Written by Ian Gotts
There are flurry of blogs helping newbies and returning offenders survive and thrive at events, and every blog says you should network and make connections. And you should. But how? It’s scary.
Striking up a conversation with a total stranger can be difficult and awkward. You summon up the courage to start a conversation and it doesn’t flow.
Lots. Of. Pregnant. Pauses.
Or you walk into a room and everyone is having a conversation, and it seems like it’s just you on your own. How do you break in?
Below are five practical networking tips to make it easier and help conversations flow better.
Tip #1: Have low expectations.
You are not looking for a life partner, just a few connections that will lead to more connections. Treat every interaction as a “conversation of possibilities.” Go with an open mind, not a targeted sales pitch.
Tip #2: Follow the 3-feet rule.
If you are three feet from someone, get started. Practice. Think of networking as a muscle that gets better with renewed use. There is no shortage of opportunities: standing in lines (you’ll be in plenty of these at events, sitting in sessions, at meal times, on the bus to the hotel, at the coffee stations or bar. Be open, make eye contact, smile.
Tip #3: Ask open questions.
Open questions start conversations and can’t be answered with a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ They begin with who, why, what, where, how, or when. Prepare a few ahead of time. A few examples:
· “What is your favorite session so far?”
· “How did you decide which sessions to go to?”
· “Which parties have you registered for?”
· “What is your role?”
· “Which city are you from?”
· “How did you find a hotel with space?”
Choose your words carefully, as it is easy to ask closed questions: “Is this your first event?” — “Yes” <end>. A better question is, “How many events like this have you been to?”
Tip #4: Pick groups with an odd number of people talking.
At networking events with everyone standing around, it is easier to break into a group where there are an odd number of people. If there is an even number, then everyone is talking to someone else. An odd number means that there is someone who could break off and talk to you. Join the edge of the group but don’t stop the conversation, introduce yourself in a few short words — make an impression.
Tip #5: Find something that you can offer to send them.
Find a reason to start the connection. Email an interesting blog link, a restaurant recommendation, a book summary — but not your sales deck. And do what you said you would because, so few people do. This one simple act will make you stand out. Take a pen so you can write down on their business card what you said you will do.
And finally, stop looking at your phone. It is tempting, but it is hiding, and closes down the opportunities for people to engage you. If you are looking at your phone, you might as well be back in your hotel room.
And now for the fun part: winding down from all the networking and excitement of the last event…