Some of us would rather stick needles in our eyes than attend networking events. So, we either stay home, or we go because we know we SHOULD go—just like we know we SHOULD eat brussels sprouts and turnips. After all, these events are supposed to help us get hired, promoted, or bring revenue into your business.
Once there, maybe you awkwardly nurse a drink or hang out by the food table, eating more than you should out of sheer nervousness. Maybe you keep looking at your watch, wishing it were time to go so you can turn on Netflix--instead of trying to make conversation with strangers.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone! Many people find these events to be excruciating.
But you don’t need to suffer unnecessarily. Some great resources can help you manage and even (gasp!) enjoy these events. One of my favorites is Debra Fine’s, "The Fine Art of Small Talk," available both in print and recorded versions. Two other good works are “How to Work a Room” by Susan Roane and “How to Talk to Anyone” by Liel Lowndes.
Here are a few things you can do to make these better:
Plan in advance so you’ll have three or more topics to initiate conversations and rekindle them when uncomfortable silences occur. Topics might include: books, news items, current events, films and TV shows, community events, and so on. Of course, it is generally a good idea to avoid politics and religion, especially these days when politics has become so toxic.
People love to talk about themselves, so ask questions to draw them out. Here are some phrases to help develop truly memorable conversations:
Asking a number of yes or no questions can leave people thinking you’re interrogating them. Maybe you’re an undercover cop?
Do you live here in New York?
What company do you work for?
Do you read the Wall Street Journal?
Do you have kids?
What’s your sign?
Open ended questions are more likely to get people talking.
What made you move to Chicago?
How did you get started in your field?
What do you see as the biggest obstacles to success in your industry?
Tell me about you kids.
Build on “free information” others give us by way of their appearance, words, and behavior. Take advantage of this free information to start great conversations.
Many times, people tell us things that provide an opening to find out about them:
Ask questions about this free information to develop conversations:
· What were you doing in Angola?
Suppose you’re in Minneapolis in the dead of winter. It’s fifteen below zero, and you run into someone who’s got a beautiful tan. Chances are they’ve recently taken an interesting trip—or maybe they’ve found a great tanning facility. Ask them about it.
At one recent networking event, a man had a cast on his leg. When I asked what happened, he said it was a skiing accident. This helped everyone in the room to get to know him better and generated some good-natured ribbing that got everyone laughing.
You might also ask a woman wearing a distinctive piece of jewelry where it came from.
When you encounter a man whose accent isn’t local, you might ask why he came to the USA or what part of the country he is from.
If you notice a woman is left handed, you could ask what issues being a lefty presents.
Suppose you encounter someone wearing a shirt with the logo of a college or professional sports team. You might ask who is their favorite player or when they attended their first game.
You might ask about the event you’re attending or the place of an encounter.
At a seminar: What led you to sign up for this seminar?
At a meeting of an association: How did you come to choose this field?
At a college reunion: Who was your most memorable professor?
At Joe’s birthday party or wedding: How do you know Joe (or Joe’s bride)?
Be sure to keep questions with acquaintances more general to avoid making others feel uncomfortable.
If you see Rhonda once or twice a year, don’t ask, “How is that great job at Grainger going?” She may have been demoted or fired since you last saw her. Instead, ask, “How’s work going?” That way, she can tell you whatever she wants.
Similarly, don’t ask David, “How’s that gorgeous wife of yours? Where is she? I haven’t seen her.” Maybe she left him. You’re just an acquaintance. He doesn’t want to discuss marital trauma with you. So instead, ask something like, “What’s new with the family?” Again, this gives David the chance to share whatever he wants, without having to delve into painful issues.
Learn and use these powerful techniques—and many more—to turn awful networking events into enjoyable ones that can help you create relationships that can last for years.
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