For some people, in-person networking is exciting, fulfilling and easy. For others, the word ‘networking’ evokes feelings of dread, anxiety or discomfort.
The fear seems to arise from having to disclose ourselves and concerns about how we might be perceived. Will we ‘do’ networking the ‘right’ way? If we are more introverted, spontaneous conversation with strangers can feel daunting.
Earlier this week I facilitated one of my favourite workshops where participants have an opportunity to map out their developmental network. After the exercise we offered ‘speedy networking’ — six minute conversations with another person, switching partners when the chimes sounded. To facilitate connecting, we provided a conversation template.
This five-step relational approach creates ease and even enjoyment because the focus of the networking conversation is getting to know the other person, being curious and creating authentic connection.
Saying hello, sharing your name and shaking hands is typical. You might include your field of work or your connection to the event/situation where you are meeting the person. At this point, refrain from your elevator pitch. Have the initial connection be about the other person, not you.
Tip: Wear your name tag on your right side so that when you shake hands, your name is easily visible to the other person. If your name tag is on a lanyard, check to make sure it is at the right height. You may need to tie a knot to shorten the lanyard so people don’t have to look at your belly button. Also check occasionally that your name is facing out rather than flipped over to the back of your tag.
Too often conversations begin with elevator pitches. Rather than ask what they ‘do’ find out who they ‘are’ and create connection. Ask curious questions. Be wildly fascinated with getting to know the person. Try one of these questions as a conversation starter.
Let the conversation follow its natural flow. Listen intently. Stay curious. Focus on getting to know the person and how you might help her or him.
“How can I help you?” A simple straight forward question. Often times this open-ended question is sufficient. Or, you might preface your offer to help this way:
To spark the person’s thinking offer a further open ended question.
Relate back to what you learned about the person from the initial part of your conversation.
Make it real. Be you. Listen attentively when the other person is speaking and let your natural curiosity guide you. This is not a sales or career conversation although it may lead to an opportunity for you to reach out regarding your service or product or a career opportunity in the future. The main goal is to create real human to human connection.
If s/he is receptive and interested, ask to exchange contact info. Clarify preferred communication methods. You might find each other on social media in the moment to make future connection easy.
Within a day or two, follow up with the information you offered. Or simply say hello and how great it was to meet the person. Tell her or him what you appreciated about your conversation. Be specific. Make it personal based on what you learned. If it feels appropriate, you might include a link to your website, blog or podcast inviting the person to stay connected to you that way. Pick up on the cues from the other person. Again, don’t make it a sales pitch.
Creating authentic connections and forming meaningful relationships are what matters. Who knows what the future holds? You might become a valued resource, mentor, sounding board, client or best friend to each other. The path to finding out begins with real connection from getting to know each other at a human level. Even within a six minute conversation!
How have you created connection through in-person networking? Please share a story of how an initial networking connection grew into an unexpected meaningful relationship for you.