I used to be extremely awkward at networking, especially in a room full of strangers. I had two problems:
First, I have resting bitch face with a wonky eye-brow that just does whatever it wants. This means, that if I’m just standing in a room, not talking with someone, I have a look on my face that seems cold, disapproving and judgmental. I definitely am not very approachable when I’m looking this way. The reality is, I’m just standing there feeling awkward and not sure who to approach and feeling WAY out of my depth, but with that face, no one wants to strike up a conversation with me and so these opportunities were lost on me.
Second, I am NOT good at small talk. I don’t really know what to say when someone comments to me about the weather. I live in Arizona. In the summer it’s HOT. But if you live in Arizona, this isn’t news. Here is the scenario:
Stranger: “Wow, it’s really hot today.”
Me: “Yeah, it is.”
And the conversation peters out because really, beyond an agreement or disagreement, there really isn’t more to say.
To combat these issues, I’m sharing some easy and quick ways to get more out of networking opportunities.
This is by far the easiest and most important thing you can do to improve your response and engagement during any type of networking event, and the formula is simple:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- For whom do you do it?
- What do you do for them?
- How does this affect them or better their lives?
Number 1: Easy, it’s just your name.
Number 2: This isn’t your job title, but rather, how you define yourself and what you do. Now, I do many things and I could sit there and list everything I “do”, but rather, I want to define what I do by the thing that means the most to me. So, you could be a writer, an educator, a motivational speaker, a mechanic, a fire-fighter. Whatever it is, you should really feel that it defines who you are or who you really want to be.
Number 3: The people who benefit from your knowledge and skill, the people you help.
Number 4: One to three things you do for them specifically.
Number 5: How they benefit from those things.
Example: I’m Reyla. I’m a writer. I help people who are motivated to improve their lives, learn how to set their goals and create a plan to achieve them so they can achieve success and contentment in their lives.
I’m John, I am a mechanic. I help people keep their vehicles safe and in top working condition by providing high quality vehicle repair and maintenance at competitive prices so they can keep their families safe.
This shouldn’t take you very long to create. But the awesome thing about this is, you don’t even have to memorize the entire thing! Simply take your answers to 1 and 5 and put them together.
I’m Reyla, I help people achieve success and contentment in their lives.
I’m John, I help people keep their families safe.
The brilliant thing about this approach is that it opens up a dialog immediately. When you say this, your listener is going to have to ask a question: “How do you do that?” And then you can explain more about what you do. It makes you more interesting and more memorable because you are stating a plain fact about yourself and this exudes confidence. And this formula works for anyone.
The nice thing about this pitch is that it can be used anywhere. Whenever you meet someone new, when they ask what you do, now you have a quick answer. You never know where you’re going to find your next client, or friend. Have it ready to go!
Being bad at small talk is actually fairly common. Many people don’t know what to say to someone they don’t know. The easiest way I have found to get past this and make it fun and interesting for me, is to devise five questions that I genuinely want to know about a stranger. The only rule about these questions is that they cannot have a yes or no response, they must be open-ended. Simply adapt them as necessary to the event or situation.
- What do you do? By far the easiest, but not the most original.
- What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned at this event?
- What brought you to this conference today?
- How does this event compare to others you’ve attended in the past?
- What have you learned that you can apply immediately?
I attend conferences more than anything else, but that means that I’m meeting people with whom I already have something in common. Try to come up with five questions to ask before each of your events. This will make things much easier when someone makes a comment about the weather.
Stranger: “Wow, it’s really hot today.”
Me: “It really is. So, what brought you here today?”
And the conversation has begun. Don’t forget to ask follow-up questions. Eye-contact, nodding, and actually listening are really needed to make this a successful encounter. Also, if you can manage it, rephrase things they say in your response. This is a subconscious way people feel heard. Just try not to be awkward about it.
Stranger: “I came today because I want to learn more about how to market my business online.”
Me: “Online marketing can be really challenging these days as technology changes so quickly. I’m hoping to learn more about that as well. What have you learned so far to help you?”
Just this quick acknowledgement and repetition of the topic (online marketing), helps the stranger feel as if you are really listening (which you are) and will encourage them to continue the conversation.
