At most networking events, people often fall into one of three categories: Interesting, Boring or Assholes. Sadly, the latter two seem to be in far greater supply than the former. To help distinguish which category people fall into and how to navigate that initial conversation, we talked to a few networking pros and came up with the top five rules for working a room effectively.
Rule #1 – It’s Not a Numbers Game
We all have that one coworker who will walk out of a meet-and-greet, and proudly whip out a fat wad of business cards like it was prize pig at the state fair. The flaw in his plan is that it’s more about ego gratification than it is about real relationship building. Let’s face it, if you are able to snatch 100 cards at any given two-hour event, it’s almost guaranteed that you won’t remember who they are, what they do, or why you should call them. Worse, if you do remember and you do call them, it’s highly likely they won’t know who you are. Remember, networking is about relationships, not connections.
Rule # 2 – Keep Track of Who You Do Meet
When it comes to building a meaningful network, keeping a close grip on valuable contacts is as important as getting the phone numbers in the first place. When you first make the contact, make sure to reach out within a few days and follow-up. This should be second nature. During your follow-up conversation, inquire about specific details they shared with you during your initial conversation. If you can’t recall any details, it’s usually a good marker that you probably talked too much and didn’t let them get a word in edgewise. In that case, move on to Rule # 3.
Rule # 3 – Learn to Listen
We all know it’s easier to talk about ourselves than ask questions but, for now, keep a leash on your tongue. The more they talk, the quicker you’ll be able to find common interests and more inroads to build a better dialogue. More importantly, the more they talk the quicker you’ll find out if they are an asshole and the quicker you can get the hell away from them.
If they do fall into the “Interesting” bucket, get the verbal volleying started with a broad question or observation. Steer clear of questions relating to their profession. At this point, all you’ll get is their elevator pitch and you’ll learn next to nothing about them as person. Look for details too…say a Twilight button on their messenger bag (which, if this does happen – walk away – immedietly). The point here is to get them talking about something…anything. Once you’ve got them talking, keep the conversation going by re-framing their answers into a follow-up question, allow them to delve deeper into the topic.
Rule # 4 – Have a Point
At some point, it’s going to be your turn to talk. So please – for their sake – have a point. People are innately attracted to individuals who show genuine interest, are excited, and are thoroughly engaged in their work. So, if you’ve initiated he conversation, don’t be coy, get to the point and tell your newfound friend why you’re there and what you hope to get from the meeting. Brevity is key here – watch yourself – don’t get all worked up and break Rule #5.
Rule # 5 – Don’t Kill the Conversation
Good storytellers, while entertaining, are not good conversationalists. Storytellers monopolize a conversation, while good conversationalists listen to others when they speak and ask the right questions when they see the opportunity.
To that end, when networking, there is such a thing as overdoing it in a conversation. Use your soapbox time wisely. Keep your anecdotes brief and when there isn’t much left to say, exit the conversation smoothly and move on to other people. You don’t want to be caught in a silent gaze with someone you just met.
Try to leave the conversation on a high note too. While a joke or funny quip is often a witty way to part ways, resist the urge for an encore. Simply get the contact info because, remember…the show must go on.