Once you’ve broken the ice and started to talk to a stranger at a networking event it can be easy to breathe a sigh of relief, relax and then stick with this person for a little too long because it feels safe! It can also be all too easy to find yourself talking about anything and everything, because conversation seems to flow.
Remember, this is a business networking event and you are here to work. So here are five top tips to help you make sure you talk to more than one person, and how to make meaningful conversation with people you have only just met.
1. If you get stuck with someone and want to move on, say ‘It’s been lovely meeting you – we really ought to meet some other people as well…Can I catch you later?’
You have to wait for an appropriate pause in the conversation of course – and no-one likes to be rude, but it is essential that you don’t get stuck with the same person for the duration of the event. It might make you feel safe and comfortable but it isn’t going to help you make great connections for your business. Everyone has come along to meet some new people, so if you have to be the one to move on first, think of it as a favour to the other person!
2. Alternatively say ‘Excuse me, we’ve been chatting for ages, I just need to check my phone messages/make a phone call/visit the bathroom’
Now this might seem a little harsh, but if you really are finding it hard to break away from someone then you might have to tell a little white lie to make it easier for yourself. Only use this technique if you really can’t seem to shake someone off because having used the excuse of having to leave the room, you will then have to do just that. Which means you are missing valuable networking time with other people.
3. Go armed with some success stories – use these to show how good you are in your business.
There is nothing better than a testimonial for illustrating how good you are at what you do. But these are hard to use at networking events. The next best thing is for you to describe some of the best work you have done, using success stories and examples to paint a picture of your products and services. You should be planning these success stories before you even arrive at the networking event; have you got pictures, examples, samples etc. to show? Talking ambiguously about the products and services you sell can be dull for other people, but talking about the best pieces of work you have delivered for a few previous clients and customers really helps to show what you are all about.
4. If you are completely new to business and don’t have any success stories yet, use successes from your previous employment, or describe the benefits of your product or service.
If you have started your business in a related field to your previous employment, then you can draw on success stories from your previous job, to highlight the unique skills that previous clients or customers have benefited from. The important thing is to make sure you can succinctly describe what the client’s problem was and how you solved it using your amazing skills and knowledge. Few people at networking events would even think to ask if the piece of work you are describing is a client of your new business – they will be so impressed by the success story you are relating they won’t think to ask! If this approach won’t work for you – then simply focus on the benefits that your new service or product delivers & why you are passionate about it!
5. Ask lots of questions – people love speaking about themselves!
The single best way to smoothly navigate conversations with strangers is to ask questions about the other person. Not simply ‘what do you do?’ – as this tends to kill the conversation unfortunately. Think about it:
Question – ‘What do you do?’
Answer – ‘I’m a Financial Advisor’
Question – ‘Oh that’s good…….Ummmm….. Do you enjoy it?
Answer – ‘Yes’
Its not going that well is it? Much better is to think about what you really would like to know about the other person as you never know who or what you might need in the future. Try this approach:
Question – ‘What kind of business are you in?’
Answer – ‘Finance’
Question – ‘What kind of finance do you mean?’
Answer – ‘Personal finance. I advise people on investments and mortgages etc etc ‘
Question – ‘What in particular do your clients like about what you do?’
You can see that this conversation is starting to flow quite nicely. And it all stems from asking the initial question a bit differently – and then from staying focused  on finding out as much as you can about the other person and their business.
In my next blog I will give five more tips for making sure your networking runs smoothly, including some great skills for sending the right messages via your body language.