Networking is important for everyone. It doesn't matter how old you are, what you do, or where you live. Some facet of your life involves networking, whether it's going to a stuffy event or just hanging around to be social after a meeting or class.
I'm a borderline extrovert, and people typically assume that being extrovert = I heart networking. Correction: I hate standing in a room with strangers just as much as the most introverted among us. You never outgrow the fear of sitting alone in the high school cafeteria (I still haven't, at least). In fact, I had to attend a networking event earlier this week. Gulp. I had my "Oh shoot! I'm sorry, I can make it after all!" list of excuses ready the whole day :)
However, Lee Warren to the rescue! He's a corporate trainer who moonlights as a magician (I mean, who better to teach you how to present and capture an audience?!). I was lucky enough to recently go to his presentation on networking, and these tips gave me more confidence to face the evening. Here's what he preaches...
- Have personal gravity (I just love the way this sounds, don't you?).
- Are more interested in others than themselves.
- Find something in common. We're all much more similar than different. The words "You too...?!" are a powerful connector. Example: "You played the tuba in high school too? I thought I was the only one! Marching band or orchestra?" (See what I did there? Personal and interesting follow-up question to keep the flow going).
- Ask fun and interesting questions. Think about it this way: "If you ask boring questions, you get boring answers." Most people love to talk about love, money / stability, health, and leisure (but approach leisure with caution: it's the most overused topic in networking).
- Do their homework. Get a newspaper (or read the Skimm) on the day of a networking event and pick a topic from each of the above categories.
Good networkers find something in common. We're all more similar than different.
The words 'You too...!?' can be a powerful connector.
Okay, so you've mentally prepared yourself and done your homework. It's the evening of the event, and you didn't send the organizer your last minute cancellation - good job! Now what?
When you enter the room, start talking to the nearest person standing alone. It helps you build a rhythm and warm up.
Remember people's names: Listen, Comment (you can make up a descriptive phrase or alliteration in your mind - not aloud though!), and Repeat their name aloud.
Create conversation using the tips mentioned above.
Know your elevator pitch: who you are, something memorable about you, and what you want. However, always give something of value before asking for value.
Questions to prompt meaningful conversation:
What do you think about ___?
How do you manage to ___?
What advice would you give about ___? (especially if you're speaking to someone more senior)
How do you feel about ___?
What wouldn't I know about ___?
Other pro tips:
We've all been in situations where we just cannot seem to break free from our new networking friend. A great but polite exit strategy is: "Who are you hoping to meet tonight?" You could provide a meaningful connection for someone else.
Approach a pair of people from the side, but only if they're facing each other at a 45 degree angle. If two people are squarely facing each other, they may be having a private conversation or doing a deal.
Do not check your phone! We all do it - maybe we have pressing business, or maybe (read: most likely) we want to look occupied. Doing this draws your attention down and closes off your body language.
A great but polite exit strategy is: "Who are you hoping to meet tonight?"
You could provide a meaningful connection for someone else.
Admittedly, this is a lot to remember, and practicing them too formulaically, will sound just that: formulaic. But try on what works for you.
If you're wondering how I did this week, the answer is... okay. Not bad, but now I want even more practice! Here's a funny faux pas I made: I brought a guest, who I'm quite comfortable with, so I told her about these new exciting tips I was going to try. I also told her that earlier in the day, I'd emailed them to my internal colleagues who were attending. Like any skilled conversationalist, she inquired, "Well, what are they?" I described the highlights, including the exit strategy. (You know where this is going, right?)
Later in the evening, one of my colleagues talked to us for a few minutes, then I could see that she [my colleague] was surveying the crowd to plot her next move. Then of course, she asked my guest: "Is there anyone else you're hoping to meet tonight?" Ha! Busted.
Although I had a couple other fails that night, these tips have made me think much harder about taking the time to be social among people I don't know. For example, I awarded myself points on Friday for going to the pub after a team building activity. But confession: if I'm being completely honest (which I promised you!), I netted 0 for the day because earlier, I had secluded myself during our lunch break to check emails - very anti-networking. Like I said, I'm ready for more practice...
I'd love to hear. What are your networking tips?