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Essentially, networking is about you creating a series of relationships (also known as a network). The end game for you is to get the network to help you. To get this, three things need to happen … Your network needs to KNOW you … Your network needs to LIKE you … And, your network needs to TRUST you.
Now, in establishing this KNOW, LIKE & TRUST, those you hope to add to your network NEED (not just WANT, but NEED) to have a firm sense as to…
• WHO you are (name, business name, basic product/service) …
• WHAT you do (along with when you do it) …
• WHY they should do business with you or WHY they should refer you as opposed to other options
• And, HOW they can help you (Who are people you want to be referred to? … Who do you want to meet? … What information do you need?).
In somewhere around 30 seconds, you need to effectively communicate all these things or lose (or at least risk losing) their minds to something (or someone) else. For more, see Part 2.
• THINK … On the way to the next event or when you have some idle time, work through in your mind how you envision your “small talk” going. Review the questions you will ask in your mind. See yourself listening, summarizing, and sharing.
• LISTEN … “Small talk” is all around you, every day. Listen to it, especially those who are good at it. See how they weave from one question to the next and how they transition to business, return to small talk and then exit the conversation.
• ENGAGE … Take every opportunity to engage in “small talk”. When you are in line at the store check out. With a server in a restaurant. With the receptionist at your next appointment. You will find the more you engage in small talk, the more comfortable you get at it.
The most important thing you need to do to be good at “small talk” is develop an attitude of belief. Periodically, you need to tell yourself, “I can carry a conversation. I can. I am good at it. I enjoy it. I like how it lifts the spirits of others. And I love what it is doing for my networking. I can carry a conversation.”
Business connections at networking events are great. Whatever the case, do not churn the entire event away in a single one. Nothing says that you need to engage in a dozen different conversations over the course of an hour. Two or three is plenty. Remember this is not speed dating, rather, it’s networking (building relationships). Given that, you should develop some ways of moving on. As with anything else, honesty is the best policy.
Here are some great lines for doing that:
• “Thanks for your time. I told myself I would meet three interesting people at this event. I have two more to go.”
• “There is someone over there that I need to connect with.”
• “Is there anyone here in particular you would like to meet? I would be glad to introduce you.”
Now remember, “small talk” is the warm-up and thus it should lead to a work out. The workout is talking business. To make this happen, eventually you need to transition from small talk to real business.
When this moment comes, you will know. Sometime into your exchange, there will be a lull. Use this moment to get at a more meaty discussion on business (whatever that might be).
Be forewarned, however, this is not to suggest that you start to pitch them or set them up for a close. It merely suggests that once you have them comfortably engaged in conversation, you should ease into a more professional discussion of their business or your business.
For example, this might be a good segue … “Well, water skiing is likely not cheap … So what do you do professionally to pay for it?”
Do not try to steer them. For example a business coach, should not ask … “Do you use business coaches in your business?” … A financial advisor, should not go with … “How is your 401K doing these days?” … A promotional products person, should not jump to … “How do you use ad specialty items in your business?”
Do NOT push it. Keep the tone light and the sales probing to a minimum. If you do this right, you will have lots of opportunity to gather future business intelligence, pitch them, and close them. Remember, people do business with those they Know, Like & Trust.
Return To Small Talk:
After the professional conversation has run its course, before the conversation ends, touch back on something related to your “small talk” conversation.
For example “Great talking with you. Assuming, you don’t get laid up in the hospital skiing between now and then, I would enjoy continuing our conversation over a cup of coffee sometime.”
Why is this important? By returning to “small talk”, you have demonstrated that you were listening and that you remembered. More subtly, however, you are reflecting back to a part of the conversation when they likely delighted in your interest in them.
Again, small talk kick-starts the networking process. Small talk, however, is about getting the other person talking. This begs the question: What are good questions to ask in this process?
There is no magic. Planning, however, is paramount. Be like an attorney – prepare your questions before you ask them. In other words, have a small handful of questions ready to go. Each of these relates to the person’s life professionally or personally … Or something about their past.
From there, allow the conversation to take itself wherever. A few of these questions could include…
• What do you do? How long have you been doing it? How did you become interested in that?
• What are some of the projects or assignments you are currently working on?
• Are you from this area?
