The awkward introduction and stilted conversation. We’ve all been there. We’ve all coughed nervously while an air of embarrassing stillness has hung over a group of people who have just met at a networking event.
In extensive research conducted at the Business Networking Academy across all job titles and industries, we have found starting a conversation is the most difficult part of networking. It’s what most people are fearful of and why they steer clear of networking opportunities.
Networking events are what you make of them. Those initial introductions can also be deal-makers or deal-breakers for you.
But once again, it’s all in how you approach it. Change your approach and have some strategies ready to go. Switch your mindset and attitude into networking mode and watch those awkward introductions turn into outcomes, possibilities and authentic connection.
1. Be prepared
The same way that you would chat to someone you have just met at a party or on the sideline of the kids’ soccer match, it’s important to be up to date with what everyone is talking about. Have three or four topics up your sleeve ready to chat about. Download the Pulse app to keep yourself current. A news topic or something pop culture related always gets a discussion flowing. Master networker and author Keith Ferrazzi calls this ‘conversational currency’. You don’t need to literally ‘Keep up with the Kardashians’, but if you know who is trending and what news topics are being discussed, you’ll be able to contribute to the conversation instead of awkwardly standing there wishing the ground would swallow you up.
2. Ask and ye shall receive
Most people like it when someone asks their opinion. Yes, there is an element of ego there. But there is also an element of relief. Someone else has asked a question. The conversation is flowing again. In networking environments, be that person. Be the asker. Ask for opinions and comments and clarification. Listen to responses and ask some more. Not only does it get people chatting but it’s a great way to work out whether that person will be a valuable contact for you.
3. Be the conduit
People are drawn to other people who have charisma. You know the type. Those people who are smiling and taking control of a social situation. You can be that person by being a conduit. If someone is standing on the sidelines of the group you are chatting with, invite them in. Introduce them to the group. The trick is to introduce people to each other by sharing an interesting fact about them. “James, have you met Janelle? She heads up the media team for Company X.”
4. Do not press Go on the elevator pitch
The elevator pitch is over-used and under-thought. An elevator pitch is a rehearsed introduction and in over twenty years of networking I don’t think I’ve heard a good one yet. The reason? They come across as inauthentic. And when you’re perceived as inauthentic, your audience shuts down and zones out.
The trick is to be real and ask about other people. While you have your own strategy and reason for attending the networking event, the best way to connect with the right people is to ask questions, listen and respond authentically.
This quote by Dale Carnegie sums it up.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
And that is the key to breaking the ice and making truly valuable connections.
Be interested in other people. They, in turn, will then be interested in you.
If you want to learn how to start conversations confidently and even master the answer to the dreaded "what do you do" question, sign up to our Public Course starting in September.
ps - our next course intake is September (with limited places) - hope to see you there:)