It is often said that for business success, sales networking is essential.
But if we’re honest, there are few of us that are actually good at it. Networking is either avoided altogether, or presented with a face-to-face networking situation, we fail to really engage and exploit the opportunities the encounter offers.
Why does this happen?
I believe that a key reason is just fear–a simple fear of conversation. Such a reason may seem far-fetched, but social anxiety is very common, more common than most of us realize.
Research has shown that many people fear public speaking more than death. In a similar way, the idea of initiating conversations with complete strangers brings total fear to some nervous systems.
It’s a worry that you can easily overcome, though. Just remember that most people you encounter are in the same situation. On top of that, they enjoy talking about themselves, so your job is to simply encourage them.
Here are some techniques to make networking much easier.
When Introducing Yourself, Smile
That smile needs to come first. If you want to be welcomed into a conversation at a networking event, approach someone with a wide, genuine grin and an outstretched hand. It will work 999 times out of a thousand.
In the one time out of a thousand that you’re rejected, the issue is usually with the other person, not you. Just move on to someone else.
Ask the Right Questions
If you arm yourself with a few questions beforehand, you’ll never be lost for conversation topics.
The questions don’t need to be profound. They should just be open-ended enough to encourage your networking partner to elaborate on their pastimes, work or life.
The questions can be as simple as, “What kind of work do you do?”, “What did you do last weekend?” or “What kind of business do you run?”
Start off by being superficial. As the conversation continues, if the other person seems willing to open up, you can engage in more personal and complex questions.
A big mistake people make at networking events is trying to talk the other person into submission. This rarely works.
What works is active listening. If possible, allow the other person to say twice as much as you do. Get to know them. Find out what gives them pleasure and pain in their business and personal life.
How can you do that? Just ask them. They’ll appreciate your genuine interest.
And don’t forget to respond positively, with your voice, your expressions and your gestures. Nod when you agree with something. Smile when they say something light or humorous. Maintain eye contact as naturally as possible. Add simple, encouraging comments such as “Really?”, “That’s interesting,” or “I agree.”
‘Cherry-pick’ Phrases and Words
One of my favourite techniques to keep a conversation going and make it interesting is to ‘cherry-pick’ some of the other person’s words or phrases that are most interesting to me.
For example, your conversation partner may say: “I spent the weekend with my family, gardening, going to the beach, helping with homework.”
You notice the word ‘beach’, so you ask, “The beach sounds like fun. Did you go surfing?”
This can open an interaction about surfing.
As you pick up on different words and phrases, you can eventually reveal activities and pastimes of common interest.
Learn and Use Their Names
Most people like the sound of their own name, so take note of the other person’s name and use it liberally in your conversation with them. This will also help you remember the person later.
Some business commentators suggest taking notes about the people you meet during an event. I find that just using a person’s name repeatedly in conversation is a useful memory tool.
Keep Your Elevator Pitch in Mind
When someone at a networking event asks what you do, have a few words prepared that explain the problems you solve, the value you deliver, the credibility you have for doing what you do, what makes you different and how the other person might benefit from what you do.
Generally, it’s best not to embark on your elevator pitch until you’re asked to say something about yourself.
When you are asked, however, a finely-tuned elevator pitch, delivered naturally, can be a powerful aid in furthering the conversation and developing a relationship.
Introducing People to Others
Once you get to know someone at an event, take every opportunity you can to introduce your new acquaintance to someone else.
Many will appreciate this gesture, as they may be hesitant to introduce themselves to others. It will also enhance their perception of you, your status and your potential worth to them.
Know and Acknowledge End of Conversation
Occasionally, despite your best efforts, maintaining a conversation is difficult. You may find that you and the other person share little in terms of interests or values.
Sometimes a conversation just runs out of steam.
It’s all right. There’s no rule saying you have to persevere.
Just smile, tell the person you enjoyed meeting them, and suggest you should both get to know some of the other people at the event.
Practice these techniques and you will never feel uncomfortable at a networking event again.
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