Reading time: 5 minutes
Suggested music pairing: "Take Five" by Dave Brubeck
A while back, I read something that changed the way I talk to new people at parties.
The advice was simple: “Stop asking ‘So what do you do?’ at parties.”
Simple, yes, but surprisingly difficult to actually pull off. The question has been so ingrained in our lexicon of icebreakers that I find myself saying it before I can even really think about it. It just jumps out.
The arguments for abandoning this question are compelling. For one, parties and social gatherings are often where we go to escape and unwind from work. If you find yourself explaining over and over what it is you do for work, that defeats the whole purpose. Even if you love your work.
It also boils people down to nothing more than their profession. Our society is career-obsessed. So much so that the way we get to know someone new is by asking what their career is.
Finally, it’s just boring and predictable. We all get asked that question so frequently that our answers have become rote. We have a 30-second “elevator” pitch, and it's rehearsed and perfect. It’s boring and doesn’t reveal a thing about who we are.
Why not ask something more interesting? Something your conversational partner has to actually stop and think about?
What’s the most interesting place you’ve ever traveled to?
Been to any good concerts lately?
What’s the best place to eat in your hometown?
What do you do for fun on weekends?
Much like a bad party, the scourge of boring, routine questions has infected our online lives as well. Anywhere you turn online, you’re being asked to subscribe to something (hey, subscribe to this blog!) or fill out something.
They’ve become so routine that they never grab our attention anymore.
Unless you’re creative and clever, like my friend Simon Scriver. Or the brilliant folks at DoSomething.org.
Commanding attention with the right question.
Simon Scriver is just an all around brilliant dude. He’s a quick-witted and a gifted communicator. And he does it all with an Irish accent.
He’s sung on stage with Pavarotti in Hong Kong and has just 14 items left on his bucket list.
Oh, and he’s also a fundraiser for a wonderful organization in Ireland called One in Four.
His personal blog, ChangeFundraising.com, is a wonderful look at the fundraising and charity world that I think is interesting even for those outside of that bubble.
But what I love most about his blog is the subscription form he uses.
Name (alright), email (okay), favorite song right now (oh hey what now? Hmmm, let me think…).
It grabs your attention and makes you pause and think about your response. I actually opened up my Spotify account and looked at the songs I had recently added to try and pick the best possible response.
Aside from the improved experience as a user, it gives Simon a much more personal look at his subscribers. He’s got something to talk about with them should he want to email and get to know them better.
They’re no longer anonymous email addresses that he obsessively collects in a vain effort to have the biggest list possible. They’re people that he gets to know by just that little bit.
Also, he uses my favorite word (“cheeky”) on that form too. Quite cheeky.
Building a better icebreaker.
I’m more than a little obsessed with DoSomething.org.
DoSomething is a nonprofit that connects teens and young adults with cause-based activities that don’t require a car, money, or an adult. They help teens get invested in their communities through action.
They also throw one hell of a party.
DoSomething is headquartered in New York City and they frequently host events at their offices.
Although, “event” isn’t really the best way to describe it. It’s a party.
Photo booths, DJ’s, kegs, disco lights, and dancing.
For their annual meeting, DoSomething mixed things up a bit with their RSVP.
Now, besides being clever and attention grabbing, this question served as a way that DoSomething could combat boring ice breaker questions at their event and get people having meaningful, fun conversations from the get-go.
You see, your “Celeb Crush” was printed onto your name tag:
Not only that, but it’s far more prominent on your badge than your company is.
So you walk in, grab a drink, join a conversation, and people instantly have something to talk to you about. That conversation can spill over to music, movies, hometowns, and more.
Enough with the same old crap.
The quickest way to never be noticed is by doing the same crap everyone else is already doing. And nowhere is that more true than in the blog/marketing world.
Influencer publishes how-to. Everybody reads it. Everybody copies it (usually poorly). Lather, rinse, repeat.
But there are little things you can do on the “must-haves” of your blog that can make it a more memorable and enjoyable experience. These seemingly frivolous things can have a huge impact. I would bet that Simon Scriver probably has a pretty high conversion rate on that subscriber form, but honestly, that part doesn’t even matter.
A question like that is guaranteed to make you more memorable to your audience. How could they not open your next subscription email after reading that?
It makes you human again. It makes your reader human again.
And it certainly makes you the most interesting person at the party.