Recently, New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission launched an official cab-share program to take commuters from their uptown residences to midtown offices. Riders meet at specified group pick-up points and for a $3-4 flat rate, a fraction of what they'd pay as a single rider, they can avoid jockeying for a hard-to-find morning ride in the middle of Columbus Avenue. The program has turned out to be a great networking tool; already both friendships and business relationships have been struck.
This development in more civilized urban commuting reminds us that you never know when you might be sitting next to someone in a cab, on an airplane, or at Starbucks who can turn out to be instrumental in your career. Will you know how to take advantage of the opportunity when it comes?
Here's are some key tools for impromptu public networking:
A friendly smile, a polite greeting and relaxed body language all show that you're open to interacting.
Watch for cues that signal whether a person is open to a casual conversation. If she pulls out an iPod or seems way too engrossed in a newspaper or book, she's giving you the signal that she's not interested in conversing. Don't take it personally; perhaps they're preoccupied or just need a quiet moment before they start their day. Respect their space and don't try to force things.
3. A curious mind.
If and when the conversation does get beyond the initial pleasantries, it's easiest to draw people out by asking questions and getting them to talk about themselves. But be careful that you don't come across like an FBI interrogator. Absorb what they're saying and let them finish their thoughts before you ask the next question.
4. Elevator pitch.
You want to be responsive to their questions as well. In particular, be ready for that basic question that can also be the most tricky: "What do you do?" If you're unemployed, focus on the future without going into a long explanation of your past. Say something like, "I have a background as a systems analyst and am looking for my next position at a technology firm."
5. Business cards.
If you had a pleasant conversation with someone, exchange business cards as an invitation to keep the door open for future contact.