Yes – What part?
No – What brought you here?
• Outside of work, what occupies you? How did you become interested in that?
• What are some business or community organizations you are involved with?
These will give you a start. From here you might want to formulate your own series of questions. Again, there is no magic. It is simply a matter of planning on how you will get and keep them talking.
Here is an important thing to understand: “Small talk” is not about filling idle time with interesting things to say. Rather, “small talk” is about getting the other person to fill idle time with things to say and you genuinely finding interest in it.
To make this happen (like anything) the key to success in “small talk” is having a reliable game plan. Like most game plans, the simplest are the best and this is a simple, reliable one.
Step One: Ask A Question … Now remember, the key is to get them talking, so you need to be ready with questions that are open-ended. “Isn’t this weather crazy?” will not cut it. “How does this crazy affect you?” just might.
Step Two: Listen … Really Listen … Take an interest in what they have to say, even if the subject is not particularly interesting to you. Why? First, you just might learn something, something that could help you or something that you can use to help them (which ultimately helps you).
Second, and this is very counter-intuitive, if you take an interest in them and whatever they have to say, they will find you to be a very interesting person (and they will not know why). It is just human nature. People tend to like people who show a genuine interest in them. So this listening encourages the entire networking process.
Step Three: Summarize & Share … As a follow-up (to show you are really listening), summarize what you have heard (or at least do the best you can) and then share a little about the subject as it relates to you. “So, as an avid water skier all this hot weather is great. I find that it kills my golf game.”
Then finally (just like the instruction on the shampoo bottle – lather, rinse and repeat) ask another question. Perhaps it is related to the first question, or maybe it is another tangent you would like to explore based on what they said in their answer. For example, “So, if hot weather is good, what do you do to occupy yourself when it is too cold to take to the lake?” Whatever, the case, keep them talking.
For many, the thought of engaging in “small talk” can make them anxious. It comes down to one thing – FEAR. Fear of being rejected. Fear of having nothing to contribute. Fear of getting stumped (or running out of conversation). Fear of getting stuck in a conversation with, well, that stranger that Mom warned you about.
FEAR NOT! The strangers your mother warned you about are no longer interested. You have things to contribute and with a little planning and practice you will never get stumped (and if you do, there is a way out).
As for rejection, know this: Everyone has this fear. EVERYONE. Even the most well connected, confident person will tell you that, deep down inside, they have this apprehension. If everyone has this fear, then everyone will welcome you coming up and jumping into conversation with them.
So make someone’s day. Engage in some “small talk” with them.
Think about it. What did you do that last time you were at an event and someone started talking “Brass Tacks” ASAP. “Who does your printing? Are you happy? I can do better. Give me a chance. Throw me some business. Well, why not?”
It is through “small talk” that people gain an understanding of: Who you are … What interests you … How you spend your time. And you learn the same about them.
As an analogy, “small talk” is like the warm up you do before you really get into the work out. It is the foundation of the KNOWING in “Know, Like & Trust”. It is also this small foundation upon which people gain a sense as to whether they LIKE you. In fact, social science and brain studies have shown that in the few minutes where chitchat is happening, people even start to formulate a sense as to whether or not they TRUST you, too.
While her warnings were intended to protect us as children from those who prey on our innocence, we are no longer kids. We are big boys and girls … We operate in the grown-up world where strangers become good friends, great clients and, even reliable vendors.
Even still, however, “small talk” gets a bad rap. Far too often people see it as idle chitchat that has no productive value in the professional world.
Understand this, our entire personal and professional worlds are formed and held firmly together by networking … And “small talk” has a big part in successful networking.
Networking events are generally not opportunities for closing business. Thus, you may not likely get clients as a result of them. You may stumble upon a client. Know, however, that is the exception rather than the rule.
As you embark upon networking at events, do not consume yourself with meeting as many people as you can. Remember, meaningfully connecting is about the quality of the connection and not the quantity. You are much further ahead in time to focus on really connecting with a small handful of people rather than simply collecting dozens of business cards.
Remember, networking events are everywhere. Business after-hours are networking events. Tradeshows are networking events. Business parties are networking events … so are social parties, tailgates, and really any gathering of people. Use each to expand your base of connections, from which you build relationships.