There are lots of people out there who have an absolute terror of talking to strangers. This fear however, is generally totally unfounded.
Some arrive at a networking function feeling a little nervous, because they don’t know many of the people attending. This often causes them to leave their personality at the venue doorstep. They are unable to start or finish conversations and usually have a miserable time. They leave, vowing never to return and to avoid future networking events at all costs.
However, back in their comfort zone, they can express opinions on just about anything and rarely allow themselves to feel intimidated by anything or anyone.
So, we may surmise that it is actually our nerves and fear of meeting strangers that sometimes gets the better of us at these events. Therefore, to improve your networking skills, it will help dramatically if you work on improving your conversation skills.
Think about some of the better communicators in your networks – what makes them different? Is it that they do any or all of the following:
- listen to your answer
- allow you to finish your response without interrupting
- make eye contact
- genuinely act as if they do care about your answer
- somehow make you feel special
- follow up when they say they will
- offer helpful suggestions
- remember snippets of previous conversations you may have had.
The one thing each of these great communicators do, is make a heart to heart connection with you.
This is not in a romantic sense. Rather the listener focuses on you and the conversation you are having together. Whether there are one or five people in the group, they are focussed on the general conversation. They are not distracted. They are “in the moment” or “in the now”.
When we speak from our heads, we often become flustered and nervous, stumbling over words. We are so worried about what we are going to say next or what a word means or whether we are wearing the right clothes, etc., etc. With all this head stuff happening, anyone having a conversation with us, just thinks we are uninterested in their answers and distracted.
When we make that heart to heart connection, we listen actively to the conversation. We don’t have to worry about what we are going to say next, because when we are listening, we receive lots of cues for responses or more questions. If we are quiet long enough, we can even learn lots of things.
Think for a moment of the last time you had a conversation with someone over the phone and you knew, possibly by the background noise or by their distracted manner, that they were not listening to you. Their mind was elsewhere – they were definitely not in the “now”.
Then, think about a phone conver-sation with someone who was in the now and listened actively and with a focus. More often than not, the conver-sation was quality not quantity. You both kept to the point, said what you had to say, and agreed on an outcome.
Conversations at networking events are no different to phone conversations, we want to feel that the person we are speaking to is in fact listening.
Effective networkers have a belief system that every single person they meet is incredibly interesting and has much to contribute to any conversation.
Key to making connection
When you focus on that heart to heart connection, once the conversation starts, it generally flows. The key to making the connection is basically you are treating people the way you would like to be treated yourself.
If you knew everyone in the room and a stranger walked into the room, what would they be hoping someone in the room would do? Befriend them of course, just as they would do if positions were reversed.
So, the next time you see a person standing alone and looking a little nervous or out of place, talk to them. Say, “Hi, my name is…, mind if I join you?” Or, even better, catch their eye and invite them to join your group.
If by chance you befriend someone who does not want to join in your conversation, that’s okay. At least you extended the hand of friendship to them.
Good networkers usually have a couple of open ended questions prepared. Here are a few examples:
- What was the highlight of your weekend/day/holiday?
- What tips would you give someone, who has never attended one of these events?
- I may already know someone who could do business with you, what would your ideal client look like?
- What’s your opinion on…?
- What’s your favourite…? restaurant, movie, sport, etc.
- Your… looks great, where did you buy your…(jacket, tie, etc.)?
- What do you like most about your…job, home, living in…?