Do you dread networking events? Wonder about what to say? Do you find there is something uncomfortable or possibly distasteful about the seemingly compulsory exchange of business cards? If so then you probably value sincerity and professionalism. Too often networking is reduced to a numbers game of how many business cards you can pass out in an hour. If you are looking for a different approach, one more in alignment with your own professional values, then read on.
The introvert advantage:
Introverts have the advantage. You don’t have to grandstand, shake fifty hands and talk about yourself. Instead, the name of the game is to develop new meaningful relationships. The best way to do that is to learn about what is really important to the people you are meeting and to discover ways that you can help. You are likely a much better listener than your extroverted colleague who can happily spend an entire evening talking your ear off about his latest pursuits.
A word about helping:
Help in this context isn’t about selling your services. It is about finding ways that you can assist the people that you meet. Can you send them an article with useful information? Can you connect them with someone who can lend them a hand? Can you offer them a valuable recommendation?
Ask don’t tell:
To learn about the people you are meeting and discover how you can be of assistance, ask a few well thought-out questions and listen to the answers. I call this the “ask don’t tell” approach. How, what, where and why questions invite longer and more detailed answers. Prepare a few questions ahead of time. Here are some to try out:
- What brings you to this event today?
- What have you enjoyed most about the conference so far?
- What’s new and exciting with your business these days?
- What do you enjoy most about your work?
- What are the biggest challenges?
Ask don’t tell is a valuable approach not just for networking events but for your interactions with friends, colleagues, staff members, and clients, as well. If you don’t like talking about yourself then instead become one of the best listeners around.
To ask great questions focus on what’s most important to people:
- Relationships – What are the most important relationships in this person’s life?
- Occupation – What is their occupation? What do they like/dislike about it? What is most exciting about their work? What is most challenging?
- Activities – What activities is the person involved in personally and professionally? What professional or community associations do they contribute to?
- Drive – What motivates this person? What are their personal and professional goals?
Once you ask your question the next step is to listen. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that listening is a passive activity. As long as you are asking questions and listening to the answers you are in control of the conversation and an active participant. Here are five quick active listening tips to let your conversation partner know that they have your full attention.
- Focus your gaze on the person speaking. There’s nothing worse then having a conversation partner scan the room for better options!
- Nod your head from time to time.
- Paraphrase what you have just heard to indicate your understanding: “It sounds like staffing is the biggest challenge…”
- Ask additional questions to learn more about the others thoughts and ideas, clarify meaning, or to learn more:
- “Please tell me more about…”
- “What happened after…?”
- “What do you think are your best options?”
- Read up on active listening skills. Here`s a link to a valuable short article on active listening: http://www.personadev.com/2008/02/09/10-tips-to-be-a-better-listener/ Or download the free seminar from the University of California on Empathic Listening Skills: http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/7article/article40.htm
Closing a conversation:
A conversation may continue for as long as you like. Focus on meeting just a few people and engaging in some interesting dialogue. If you are most comfortable with one-on-one exchanges then start up discussions with the people who are on their own at an event.
To end the conversation address the person by name, make reference to what you learned, and exchange business cards:
“Eliza, I have really enjoyed speaking with you today. Thanks for telling me about your work at the bank. May I have your business card so that I can email you that article?”
At networking events people are naturally going to circulate around the room. There is no need to give a reason for ending the discussion.
Remember to be honest. If you end a conversation by saying you are going to get a drink or more food, then do so. Being caught in a lie in the first fifteen minutes of meeting someone doesn’t make a great impression.
Relationships develop over time. Finding the opening for meaningful follow-up is the crucial first step. The ask don’t tell approach allows you to uncover meaningful reasons for staying in touch. Sometimes you will find the next step is simply to continue the conversation over lunch or coffee. Other times it is to send an email or to introduce the person to someone you know. Uncovering the follow-up allows you to continue building the relationship with people who you are interested in getting to know.
Top ten tips for the introverts approach to networking:
- Prepare. Put your analytic skills to work, and take just a few minutes to prepare. Why are you attending the event? What goal/s do you have for the event? What are three good questions you can ask to get the conversation started? How would you answer those questions yourself? Practice your approach for ending a conversation and moving on.
- Check that you have your business cards with you.
- Arrive a few minutes late so that the event is already underway.
- Begin by scanning the room and getting a beverage to give you a chance to relax.
- If you don’t know anyone at the event, find the wall flowers –- the people like you who are standing alone. Introduce yourself and ask one of your prepared questions.
- Listen about 80% of the time.
- Keep your attention on the person you are speaking with. If you want to scan the room for people you know then do so when you are between conversations.
- Focus on uncovering at least one meaningful follow-up opportunity.
- Don’t be among the last to leave an event. Always leave a little early.
- Get organized. Take notes. Jot down important information about the person you have met on his/her business card and store the information in a contact management system.
“The number one skill for success in the twenty first century is the ability to talk to other people. If we don't connect with others, there is really no next step: no referrals, no job offers, no promotions, no alliances. … The only goal of your initial interaction is to have the next interaction. Period."
Joanne Black, No More Cold Calling