I fly, a lot. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that I’m some sort of jet-setter. And I am–I’ve been on a plane at least once a month since April 2010. And according to foursquare, I’ve checked in at my local airport over 40 times (which seems a little low actually). When I was a kid, I loved to fly; I’d stay up and watch the movies, I’d sample every part of my meal and I’d stare at the window just imagining the adventure that lay ahead.
Then all of a sudden when I was in college, I realized I could catch up on the one thing during flights that I could never get enough of as an overcommitted and supersocial college student: sleep. So now I’ve become a champion plane sleeper, yet here I am wishing I couldn’t sleep on planes. Why? Because in the hundreds of short-haul and long-haul flights I’ve been on, I’m sure I’ve sat next to some really interesting people but in the interest of sleep, missed out.
So how do you turn your sleep opportunity into a networking opportunity? Try these steps (and I’ll have to do the same next time I travel).
When I get into my seat (window preferably), I usually avoid eye contact with anyone around me, pull out my neck pillow and close my eyes. I’m just screaming, “Talk to me!” right? The first step to possibly starting a conversation is to look open to it. By all means get settled in, but once you’re settled, don’t plug in the headphones and check out, look up, smile and be open.
This means when your seat mate comes in, smile at them and say hi, offer to help if they could use a hand or use a feeler to see if they’re open to talking. A feeler could be something as simple as, “Are you leaving home or going back?”, or, “Do you think it’s going to be an easy flight?”, or maybe it’s a comment on a book they’ve pulled out. This leads me to my next point…
Read the Signals
There are few things worse than being seated next to a chatty Cathy for a 4-hour flight when you don’t want to talk. When you put a feeler out there, look for non-verbal cues in the response. If the person is being short with you, avoids eye contact, or looks irritated, it’s time for you to pull out the neck pillow and doze off yourself.
If they respond to your questions and even ask you some themselves, you have the green light to proceed with the conversation, but keep an eye out for signs that it might be time to stop talking or take a break. (If they start pulling things out of their bag to do, like reading a book, that’s a good time to do the same yourself or say something like, “I’m going to take a quick nap but would you mind nudging me when the drink cart comes?”)
Bon Voyage or the Start of a Connection?
How did the conversation go? If it was terse or felt forced, then chalk it up as good practice for making small talk and meeting new people. Were you both engaged in the conversation and had things to share? Then it could be a great ego boost for successful small talk and even an opening into something bigger. Is there something you can offer to this person? For example, did they mention that their niece goes to your alma mater and has the same major as you?
Maybe you can offer some advice as to what classes were really valuable and which ones should be avoided. Or maybe they took a vacation to a destination that you’re planning on checking out in the near future and have some great recommendations? If something in the conversation lead to the idea of keeping in touch, then do it.
Give them a business card, or find a scrap of paper and exchange emails. A good time to do this is as the plane is taxiing or you’re waiting to deplane. “It was great meeting you! I’d love to keep in touch and ask you about your recommendations for Machu Picchu/I’d be happy to share my experience with your niece who started at U of I. Here’s my contact information. Have a good trip!”
I think my travels might take a different approach from here on out and I hope yours will too!
Sejal is a Recruitment Marketing Project Manager at Intel. She is part of the team that is responsible for Intel’s global employment brand. This team helps connect candidates with Intel and Intel with candidates using channels such as the Jobs at Intel web site, the Life at Intel microsite and other Web 2.0 channels. Sejal specifically manages theJobs at Intel Blog and Intel’s recruitment Facebook strategy. Originally from Toronto, Ontario (yes—a real, breathing Canadian!), Sejal graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with her Bachelor’s in Communications before starting at Intel in 2008. When she’s not working, you’ll find Sejal working at crossing things off of her Bucket List (which includes skydiving, reading 1000 books and traveling the world), eating cupcakes or spending time with family and friends. To learn more about opportunities with Intel, visit intel.com/jobs, follow Intel on Twitter @JobsatIntel or check out the Jobs@Intel blog!