Networking is a big part of expanding your business. It gives you the opportunity to meet new people and make new contacts as well as prospective clients. No matter how advanced social media gets and online marketing gets, good old-fashioned word of mouth still works wonders in the entrepreneurial world.
Now that we’ve established that networking is something an entrepreneur cannot do without, does the mere name of networking at a social event where you don’t know anybody send you into a fit of anxiety? Have no fear! Here are 5 tips to start a conversation at a networking event that will drive away the butterflies in your stomach and make you wonder why you ever had difficulty mingling in a room full of strangers.
- Remember- public speaking skills are not just for a presentation
A one on one conversation requires just as much speaking skills as a public presentation. You need to be able to use the same strategy you would use to gain an audience’s attention to gain the person you are speaking to at a networking event. Practicing your public speaking skills is one of the best ways to get yourself comfortable enough to chat with fellow entrepreneurs at a networking event.
- Make them feel valued
When you talk to someone at an event, make sure you don’t just rattle on about yourself and your accomplishments and how you would be an amazing employee- (Sure, all this stuff sounds good in your head while you are giving yourself a pep talk). When you are talking to fellow entrepreneurs, you don’t want to sound too cocky, so be sure to ask about the other person as well. Try asking open-ended questions that allow you to carry on a conversation that shows that you are interested in what others have to say. Avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or no.
- Remember their name- and say it often
Many studies have shown that when you address a person by their name, it makes the conversation more personal and they are instinctively more likely to trust you. This is a strategy also taught to contact centre agents who have to build a rapport with someone they don’t know over the phone. Throwing the client’s name several times into the conversation will make them listen to you more attentively. The same goes for when you’re networking with a stranger face to face.
- Want a good conversation starter? Try hanging out near the food
No joke! People will love to start off a conversation discussing (or dissing- depending on how it tastes) food! It will break the ice much more easily than going up to a person and introducing yourself and then frantically wondering how to start the conversation. People are always much more relaxed near the food, and more open to start a conversation sharing their guilty treats and laughing over them and voila, perfect segue into “By the way my name is-“ and so on.
- Try to approach groups of people instead of individuals
This is a good strategy for someone who is new to networking events and is nervous about approaching people. When you make conversation in a group you don’t have the problem of running out of things to say as quickly as you would with just one person. You can move around the people in the group and with everyone contributing, there are more things to talk about (thus, less chances of the dreaded awkward silences). Once you gain a bit of confidence, you can move on to a one on one conversation.
What are you waiting for? Send out that networking event R.S.V.P. that’s been sitting (and feeling ignored) in your inbox, dress to impress and get started on practicing these tips!