I am a ‘peoples person’…. yep overly excited, positive and love being around people. Funnily enough though, networking is something I struggled with for a long time. See chatting with friends and speaking about something specific I’ve always been good with, I could talk ’til the cows come home but given I am a very factual and structured person, idle conversation and chatter is something I have struggled with. What do we talk about next? What if there is awkward silence? How do I get out of the conversation once we have ran out of things to talk about? Oh and I have a terrible memory for names!!!
Working in the areas that I have worked, I’ve needed to get over this fast. Am I perfect at it and a great networker….. umm no! Have I learnt enough tips to get me through any networking event…. yes.
Here are my 6 simple tips to make those networking events a little less awkward.
Do some homework before you go and be prepared. I always try to get a list of attendees and decide who is on the list that I really want to meet. This might be someone that you have been speaking to on the phone or have heard about through others. Note them down and now you have a purpose to find them at the event. Even better if you can get someone to introduce you. In addition, I set myself a goal to meet a certain number of new people at each function. This might be 2 if your still new at this or maybe it’s 5-10 at bigger longer events. Make sure you give them the respect and attention they deserve and don’t just be determined to hit your goal rushing from one person to the next.
There is nothing more embarrassing for me that introducing myself or being introduced to someone and them saying “we’ve met before”. For me it shows disrespect that they had that little an impact on you that you can’t remember them. Of course this isn’t the case but you don’t want that misconception. To fix this I never say ‘it’s lovely to meet you’ I always go with ‘it’s so lovely to see you’. If ever if doubt, I go with ‘I’m pretty sure we’ve met before.’ If they say no then I go with ‘you look really familiar or I’ve heard so much great stuff about you if feels like I know you’.
This tip came from my husband a long time ago. When you are first told their name say it in your head 3 times straight away. Then try to use their name in conversation as much as you can for the first few minutes. If it is a tough name to pronounce then the first time you say it ask them if you pronounced it correctly. The more times your mind hears it and you actually say it the more chance you have of remembering it. If you know someone else with that name it’s always good to make that connection in your head.
People naturally find it easier to talk about themselves and things they love doing… their ‘y’. Ask lots of great open ended questions to get them talking and try to find what they are passionate about. Once you find that you will have an ongoing connection and an instant relationship or even bond if it happens to be one of your passions. Some nice easy questions to get your started:
Work: so tell me about what you do for a living? How are things with that at the moment? Whats your background story ie what got you to where you are today? Work isn’t a lot of people’s passion so move on from that fast if it isn’t.
Own time: what do you do with your time when you aren’t working? Avoid asking about kids and family unless mentioned as this could be awkward for some. Within this if you listen carefully it should create more questions and give you a hint of their passion. How people choose to spend their own time and money usually relates to their passion.
News: what’s been in the news or tv lately that you could ask them their thoughts or opinions on….. depending on the networking event it could be from the world news, local news, sport, feel good story etc.
Hobbies: this is usually my last resort…. if you haven’t had any luck with above try to suss out their hobbies ie: last or next holiday, are they into movies and what’s their favourite or latest one they have seen, sports, reading, tv programs etc.
Ensure you offer some of your own input along the way so it’s not all take and no give conversation.
Avoid weather, politics and religion for obvious reasons!
Being stuck in the same conversation or with the same person can be a problem and you don’t want to be rude but may not be sure how to move on. Excusing yourself to the bathroom is an obvious one which I tend to avoid. You could go and get another drink and offer to get them one as well. A yes may mean they want to keep talking or no they may be ready to move on too or it gives you a chance to move on. I usually go with more honesty and say ‘it’s been so lovely talking to you and I don’t want to hog you all night so I’m going to move on and keep networking’. If I’m still looking for someone particular that I want to meet I’ll ask them if they know that person and can they introduce me or if they don’t excuse yourself while you go and find them. Always offer to introduce them to others that you know as they may find networking as daunting as you do.
As soon as I leave any event, while their names are still fresh in my mind, I look to connect with them on LinkedIn. This not only cements their name even further for me but it also starts an ongoing relationship rather than a once off meeting. Having these connections and relationships might just make your next networking event a little easier for you both.
While these simple tips make networking that little but easier for me, I’d love to hear your tips as well. I am always envious of fantastic networkers!
Amy has over 15 years’ experience working with businesses and career minded people to achieve outstanding results, ignite passion, develop strengths and use EI to create a clear career path to high performance and success. Working with clients such as WA Police, WA Dept of Education, Rio Tinto and SME’s across Real Estate, Mining, Insurance and Retail, to name a few, Amy has a burning passion and drive to see people reach their full potential, embrace their strengths and find their ‘y’.