Art of the Approach

The 3 Second Rule

Borrowed from Game theory, this point resonated with me when I first read about it, and all other tactics stem from this one. Think of it as the 80% from the 80/20 rule.

When you see somebody you want to speak with, start a conversation within 3 seconds. This may sound simplistic but it is a powerful tool for overcoming your internal critic and getting over that first hurdle.

Now obviously you aren’t going to bust in on an existing conversation to fulfil this rule, but you can certainly move in closer and make eye contact to signal your wish to talk.

3 seconds doesn’t give you a lot of time to plan what you are going to say but it doesn’t give you enough time to second guess yourself either. Don’t know what to say?  When in doubt just stick to the basics.

“Hi, my name is…”

With that said, chances are that in any encounter you have both a need and something to offer. So it doesn’t hurt to have something specific to say in advance.

The Opener

Sometimes known as the elevator pitch or the 10 second interview, your opener is short summary of who you are, what you need and what you have to offer.

Taking some time beforehand to figure out your personal specifics will give you a position to fall back on if you start to blank during conversation. Your opener needs to be short, succinct and to the point, while following the ABCs of effective writing. It should not be a ‘pitch’ however, even if selling is your end game. All transactions are based on relationships and impressions so focus on making every interaction count, no matter how brief it may be.

Some questions to help develop your opener:

Besides my job title, what work do I do the most of on a day to day basis?

Can I define my product/service/skills/needs in a single sentence?

What sets my brand apart? What is my Unique Selling Proposition?

How, Not What

Having worked out What to say, now you need to forget all that and focus on How you say it!

Counter intuitive? Maybe, but remember that 90% of communication is non-verbal.  It won’t matter how polished your opener is if you pair it with a limp handshake and shifty eyes.

While some people are naturally charismatic, the thing to remember is that they appear that way because they exhibit certain traights. These traits can be taught and learned like any other skill, and a large event such as a conference is a great place to practice developing these skills. This post is about the Approach so won’t go into full detail, but here are the bullet point items to focus on:

Eye Contact

Maintain good eye contact through the conversation and don’t look over the persons shoulder. It smacks of social climbing and is incredibly rude.


Your handshake tells a lot about you and will leave an impression that will be hard to change. Here are some tips to make it a good one.

Body Language

Square your shoulders to the person you are speaking with to show where your focus is. Stand up straight and don’t fidgit.


Saving the most important for last! My outlook is that at heart everyone I meet is a decent person that is open to making a connection. Your smile facilitates this and shows your intent. They are also more likely to respond in kind.

Your 3 Second Mantra

Another technique that can help you quickly get into game mode is to develop a mantra that you say to yourself during the 3 seconds between seeing the person and talking to the person.

Even though I’m getting older I still go to the skate park when I can, to ride the bowls.  Because I don’t get to do it all the time there is still a feeling of nervousness when at the top getting ready to drop in.  Think of it like standing on a high diving board looking down.  If you give yourself too much time to think about it you might talk yourself into climbing back down the ladder rather then jumping.

So now when I’m ready to drop in I say to myself “Stomp It!”  I use this because you really need to stomp down on the front of your board to make sure you go in clean.  It really works and now I use the same phrase anytime I need a similar push to commit.

Choose something that resonates with you and that will give you a mental boost.  This confidence carries over physically as well and it shows.

Who Knows Where it Will Lead?

Treat every conversation and new person you meet as important, because they are. Everyone deserves your respect and attention, especially if you have approached them or if they are using their time to share something with you. You never know where a conversation will go or what it may lead to.

In the line for this mornings flight I met a CEO who was flying with a local carrier only because its not worth flashing up the company jet for a short flight.  What did we talk about?  Airline points and our favorite luggage!  Nothing earth shattering, just a pleasant conversation.

I’ve also met people that look very unassuming but through the course of conversation have gained something of real value.  But you will never know what you will find unless you first start the conversation.  Like Wayne Gretzky says:

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”


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