As a natural extrovert, networking and small talk come easily to me, but I still put thought in to them.
If you are an introvert, networking and creating conversations with strangers may be both painful and exhausting. It is an important part of life and often brings gifts to those who do it well. Although you may never love it, I hope some strategies and ideas here will make it less painful and more productive for you.
Maybe you don’t mind networking but don’t feel very good at it. Often we just go to networking events without any forethought. Let’s chat about being more intentional.
Networking and small talk opportunities present themselves all the time. It can be as spontaneous as starting a conversation in line at the grocery store but let’s look at the times when we are expecting (or expected) to do it.
Mixers and Networking Events
So, you are heading to a local Chamber event. It’s a mixer. You are supposed to “mix”. The thought may horrify you. Perhaps you have planned ahead and know someone that is coming that you can spend the time with. Here are some ideas:
- Even if you are tempted to just stay with someone you know, prepare to include other people in conversation.
- If you want to stay close to someone familiar pick someone who is good at networking so they can initiate conversations with others.
- Prepare a few questions ahead of time that you can ask. Open-ended questions invite the other person to talk longer. That’s good! E.g. “What is a favorite vacation you have been on?”. “When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?” etc.
- Use cues that people are wearing or carrying for a starting place. “That’s an interesting pin, tell me about it.” “What beer are you drinking? … What local breweries do you like?”
Many people love to be able to talk about themselves. If you get good at asking them questions you may find that they never take the initiative to ask you anything. It’s good to watch for little openings where you can interject something of yourself. However, being willing to let much of the conversation be about them is ok. When people feel listened to it really leaves them feeling good about you.
Here are some open-ended questions you can use when appropriate:
- What do you like most about networking events?
- How did you get interested in the work you are doing now?
- If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
- Who inspires you?
- If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
- What is one of your favorite movies/shows and what do you like about it?
Networking is easier if you focus on letting other people do most of the talking. That means being ready with questions, but make sure you are really listening. If you are nervous it may be tempting to be working on your next question. Just listen well instead. The next question will actually come more easily when you really listen well.
Until next week,
Marilyn Orr is a Professional Certified Coach, who, through her coaching business “Capacity Building Coaching”, thrives on building both personal and organization capacity through leadership coaching and development.
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