meaningful work podcast

Episode 6: Talking to Strangers

Apr 15, 2023 | Podcast

Does talking to strangers make you nervous? Does the thought of networking make you itchy? Getting over yourself and getting “out there” is not just awesome for growing your business, it’s also an invaluable life skill. After all, life is long and potentially dull. Friends get old and boring.

We need to introduce ourselves to strangers if we’re to be an active participant in life!

What you’ll learn:

  • The importance of your attitude! What we get wrong, and how to shift our perspective
  • Etiquette in talking with strangers
  • What not to do
  • Questions to consider

Conversation highlights

3:45: How Brook introduced herself to a stranger and kicked off her career in training.
9:30: The etiquette of introducing yourself to strangers.
10:06: Exactly what to say when introducing yourself to strangers, via email, social media or phone.
14.30: A win/lose proposal
16:35: “Don’ts” of meeting strangers
19.06: Questions for you to consider, on relationship building
19.35: Cynicism and elaborate stories


Welcome to Meaningful Work for a Markable Life. I’m your host Brook McCarthy and I’m a business coach, trainer and speaker living and working on the unceded lands of the Camaragal people here in Sydney, Australia.

In this podcast, we explore the paradoxes inherent in working for love and money, magnifying your impact and doing work you feel born to do. We explore the intersections of the meanings we bring to work and the meanings we derive from work. Let’s dive in.

Hello, this is Brook McCarthy and welcome to Meaningful Work, Remarkable Life. I am really excited about today’s topic. And I mean that most sincerely, I know that podcast hosts tend to say that: I’m so excited about this and I’m so excited about that. But genuinely, this is a topic that I feel more and more passionate about. The more years that pass. And that is how to talk to strangers, how to introduce yourself to strangers, how to ask people for favors, whether they are people that you know, whether they are people that are new to you, and how to build and keep up with relationships, which is a bloody massive topic. So we’re probably not going to be able to kind of thoroughly comprehensively cover everything today. But it is a topic very close to my heart because it’s not just for business owners, it’s not just for professional networking, it is for life.

These are life skills that I believe not nearly enough people know about, not nearly enough people prioritize. And the flip side of not developing these skills and not having these skills is you end up at some age, realizing that you have next to no friends, or perhaps worse, you turn around and realize actually I have nothing in common with my friends and hanging out with them makes me feel even more lonely and alone.

So I want to start with a story, which is fitting, because this season, this first season of the pod is all about storytelling, but I want to tell this story of circa 2012. It could have been 2011 I can’t recall exactly. But I was at a yoga class in Sydney or rather I was queuing to pay for a yoga class here in Sydney. And I recognized the yoga teacher that was taking the class and I recognize him because he has a missing eye which I knew from articles that I’d read that he’d lost this eye in a surfing accident and he is a keen surfer and an international yoga teacher I’m talking about Mark Bredner.

And he was somebody that at the time I was like, Oh, absolutely yes I need to introduce myself to him, because at the time I was doing marketing for yoga teachers and he was a well known well regarded yoga teacher here in Sydney. So I you know, board myself up, gave myself a little talk. And when I got to the front of the queue I introduced myself full name, thank you very much. I told him what I did. And at the time it was marketing for yoga teachers, it wasn’t training for yoga teachers but I told him what I did, and he immediately said, Oh, are you interested in talking to my yoga teacher trainees because I’m running this course you see. And so, you know, what do you think, and I had never done group training before I had done a little one to one training and in the past many many months ago, but I’ve not done group training and I just said yes I thought, okay yeah I could do that yep sure why not.

So that was my very first entry into training and into the next stage in my career. So, what we’re going to talk about today I’ve got a little plan I’ve got a little outline that is firstly your attitude, massive, massive massive massive secondly, etiquette, which is a huge, huge evolving, you know base and I think it’s something that, again, we don’t talk about nearly enough, we don’t think about nearly enough. We don’t prioritize nearly enough. And then the third thing we’re going to talk about is what not to do and then finally I’m going to leave you with some questions to tuck into your brain and marinate on.

So, what is your attitude, and this is absolutely critical for what you do and don’t do in business, and when it comes to introducing yourself to strangers to talking to strangers to perhaps pitching yourself to strangers for business owners, this is akin to, you know, filing a case of doing broken glass or sticking needles in your eyes. Most people would rather do anything but. Now of course some people love it which is great welcome lovely to have you. I’m Brook McCarthy nice to meet you.

