And the punches keep coming!
In my last two posts (Part 1 and Part 2), I've been discussing networking and the rules (in my mind anyway) that "govern" your networking activities at cocktail parties, chamber mixers, alumni meetings, golf outings, networking groups, service clubs, associations, conferences, and conventions.
Rules can help you maximize your efforts and help you from hitting (or being hit) below the belt. Heck, breaking of "the rules" is the headline this year as the Super Bowl ramps up!
Here are five more Rules to add to your collection. Inflate wisely!
With passion. Confidence. Clarity. Engagement. Intention. A smile. Firm handshake. Warmth. Interest. Openness. In boxing, everything comes off the jab. When networking, everything comes off the introduction. How you introduce yourself or get introduced by others sets the tone for the conversation to come. A strong introduction puts most people you meet at ease because it forces engagement. What you're really saying is, "Follow my lead!"
"Hello! My name is Michael. And you are?" (Easy, right?)
"Hello Jimmy! My name is Michael. Very nice to meet you!" (If they're wearing a name tag.)
"How is everyone doing tonight? My name is Michael! And you are?" (If it's a group, start with the person to your left, shake hands with your right hand, and make eye contact with each person as you move clockwise and they will introduce themselves to you!)
A few important points!
First and foremost, the concept of introducing yourself may seem easy, and it is - to some. What prevents most people from effectively introducing themselves is they simply don't know what to say next. At an event I attended last week, a young woman introduced herself to me and as we started speaking, she didn't know what to say next. It was like she just realized that she was having a conversation with a stranger. Once I started asking her questions, she got back on track.
Second, not everyone has the same communication style as you. Some people are very outgoing and interpersonal. Others are more analytical and detailed. Still others might be more "big picture" and creative. You may be speaking with someone that's very direct and "bottom line". How would you describe your style? Consider this as you introduce yourself to others. As you speak with someone more creative or direct, you may want to try to alter your approach and be more like them, as appropriate. I tend to be very direct and outgoing. If I meet someone that's more reserved, I'll try to be more reserved. It always depends on your sparring partner.
Have Good Questions to Ask
If you ask the right question, you get the right answer. If you don't ask the question, the answer is always no. Ask questions. Lots of them! Asking questions is the best way to start a conversation (well, off the jab or intro), maintain a conversation, learn, establish rapport, build confidence, and develop a relationship.
There are two types of questions - conversational and proprietary. Conversational questions are very light, general, and basic. Often, conversational questions get a more in-depth conversation going. Hence the name!
How do you market your business?
Proprietary questions are more specific and tend to focus on an actual industry or profession.
What's the difference between whole life insurance and term life insurance?
In a business networking setting, you may need to be armed with both types of questions. (As opposed to both types of life insurance.) Here are some questions I like to ask (again, off my jab or intro) when I'm meeting people for the first time at a business event.
Have you been to this event before? What keeps you coming back? How did you learn of this event? What type of work do you do? Do you like what you do? How did you get involved in that field? Is this your first career? What made you change your career path? What are your goals for the year? What are your long range business goals? Do you have personal goals you're looking to accomplish? What are some personal goals that you've failed to accomplish in the past? Why? How do you market your business? How do you get most of your business? Are there other events you attend? Do you have a target market? Who is a perfect prospect for you? Who are the best referral sources for you? Who are you looking to meet here? How can I help?
Of course, you don't ask all of these questions, necessarily, but you get the idea. Have 10 questions up your sleeve so you're always prepared to have a conversation. It took me literally two minutes to type the 21 questions above. In simply being naturally curious about other business people, I'm able to come up with open ended questions that enrich a conversation and help me to learn. Hopefully, I get these questions asked of me right back.
"How about yourself?"
Learn How to Talk to People
Introducing yourself and asking questions will get a conversation off the ground. But to be even more engaging, at times, you'll want to roll with the punches (as it were). Be prepared to share something about yourself that's interesting, fun, and timely. If you're excited about a vacation that's coming up, mention it. If you have an event that you're looking forward to, make that a part of the conversation. As an amateur boxer, I'll mention to those I meet that I have a fight coming up and they're fascinated. In fact, they ask me about the details. Some of the more recent conversations I've had involved kids going away to college, buying a new home, selling a home, planning to relocate, expecting a child, building a new business, starting a diet, and training for a triathlon. If you're into the same sport or same sports team (or competing teams) that works too. Some of this light conversation can turn into business conversation, especially when it comes to buying or selling a home. Just be careful not to turn your conversation into a "fact find" and sales pitch - you'll be breaking a Rule!
Certainly, you can make the conversation personal but not too personal. Keep it light and positive. Don't take over the conversation; make sure that it's an even exchange. Make it fun!
Be Positive, Professional, and Respectful - Always
Here's the truth. You won't like everyone you meet. Don't worry, everyone won't like you either! It's just part of the networking deal. You may even meet someone that's disrespectful and rude - especially if you don't refinance your house with them, become part of their down line in their MLM business, or buy Mary Kay products from them. No matter what, stay polished and professional and realize that most people you meet may not be savvy networkers or be privy to the Rules of Networking (See how lucky you are?). Just end the conversation with a handshake. "Good to meet you." Then, introduce yourself to someone else. There's always someone else!
There are varying definitions to what a referral is. Here's mine. A referral is someone expecting your contact to discuss the prospect of becoming your client. A referral relationship is the hallmark of effective networking. Don't expect to start generating referrals when you first meet people at an event. It's much too soon. You still have to get to know one another and develop a relationship. Business happens at the speed of trust so don't expect those you meet for a few minutes at a cocktail party to open up their Rolodex (remember those?) and connect you to their best clients. It's an unrealistic and presumptuous expectation. The best way to get referrals is to give referrals so take your time, meet the right people, and when the timing is right - help them!
The Final Five Rules when we touch gloves again next time. Elbows in, you win!