What is the hardest part of networking for you? For me, it is walking up to people I’ve never met and trying to spark a conversation. To successfully network, you have to train yourself to step out of your comfort zone.
You can do this by developing a routine you follow to start a conversation. We’ve discussed being prepared and not scared for networking and what to do once you’re there. Next, you should follow these steps to start chatting.
- Find Someone Alone & Involve Others.What is the one thing you don’t want to do at a networking event? Stand by yourself and talk to no one. Nobody wants to be in this position, so if you find yourself doing this – the solution is easy – find someone else that is standing alone and strike up a dialogue.Find comfort in numbers. In a group of three or four people, conversation tends to flow more easily and often, you can rely on someone else to lead the discussion until you get more comfortable.If you are in a group of people and are enjoying your conversation, take a quick look around the room to see if there are individuals that may be standing alone. You wouldn’t want to be in that position, so do them a favor, invite them into your conversation or leave the group and introduce yourself. This individual will be thankful you “saved them” and will be more likely to remember you.Remember all of the ways that we discussed in a previous blog post about how people could use your business cards and how you could use theirs?
Hand out your business cards to anyone who you think you would like to connect with in the future. Make sure you also give a card to anyone who gives you their card. It is also polite to read the card before putting it away. This shows your genuine interest in them and what they do. Make sure to put their business cards in a safe place so you can connect with them later.
- Find a Way to Relate.It’s important for you to have a 30-90 second elevator speech to describe who you are and what you do. It’s even more important to find out more about the person you are talking to. Ask them about themselves and dig deeper into what interests they have.There are many icebreakers and conversation starters you can use to get going, but make sure to keep yourself focused on the person you are talking to and don’t commandeer the entire conversation with your stories. By learning more about the person you are speaking with, you can find better ways to relate to them.If you end up finding that you have something in common – maybe your kids go to the same school or you both love golf – you’ll be able to create a bond that will facilitate conversations at future events.You should use what you learn about them to think of ways to help them accomplish their networking goal. You might also find ways that they can help you accomplish your networking goal.
After your conversation, write down any information about the people you talked to on their business cards. This can help you remember who you spoke with and keep people’s names and information organized in your mind.
- Remain Politically Correct.Remember: networking is not like an interview. You don’t have to worry about staying clear of asking questions about marital status or age, but keep in mind that you should still remain politically correct and don’t ask questions that are too personal. Keep politics, religion, and other touchy subjects out of the conversation unless it is relevant to the networking group.Some examples of what you can ask include:
- What do you do?
- Where do you work?
- How long have you lived in the area?
- Do you know “so and so”?
- Have you visited anywhere interesting lately?
- Are you married? Do you have kids? Do you have dogs?
- Where did you go to school?
- Be Polite.In addition to steering clear of touchy subjects, you also need to remain polite. Here are some tips:
- Say please and thank you. Your parents taught you manners, so use them!
- Compliment people. Tell them they had a good point, or something else that will make them feel good about themselves. More often than not, they will repay the favor and you’ll get a free compliment!
- No arguing. Even if you disagree – sometimes it’s better to keep things to yourself and this is one of those situations. The best solution is to walk away if you don’t want to listen anymore.
- No cursing. Believe it or not there are people who don’t curse like sailors, so keep your dialogue G-Rated.
- Don’t talk down to anyone. If someone asks a question that you think is stupid – don’t answer with a condescending response. Instead try to help them understand the topic better.
- Leave out the sarcasm. It isn’t understood or appreciated by some individuals so try to keep it out of your conversation as much as possible.
- Listen.Huh? Sorry, I wasn’t listening. That isn’t something you want to say when you are trying to make a connection with someone you just met. No matter what is on your mind, make sure you pay attention to the individual you are talking to.Don’t make the mistake of getting so involved with your own thoughts that you forget to listen to theirs. Relax – you’ll remember what you were going to say, and if you don’t, then you’ll think of something else. Trust me.Active listening helps you to remember the details about the new people you’ve met. When you see them again, you’ll want to have a comfortable and sincere conversation, instead of starting over with small talk. Bringing up the things you discovered that you had in common is a great way to start your next conversation.
Following the five steps above can help you have successful conversations with people while at a networking event.
If you missed it, make sure you read Part I and Part II of this blog series:
Also, check out the final section of this blog series:
What are some of the conversation starters that you’ve used while networking?