I was at a networking event last night, and it came up that I had written a book on networking. “OK,” the person I was speaking to said, “then I have a question for you. For someone like me who hates networking events, how do I start a conversation at a networking event?”
This is a very common question, and it is also very reasonable that anyone who would be asking it would hate networking events. They are all about conversations, and if you aren’t comfortable starting them, then it will be a very awkward time.
So, for all you out there who have this same question, here’s the secret.
You’re all there for the same reason
When you’re at a networking event, there are all kinds of people. There are hungry salespeople looking for prospects. Bewildered entrepreneurs are there seeking mentors. Bankers are there because the bank pays for their admission, and more.
But all these people have one thing in common. They are all there to network. That’s why they call it a networking event. The key to networking is making connections, which requires meeting people.
In other words, everyone in that room is there to meet people, and you’re a person, so that’s a good start.
This is not like a middle school dance where you might approach someone and get a snotty reply of “why are you talking to me?” Everyone in that room needs something, and there’s every chance that you have it.
How to start a conversation
So now you are approaching someone to have a conversation. How should it start? “What do you do?” seems pretty cliche. It actually works alright as an icebreaker just to get some conversation going, but it won’t get you to a really rich networking conversation.
How about this instead?
What these two questions have in common is that you are asking how you can serve them. Everyone you ever meet is eternally interested in themselves and what they need. This is entirely fair because you are eternally interested in yourself and what you need.
If you want to make a good impression on someone and start on the right foot, offer to help with that which they care about most: themselves and their problems.
Once they share with you what they are seeking, take it as a challenge to provide them resources. The average person knows 250 people. Even if you are not “well connected,” you have friends, high school buddies, neighbors, coworkers, and more to draw from.
It is amazingly common that I will find that someone has a need which can be addressed by someone else I just met at the same event. How easy is it to say “Oh, I just met someone who can help you. Come with me.”
Even if you are not so lucky, there’s probably someone you can connect them to.
And if you come up completely empty, email me. Maybe I know someone who can help.
Need more networking event tips? Check out my article on 5 Tips for Networking Events.
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Even better, Michael Whitehouse is available to speak to your organization to share this and many other great tips on building powerful, profitable networks. Contact us for information.