Hate Networking Events? You’re Not Alone
Do you have to drag yourself to networking events? Do you find yourself awkwardly nursing a drink or staking out the food table, wishing you were somewhere else? But you force yourself to stay because managing these events well is crucial to get hired or build your business.
Fortunately, there are some high-quality resources available to help you build your skills. Just one of these is Debra Fine’s “The Fine Art of Small Talk,” available both as a book and a recording.
Using her advice, you can enjoy networking events. Really. Here are a few samples of her advice.
Prepare For Networking Events
Brainstorm before networking events to come up with three or more topics you can use to initiate conversation or to pick things up when conversation drags. Topics might include films and TV shows, current events, and happenings in your community.
How to Get The Other Person Talking
Be sure to go after more information, digging deeper into what people tell you. These phrases can help to develop memorable conversations:
- Tell me more.
- How did that happen?
- What led you to do that?
- Is that something I can do?
Networking Event Key: Use open-ended questions
Open-ended questions like these are more likely to get people talking.
What made you move to Kenilworth?
How did you get started into your current job?
What do you see as the biggest obstacles to success in your industry?
Closed questions get short answers.
Is your company located in Winnetka?
Do you live here in Highland Park?
Do you read the Wall Street Journal?
What’s your sign?
Not only are closed questions unlikely to develop good conversations, but asking too many closed questions can make the other person feel uncomfortable. They might even feel interrogated and wonder if you’re with the FBI.
Networking Event Strategy: Use Free Information
We often can get what she calls “free information” from others through their appearance, words, and behavior. Grab onto this free information and use it to open up great conversations.
Many times, people tell us things that provide an opening to find out about them:
- When we moved to Winnetka …
- When I left my position at Chicago Faucet in Des Plaines …
- Because I grew up on Chicago’s south side, I know …
Ask questions about this free information to develop conversations:
- What made you move to Winnetka?
- What do you think of the corporate culture at Chicago Faucet?
- Did you enjoy living on the south side?
Want to talk to us about your career advancement?
If you’re living in cold-winter places like Chicago or Milwaukee and you run across someone with a suntan in the middle of January, chances are they’ve taken a trip somewhere interesting—or at least know of a good tanning facility. Ask them about it.
At a small networking event, a man had a cast on his leg. When someone asked what happened, he said it was a skiing accident. This helped everyone in the room to get to know him better and generated some good-natured ribbing that got everyone laughing.
You might ask a woman wearing a distinctive piece of jewelry about where it came from and how she happened to find it.
3) Behavior–When you encounter a woman whose accent isn’t local, you might ask why she came to the United States or what part of the country she is from.
You might ask why she moved to the US
You might ask a woman who is left handed what issues come up with being a lefty.
If you see a man wearing a Chicago Cubs tie or lapel pin, you might ask about the first Cubs game he attended or who is his favorite Chicago player.
4) Occasion/Location-Questions about the event you’re or the spot of your encounter.
At a seminar: What led you to sign up for this seminar?
At an association meeting: How did you come to choose this field?
At a political rally: What led you to support this candidate?
At Joe’s birthday party: How do you know Joe?
At Networking Events: Don’t Create Awkwardness
Ms. Fine also advises keeping questions with acquaintances more general to avoid blundering into uncomfortable situations.
If you see John once or twice a year, don’t ask him, “How is that great job at Grainger in Lake Forest going?” He may have been demoted or fired since you last saw him. Instead, ask him, “How’s work going?” That way, he can tell you whatever he wants.
Similarly, don’t ask Sally, “How’s that gorgeous husband of yours?” Maybe he left her. You’re just an acquaintance. She doesn’t want to discuss her marital trauma with you. So instead, ask her something like, “What’s new with the family?” Again, this gives Sally the chance to share whatever she wants, without having to delve into painful issues.
Interested in Debra Fine’s book?
Develop Your Networking Event Skills
I encourage you to equip yourself with these powerful tools Ms. Fine discusses. They can turn awful networking events into enjoyable ones and help you create relationships that can last for years. Getting hired, staying employed, getting new business, and being promoted are all about chemistry.
If you’re ready to move up or go in another direction in your career, don’t waste another day. Let’s talk. Call 847-673-0339 or send us a note. — Steve Frederick and Jack Chapman