Most people dislike networking events because they hate making small talk and approaching strangers. It is so much easier and more comfortable to interact with friends because you can “be yourself.” But what if you could short-circuit getting to know new people? What if you went to a networking event with a goal of finding a new friend instead of finding business?
Would you be surprised to learn that it is not that important for people to know about what you do and your services? Everything in life is about connection. This does not just apply to romantic relationships or friendships or even family. It applies to business, too.
I am challenging you to go out on a limb and attend a few networking events with no agenda. Don’t be afraid to let someone in, even if you don’t know them well ― or at all. What is the worst that can happen?
[Jam Session: Networking 101]
What if a stranger asked how you were or how your day was going and instead of saying “fine” with a smile you said what I have said on occasion – “I’ve had better days.” Sure, some might be taken aback, but you would be surprised how willing people are to listen, how quickly you can get to know someone when you have “real” conversation, and even surprised by the great advice you can get from people who don’t know you at all.
So here are my 3 best tips for making each interaction meaningful:
1. Ask open-ended questions.
Shy away from asking “What do you do?” or “Did you have trouble finding the event?” or “Wow, it is hot outside today, huh?” Instead, try to ask questions that will elicit people’s stories. Everyone has a story. Try one of these instead:
- What is the best thing you’ve done this summer so far?
- What is the last great movie you saw? Why did you like it?
- What drew you to the industry you are in?
- What is on your bucket list?
2. Be ok with being yourself and some people not liking you.
There are people that are uncomfortable with honesty. There are those that believe when meeting someone you can’t be authentic; that you need to be “professional” or you shouldn’t ask or reveal anything personal. My view? Don’t listen to any of that. I left a career in litigation in 2011 and as an entrepreneur I have built a very rich network by building deep relationships with those around me. If some people find me too nosey or too familiar or think I am unprofessional, I don’t care. I don’t need them in my network or my life. Guess what? My business is still growing. As Beyoncé says, “I twirl on them haters.”
3. Always make the things that are important to your inner circle important to you.
Not everyone deserves your time and attention, or even your help. But those relationships that rise to the top do. Whether it’s re-arranging your day to offer advice over coffee when asked by a close friend or taking someone to lunch to celebrate their divorce, becoming a grandparent, getting a new job or another milestone ― do it. The to-do list is always there. They would do the same for you. That is why they are in your inner-circle. And guess what? This is the group that will tirelessly seek out opportunities for you, refer you and promote you without you ever asking.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes: “A Simple Hello Could Lead to A Million Things.” I would encourage you to not only work up to the “Hello,” but to also be thoughtful with your questions and your conversations. Be open, be honest and be you!
Jennifer Lynn Robinson, Esq. is a litigator turned entrepreneur following a life changing accident. She conducts speaking engagements and workshops for universities, companies, conferences, non-profits and groups on issues surrounding networking and relationship-building. She also works one on one with people to help them be more comfortable and confident with their networking efforts. Jennifer lives just outside Philadelphia, PA with her husband and three rescue dogs. Follow her @AreYouNetworked and visit purposefulnetworking.com.