Meeting someone for the first time can be nerve-racking. The reason it’s stressful is because first encounters are important. They lay the groundwork for a future relationship. If there’s nothing memorable or valuable exchanged in that first interaction, there’s little chance any type of relationship will develop.
When you’re in business, whether for yourself or someone else, there is no limit to the value of each relationship you build. Networking bridges gaps and makes opening important doors much easier. I’ve made connections that have led to new team members, customers, marketing opportunities, speaking engagements, partnerships, and more, and all have started with an introduction. To take advantage of these types of relationships, you have to be able to connect with the people you meet and do so quickly.
Here are six ways you can create an instant connection and leave behind a strong first impression with someone you hope to build a professional relationship with.
#1. Make an Offer
The most I can offer someone is my best self and the resources I have available to me. For example, having a contributor spot on the Huffington Post Blog is something of interest to most other business owners and thought leaders. If I’m working on an article that I need a quote for and meet someone who would be perfect to include in the article, I’ll offer to have my content manager interview him or her for the article. This gives them something of value and will create a bond between us, even if just a small one to start.
Thinking of what to offer someone you’ve just met can be difficult, so just ask what they're working on and what they need. Making an offer is also a great reason to keep in touch later to see how everything went or to be a resource to them in the future. Your experiences and what and who you know are valuable resources that can benefit someone else and help you develop relationships with those you assist.
#2. Laugh Together
It may be subconscious, but there are several reasons people tell jokes at networking events:
1. It feels good to laugh.
2. Laughing with someone (not at them) creates a sense of unity -- you’re participating in an activity together.
3. It creates a memorable bond.
4. Your brain has a scientifically-proven positive reaction when you laugh releasing “feel-good” endorphins. We all want to feel good, so why not do it together?
People are drawn to those who are fun to be around and make them laugh. Funny jokes and stories are extremely memorable and help your new connections establish an association with you, which helps to make an immediate impression and increases the chances you’ll be remembered.
#3. Ask a question
Providing value to others is the key to engaging new connections, but we can’t forget to ask questions as well. Entrepreneurs and CEOs are problem solvers by nature. Those you meet at events, and ones who rely on their network as a significant part of their business, are also likely to have a heart for helping others.
Ask them a question about something in an area where you need help that they have experience with. For example, I came across an article by Judy Robinett, author of “How to Be a Power Connector.” After sending her an inMail on LinkedIn with a question, she was kind enough to respond to me, which I didn’t expect, but thought was worth a shot. We talked briefly on the phone and I told her about a challenge I was facing.
She recommended that I consider the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program that was in my area. From her suggestion, I looked into the program and applied. I was accepted and completed the program, which has led to many opportunities, including being able to blog for the Huffington Post. I couldn't thank her enough for taking that little bit of time which made such a difference in my life. I have kept in touch with Judy because I wanted to be sure she knew what an impact meeting her had on me.
Asking for help and being vulnerable can be uncomfortable, but it is part of being a human and in business. If you can find a way to ask others for the help you are looking for, it will be to your benefit and help in building new relationships.
#4. Get to Know Them
To make good first impressions and build strong relationships, you have to care about the people you’re networking with. Get to know them. Ask about their family, how they got where they are now, and what their business goals are. When you meet them again in the future, remembering things they shared with you and asking about specific details will show them you care about them, you paid attention, and that you value the relationship.
Tip: If going to an event, look up and research the speakers and attendees (if possible) ahead of time. Seek out who you may be able to give value to and gain value from. While you can’t force a connection, being prepared and setting goals will help you get the most out of an event and meet the right people.
#5. Put Yourself in the Spotlight
Sometimes you have to take risks and be vulnerable to get ahead. One of the best ways to make an impact is by putting yourself in the spotlight when appropriate. Speak at an event, publish an article online on a subject you’re passionate about, wear a t-shirt that will spark conversation -- standing out will make you memorable and give others an opportunity to see how they can relate to you and how you may be able to help each other.
#6. Leave them with Something
Business cards have little value, but they do have some because they give you the opportunity to leave a small reminder of your encounter with the person you met after you’ve both gone your separate ways. This is also another opportunity for your new contact to make an association. They will look at your business card and then back at you after it’s handed to them. Your card then becomes the visual representation of your meeting when they look at it in the future.
Find creative ways to give people you want to build a relationship with something of interest or value.
Tip: Make an additional “touch” after meeting someone. This could be anything from sending them a thank you note to adding them to LinkedIn and sending an email right after you meet. Give them a quick reminder of who you are, how you met, and let them know you enjoyed meeting them. If appropriate, ask to keep things going via a phone call or meet up for coffee if you live in the same city. You can’t build a relationship in a single meeting, but by following up with them soon afterwards, you can set the foundation for one.
There are many ways to meet and connect with people. If there was an app to show you all the benefits that could be provided by the people in your immediate proximity, the amount of information and knowledge available would be astounding. Since there is no app, you have to do it manually by talking, sharing, laughing, helping and providing value to the people you meet, and to those who are lucky enough to meet you.