It’s that time of year again. Peer to peer networking is an important part of business or career development, and December provides more networking opportunities than any other month. Does the thought of mixing and mingling with strangers fill you with dread? It doesn’t need to. Just keep these five tips in mind:
1. The most important of all networking skills is listening. Instead of worrying about what you can talk about, think about what you can ask others to talk about. Simply ask people about themselves and listen respectfully and attentively to the answer. Too many people feel nobody ever listens to them, and if you provide both opportunity and audience you’ll be amazed at how easy the conversation becomes.
People love to talk about themselves, but remember that you are networking for a reason. If you are scouting for business, try to keep the conversation about business. Ask them about their business or their job or their company, and then mentally make notes that can help you decide whether to follow up with them later or not.
2. Small talk can lead to big talk. Sometimes we are so worried about breaking into conversation groups that we miss the first opportunity to meet people: the food table! While you’re in line for breakfast or other refreshments, start a conversation about the food. By the time you both reach the end of the line, you’ll be ready to join the general buzz.
3. Once you are in a group, small talk can also be useful in beginning a useful dialogue. Not sure what topics to introduce? Here’s a great tip: scan the newspaper before you go to the event. Find something intriguing, cute, funny or amazing (not controversial or horrifying) and if there’s a lull in the conversation just bring it up as something you read in the paper that morning. This is a great way to involve others and create a friendly environment. Relationships can blossom easily in such a setting.
4. Remember that networking can be one step in developing clients, but it is NOT a selling situation. There’s nothing worse than having someone back you into a corner at a networking event and try to sell you their services. Don’t be that person. Concentrate on making connections, and follow up later on those that look like good prospects for your services.
5. Please don’t waste your networking opportunities by spending time with people you see every day at work. I know this is tempting because it’s easy — but it’s not networking. The idea is to meet new people.
Most important, go to business or career networking events with an open mind and an intention to enjoy the event and the company. The rest will take care of itself. Happy Networking!