Does this environment make you nervous?
Despite all the rage over social networking tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and You-Tube, an in-person networking event is still one of the best ways to build professional relationships. However, many of the people who could benefit the most from in-person networking (i.e. entrepreneurs, salespeople and job-seekers) are intimidated about going to these events alone.
I believe there are 2 primary reasons for these fears. First of all, most people put way too much pressure on themselves in regard to expectations for an event. Rather than going with the goal of getting a job or making a sale, you should look at a networking event simply as a way to meet new people and to exchange ideas about an industry. Going to a networking event looking for a job or a sale is like going to a bar looking for a spouse! It puts unnecessary pressure on you, and this apprehension will have a negative impact on all of your interactions.
Secondly, many people fear networking events because they are unsure of what to say when speaking to strangers. However, this problem is easily rectified as well. Last week, I attended a 4-day conference in Orlando, Florida where I knew virtually no one. As a result, I relied on strategic questioning to make over 25 new friends/contacts and to gather a lot of great information about the industry.
Here are 8 questions you can use at your next networking event. I have left parts of each question blank so that you can make them relevant to you:
- How long have you been involved with the ___________? (Fill in the name of the organization hosting the event.)
- How did you end up getting involved in the ____________? (Fill in the name of the organization hosting the event.)
- How long have you worked in the _________ industry? (Fill in the name of your industry.)
- How did you get your start in the __________ industry? (Fill in the name of your industry.)
- What do you enjoy most about your work?
- How do you see the __________ industry changing over the next few years? (Fill in the name of your industry.)
- How do you think the __________ industry has changed over the last 5 years? (You can ask this if someone has been in the industry for a while, and if you are new to the industry.)
- What advice would you have for someone new to the industry? (If you are not in the industry yet, you can also ask what advice the person would have for someone looking to get into the industry.)
The key to all of these open-ended questions or for any other question is to get the other person talking about himself/herself and to get the other person to offer their ideas and advice. People love talking about themselves, and people love giving advice. While some people will take this bait and talk only about themselves, most will reciprocate and then ask you about yourself. Then, you have a conversation that can potentially lead somewhere. At the minimum, you have met a new contact and learned something new about your industry.
So, what do you say next time you are at a networking event? Ask the other person any of the questions above and then simply have a discussion. Networking is fun when you have proper expectations and when you are prepared. Focus on exchanging ideas and on making friends, and the job offers and sales leads will follow!
College Speaker and President of Idealize Enterprises