Many of you who read this blog are CEOs of small businesses. Business development is a top priority that’s crucial to your company’s success. No doubt you’ve attended numerous networkers, conventions, mixers, retreats and the like principally to make new connections.
From time to time I’ve watched others to see what works. Sure we all want to talk about what we do – that’s why we’re there and everyone likes to talk about their family. But good icebreakers – I think not so much. Think “them” first not “you”.
No doubt too, at some point you’ve attended some of these mixers with your spouse — often that’s a great dynamic for building relationships. Still neither “what you do” nor “your family” are great lead ins. But everyone does that. The goal is to be remembered for your next discussion no?
Nonetheless I’ve sometimes approached some of “the boys” at principally couples events, that seem to be attending alone, don’t spot a ring and ask “Are you married?” “No”, “What do you do for aggravation?” My wife doesn’t think that Henie Youngman line is even half as funny as I do but it’s often effective at getting a dialog going. How far do you think I would have gotten when at the end of the day, boil it all down, I’m an accountant, “Hi, I’m Roger, I’m an accountant, what do you do?” Even my first name’s goofy – I wish it was Buck or Jake.
Carefully considered humor, warm handshakes, shake a woman’s hand just as a man’s, no manicure mashing bone crushers, not 3 fingers either, smile and eye contact all work – you know that — just do it.
One of the most effective icebreakers I’ve ever met is Dave Sherman. Dave’s spoken at our partners meetings for some years now. Many of the conversation starters I’ve noted below are from his speeches and writings. Please keep in mind we’re a firm of CFOs — sure that’s an acronym for “accountant” (there’s a world of difference between a CFO and Controller / Bookkeeper / Accountant) … still we’re accountants. Here’s how Dave and I first met:
Dave: “What’s the difference between an introvert and an extrovert accountant?”
Me: “You’ve got me”
Dave: “The introverted ones look at their shoes, the extroverts look at my shoes.”
THAT was a GREAT icebreaker … I’m still mad at Dave though.
Here are a few a few icebreakers, some will work better than others for you, many your first reactions may be that’s “corny” but most have worked for me at some point.
• What is the first law you’d pass if you were president for a day?
Balanced Budget Amendment!
• Have you ever traveled somewhere you’d prefer to never go back?
For me that would be Hong Kong, nothing against Hong Kong, it just takes forever to get there.
• What’s the longest family road trip you took as a kid?
That one’s easy too, my elder sister was 11, younger brother 3, I was 8 and we DROVE to Lake Petoskey, MI from NJ.
• What’s your guilty pleasure?
Mine would be red wine and I’ve recently read it’s also a good sunscreen too (write me I’ll send you the article) so I’m feeling a little less guilty. I really can’t pick the expensive ones in a blind taste lineup, so I go with value choices that appeal to my taste. In the winter I’ll occasionally substitute a couple of fingers of single malt, I like Balvenie Doublewood. A couple is three right?
• What’s the first movie you saw in a theater? “Favorite” or “made you cry” could easily be substituted.
For me one movie answers two of those questions, first and made me cry, “West Side Story”, Colony Theater, Livingston, NJ, I was 8 or 9, kids ticket price was $.50 or $1.00. ”Rudy” wells me up with tears as well, every time, and it’s not even a sad movie. I have many favorites, it’s tough to pick just one.
• Who’s the most famous person you ever met?
If shaking hands only counts I met then President Clinton at the Washington Press Photographer’s Dinner in ’94 or ’95. Security was as tight as I’ve ever experienced. I got the pat down because the studs/buttons of my tux set off the metal detector. The most famous person I engaged in conversation was Willie Mays who I sat next to on a flight from LA to NY. I’m a sports fan, that was pretty special for me. When I worked for Paramount Pictures I met quite a few stars, Ron Howard was the most down to earth, he actually is Opie.
• What was the best advice your parents gave you?
Treat others as you would like to be treated.
• If they made a movie about your life, what actor would play you?
Much as I would like to think Richard Gere, Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp would all covet the role, I think Ed Harris.
• What’s your unofficial title in your family?
I don’t know that I have one and I’m afraid to ask. OK?
• What’s the worst weather you’ve ever experienced?
We were starting up an office in Minot, North Dakota. Minot (pronounced my not) had a very committed business development effort, their motto “Why not Minot?” -49 F, windchill -70F. The answer to their motto “Freezin’s the Reason”. The runner up, right in our firm’s headquarters backyard in Scottsdale, Arizona, golf at The Boulders, +117F. The young lady driving the refreshment cart promised she’d come by often …. I really don’t ever want to hear “but it’s a dry heat” ever again. So my extreme temperature range is 166 degrees, what’s yours?
• What’s the most expensive piece of clothing you ever bought?
I’ve never tried this one, I don’t feel comfortable. But I can tell you this, a few years back I had some time to kill and I wandered into the men’s shoe department at Bergdorf’s and was eyeballing a pair of crocodile shoes, flipped them over, $9,000. Are you kidding me 9 grand? My first car was $1,500. The salesman asked me if I needed help. I asked him if they ever have any 90% off sales. He didn’t think that was funny and $900 would still be more than I’ve ever paid for a pair of shoes.
• What three people, dead or alive, would you like to join you at a dinner for four?
Mom, Dad and my youngest brother.
• What’s your least favorite food?
Try them and blame me if they don’t work and we’ll try some others.
Oh, by the way, I don’t know how much a polar bear weighs either but sometimes it’s enough to break the ice.
PS – I don’t know why the polar bear above has a blue tongue either.