Entrepreneurs today understand that in order to grow their business, investing in Google adwords or Facebook campaigns is not enough. They need to network with potential clients, partners and influencers. Tremendous success of websites like Meetup.com only confirms this trend. Most attendees of business networking events however mess it up badly. They end up wasting time talking to the wrong people, staying for too long in boring conversations and not meeting the people they should.
In this article we will describe five quick networking tips I had to figure out the hard way. You don’t have to. We have asked attendees of a business networking event what their key networking sticking points were. My team of business connectors, we call Startup Grind ambassadors then explained how to solve them. We share our insights in how to improve in these areas. Enjoy!
How to approach people
For most of us approaching strangers seems incredibly hard. It can be perceived that way. But it is only our perception. When you go to a networking event, it is important to realise two important facts:
- People that we meet and talk to are no strangers. They attend the same event as we do, so we have things in common. Attending a business or social networking event automatically means that people are expected to socialise and meet people. That makes it easier for everybody.
- What is the worst that can happen when we approach somebody? Think about this for a moment. Statistically speaking the person we approach will be happy we did. In case we won’t be the right match with that person, we can simply move on to meet the next person. Yet, if we play our cards right, be friendly and helpful, that person can turn into a useful wing-man or wing-woman.
Yes, there are people who are comfortable coming up to someone and start a conversation. Then there are people who like to be prepared and have a plan. They like to know what to say.
It is hard to just come up to someone we don’t know and strike a conversation without training. Business networking events are a great place to practice. Here are five ways how to start a conversation that can be used in any situation.
Before we jump in, it is very important to be always genuine, when starting a conversation. People can sense if they are approached by someone who is just fake and will not be compelled to stay in such conversation. Be genuine, it pays off.
This is probably the most common way to start a conversation with a person we don’t know. All you need to do is to make a comment about the event/venue, about the talk you just heard or about the person you are about to meet. Say it in an interesting way and be a little louder. Usually a spontaneous compliment works well too.
1. “It was a very interesting talk. I really enjoyed how the speaker didn’t take no for an answer and proved everybody wrong. How did you enjoy it?”
2. “I really like your jacket. It makes you stand out in the crowd, yet looks very elegant. Where did you get it?”
Functional opener is the laziest opener in a way. It is also the most practical. Simply think of a question you have within the context of that networking event and ask the person you want to talk to. You can whether he/she knows where the organiser is, where the cloak room is or what the hashtag for the event is. Then, when you get the answer, you can continue the conversation.
“Excuse me, have you seen the organiser?”
“He was here a moment ago, but I don’t see him now. Sorry”
“No worries, he will surely come back. How do you know each other, by the way. I have a feeling it is an interesting story how you met.”
Starting a conversation by asking someone’s opinion is one of the most engaging ways to kick it off. People love sharing their views and giving feedback. Ask an interesting question and the conversation will flow nicely.
“What did you think of the speaker tonight? Do you agree that business should focus more on meeting their customers and get as much feedback as possible?”
According to a global research, the top three questions at a networking event are 1) What do you do? 2)Where are you from? and 3) What’s your name? After meeting a few people it can get pretty boring. We can step it up and be funny. For the people you meet it will be refreshing and entertaining. They might remember you more than others and make a stronger connection.
“I am really sorry, but I have to ask you to leave. There is no talking here.” (Works when everybody is networking).
“I am probably the most over-dressed person here, right? I am sorry for that.” (Works when you are actually under-dressed, like jeans and t-shirt).
There are moments when it is important to just go for it. You want to meet a potential client or an important person that you know is very busy. That means you only get a few minutes talking to that person, if you lucky. In those cases it pays of to be upfront and say why you want to meet that person right away.
What is interesting is that many people like, especially those who are busy, like others to be frank with them from the get-go. For two reasons: 1) No many people are using it. 2) It saves their precious time.
“I really enjoyed your speech. Inspiring and honest. I follow your work for a while and really respect your opinion. I would love to treat you to lunch or coffee and get your feedback on a study I am working on.”
Please always remember that conversation opener is exactly that. Just an opener. Don’t spend too much time stuck in the initial topic. Move on to another topic and have an interesting conversation. It really helps to have a 2-3 conversation openers ready when you need them. But as long as you have used them, they served their purpose and it’s time for you to enjoy the conversation.
What aspects of networking are you interested in? Any tips to share, or any aspects of networking that you need help with? Leave a comment below or hit us up on Twitter.
If you're interested in finding out more/ attending Startup Grind London you can check out the site here.
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