Most people hate networking.
Which is a bit of a problem, since you need to meet new people.
After all, if you don’t, your current contacts will have to sustain you from now till retirement. And that’s just not going to happen.
The good news is, though, to have more great contacts, you only need master two things:
- Networking with strangers; and
- Once they aren’t strangers anymore, building relationships with them
And that’s it.
So, let’s look at the first one: networking with strangers. Or ‘how to work a room’.
I’ve spent years studying what the best networkers do. And their conversations contain four elements:
In other words, get in the conversation. Speak about you (the other person). Then answer their questions about me. And then get out.
Here’s an overview of how to master these four steps:
#1 Get in - (in)
When working a room, you have to approach people.
And they’ll either be on their own or in groups.
If they’re on their own, approach them and say “Hello, I’m James” (though maybe use your own name) or say “Mind if I join you.”
They’ll respond with “Hello, I’m Jane” or “Sure – please join me”. Either way, you’ve completed Step #1 – you’re now in the conversation.
If you decide to approach a group, go to one that isn’t bunched together. Bunched groups’ body language is saying ‘back off’. But go to an open group and say “Mind if I join you?” is fine.
#2 Ask about them - (you)
You want the conversation to start about them, not yourself. For loads of reasons. It’s more polite than launching into discussing yourself. It’s easier to ask about them than be interesting about yourself. Also, when they ask about you, you’ll be better able to tailor your response based on what they’ve said about themselves.
The best way to speak about them is to ask good questions. So, an important piece of prep when networking: prepare questions you’ll ask.
These can be the usual conversation-starters, like ‘who do you work for, what do you do, how long have you worked there’, and so on.
And then the more useful ones – ‘what are you responsible for, what are your priorities, what are you working on at the minute?’
These are much more useful because they uncover their priorities. Which helps you impress them in Step #3…
#3 Be interesting - (me)
They’re going to ask about you. You know this question’s coming. So be ready for it. Prepare in advance how you’ll respond when someone asks you.
I advise focusing on two things – AFTERs and stories.
In other words, introduce yourself by explaining why people are better-off AFTER working with you.
For instance, if I say “I’m a consultant”, people reply with “between jobs are you?”
But if I say “I help people communicate better than they thought possible”, people say “how do you do that?” or “bet you’re busy” or “we need you at our place.”
When they ask one of these questions, use a relevant story. This is miles more interesting than discussing your company’s past. You know this. I mean, would you rather hear someone say “well, I started studying communication 25 years ago and since then…” or “well, you know how you just mentioned you’re responsible for winning sales? I recently helped a sales team boost turnover by 50% by changing how they communicate.”
They’ll ask good questions about your stories. They never will about your company’s past.
#4 Get out of the conversation - (out)
If you’re speaking with someone you want to meet-up with after the event, tell them you’d like to continue your conversation at a later date. Ask for their business card. Ask when they want you to call them. Ask if you can write a reminder on the back of their business card. And then call them then.
If you don’t want to meet again afterwards, you have to know how to end the conversation. If you don’t, you’ll get stuck with them for ages. Both of you will hate it. Here’s a good ending:
You: Who are good contacts for you here?
You: OK. If I bump into any later, would you like me to introduce them to you?
Them: Yes, please.
You: Great, will do. I’ve enjoyed our conversation.
Them: Me too. Bye.
And that’s it – in/you/me/out.
Which means that, to prepare for an event:
- script your sentences for getting in and out of conversations
- think of a few questions to ask, to discover useful stuff about them
- script how you’ll describe yourself – use AFTERs and stories
That’s what Networking Ninjas do. You’re about to become one.
For your next networking event, make sure you prepare properly.