Have you ever had one of those days with deadlines looming, the phone ringing and the day seems to run you instead of you running the day? Of course, we all have. Have you ever been sitting at your desk or on a work site and thought, I really don’t want to go to the networking event; I think I’ll just skip it? Skipping the event, whatever the excuse, is easier than putting yourself out there and making yourself uncomfortable, right? Be honest…we know it happens.
The next time that thought pops into your mind, I want you to think about the power of connections. We’ve all heard of the six degrees of separation. The Six degrees of separation is the idea that all people are six, or fewer, social connections away from each other. As a result, a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. Yet, how many times do you go to an event and there are still a number of people you’ve never seen before or maybe have seen, but have never talked to. Just think what would happen if you took some time to get uncomfortable for a moment, introduce yourself and ask questions to find out what you have in common to that stranger? How easy it would be to develop that connection when you figure out a connection or multiple connections between the two of you?
People do business with People. People “do business” with those they know, like and trust. This “business” could be a transaction, but it also could also be a referral, a connection recommendation, employee recommendation, job recommendation, etc. How are you going to expand your network if you are not stretching yourself out of your comfort zone and into situations where you are meeting new people? The possibilities are endless, but you have to start by showing up.
No one likes to walk into a room where you don’t know someone. If you are new to networking or if you tend to gravitate toward the people you know and stick with them the entire time, here are a few tips that may help:
- Set a goal to meet three new people at every networking event.
- When you arrive, walk into the room and step off to the right or left so you can scan the room. You are looking for groups of people you can add yourself to or someone you’ve been wanting to meet.
- It is easier to walk up to a group of 3 or more than walk up to a group of 2. When you arrive, wait until there is a pause and introduce yourself. On the flip side, if you are in a group or talking to someone and someone walks up, step over to make it easy for the new person to join you. (they will appreciate you doing this)
- If you find yourself in a one on one situation and you are uncomfortable, breathe and remember you want them to talk more than you. Networking is NOT about “puking” your sales pitch all over someone. Your goal is to get to know them. You should introduce yourself, state your company name and maybe one thing that sets your product, service, company apart. Then ask, “what about you”. This is where you can drive the conversation.
- Ask questions like, “how long have you been there”, “what is your role”, “what did you do before this”…these are questions that can prompt other questions like “Is this what you went to school for”, “where did you go to school”…these can prompt other questions. You are trying to find ways you can relate and allow the other person to tell their story. The more they talk, the more of a connection they will feel with you.
Do not stick with the same person the entire event (or the same group). Remember, your goal is to meet 3 new people. When it comes time to gracefully exit here are a few tips.
- If someone comes up to your group, introduce the person who walked up to the person you were speaking with or introduce yourself then introduce the person you are with. If possible, give them something to talk about. For example, “John, I want to introduce you to Sally. Sally also went to Iowa State”. Wait for a moment, then excuse yourself and walk away.
- If you are feeling like the conversation is done (you know, the awkward pause), you can always help the person you are standing with by connecting them to someone else you know at the event or if you don’t know anyone, state that and ask them for help. (In general, people love to help) For example, you could start with “John, it has been so nice to meet you. This is my first event and I really don’t know anyone. Do you know if there is anyone in the XX industry here you could introduce me to?” or “John, it has been so nice to meet you. From what you told me, it sounds like a good lead for you would be someone in XX industry. Can I introduce you to some people I know that are here in that field”. People will remember when you’ve done something nice for them. It shows you care about them and their success vs just talking about yourself and what product/service you are selling.
- Get their contact information and ask if you could follow up over a cup of coffee to continue the discussion.
The most important piece is to FOLLOW UP. If you promise someone you plan to reach out or you plan to send them something, do it. You never know what that one connection could turn into, professionally or personally. Afterall, we are all connected by 6 degrees. Happy networking!