‘How to build rapport at networking events, fast’
When you go to networking events do you find some people are great to talk to, and some people aren’t? If you find some people a struggle it could be something to do with lack of rapport. Rapport is a magical thing that emerges naturally when you quickly connect with people who are similar to you. Maybe you share something in common, have the same interests, similar personalities or maybe you just can’t help liking them. With these people rapport comes naturally, and that makes networking conversations a whole lot easier.
But then there are those with whom you don’t have rapport. It’s those people with whom you can find little common ground, no similar interests – in fact maybe there is no interest at all! Being able to converse naturally and confidently with everyone you meet at a networking event is going to help you make the most of the opportunity to meet potential clients and associates. So here are some networking tips to help you build rapport, fast!
1. Keep your body language open – no crossed arms, it puts people off.
Ok – so we all know that crossed arms are supposed to mean that you are feeling defensive, but its quite likely that many of us cross our arms because we are comfortable sitting or standing like that. When you are networking you have to work consciously to send out open and welcoming ‘messages’ to others. So don’t cross your arms if you want to send out positive vibes to other people! Instead, if you don’t know what to do with your arms try holding some business cards, brochures or leaflets. It gives your hands something to do! Rapport is an essential communication skill.
2. Smile and nod as people are talking to you – it shows you are listening.
Smiling and nodding are a key part of your listening skills, and part of the ‘active listening’ skillset. It’s not enough to just listen to other people. You have to show them you are listening. Particularly if there are distractions around you or you are in a noisy environment. What does it feel like if you think someone is losing interest in what you are saying? What happens? I bet you find your words dry up, you feel uncomfortable and you stop talking. Do you want the person you are chatting to to feel uncomfortable? This isn’t going to help the rapport between you both. So show them you are listening to their every word by nodding and smiling. In fact you will need to take this a stage further by asking relevant questions that relate to what they’ve just said, but it all starts with reassuring them that you are interested.
3. Use eye contact to show you are interested – people will be drawn to you.
Never, ever let your eyes give away that you are getting bored or losing interest! The minute you allow your eyes to wander you will reveal what you are thinking about (getting another coffee maybe, speaking to someone else, getting something to eat….)! So if you want to build a great connection with someone else, however difficult it is, you must work hard to use regular eye contact (not staring!). It’s part of your active listening skill-set and not everyone is good at it. Practice this and see the difference it makes to the relationships you are building.
4. Describe what you do in terms of how other clients have benefited from your products or services.
At some point it will be your turn to talk. Clever networkers will turn the conversation away from themselves and towards the other person, so be prepared to talk about yourself at some point. When you are asked the inevitable question ‘what do you do?’ – think about the best way to quickly illustrate what you are all about. I suggest you introduce your products or services by describing the benefits other customers/clients are receiving. This quickly provides validation and persuasive psychology proves that people are more likely to ‘follow the crowd’ than be the first. Talking about your current clients helps to build the illusion that you are capable and successful. Who wants to buy from someone who is failing to convince other clients to buy?
5. Avoid plumping for your job description (eg. ‘I am a training consultant’) as a way of describing what you do – it closes off conversations.
It is so easy to get lazy with your networking and revert to introducing yourself by using your job title or job description. Eg ‘I’m an accountant’ or ‘I’m a business consultant’. Yawn. Where can this conversation go now? Instead follow tip 4 above to highlight the benefits of your product or service, give examples of case studies, or be ready to describe your usp (unique selling proposition). Anything! But don’t get lazy and damage the rapport you’ve been building. Keep the connection alive and thriving. Don’t bore the socks off the other person!
In my next networking skills blog I will give 5 more tips for maximising your networking performance – focusing on how to get ready for networking events.