Would you rather do the polar bear plunge into icy Nordic waters than attend your company’s next “optional business networking event?” (Optional means it is mandatory if you care at all about your future life as a company employee!)
Your boss has cheerily coaxed you, “Come on, it will be fun, you’ll connect with so many new faces.”
Translated: “I know you feel introverted at these things. So do I. Come keep me company and we’ll hang out together at the wine bar.”
Or, translated it could mean: “You need to see and be seen, it’s part of the gig. If you care about how you’re perceived, I’d recommend you come, loaded with your friendliest smile and a pocketful of business cards.”
Whatever her reasons for inviting you, here are three ways you can keep from walking into a roomful of never or rarely seen faces, and praying for each moment to swiftly pass so you can bolt for the door.
1. Don’t try to meet everyone. Pick one or two people and get to know them…genuinely.
Recently I led a workshop for C-level executive mentors and up-and-coming mentees. At one point, the mentee, I’ll call her Ashley, said, “My greatest fear is going to a business networking event. I’m basically shy and it is painful for me.”
Her mentor, Stephen, chuckled and said to the group, ““My greatest fear is going to a business networking event. I’m basically shy and it is painful for me.”
We all laughed, and then jokingly wondered about how Stephen was going to mentor Ashley when that was his issue as well.
He went on to give some sage advice, and one that spoke to all of us.
He said, “Since I am shy, I’ve learned to pick two people that I have planned to meet ahead of time. I do a little research on them so I know who and what they are about. Then I approach them at the event, and strike up a conversation based on one of their experiences or successes I am familiar with.”
How wise of him! He did his due diligence ahead of time and held genuine conversations with these couple of people he was interested in meeting. That not only made it a much less daunting experience for him, but he really did connect with a couple of individuals who will remember him as well.
2. Avoid the “business card jab.”
Should you bring your clean, crisp, descriptive business card with you to a business networking event? Of course, you should. But distribute them selectively, to those you actually want to have them. Your business cards are not confetti to be thrown in the air at a parade, but rather decidedly offered to others of interest to you.
Many times, it’s tempting to say, “Hi, I’m James, I own a software business.” and then James jabs his business card into the solar plexus of the unprepared new acquaintance.
I’m sorry to say those kind of networking exchanges often end up with the recipient having an aching side, and the jabbed business cards in the bottom of the trash can, post-networking event.
Give your card to individuals with whom you have made a connection, enjoyed their conversation, and with whom you might truly see doing future business.
3. Ask open-ended questions, not Yes/No. Help the other person succeed in their response to you.
My colleague, Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, suggests that you ask open-ended questions to keep momentum going in a conversation.
Rather than, “Did you have a good vacation?” (Pitfall: They answer, “Yes, it was great.” Conversation over.), ask, “What things did you enjoy most about your recent vacation?”
She also recommends, when meeting someone new, avoid questions that might put the other person in an awkward position.
For instance, rather than, “What do you do for a living?” (Pitfall: perhaps they are “in transition” and have been recently laid off), ask, “Tell me about your business/work.”
(I recommend Debra Fine’s book, it’s a gold mine for small talk at any social gathering.)
Try these business-networking ideas. Next time your boss suggests you make an “optional” show at the downtown after-work soiree, you will be ready to take the plunge!
Lori Bachman created The MentorShift Group to equip mentors and mentees with a practical and powerful mentoring system. The system is designed to equip those who use it to, not only flourish in their own mentoring relationships, but to be able to transfer its success to others as well. You can contact Lori at firstname.lastname@example.org