Please reach out and say hello in the DMs. But for many many many of my clients they would, you know, they would rather do anything but. And there is this attitude in marketing, which perhaps is being perpetuated by marketers I don’t know that we just have to kind of keep putting our stuff on the internet we’d have to keep kind of marketing our stuff, marketing ourselves, and then people will find us. And that’s true to an extent, absolutely. But the quickest shortest most direct easy way of getting on somebody’s radar is to introduce yourself. And you know for a lot of people who are marketing themselves on the internet. Once they start getting engagement so let’s take social media as an example let’s, let’s talk about Instagram for a moment.

The business owner is posting regularly on Instagram finally people start engaging and they start talking to them. And then the business owner doesn’t know what to do and I know this because I do this to business owners I you know I I reach out to people. In one instance I actually had a phone call I think I instigated it I’m sure I was the instigator. And we had a phone call and we seem to get on really well and then the person just kind of ghosted me. And I was like that is weird, like, why do the person keep what does this person keep ignoring me I don’t understand.

So, the attitude can be your attitude is absolutely critical. And your pride is costing you cash, your perfectionism is costing you information and your ego is costing you insights. So thinking that everybody knows who you are, and they know what you do and they’re going to just reach out to you when they’re ready is, I would suggest, misinformed. And if it’s not misinformed, then certainly it’s not the full story it’s not the complete picture.

So if, even if you don’t want to pitch for work, you don’t want to pitch for new clients you have more than enough clients. Let’s pretend you want to understand something you have very specific question or conundrum, and somebody you found on the internet probably has what you need. And your perfectionism and your pride is stopping you from introducing yourself to them and starting that conversation. Yeah. So check your attitude, and I’m going to talk a little bit more about this in a moment.

But I want to move on to etiquette, because etiquette is massive, and there’s so many people that do such a crap house job of etiquette my goodness is a loss of that is for sure and yes etiquette changes as culture subcultures change as time passes etiquette changes. But there are some things that I think stay the same, regardless of what year or decade it is. So number one, when you are introducing yourself to a stranger let’s pretend it’s on LinkedIn, or perhaps it’s on Instagram DMS, or perhaps it’s in a comment on social media on on a post a public comment. Or maybe it’s via email, or gosh, golly gosh, it could even be over the phone, you remember the telephone the way that we talk into the phone and people talk back. You want to keep it short. And that’s the number one biggest mistake. That very first outreach that they make they create an essay they write an essay and my clients are all all the time, send something to me to review and they’re like what do you think of this and I’m like too long too long slash slash burn burn keep it short short short. Really short.

So depending on the channel, you know, it could be quite even shorter again. So if it’s social media it’s probably going to be shorter than an email but even if it’s an email keep it short. Number two, a little bit of humble bragging. So people need to understand who you are, and what makes you relevant to them. So, you may talk about your business experience you could kind of name drop some clients that might be relevant to them.

You could kind of create almost a mini case study in one or two sentences. But you know you do need to kind of talk about the relevance of yourself who are you, nobody knows at this point in time so introduce yourself, don’t call yourself a leader don’t call yourself an expert. I think other people draw that conclusion, but you can certainly, you know, especially if you’ve got 10 plus years experience you can certainly say that. And then the next thing we want to do is we want to be normal. This is a serious point is a serious point. Seriously made, please be normal.

What does that mean, don’t do any weird things like that person I referred to earlier where she started ghosting me after we’ve had a phone conversation. Be normal, be memorable if you can do show some personality. If you don’t have much personality go and acquire some it’s important. You want to stand out in somebody’s inbox, or somebody’s LinkedIn, you know inbox. Do something say something that’s going to kind of stand out in their eyes and it doesn’t have to be over the top, it could just be a quirky turn of phrase. I should also say check the spelling of their name because all day long I’m getting emails.

I’m at brook at brook mccarthy and they managed to stuff it up, they still managed to stuff it up, I’ve spelt my name twice correctly in my email address and then they put an A on the end, don’t do that. It’s really really easy to spell somebody’s name correctly. The next thing is you want to keep it somewhat open ended. So you know oftentimes we kind of close ourself off for possibilities because we’re trying to preempt the future we’re trying to predict the future we think, you know we can do that, and of course we can never do that. So we’re missing things, so keep it a little open ended, and I always do my best to ask a question, so I always ask some kind of a question, even if it’s a seemingly frivolous question. I will always ask a question because of course I’m trying to provoke the person to respond.

