For some, networking is a great opportunity to build relationships with like-minded individuals, for others, networking can be a nail-biting, sweaty, off-putting, anxiety-fest! For the nervous, networking is hard!
But don’t stress, there is a way to calm your anxiety. All you truly need to start networking successfully is one important skill: the ability to approach someone and ask a question. Listening and being interested in other people is all you really need to begin the conversation and relationship building process.
Think it sounds hard? While it might be hard to get up the nerve to approach someone, if you have the ability to ask a question and ask thoughtful follow up questions, you can feel confident starting a conversation with anyone, anywhere.
Create Goals and Mutually Beneficial Relationships
Before you walk into a networking event, it’s great to have goals. One of your goals could be to jump outside your comfort zone and collect two or three business cards of people you’ve never met before. This goal or challenge will help you break out of your normal routine of finding someone you already know and only talking with them.
It’s also best to approach any networking event with the mindset of creating mutually beneficial relationships. This means that you’re not just there to learn what others can do for you, you’re there to reciprocate. In other words, you’re available to give advice and helpful tips to others as you’d like them to do for you. Plus, it can feel good to help someone else on their career journey!
It’s often difficult to see how we can be of service to others in a networking event, because we may feel we have little to offer or are looking to change our own situation. However, you’d be surprised by the information, tips, referrals and more that you can offer. Even if you can only offer the name and contact information of someone that might be beneficial for your new contact to speak with, that’s offering them something they didn’t have before.
Why Asking Questions Works
Approaching someone and asking a question is pretty foolproof. Most people love talking about themselves and are often pleasantly surprised when approached by a stranger with great questions who seems genuinely interested in learning more about them.
Starting simply with a question about what someone does for a living or why they’re at the networking event can be a great way to break the ice and start the conversation. You’ll also want to have follow up questions prepared that can facilitate a continuing dialogue.
- What do you do for a living?
- Have you been to one of these events before?
- Have you heard this speaker before?
- What are you looking to gain from today’s event?
- What projects are you working on right now?
- What are you passionate about learning/doing?
- What do you like most about what you do?
- How did you get involved in your field?
Most people will reciprocate the favor and ask you questions as well. So be prepared to answer concisely by having your elevator pitch or professional branding statement ready. You may also have the opportunity to subtly interject information about yourself and your interests as the conversation progresses, especially as you find common ground.
Tell Me More!
If the conversation starts to lag, keep things moving by asking for details on the topics they’ve related to you. When you’re listening, truly listen closely and be sure to latch on to one or two personal or professional topics that you could pursue further. This will likely reveal other information or subjects that you have in common. Your perfect line: Tell me more about XYZ!
Ready, Set, Go!
Attending a networking event is a great way to make new connections that can help your career. To truly make the most of your networking experience, it pays to learn how to ask thoughtful questions and listen closely to what you learn. You’ll find that people are very responsive to someone who proves to be a good listener and who is willing to build a mutually beneficial relationship. So get out there, memorize a few good intro questions and polish your listening skills. Start networking today!
Do you have a networking tip to share? Post your thoughts in our comments section!