Networking events can be awkward because many people don’t know the first line.
A lot of people start off with the stereotypical. “What do you do?” Or “Where do you work?” Once you’ve exchanged employment histories, the conversation tends to die down. So now what? Do you exchange business cards? Do you move onto the next person and try again? Do you excuse yourself awkwardly and head back over to the bar?
The result of this common approach resembles a room full of people running around with empty hands and one question in mind. “Who can help me?”
Put Others First
Instead of focusing on what you want to get out of an interaction, try a less direct, open-ended approach and ask the person you’ve just met to tell you their story. Ditch the usual career-related questions and try something more engaging that will help them open up about what they do, rather than reciting their resume. Things like “How did you get that job?” or “Why are you here?” are great places to start.
Once the conversation gets rolling, make it your mission to find out why they are attending the event and learn how you might be able to meet their needs. Discover a common interest and offer to team up to advance it together. Offer to connect them to a resource or introduce them to someone you know.
Pickup Lines and Dancing
Still feel a little weird about getting started?
Scott Beardsley, our Market Manager at Technology Navigators, says it’s “like asking a girl to dance.” If you’re at a dance, it’s totally okay and normal to walk up to a girl you don’t know and just ask her straight out. In an everyday context, going up to a girl and just asking her to dance is totally awkward and probably not the best way to spark a conversation. Approaching someone you don’t know can be awkward and uncomfortable, but the truth is that there is that there will never be a more open place to explore your capabilities to meet new people and build relationships than at a networking event. After all, that’s why you’re all there!
Tell Me a Story
The best way to get someone to tell you their story is to just ask! Most people welcome the opportunity to share their passions and point of view with someone who’s genuinely interested in hearing what they have to say. Simply asking, “What’s your story?” sparks a far more fascinating conversation than the usual exchange of dull descriptions. It also comes with the bonus of taking the pressure of making a good impression off you, because all you have to do to start off is be a good listener.
But don’t be surprised when the conversation shifts your way. If you’re engaged in learning more about the other person, you’ll find yourself adding to the conversation naturally as you identify commonalities – whether they’re shared backgrounds or professional interests. Even if you have nothing in common, your new acquaintance will be more interested in knowing who you are too.
So what about when someone asks you the same question? This thought-provoking article from the Muse advises a non-traditional approach for introducing yourself in a memorable way. The bottom line is to make it a little more personal and convey what you’re passionate about, instead of just your professional credentials.
Stick To Your Strategy
You may be tempted to search for common interest in the chips and queso, or get things started by admiring the view. But whether you look for someone to talk to on the outskirts of the room or just dive right in, keep one simple strategy in mind. Make it your mission to get another person to tell you their story. If you do, you’ll make an impression that will last much longer than a quick shake of hands and exchange of business cards. Not only will the other person be more interested in what you have to say, but they will also be more genuinely motivated to help you achieve your goals because you put theirs first.