People dread networking because the events can feel like the business equivalent of a “meat market” style night club where attendees replace the cheesy “how you doing? (insert hopeful wink)” with a “What do you do? (insert fake – wait for my turn to talk – smile)”.
You can make networking more meaningful and effective by aiming for quality of conversation over number of business cards collected. To do this, simply shift your full focus to other person’s needs. It might sound counterintuitive, but by letting go of your agenda and actively listening to the other person, you will establish rapport more quickly and in doing so, leave the individual with a positive impression. The trick is learning to let go of (at least temporarily) your desired outcome.
One way to accomplish this – which is particularly effective for both type As and introverts, both of whom typically shy away from “unproductive” small talk, is to make it a goal-oriented game. For example, if attending an hour-long networking event, set a goal to talk to five people long enough to do the following:
- Learn the Basics: What they do professionally
- Play Reporter: Express interest by digging into the why – why they got into the profession, why it’s important to them, why they came to the event, and so on.
- Be a Connector: Ask if there is specific help they are looking for: an introduction to someone, a job lead, a great low cost computer whiz who can help them with their web site. The topic doesn’t matter as much as you asking. You may not be able to help on the spot, but sometimes you can. In those cases do so, and you’ll earn a new fan. If not, promise to keep an eye out… and honestly do so.
- Play Escape Artist: Briefly mention what you do and why you are there. As a way of closing, express a desire to continue the conversation, then allow them to proceed with their purpose i.e. network with others. If they can help you, they’ll say so. If not, they’ll appreciate the tactful exit and walk away with a good impression of you.
When you use this technique you get to be yourself and avoid the feeling of “cheapness” that can sometimes infiltrate the sensibilities of those new to networking. Best of all you leave your conversation counterparts wanting more which can lead to a more meaningful, mutually beneficial follow-up.
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