Few people are born networkers. The rest of us – no, it isn’t only you – often feel tongue-tied when we’re among strangers at social and business gatherings. But network we must, if we hope to make friends, find that fabulous new job (or employee) and so on. And there’s good news: it is not hard to have great conversations, if you just know how.

Every networking conversation has three components – you introduce yourself, you chat for a few minutes, then you separate to go talk to someone else. Here are some tips to help you ease your way into, through and out of conversations.

 

Introducing yourself

Networking event attendees expect to be approached by strangers – that’s the whole point. Meeting new people helps expand your list of contacts, but there may also be people you specifically want to meet. You can walk up to someone and say hello, or you can strike up a conversation in the bar line or at the snack table.

  • Hi, I’m Susan, with ABC Company. What did you think of the keynote speaker’s comments this morning?
  • Hi, I’m Susan. I’m an inside sales rep at ABC Company. I see you’re with XYZ Company. Are you in sales, too?
  • Hi, I’m Susan. I see from your name tag you’re with XYZ Company. I ’ve heard that’s a great place to work, and I’m thinking about applying for a position I just saw advertised. Do you have any insider tips for me?
  • Hi, I’m Susan. I’m a talent scout with ABC Company. Do you know much about our company?

 

Keeping the conversation it going

Many people manage to introduce themselves, only to have the conversation lag. The parties each stand there frantically trying to think of something to say next. But this is the easiest part. All you have to do is follow up on what the person just said.

  • If the person liked the keynote speaker’s comments, ask them why. What especially struck a chord with them? Did it relate to their work, or a problem they’re trying to solve?
  • If the person is also in sales, discuss mutual challenges or ask for advice about a challenge you have. If they have a job that’s different from yours, ask how they got into that line, what they like best about it or what makes them craziest about it.
  • If you’re on the hunt for potential job candidates, it’s smart to let people know your door is open. At networking events, you’re likely to meet individuals who are between jobs right now as well as currently employed men and women who would jump at a better opportunity.

The truth is, people think you’re interesting when you encourage them to talk – not when you deliver a lot of “pithy” rehearsed comments. So relax. Asking follow-up questions puts your conversation in the sweet spot, and you’ll learn a great deal about your new contact.

 

Moving on

The purpose of networking is to make new contacts. You can pursue some or all of them later, to begin developing deeper personal or professional relationships. But spending too much time with one person eliminates your chance to meet others, and it prevents the other person from doing that, too. So limit your conversation to 5-10 minutes.

  • It’s been great to meet you, Jack. Here’s my card. Can I get yours, too? I’d love to get together later to continue this discussion.
  • It’s been interesting talking with you, Jack. I had no idea XYZ Company was expanding their marketing department, but I’m definitely going to look into that opening you mentioned. Here’s my card, I’d love to stay in touch.

Practice these tips, and you’ll find you’re not only having great conversations with people, you’re actually enjoying yourself.

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