Thanks to Susan C. Freeman of Freeman Means Business for this guest post.
We’ve all been to those parties where everyone breaks into small groups where they talk about politics, the weather, or even where the host’s wife got her nails done. It’s moments like these where you bolt to the restroom or look for a dog to pet or a plant behind which you can hide — because literally anything is better than small talk.
Contrary to what many networking experts counsel, every interaction does not need to have an intent or a specific objective. We do not need to focus with laser-like precision on what our takeaway from a conversation will be, because building relationships is not about transactions—it’s about connections. It is about creating opportunities for honest and authentic interactions and making them advantageous for all parties involved. It’s about liking and being liked.
Tapping into Likability
People do business with people they like. However, being likable doesn’t mean you’re all perky and bright and constantly happy. It means being authentic and listening to others with empathy – not judgment. Harnessing likability is often uncovering the other person’s authentic self. It is through the strength of what is genuine that meaningful connections build long-lasting relationships.
Before the Event
- When blocking off the event on your calendar, make it a habit to block off an additional hour.
- When you leave the office to attend your event, take your laptop and phone with you. Helpful hint: Carry “thank you” cards in your briefcase.
- Before your event, identify three goals that are “complete-able on the spot” with immediate, measurable results. For example, set a goal to visit with a contact/client you know will be there and ask two questions: “How are you”? and ”How is business”?
- Commit to offering a value add to at least one person who walks up to you after your presentation.
- Thank the organizer for having you speak and let them know you would love to do it again.
During the Event
You may feel awkward at events, unless you are giving the presentation. Many people think they are great communicators because they are in fact, instead, great presenters. That is not the case. Communication takes place only when the receiver confirms he or she has made meaning of the message and that meaning aligns with the sender’s intent. One can be an incredible public speaker but still fear the one-on- one conversations, especially the “small talk” that often occurs at conferences and other networking venues. One can, however, gain meaningful insights and develop meaningful relationships through networking. It’s not all about “small talk.”
So how do you initiate conversation that you can later follow up on in their office on-site at their company? Here are some suggested questions you can pose, “I’d like to schedule a visit to your offices to learn more about your business and industry, and I would especially like to learn more about your role there.” This way, they person expects the follow-up request for a face-to-face, onsite visit.
I have found another fun way to build relationships is to take a selfie with the person and put it in a note card saying what a pleasure it was meeting them and how much fun you had at the conference. That is even more memorable, and it creates an unspoken connection.
Asking Questions is More Powerful than Having Answers
- How did you get started in ________________________ ?
- What made you decide to go into the ________________________ business?
- What do you love/enjoy most about what you do/the topic of the event?
- What are your company’s plans for the future?
- What separates your company from the competition?
- What changes are happening in your industry?
- How is the current economy impacting your business?
- Depending on answer: Do you see things changing/improving/getting worse/turning around?
- What do you see happening in your industry over the next few years?
- What are some of the projects you are currently working on?
- Does your company use social media in its marketing efforts?
- What do you like to do in your spare time?
- What can I do to help you/your business?
- Would you teach me more about [business/topic they have an interest in]?
Nervous While Networking? Combat those Self-Sabotaging Thoughts and Behaviors
Jaffe offers a number of great insights on networking on their website, Jaffepr.com. I highly recommend the most recent article, “Is Your Networking ‘Notworking?’ — Changing Perceptions and Overcoming the Trepidation of Attending” written by my colleague, Glennie Green.