I brought my teenage daughter to a business event. She compared it to a middle-school dance. #awkward
Sometimes, almost always, I find paint-by-numbers chitchat boring. My solution to this is 25 Imaginative Conversation Starters at every lunch, dinner, cocktail or meeting. Proof of their success is that one of my very own offspring recently sprung one of the questions on me. Ha!
It’s a new approach networking. It’s a more relaxed attitude. It’s about making friends, not contacts.
If you are new to networking, these events are not where you sell anything. These are opportunities to meet interesting people and build relationships (aka make friends).
As an overextended professional who is somewhat introverted, I get anxious before these events. My inner efficiency expert would like to simply filter out the “relevant” versus “not relevant” people but it doesn’t work that way. Thankfully. I think I would be on the permanently not relevant list.
Your best leads for clients, investors, donors or new hires can come from the least “relevant” source. I got a great speaking gig thanks to someone I met at a Christmas party, where my main networking goal had been to introduce my husband to the party host. I wasn’t even in business networking mode at that party.
I have clients thanks to new friends I make at events. I’ve had people recommend me when I don’t even remember their names to thank them.
This non-traditional approach to networking is lifted from a concept practiced by consultant and improv teacher, Robert Poynton* . For those of us who find small talk difficult, it’s a deeper approach to making new friends at business parties aka networking events. There are 3 aspects:
1. Notice more.
Notice feelings, yours and those of others. That makes you more emotionally intelligent. You might find other people also feel awkward. Or you might notice something funny and forget about wanting to go home.
Notice more about the locale, the drinks, the food, the clothes people are wearing. Notice the color of the eyes of the person you are talking to.
Fascinating things are in each detail. Plus you impress others when you notice interesting things about them.
2. Let go.
Let go of negative attitude, feeling tired, not wanting to go. Let go of preconceived notions about people. Let go of your agenda (note that this directly contradicts what I have often taught about doing your homework.)
Let go of wanting to impress others. Let go of wanting to meet the “right” people.
Channel your inner mad scientist and just see what happens when you simply show up with a smile.
3. Use everything.
Follow-up with everyone you talk to. Even the astrologist. Track them down on LinkedIn. Send them pleasant, non-transactional messages. Invite them over.
One December I went to a Dig South happy hour. I was a trifle flustered because it was on a Wednesday and I thought it was going to be on Thursday and I was not as dressed up as I like to be. I went anyway.
I immediately saw a couple of people I know who were talking to this guy I didn’t know. I barged into their conversation, and chatted with “the new guy” a few minutes. For sure no more than 5 minutes before we got distracted.
I caught his first name and that he had lived in China for a number of years. One week later, I was working on a panel proposal and the light bulb exploded! Global culture! I stalked Brent without a last name, found him on LinkedIn and he became part of the panel on Doing Business Around the World at Dig South that year.
I think of networking events as big parties where anything can happen. Usually something good happens and I come away with a new friend, or three.
Robert Poynton’s book is Do/Improvise/Less push. More pause. Better results.