You have read about the importance of networking for small business owners. You probably know that the best way to build a network is to put yourself out there and connect with others.
But for many, conversations with strangers are uncomfortable. With a little preparation, even the most introverted professional can take the stress out of networking.
Introduce yourself. Initiate the conversation with a simple introduction. Accompany your greeting with a firm handshake, great eye contact, and a warm smile. With one sentence, you have already established who you are and opened the door for the person on the other side of that handshake to reciprocate.
Invite them to talk about themselves. With few exceptions, people typically enjoy speaking about themselves. Make them the topic of conversation.
For example, ask: “What do you do for a living?” “Why did you choose this field?” “What excites you about the work you do?”
Use open-ended questions. There are few things more torturous in conversation than an attempt to engage someone who simply responds with “yes” and “no”. Ask questions that lead to more than one word responses. For example, “how” and “why” questions are particularly good for encouraging discussion.
Listen to their answers. One common mistake networkers make is listening to respond, or drive the conversation forward. Do not be so anxious to ask the next question that you do not take time to acknowledge the responses they give.
What are they saying that you can connect to/with? What do you share in common? Where do you perhaps disagree? What can you learn from the nonverbal cues that accompany the words they use?
Be positive. Is there something this person has said or written that has resonated with you? Tell them so. Give praise where it is appropriate and authentic. For instance, “Your article on XYZ really provided me with fresh insight on that problem.”
Follow up. Networking is all about relationship-building. Express your interest in continuing the conversation beyond the event. Exchange business cards, and ask the individual how they prefer to communicate (e.g. via social media, email, etc.). If the other party is agreeable, reach out via their preferred method of communication within a few days of meeting while the interaction is fresh in both of your minds.
Always remember, the most important part of any networking strategy is to be yourself. Share your own passion and excitement for the work you do!