It’s not easy approaching a total stranger and striking up a conversation.
On a street corner, it may be weird. Sometimes.
But, at an event like a cocktail party, golf outing, association meeting, conference, convention, trade show, or product show, the ability to introduce yourself and have a fun, intelligent, and relevant conversation is important. Real important!
Especially if recruiting, writing a case, getting an account, landing a deal, learning about an opportunity, generating a referral, establishing a prospect, or building important business relationships is important to you.
Starting a conversation with strangers (remember, mom told us not to talk to strangers) can definitely be difficult in business settings but it’s much easier if you create the proper context.
A few of these business networking reminders may help:
1. Networking is about learning and helping.
That’s it. Learning about their product, service, industry, profession, market segment, and niche. If you’re sincere, likeable, open, and have a great product or service to offer, the people you meet may become interested in you. Then you can figure out how to help one another. That’s networking!
2. Everyone you meet does not need your product and service.
Just because you think they do doesn’t make it so. And your job is not to convince those you meet at an event that they need your product. Most people don’t like that. Why? Because their focus is promoting and ultimately selling their own product or service. Again, help them and they may help you right back.
3. Ask great opening questions.
About them. About the event. About their company. Prospects. Customers. Clients. Referral sources. Objectives. Experiences. Plans for the future. Favorite color. Sports team. Whatever. Show a genuine interest. Especially if you feel a good connection with them. If there is, generally after responding to your questions, you might be asked, “How about yourself?” And that’s where the magic starts. I think they call that a conversation.
4. Be prepared to discuss what you do and with whom.
What do you specifically do and how does it help your clients or customers? That’s important. You can also discuss why you do what you do which may also be important. But I would avoid talking in great detail about how you do what you do. Unless you’re asked. Otherwise it’s boring. And your goal is to be interesting, establish common ground, and make a connection for the future. And possibly get introduced to someone that’s relevant to what you said.
5. Have respect for their time.
Do not overstay your welcome! Keep conversations short, sweet, to the point, and fun. Think first date. If there is a good connection and a reason for a second conversation, make that suggestion. “I don’t want to take up any more of your time as I’m sure you want to meet some other people. I may be able to introduce you to someone or perhaps you can introduce me. But in the meantime, does it make sense to exchange business cards and I promise to follow up and maybe we can set aside more time to brainstorm? I’m sure we can help one another!” Just make sure there is a good reason for a second date.
6. Always plan to follow up.
Follow up should always be a part of your conversation before it ends. (See how above I illustrated this?) That is if it makes sense to do so. I’m not saying you have to follow up or schedule a coffee meeting with everyone you meet. Far from it! If there is no reason to stay in touch (or you don’t feel the love!) leave it at that. Just end your conversation when appropriate. “Nice speaking with you. Let me know if I can be a resource to you today otherwise good luck and I’ll see you again soon!”
7. Have a plan for staying in touch.
If you don’t nurture important relationships, they won’t be important relationships for long. As you’re networking and meeting people, see how they may become part of your 50 Most Important People to Stay in Touch With List. And establish that with them. I wouldn’t mention that they made “The List” but I would say something like, “Does it make sense to stay in touch? What might be the best way to do that?” Of course, the relationship you establish MUST be mutually beneficial otherwise it may not be much of a relationship.
I’m at a big convention right now. I’m here coaching a team of investment advisors (right here at the convention!) to help them make the best use of their networking time. Practice, feedback, practice. Repeat. I know if they establish the proper context when speaking with exhibitors and other attendees, great things will happen.