I don’t want to kind of say, you know, would you like to meet for coffee because that’s closed, that’s a closed question. I want to say something like, you know, are you open to talking further on this. That’s always better than, you know, would you like to make for coffee because who knows they could hate coffee. And finally follow up really really important. And if you’re somebody who kind of struggles to keep all the things you know going on, then there’s nothing wrong with actually having a spreadsheet, or having a spreadsheet and putting things in your diary immediately as to when you’re going to follow up that’s crucial that’s absolutely critical.

All right, so now we have talked a little bit about etiquette let’s discuss what not to do. Oh my goodness, I have had some caucus over the years but I did have one recently which was yet another example of when Brook should have been a little firmer with the boundaries and embracing the joy of saying, no. So, this person I entertained for 45 minutes. They were putting something to me, which was a win lose proposal so they wanted me to work for free. But not only did they want me to work for free they couldn’t even be bothered, seemingly I don’t know, to tell me what was in it for me. And it was an unequal exchange. And I was deeply disinterested so it needs to be a win win.

It needs to be a win win. And if you want something from somebody you want to answer that question what’s in it for me, all the time, you want to be answering that question what’s in it for me. Yeah. If we want, you know, something from someone. We need to understand what they want, and we need to be able to structure our conversation or at least turn it in that direction to ask people what their top priorities are, you know, what, what is it that they’re motivated by what is it that they want, in the hope that we can help them get it right because that’s part of networking, this is absolutely critical.

You know you want to help people you want to help your network that is how you build a network, so you’re always looking to do people favors you always looking out on their behalf which is another reason why networking is so important because all of a sudden you’ve got an army of people who are all looking out on your behalf to help you get what you want. So don’t talk about yourself and what you’re doing and suck the energy from the room I see this all the time and networking especially when you’re in a group of people.

Some people get very excited maybe they’re spending way too much time by themselves I don’t know, and they just suck all the energy from the room talking about themselves, and they fail to ask a single question of the other person. I see that, and you know I’m privy to that fairly regularly. Don’t ask if you can meet someone and pick their brain. I had an ex boyfriend do that to me the other day and I was reminded us of why he’s an ex boyfriend. It’s not classy. Our brains are expensive our brands are tired, we don’t want anyone to pick them. And no, paying for a beer or paying for coffee doesn’t cut it. And again, back to my earlier point of networking you know once I know you and I like you, like I genuinely like you I’m very happy to have my brain picked over lunch or cocktails or dinner or whatever. But certainly not to a stranger. Certainly that wouldn’t be, you know, the very first thing that you ask.

Don’t ask to meet people face to face, you know we have these things like zoom and Microsoft Teams and email like we don’t need to be meeting face to face it kind of boxes a lot of people in a lot of people insist on it and I find it really rude and presumptuous. You know, I don’t owe anyone a face to face. Don’t ask these kind of close questions and and sometimes the open ended questions are really too vague as well like I, you know, I find it really hard work sometimes when you go to these networking events, and you’re meeting people and they’re, you know, they ask you these big questions and you’re like, oh dude like I think I need, you know, a bit more than two minutes to come up with a great response that I just feel like you’re putting me on the spot, and I feel like a complete. I’ve got a complete blank in my head.

When somebody says, you know, something like so you know what makes you happy or something equally bad. Don’t ask people questions that can be easily answered by Google I see that all day long. It’s so dull, you know, do your own Googling, please. God I sound like a cynical, cynical person which brings me to my next point about cynicism.

So, the questions I want to leave you with today, and especially for the cynics as well, especially for the cynics or the skeptics maybe you’ve been burnt in the past you know maybe you’ve had enough of the brand picking conversations you’ve had enough of the vacuous networking people who just make you feel lonely. And you know you kind of ready to retire almost maybe you want to harbouring a fantasy about being a hermit living in the forest, being left alone and not having to human with others.

