Networking experts who write books on the subject and get invited to contribute articles to prestigious business magazines often claim that there are “secrets” to networking. I take issue with that. I don’t think anything about networking is a secret or mysterious. Networking is a meet and greet and unless you have advance knowledge about who is expected to be in the room, who you meet and talk to is random.
However, there are certain behaviors that might improve your networking success rate. In general, one must be approachable and outgoing and in the frame of mind to meet people (smile!). This can be uncomfortable for some of us but if you are shy, or an introvert, remember that all at the networking event (which can be a conference or a cooking class, a business association meeting or a reading at the library) have your presence there in common and that in itself is the starting point of a conversation.
Another behavior to exhibit at your next networking event (and every gathering is a networking event, potentially) is listening. Demonstrate that you are listening by maintaining eye contact and responding to the flow of conversation by nodding your head, smiling and replying when appropriate. Resist the temptation to look over the other person’s shoulder to search for someone who might be “better” to meet and talk to.
Now how do you get a conversation going? After the introductions, ask a question that starts with the phrase Tell me and then actively listen as your new acquaintance does what s/he likes best—talking about themselves! You will make a friend.
Tell me is the favorite opening line of Jacqueline Whitmore, a noted etiquette coach and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Florida. Whitmore says, “To build trust with other people you have to let them know you’re interested in what they have to say. One way to do that is to ask the right questions.” “Tell me what you thought of the last speaker.” “Tell me what you think of the workshop leader.” “Tell me how you like the trainers and instructors at this gym—I’m a new member.”
I used Tell me for the first time just a few days ago, when I attended the Ellevate Network’s Mobilize Women 2019 summit on behalf of Lioness Magazine and I can attest to the fact that Tell me is an effective ice-breaker that opens the door to good conversation every time.
Your networking experience can be considered a success if you discover that you may be able to somehow assist this person whom you’ve just met because the final recommended behavior to bring to your networking event is generosity. While it is true that personal gain is a legitimate goal for networking and the 1.) Get a client 2.) Get a referral and 3.) Get information strategy remains worthwhile, remember that you and your new colleague have something in common by way of your mutual connection to the host organization that brought you both to the event and doing for others is good karma. Be certain to follow-up with whatever actions you committed to. Your generosity will probably be repaid a couple of times over.
Thanks for reading,
Photograph: Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939), a role that brought her the Academy Award for Best Actress