Some people seem completely comfortable in their skin. When it comes to making the most of networking opportunities, this translates to being at ease in any room, able to make important connections and initiate interesting conversations.
A few weeks ago, in the bustle of Little Italy in New York City, my family and I stepped into a sidewalk cafe to have dinner with Twilla — a long time friend. And I witnessed a master entrepreneur at work.
For Twilla, every conversation is a bridge to relationship. She initiated conversations — not hi-how-are-you greetings, but conversations that demonstrated real interest in connecting — first with the maitre ‘d, and then with a couple with a 6-month-old seated at the table next to us.
We learned the couple was from northern California; he works with a farming consortium; she is VP of Marketing at a bank. Before we’d finished our pasta, Twilla had shared a few NYC tips, her personal contact information and an offer to baby sit.
On our way out of the cafe, she struck up a conversation with a NYC fire fighter. So engaged was he that he put his truck in “park,” let traffic pass, and enjoyed a 5-minute break that, I’m guessing, was a highlight of his day.
It will not surprise me if all three connections lead to subsequent conversations. Twilla has a history of turning meetings into long-standing relationships — personal, business and both.
In the spirit of full disclosure, this irritates the fire out of me. And not the conversations — I love them. It is the fact that this is real work for me.
Effective Networking Instigates Conversations
Watching Twilla (and other gifted networkers) has helped me identify 4 Ideas that lead to professional networking success.
1) Don’t be so smart. Networking is not about you. It is about those with whom you wish to connect. Worry less about what you’ll say about you/your business / your product or service, and more about what others will say, given the chance.
2) Be prepared to dance. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to talk about your product, service, and business. Resist. Starting at this point tends to shorten or completely short-circuit conversations. Dance around the temptation. Job-one is to initiate an on-going conversation — one that lasts long after a single happy hour, or conference event.
3) Choose targets wisely. There are those who desire dialogue, and those that want to hold court. While it is easy to drift toward the crowd gathered around one that appears to be on stage, the individuals scattered around the edge of the room — alone or in pairs — may pose the best conversation-rich opportunities.
4) Build around Questions, not Talking Points. Your “elevator speech” may be a useful tool – later. In the long-term, successful networking focuses on the interests, concerns, and needs of others. The questions will depend on the situation, but here are three suggestions:
a. What brings you to this event?
b. What do you expect / hope to gain from being here?
c. What single issue/question/problem/opportunity will have the most impact on your success?
For those like Twilla, a conversation that revolves around others is intuitive. For the rest of us, focusing on these 4 ideas will help turn meetings into more than vCards or LinkedIn connections.
Initiate conversations, and watch relationships build your business.