The ins and outs of networking conversations

I’d imagine you’re a fairly busy person.

So I’d like to share some tips for making the most of your time when at a networking event. Starting (somewhat strangely) with what to say when it’s become clear that there’s no good reason to keep talking. For the simple reason that more people ask me about how to end conversations than to start them.

The Outs

Here are some guilt-free phrases, which indicate you’d like to move on.  They help the other person, leave them feeling good and don’t even mention your bladder or getting another drink.

  • Do you know many others here? (good because it gently sows the seed of moving on)
  • I’ve really enjoyed talking to you….(good because it’s in the past tense)
  • If I meet any (insert their target audience) would you like me to introduce you? (good because it’s a clear that you want to help this person and will be on the look out for their useful contacts)
  • I’ve hogged you for too long… (nice because they feel good – but please be sincere about it)
  • Shall we go and meet some others? (if you spot another open two, then naturally each of you will start talking to different people)
  • Who are useful contacts for you here?( good because it implies you’re interested and want to help them)
  • Would you like me to introduce you to anyone? (again shows you want to help them)

The ins

Before we get into the nitty gritty of how you start a conversations – there’s one very important question you need to ask yourself before you even step out of your studio or office….Why are you going? Now, when I ask this, most people usually say, “Well to meet new people, of course, raise my profile, that kind of thing…”

All well, but only partially good.

My question to you then becomes, “OK you’d like to meet some new people – specifically who are they? What do they do? Can you contact any of them in advance to see if they’re going to the same event?”

By doing just a bit of prep – you’re paving the way to make getting into conversations with the people you actually want to speak to much easier.  If you can’t get the guest list, set some goals – ie I’m going to speak to three new people, establish if they’re in my target audience or potential referral partner and, if so, arrange to have a cup of coffee with them.

Action points: Contact the host beforehand, get a guest list, scan it for those you want to speak to and then get in touch with them to make sure it happens.

Let’s say that you did pre arrange to meet a few people with whom you thought there could well be some synergy – how are you going to spot them? I would recommend you get there early and befriend the host.  They could probably do with some help too, so offering to make yourself useful is a nice idea. It’s also a good opportunity to tell them what you do and the kinds of people you’d like to meet.  Furthermore, arriving early usually means there are more open groups of people to join.

Action points: get there early, befriend and help the host.

Clearly, there will be times when you’ll need to start conversations with people you’ve never met before. So learn how to read body language – you can do it unconsciously already – but heighten your awareness so that you’re only approaching those who want to talk to others.  Remind yourself about open and closed groups.

Decide whether you’re more comfortable approaching individuals or open groups.  Everyone has their own strategy – some want to aim to speak to everyone in the room briefly, some want to get to know fewer people better – there’s no right or wrong way. But remember no one goes to a networking event for solitude.

The majority of people find networking uncomfortable at the start of an event.  Once it’s underway, people tend to relax. So if you assume the role of the host, and make it one of your missions to ensure people feel comfortable, the “pressure to perform” is off you.

So spot those who look like a fish out of water and go over and introduce yourself. How much more comfortable will that person feel? And they’ll remember you. I firmly believe that one of the reasons networking doesn’t work is that people aren’t interesting and memorable enough.  It was Maya Angelou who said,

“I’ve learned people will forget what you say, they’ll forget what you do, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”


Action points: brush up on your understanding of body language.

I’ve thought long and hard about how to break into groups of people who are already talking. Now it’s just a case of reading the body language, making eye contact and then deciding whether I’ll approach or not.

If I get the green light, then I’ll ask if I can join them.  Wait till there’s a gap in the conversation and then introduce myself by simply saying, “Hi I’m Melissa”.  I’ll offer my hand but only if there are fewer than four people, otherwise I end up feeling like I’m a politician.  Not good.

How good is your small talk?  Do the very words just make you shudder?  Have a few topics up your sleeve and remember you’ve already got tons in common with this stranger – you’re both networking, in the same town, in business…

Action point: If you want some ammunition – then check out this book – “How to talk to anyone, Leil Lowndes”.

Now of course there’s an awful lot that needs to happen in between getting in and out.  In fact, all good networking conversations have 5 stages.  And even though we get asked The Question all the time, few people have an effective answer.  My tried-and-tested tool helps people generate more leads and win more business through referrals because they’re instantly more interesting and memorable, when they answer, “What do you do?”

But remember networking is about developing relationships – which we’ve been doing since we were born. The only reasons I believe that, as a means of generating leads, it doesn’t work well are when people aren’t prepared, aren’t strategic and focused and don’t make themselves interesting or memorable enough.  Just a few small tweaks can make a big difference to your results.

Happy Mingling.

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