Whether or not you have a business, you should have cards on you at all times. This should include whatever contact information you wish to share with someone, your name, and a little something about you. This way, when you meet someone randomly during your day with whom you’ve had a conversation, you can easily share your information. You never know when you’re going to meet your next contact.
If you have a business, or you are attempting to gain new clients for a project, make cards up for that project and don’t be afraid to add your tag-line to the card.
Keeping Families Safe
Even if you’re a stay-at-home-mom, you can still create a personal card with your name, whatever contact info you want to share, and a tag-line, even if it’s as simple as “Emily’s Mom.”
The other important thing to do in this tech-savvy world is to create your contact on your phone. So many people prefer electronic contact information to paper business cards. Each phone is a little different, so take the time to Google how to create and send your contact information on your phone and practice with friends or family a few times before using it for the first time at an event. There are plenty of YouTube videos and how-to articles out there to help you get this done quickly.
At events, after I have left a new person, I like to take a second to write on the back of their card (or on their contact info in my phone) a bullet list of things I learned about them, things we discussed, etc. This helps me remember the person once I get home. Then I scan their card (front and back) or put their information in my phone or email contacts. For people with whom I want to reconnect, I send them a follow up email.
Reconnecting and Follow-ups
For those with whom I want to follow-up, I make sure to have immediate notes to refer back to the following day. This is something you shouldn’t procrastinate. The day after an event, set aside time to send emails to those with whom you want to create a relationship.
The email can be very short, but should be personalized to each contact. Whatever you do, please do not copy and paste the same email to everyone.
It was great meeting you yesterday! I really enjoyed our conversation about online marketing. The conference was great and I got a lot of information that I think is going to help me launch my business to the next stage. Would you like to meet for lunch next week for a brain-storming session on how we can each implement these new ideas for our businesses? As we’re both in similar situations, I am hoping we can help one another move forward in this area.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Sign your email with your name, business name and your tag-line. This should be your signature for all of your emails, including your website and any other contact info you would share with anyone.
The email you send should reference one or two of the topics you discussed, an invitation to connect again, even via Skype, and a specific reason that is beneficial to them for accepting the invitation. Try to avoid saying things like, “I’d like to help you,” unless they specifically asked for your help.
These follow-up emails should be sent within 24 hours, while the event and the conversations are still fresh in people’s minds. After this time period, you run the risk of your connections becoming distracted with other things.
Resting Bitch Face (RBF)
Last, but certainly not least…Resting Bitch Face. This has been one of those life challenges for me. Most people overcome this simply by smiling, but I’ve always felt that my smile, when forced, seems unnatural, fake and awkward. I always feel weird just standing on the side of the room smiling by myself. Instead, I have learned to simply start the conversation.
It’s hard the first few times, but force yourself to simply walk up to someone who is standing alone and start a conversation. If they are at the event with you, chances are pretty good that you have something in common. My opening goes something like:
Hi, I’m Reyla. I figured it was time to stop standing on the sidelines and just meet people. I always feel a little awkward at these things!
And I smile a genuine smile. I’m much more animated when I talk, so my RBF goes away. I do this even when that person has RBF themselves. As a fellow sufferer, I understand that it can be difficult for them to get past it as well.
Generally, this opening works with those who are not already engaging with others. It’s just a guess, but it seems like the wallflowers at an event aren’t certain how to approach others, so they always seem grateful when I do so.
Joining a conversation that is on-going is also something that works at these mingling type of events. If you overhear a conversation about a topic you know nothing about, jump in and ask a question:
“I couldn’t help but overhear. I’m unfamiliar with that particular style of advertising, how does it work?” Go ahead and state right out loud that you don’t know something and ask for more information. People generally love imparting what they know, but avoid being disingenuous by pretending you don’t know something that you really do.
Finally, try to avoid being a “know-it-all.” When we get nervous, some of us tend to overcompensate by talking too much or imparting advice to garner respect. The reality is, people like talking about themselves. Asking questions and showing genuine interest in people helps them feel a connection. Being genuine with them when they ask questions of you and not pretending to have it all together is also a great way to create that connection. It’s okay to admit when you have a weakness in an area that you are trying to improve. By showing this small vulnerability, you seem much more approachable and human. Everyone has something that they’re trying to improve about themselves. Share yours and see what happens!
Please comment with your best networking techniques or ways to get past RBF!