a circuit of the room. Look at all the artwork in the exhibition. If there are 25 pieces, pick three or four you really like. Read the small card alongside with details about this painting. This might include when it was painted and by whom, but also the local collector who lent the painting for the show.

  4. Start meeting people. If the show opened at 6:00, the crowd will have arrived by 6:30. You have picked out your favorite pieces in the show. Wait until a few people are gathered around one of your favorites. Join the group. Ask questions like: “What is your favorite painting so far” or “What do you think of the show?”

  5. Draw them out. The art related questions have wound down, but no one is hurrying away. Ask related questions like: “What’s your connection to the museum” or “Do you work around here?” People will open up, because these are certainly non-threatening topics. They might be a museum trustee or a friend of the artist.

  6. You know what happens next. “What do you do” and “Where do you live” are the standard icebreaker questions. You want a quick, two sentence answer, so you don’t scare people away. Ask questions about their other interests such as restaurants travel and sports teams. Ideally you find common ground. This can keep conversation going for a while, but remember the expression “Always leave them wanting more.” Disengage and circulate. You want to meet more people.

  7. Take a break. Head to the restroom and commit your mental notes to paper or onto your SmartPhone. You are learning a lot and will not remember it all the next morning. Return to the main event.

  8. Repeat the process. Meet other people. Opportunities will present themselves as you stand on line getting another drink. (Alternating water and wine is smart, as is not drinking alcohol, since you will be driving home.) You will get good at this. Your goal is six connections.

  9. Say hello to people you met previously. Hopefully you have stayed in touch. If you have known some people who are regulars on the museum circuit, borrow a line from a New Jersey advisor and ask: “Is there anyone here you think I should meet?” This might move into not only a suggestion, but a personal introduction.

  10. Reconnect online. In this case, it’s the coat check line or the line at the parking valet station. Say hello to the people you met earlier. When appropriate, mention you share several interests and you would like to keep in touch. “How do I do that?” Let them offer contact information, which you reciprocate. You are not being pushy.

  11. Dinner anyone? No one has eaten anything besides finger food. If you are planning on eating before heading home, ask one of the people or couples you met if they want to stop for a bite. They will not expect you to pay, because in these situations everyone covers their own costs.

It is not hard to meet strangers in these situations and initiate the beginning of a social relationship.

Related: How To Identify Philanthropists, Possibly the Ideal Prospects