What happens if there is somebody you want to meet, and you have absolutely no connection with them? How do you approach them and make the critical first move in meeting them?

Common sense and basic communication skills tell you the first thing you should do is seek out something you two have in common, something you can both initially bond over and continue to discuss. Even if you don’t know anything about the person, you can easily find common ground you share.

As luck has it, you already have a connection with everybody in the world, you just haven’t realized it yet. It’s something that everyone has in common: failure. Failures and learning lessons are the one life event that has been universally experienced, and thus, can be your link to conversing with complete strangers.

So, how do you go about capitalizing on that connection? Here’s an example of how an encounter could play out using this technique.

The first step is to approach the person and comment on something you both observed or experienced. For instance, if you are at a business meeting and see somebody you want to meet, approach them during a break and ask something innocent, such as “So, did you understand ______?” (Fill in the blank with some aspect of the meeting.) The idea is to ask an open-ended question and get a response from them.

After they’ve responded, keep them engaged by casually bringing up one of your failure stories. Here’s an example of how the exchange could go. (Note: The keys to this conversation starter are to speak casually and let everything flow. This isn’t a script. Your approach should match your personality and the conditions of the situation.)

  • You: “So were you able to grasp everything that last speaker went over?”
  • Them: “For the most part, yeah.”  (If they continue the conversation, great. But if not, here’s where you step back in.)
  • You: “There were a few things I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. But I can’t fault the speaker. I once gave a presentation that I thought would resonate with the audience, but I ended up losing them early on because I spent too much time answering one person’s question, which went way off topic into an area I wasn’t familiar enough with. It was a good life lesson though. Now I make a conscious effort to stick to my outline, even if it means politely corralling questions back towards the subject matter.”

This is the point where you wait for their response. What they say next is your opportunity to connect with them. The worst thing they could do is not say anything and walk away. Very few people are going to do that. Most people are going to ask a question, or give some other reaction to your story. And that allows you to continue the conversation.

So go ahead and break the ice, and then don’t be afraid to reveal a past learning experience. The person you are speaking might be a little surprised by your story, but they will also find you genuine and open. And you never know – they could end up becoming the most influential person in your network.