OK, so you’ve made it to the networking event. Now what? For many, it can be daunting to approach complete strangers – especially when you’re a financial advisor and when everyone becomes guarded when you mention what you do. There’s no sure thing when meeting new people because everyone is so different, and we all tend to have our own agendas.

What is networking?

Networking is all about meeting people, getting to know them, and potentially helping them. That’s it! When looking to “work the room,” always refer back to the most successful definition of networking: learning about and helping others. When your objective is to learn something about other people – or, even better, your target market – you can’t lose. Make it your objection to look into their culture, trends related to their profile, upcoming conferences they might benefit from, information on products that might help them, articles and publications related to their experience, and further contacts from whom they benefit. Helping someone in your target market is even better. Givers always gain, and favors get returned, especially when the time comes to ask for them. Remember, you’re looking to start a relationship. Choose your attitude before arriving at the meeting, be genuine, and have fun.

What to ask

Repeat after me: It’s all about them. Confidently introduce yourself and ask a series of general questions to learn more about your contact’s work, goals, and initiatives. Here are some of my favorite questions to ask people to break the ice and, more importantly, to get to know them.

  • “How did you learn of this meeting?” (If it’s not obvious)
  • “‘Have you been here before?” If yes, “What brought you back?”
  • “Do you know a lot of people here?”
  • “What kind of work do you do?” (Again, if it’s not obvious)
  • “What company do you work for?”
  • “How long have you been at it?”
  • “Do you like what you do?”
  • “What is it about your work you like most? Least?”
  • “What are you looking for here?”
  • “‘Do you have a target market?”
  • “How do you market your business?”
  • “What does a perfect prospect look like for you? Why?”
  • “What do you do for fun?” (Sports, kids, vacation, hobbies, etc.)
  • “What can I do to help you?” (If I like them!)

That’s my short list, in no short order – and no particular order. I pick and choose as appropriate and as the conversation flows. Notice how it’s all about them? If you develop a good connection or the person you meet is any kind of networker, they should be asking you the same questions right back. Remember, this will almost always begin as a superficial conversation. If there is a connection, then great; if not, that’s fine, too. After a few minutes, just say, “It was nice to meet you. Let me know if I can help you with anything at the event today; otherwise, good luck, and I hope to see you soon.” And that’s it. Never be rude, off-putting, or curt with anyone. Keep in mind that most people (even financial advisors) are not very good at talking to strangers.

What to do next

If you build a good connection and you have a collaborative conversation, briefly offer an overview of what you do and how you help others (if they ask you). For example, “I’m a seminar leader, speaker, and consultant focused on helping those in financial services create more business through networking.” Hopefully, they’ll ask questions that are as good as yours.

If you build a good connection and think you can help one another, exchange cards, commit to following up, put some notes on the back of the business card you collected, shake hands, and say your goodbyes. If you’re really brave, ask for an introduction to someone they know at the event who you want to know, or offer to do the same. Believe it or not, all this should take place in no more than eight minutes (without looking at your watch).

What upcoming event will you attend to try this approach and practice your networking? Grab your calendar, go to Google, press the buttons, and schedule it now.

Michael Goldberg is a speaker, consultant, author, and the founder of Building Blocks Consulting. His book, “Knock-Out Networking! More Prospects, More Referrals, More Business!” was published in March. For more information or to subscribe to Michael’s free blog, The Building Blocks to Success, please visit www.TheBuildingBlockstoSuccess.com or www.BuildingBlocksConsulting.com.