The questions I’d like to leave with you with the first one is, when it comes to introducing yourself to strangers when it comes to building your network when it comes to, you know, building relationships with new people or maybe you’ve met a couple of interesting people and you want to kind of cement those relationships further. I’d like to ask you, am I need deep in elaborate stories and this is especially for the cynics and the skeptics shout out to my cynical skeptical friends, of which I have many, you know I have harboured many elaborate stories I have been married to my cynical self married to my skeptical self for many many years before I finally realised what a waste of a good time that was. Am I need deep in elaborate stories because if you are, then it’s likely these stories are untrue. If you’re looking at people on the internet. And you might be, you know, listening to me right now thinking the same, maybe Brooks, you know, drawing all kinds of elaborate conclusions about Brook. If this is you, then it’s likely these stories are untrue and it’s likely these stories are stopping you from having a really good time with a bunch of brand new business buddies that become genuine, genuine hand on heart friends.

Question two. What is your bigger aim. Now it’s totally okay if you’re not really certain of what that is because, you know, there’s many of us in business, who are feeling our way through doing a little bit less of what we don’t want, a little bit less of what we don’t like and a little bit more of what we do like. That’s completely and utterly fine and appropriate. But when it comes to things like, you know, I want to grow my business. I want to speak on stages, I want to write and publish a book, I want to earn X number of dollars per month. I want to grow a group program, whatever it is, whatever your aim is. Yeah. Staying on Instagram posting stories or posting posts and thinking that’s enough. Probably not going to help. Right.

This is a starting point for all your best business decisions and when you’re looking at people on the internet and thinking, wow, they’re having so much fun. I’m just having fun. But let me go and craft an elaborate untrue story about why they’re, you know, all assholes and I’m not. Ask yourself, is this actually useful? Right. Is this true? Is this useful? Is this helpful? Is this constructive thinking? Is it going to get me closer to my goal? No? Okay, great. So, let’s create a story and drop the cynicism and drop that kind of self-protective mechanism and, you know, start a different story. Create a different story. I’ve got a whole group of potential new friends waiting for me. I just haven’t found them yet. That could be a story. That could be a great constructive, helpful story.

Number three, am I making assumptions on behalf of other people? Yes. Yes, you are. We all do this. We do this with people we love and know intimately and we absolutely do this with people that we don’t know at all. We all make assumptions on behalf of other people and 99.9% of these are incorrect.

Number four, am I uncomfortable? This is critical. This is critical. It is really normal for you to be uncomfortable, to feel uncomfortable. Of course you feel uncomfortable when you’re introducing yourself to strangers. I wouldn’t expect anything different. Of course you feel uncomfortable when you’re making new friends. It’s awkward. Yeah, you’ve got to go through that awkward period. You’ve got to go through that awkward period. Kids are making friends in their brand new high school, you know, and it’s awkward for them and it’s uncomfortable, deeply uncomfortable for them. It’s deeply uncomfortable for me too. That’s totally fine. How many times have you felt uncomfortable lately? How many times have you actually not just allowed yourself to feel uncomfortable but pursued opportunities to feel uncomfortable? Great question, Brook. Thank you, Brook.

Number five, am I talking to the cynics and skeptics? Am I surrounded by cynics and skeptics? So I mentioned earlier that a few years back I realised I was giving way too much airtime, way too much precedence to my inner cynic, my inner skeptic. And it took me a little while to realise that I was surrounded by, I was paying way too much attention to the cynical, sceptical people in my world. That there are, you know, always cynical, sceptical people in our world but we do not want these people to be inadvertently influencing our decision to not introduce us off to strangers, to not introduce us off to potential new friends, to not pursue new relationships. Yeah, this is a expensive friend to have. A cynical friend is an expensive friend to have. And I’m not just talking about money here, I’m talking about peace of mind. Yeah.

So I’d love to hear from you about specifically those questions, those five questions at the end but any of this, please reach out to me on Instagram. Instagram is probably the best place. I am at Brook McCarthy, there is no E on Brook at Brook McCarthy. And tell me what you think. Tell me if you’ve enjoyed the episode, tell me your answer to those questions, tell me if it’s provoked any thinking. I would love to hear from you.

Brook McCarthy Business Coach

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We acknowledge the Cammeraygal people, the traditional and ongoing custodians of the lands that Hustle & Heart creates and works on. This lush land is just north of Sydney Harbour Bridge. We also acknowledge the traditional and ongoing custodians of the land, skies and seas where you are, and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. We recognise that these lands were never ceded.

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