Networking: the rule of three
Networking is a difficult pursuit, especially attending when you are attending events full of people you don’t know, some of which could be future clients. To help with nerves,and to get the best out of the event, it is best to prepare and get some tactics in place before you set out.
There are several rules that I always employ as they will help and make it more fun.
Firstly, I would suggest setting a target for the event as this makes it more of a challenge and gives you an aim. I always seek to identify three useful contacts at each event (though I may, and often do, speak to more people). It’s very rare that a person will walk out of a networking event with a firm offer of business, so by useful contacts I mean people that you can see yourself working with in future. These might be contacts that you can see yourself calling upon for commissions, or people that have services that you might need in the future. However, it doesn’t end here. I also like to get at least three useful contacts that aren’t present at the event, even if it’s the company that printed someones nice business cards. If you are going with others this can be pitched as a game and that will give the event a fun edge!
Next up is a suggestion for getting conversations started. When you get into a taxi there are generally three conversation starters that everyone uses (long silent taxi rides are always uncomfortable, as is standing in the corner on your own at an event). These openers are:
‘What time did you get on/what time do you end’
‘What terrible/great weather’
‘How’s business/have you been busy?’
Apart from the first suggestion, these can be translated to most settings, even networking.
I try to have a few comments in the bank that I know will start a conversation, and these are slightly different depending on wether I have met the person before.
For new meetings simple questions like ‘where do you work’ or ‘what do you do’ will get a conversation, though be aware these can lead to long answers at entrepreneurial events. General comments about the catering, drinks or venue (‘do you come here often’ should be avoided) as they make for good small talk.
If you know someone from previous networking sessions (but perhaps can’t remember their name) something simple like ‘were you at the last event’ or ‘how is business’ will always get the conversation flowing.
Lastly, going in a group of three really helps. It’s best not to do the rounds with friends as the temptation is to talk amongst yourselves, but you know you will have someone to rescue you if you are stuck talking to the most boring person in the room.