Some facilities management professionals may find the idea of walking up to a person and starting a conversation awkward at best, terrifying at worst. If you’re one of those people, try some of these tips the next time you talk business with a stranger.
While it can be tempting to only talk to the people you know, you have plenty of opportunities to do that outside of the networking event. To help shyer professionals counter this tendency, strategy consultant Dorie Clark suggests setting a goal of meeting a certain number of people at the event. Doing this can give you a concrete goal going in to the event and make the process less intimidating.
It can be awkward to walk up to someone you don’t know and start a conversation. That’s partly why so many people hate networking. Business expert and author Chris Brogan suggests having an opener that can help you start a conversation with someone. Ideally, it should be something that requires more than a simple yes or no answer. So instead of introducing yourself and asking, “Ever been to one of these things?,” it would be better ask, “What brings you out tonight?”
Knowing how to start a conversation can be one challenge. Ending it is another. When your conversation partner keeps on talking , your instinct may be to keep listening to avoid appearing rude. But in doing so, you may be missing an opportunity to talk with other people and gain other useful insights. The same can be said of the other person. If they try to continue the conversation by asking you a question, answer them, but end by saying, “I’m going to meet other people now, but it was nice talking to you. I’ll let you know if I have any leads for you.”
Approaching one person can be challenging. Infiltrating a group can be even worse. To ease the pressure, CIO’s Meredith Levinson says you should do what Dale Carnegie advises in How to Win Friends and Influence People: Ask a question. According to Dale Carnegie & Associates CEO and president Peter Handal, “You build your credibility by asking a question, and for a shy person, that’s a much easier way to engage than by barging in with an opinion.”
It can be common to meet a person, learn their name, talk to them for a few minutes and then end up asking them to repeat their name again later in the conversation. This may be due to nerves, but try to push past the jitters and address a person by name a few times during the conversation. This shows the other person that you’re really listening, and it will help you form a stronger connection with him or her; Handal says that using their name will also create a sense of familiarity that will make the interaction more comfortable.
Networking doesn’t have to be something you save for events that are officially labeled with the word “networking.” You can network during other social events, such as golf games or happy hours. These kinds of activities can lead to casual conversation with strangers, which may lead to discussion of work.
If you have a hobby that brings you into contact with other people on a regular basis, that contact can also set the stage for an exchange of business cards. On the flip side, Levinson says that hobbies can also be good conversation topics during actual networking events.
People have different reasons for networking. Some may be looking for a job. Others may be looking to switch industries. Still others may want to connect with peers in their field. Whatever your own reason for attending a networking event, remember that everyone is in your position, too: They have a need of some kind. While you may walk away from the event having found what you’re looking for, be sure to think of ways you can help others achieve the same goal. After all, that’s what networking is for.
For many people, it’s hard enough to walk up to a stranger and just start a conversation. When you have to do it for professional purposes, the discomfort can be even worse. But with enough time, practice and the right techniques, networking can become easier. While it may never feel completely comfortable, networking can nevertheless unearth many useful resources. You just need the right tools to dig in first.
Once you’ve conquered the networking event—whether it’s formal or not—you’ll need to maintain that initial contact. Stay in touch with the people you meet by sending them articles relevant to their industry. If they work in a field that you’re totally unfamiliar with, think about their interests and hobbies, and send them links related to that.
LinkedIn can also be useful for staying in touch, so be sure to send an invitation to connect with the person after the event. (Helpful hint: to keep the business cards you collect nice and organized, snap a picture of each with your phone. That way, it won’t be such a big deal if you lose the card after the event.)
Networking doesn’t have to be awkward. By pushing yourself to meet new people, you have the potential to gain a wealth of new contacts, resources and job leads, and when you approach the process strategically, you may even find yourself enjoying it—or at least hating it a little bit less.
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