Networking = Making Conversations with Strangers, YIKES!
Think back to a social gathering you recently attended. There are certain guests who seemed to know almost everyone in the room, moving from group to group with great ease, leaving no hand unshaken. Other guests, meanwhile, stood either alone, with just one other person or small group for most of the night, wary of their surroundings and looking eager to go home.
Which type would you expect to accomplish more in his or her career? Why? The ability to relate well with others and initiate conversation is a sign of a person’s mastery of the art of networking.
Networking with other businesses not only provide a way to introduce your product/service to others, but you can build relationships that can help provide referrals, business advice, an interchange of ideas and expertise as well as new friendships. But successful networking can only be accomplished by meaningful conversations. Feeling overwhelmed?
Here’s a few tips to improve your conversations when networking:
- Introduce yourself. Very simple but we should start with the basics. Take a deep breath, smile and look the person in their eyes and say, “Hi my name is — from [company name]. What is your name and your company?”
- Ask them a question. Best way to start a conversation is to show interest in them. Ask about their company, the product or service, how long have they been in business, who their target audience is, where they are from, etc.
- Listen to their answer. The question is the spark, their answer is the fuel. Their comments will direct where to take the conversation next, ask more questions or tell them how your own company’s services can benefit them or their customers.
- Give them your undivided attention. We’ve all had conversations with people who rudely look around the room for the next best contact while you’re still talking. Make a successful first impression by giving them your full attention.
- Compliment them sincerely. “I like your logo (or business card), etc” or “What a great business idea,” are great ways to keep the person’s attention and put them at ease.
- Find common ground. When they have finished telling them about themselves, or their company, break in with introducing what you do / sell / provide by highlighting mutual interests and experiences. “Like yourself, I run my own business ….” or “Like you, I’ve seen great success with my business by ….” Use your commonalities as business owners as a springboard to offer your short elevator pitch.
- Show interest by body language. Smile, gesture while you speak, nod occasionally while listening and appear relaxed (even if you’re not). Avoid crossing your arms, standing rigidly or again, roaming your eyes around the room.
- Be personable. Just because you’re at a business event, doesn’t mean you should keep your conversations strictly business. The conversation can be enhanced by talking about topics that will build likeability and trust. Local events, sports, weather, arts, culture, travel or positive comments about the event itself can begin to build a relationship with the person that will last and be memorable. Just avoid sensitive subjects (religion, politics, sarcasm or off-color jokes) as not to offend.
- Bring others into the conversation. If the conversation begins to wane, find someone else to join in, especially if its someone you know. This can enliven the conversation, encourage more networking and let someone else help carry the ball.
- Exit the conversation graciously. When you’re ready to move on, wrap it up with “It was a pleasure talking to you.” Hand them your business card and make plans to call, meet, or contact them later.
Practice makes perfect but mastering the art of networking through good conversation skills will offer many rewards. The more contacts you make, the more opportunities to grow your business but you may be surprised that you will develop lasting friendships and successful partnerships. I sure have!